Spinoza: What a weirdo

It goes without saying that the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (also known by his Portuguese name Bento, or his Latinized name Benedictus) was an unusual guy. After all, you don’t write the next chapter in the evolution of philosophy, get kicked excommunicated from your faith and – oh yeah – make some advances in optic lens technology by being just some run-of-the-mill dude.

But I mean, Spinoza was really, really weird.

I get that everyone has hobbies, and that whatever your hobby is, someone is going to think you’re a nerd for it. I’ve spent way too much money on yarn and knitting needles. I garden until I hurt and I’m sunburned. I’ve even been accused of LARPing. All of this is laughable in some way to some people.

But really, Spinoza’s hobbies …

OK, I’ll just say it. He had a weird thing about spiders. Not an “I’m afraid of spiders” thing. Not even an “I love spiders and keep one as a pet” thing. More of a “I like to make spiders fight each other and watch them eat flies” kind of thing.

Yes, really.

It’s even historically documented. This comes from the earliest biography of Spinoza, written in 1705 by Joannes Colerus. Colerus happened to rent the same room Spinoza lived in the last years of his life, an having become curious about the philosopher, started to interview his landlady, his neighbors, the mayor, to check government documents, whatever he could to put together this bio. And lest you think what I’m about to tell you is salacious, understand that aside from this, the entire thing reads like it was written by a true fanboi.

Here it is:

He also took Pleasure in smoaking a Pipe of Tobacco; or, when he had a
mind to divert himself somewhat longer, he look’d for some Spiders,
and made ‘em fight together, or he threw some Flies into the Cobweb,
and was so well pleased with that Battel, that he wou’d sometimes
break into Laughter. He observed also, with a Microscope, the
different parts of the smallest Insects, from whence he drew such
Consequences as seem’d to him to agree best with his Discoveries.

So. Weird, right? I almost don’t know what to say when this is revealed about a man who is said to have found god in everything. Except, maybe, that god’s got some sick sense of humor, I guess.

But maybe, this is just in character for the guy. If you were to accuse him to his face of being sadistic to animals, I’ve got a feeling he might have a one-word answer for that: Good.

When Spinoza claims that “the law against killing animals is based more on empty superstition and womanly compassion than sound reason” and urges us to “establish a bond with men, but not with brutes,” he worries that feeling with and for nonhuman animals undermines the human bond that enables us to think and act in a way that best preserves and amplifies the distinctive powers of our bodies and minds. He insists that “they do not agree in nature with us, and their affects are different in nature from human affects,” because he thinks that joining with brutes encourages irrational and “subhuman” behavior. In fact … every time Spinoza mentions humans and animals, it is in the context of decrying the desire among some to reject human community in favor of a wild freedom in association with animals. He despairs at the “satirists” and “melancholics” who “disdain men and admire the brutes” rather than helping their fellow man and “joining forces” against “the dangers which threaten on all sides.”

So there you have it. Spinoza: One strange dude.


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