Spotting the Golden Egg

* I owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit and Professor Davidson’s exclamations of the word “bullshit” in epsitemology class… which started me on this subject in the first place. And to both, I extend my deepest apologies. I was a dedicated political science student. And, as any student of politics knows, what political science is really about is the art of bullshitting. Bullshitting is the politician’s medium. Their finely crafted pieces of tauroscatologic masterpieces have no rival. They are Rembrandts in a room full of kindergarten fingerpainters. Politicians dispense bullshit to the public as freely as co-eds give it up in Cancun during spring break. And I was becomming a master. But then, philosophy happened. I found myself surrounded by people who claimed that philosophy was the real thing — a no bullshit zone. Philosophy wasn’t just opinions and rhetoric, my professors said, but was logically correct, and at times irrefutable. But why did it sound to me like so much of the bullshit that I was hearing in poly sci? Worse yet, I soon discovered that, along with my growing suspicions that all philosophy is bullshit, I found myself growing increasingly disturbed by my feelings towards some of my fellow philosophy students — I began to think that some of them were assholes. As time progressed, I realized that my impressions weren’t mere delusion or some resentment held over from poly sci, some of my fellow students really were assholes — big ones at that. And that led me to think: is it possible that there is a connection between being a bullshitter and being an asshole? Is it possible for us to investigate, not only who the purveyors of bullshit are, but also if there are personality traits that are common to bullshitters, jerks, wiseasses, smartasses, and all other people that we would just as soon toss out of an five story window than to offer a lift out of a crime-ridden neighborhood? My answer was yes. I had noticed that some of my fellow philosophy students had a high opinion of themselves. In and of itself, good self esteem is a good thing, but this high-falutinness was something out of the ordinary. For a time I wasn’t sure if they were actually smarter or if they had been, by way of the professors, convinced that they were smarter than everyone else. I had observed that a fair number of students dispensed a fair amount of bullshit — usually in the form of learned proclaimations that were meant to sound profound and convincing. For the most part, however, their statments did nothing more than sound like something sounding profound and convincing. All I knew for sure was that there was a definite type of personality that I observed among the students that had an over inflated opinion of their own mental capacity. Before I reached any definitve conclusion that they were assholes, I decided that I would ask other people to see if they saw what I thought that I was seeing. After conducting a very unscientific poll, I had reached the conclusion that it wasn’t just me who saw it — philosophy students tended to be assholes. There was a confirmed connection between people who thought highly of themselves and bullshitting. So, by way of induction, I concluded that those who dispensed bullshit tend to hav a high opinion of themselves, and those who tend to have a high opinion of themselves tend to be catagorized as assholes. I had to admit that, until that point, I hadn’t paid much attention to what kind of person lays out bullshit [as I had been fascinated with bullshit (as a product) itself]. I had been blissfully unaware that we are capable of knowing that we are capable of knowing what kind of person is prone to dealing out bullshit. I was ignorant of the fact that we can identify a particular person is a bullshitter by mere observation of certain personality traits. I wondered if there was a methodology to figuring out what kind of person I was dealing with. More importantly, I discovered why such a search would be important. As social beings, we depend on others to be open and honest with us, and that, ultimately forms our philosophis outlook on life. Our interactions with others and how we see others, informs how we classify them — as jerks, or smartasses, or even as good people. We, in turn, act, think, and speak according to how we perceive the personalities of others. If we, through experience, come to feel that the world is run by assholes, we will base our own interactions, thoughts and feelings accordingly. We may exhibit personality traits that make us what others may call “jerkish”, or “crummy to others”. One trait that I knew of with any certainty, was the connection between those who I and others had called assholes and a capacity for bullshitting. I was content that I had, indeed figured out the formula for finding out whether someone I knew was an asshole, and in my eagerness to label virtually everyone I knew an asshole, I realized my zeal had led me to an error: some of those who I had squarely tissed into the asshole camp were clearly not so. There were individuals who were different from the garden-variety assholes that I had encountered in my philosophy classes. Other students (some other philosophy students) seemed to exhibit asshole tendencies, yet something was missing. There was a something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on the they lacked. That moment I realized that there was a difference. Some people, upon further inspection, were not assholes. They were another breed entirely — they were smartasses. Bullshit, although elemental to determining who an asshole or a smartass may or may not be, is not the sole factor for determining if one is so. I will attempt to map out necessary and sufficient conditions for spotting an asshole or a smartass ( as I am not fully committed to the idea that one may be both). I acknowledge that my conditions in themselves may be inadequate, or not correct at all. The heart of this inquiry is to suggest that 1)there is a connection between a habit of bullshitting and the personalities of those who spread it with regularity, and 2) that it may be useful to us to know what the connection is. I feel that, as long as we stop to ponder bullshit, it may be apropos to know exactly from who all this bullshit is coming from. At this point, I realize that the impression may be that my inquiry is not one of serious academic merit, to which, to some extent, I heartily agree. However, in all seriousness, the genesis of my inquiry is only partially in jest. I insist that neither my inquiry, nor this posting is intened to disguise my using the word “asshole” repeatedly as serious philosophic discussion. And, although I realize the outward appearance of the unphilosophicness of the subject matter, I feel that a philosophic approach to this decidedly unphilosophic topic is not only warranted, but in some way overdue. Now that I have established the tenure of my approach to the subject, I must say here that my approach is merely one of inquiry. I posit no heavy philosophic examination of the subject, nor am I insisting that my approach is the right way to go about looking at the topic. Since I am still developing my “theory”, I will forgo technical labels such as “necessary” or “sufficient”, and will simply write out my thoughts as I initially thought them while sitting in my philosophy of language class. Firstly, I wondered if the nature of my query was ontological, episemological, or ethical. I quickly eliminated any ethical sonsideration of the subject on the grounds that no theory (perhaps with the exception of Kantian ethics) directly addressed by any moral theory. It is perfectly reasonable that a utlitarian can be an asshole (or a smartass) while simultaneously performing morally acceptable deeds. An egoist indeed might benefit more if the egoist were an asshole. Having thrown out ethical considerations, I moved on to an ontological or epistemological view on the subject. I figure that the subject can be approached either way, as figuring out whether a person is an asshole or a smartass includes questions involving the nature of one’s personality ( a metaphysical question), and what evidence we need to conclude that an individual is one or the other (epistomological). Which approach works best, however, I will leave to anyone who considers the subject. I feel that, in order to know, we must approach it from both directions. As I said at the outset, my quest was motivated by my fascination with bullshit. I had discovered that both bullshitters and smartasses possessed a capacity for bullshiting. And, true to Frankfurt’s description, assholes and smartasses seemed indifferent to the truth. Bullshitters, Frankfurt explains, are indifferent to the truth. This quality is the “essence of bullshit” (p. 34). Although both are indifferent to the truth, I feel that the motivation for this indifference differs between the asshole and the smartass. Frankfurt writes that the bullshitter carefully crafts his bullshit for the purposes of getting what he wants. He’s “trying to get away with something” (p.23). This aspect of bullshitting is also true of assholes. The asshole is always motivated by his need to get over on other people. Often, the victim of an asshole’s one over describes the experience as feeling like he has been shit on. But unlike Frankfurt’s bullshitter, the asshole cares not at all for what the listener of his bullshit feels. He’s not out to get you to feel anything. He is solely motivated to get what he wants. If you feel any emotional response for his bullshit, well, then good for you. You are all the more a sucker for his BS. Since the asshole has no intention of ever returning any favor, he has to maintain his chicanery as long as he is getting what he wants. His loyalty does not last long. It is worth noting here, that, unlike the bullshitter, whose worst fear is discovery (the fear that we will discover the he has been bullshitting us the whole time), the asshole has no such underlying fear. He is not only indifferent to his own bullshit, he is also indifferent to getting caught in the cat of bullshitting. This is the case because the asshole simply does not care about you. Although the asshole does not care about you, you (meaning other people) is essential for the asshole to be an asshole ( if I were to label a “necessary condition”, other people is a necessary condition for an asshole). The asshole, although he does not care how you feel, definitely wants a response out of you. This motivation, at its face, may seem contradictory. But for the asshole, the sentiment is not so much a contradiction, but a manifestation of the duplicitious nature of the asshole’s personality. In addition to not caring to your emotions, the asshole may appear to not care for his own actions. He may say that he does not care what he has to say of do to get what he wants. But, rest assured his motivation necessarily depends, if not on your emotional reactions, but on what your non-emotional reactions may be. That is, was the asshole successful in getting you to do what he wanted you to do? Like the asshole, the smartass is also motivated by a need to bullshit. His motivation, however, is not dependent on others. The smartass ignores other people. The smartass is not motivated by a need to get over on anyone. There is no such inner motive. The smartass says what he says because his words are pleasing to him, usually in an attempt at being humorous (this explains how a person can be a smartass absent of others. An asshole cannot. Think about it: can a person really be an asshole to himself?). The fact that anyone or no one reacts to what the smartass says is of no consequence to him or his goals. The fact that the smartass speaks at all is his goal. Indiffernece to truth, despite its importance, takes a backseat to the act of speaking itself. The bullshit that the smartass dispenses isn’t said for the sake of getting what he wants; it’s said because the smartass fancies himself a clever and funny person. Usually he is not — which is why he is often mistaken for an asshole.The smartass is, at his heart, self-centered. His aim is self amusement. He does not care if his “humor” is humorous to anyone but himself. Unlike the asshole, whose assholeness necessarily depends on the actions of others, the smartass truly does not care if anyone else cares or even hears his remarks. Because of this fact, the smartass is limited to words. The real thrust of his ability is his verbal capacity for witty and often crude comments. The asshole, on the other hand, faces no such limitations. His assholliness in not limited to language, but also includes his actions as well. As this is still a work in progress, I have not exactly thought out where to go from here. Perhaps some more thought will help to clear up whether I should continue on this topic at all. Oh well.

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On Living Life Philosophically: Getting All Eudaimonic with Paris Hilton

I wouldn’t normally confess to being a celebrity watcher. I think mostly because I have a philosophy degree and philosophers are supposed to be above That. I wouldn’t admit that I do more than glance over the pages of People, Star, or US Weekly. I have to admit, I do. I am one of the millions of willing/unwilling consumers of American popular culture. And yes, I probably know more about the stars han I know about people that I’ve known my entire life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, the lives of the very rich, fabulously famous, beautiful ones are unavoidable. But, instead of wasting valuable mental energy lamenting the fact that I am a devotee of the bling-bling world of celebrityness, I have decided that I would use the rich and famous as a source of life lessons and philosophic enlightenment. what have I learned from watching celebrities? My answer: how to achieve eudaimonia. My teacher: Paris Hilton. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics addresses the type of character that is most conductive to living The Good Life. A virtuous character is necessary if an individual wants to conduct his life in a manner that is sucessful and satisfying. Virues such as self-control and temperance must be cultivated in individuals and in our social institutions. We must be steered onto the right path if we are to develop a virtuous character and achieve the life of philosophic fufillment or happiness. In short, we can only achieve happiness when we are virtuous. Now, one might say, “I am happy, but I am nowhere virtuous”, in which case, I’d probably agree with you. However, Aristotle does not define “happiness” in the same sense that we or the average celebrity ( is there really such a thing as an “average” celebrity?) means when we say that we are happy. Happiness, according to the popular definition, is often and almost exclusively applied in the material sense. We often say that we are happy if we possess material wealth, expensive car, a big, expensive boob job, or a big, expensive reality TV show. But, according to Aristotle, despite what we may believe ( or what we see on TV) these are not the things that make us Happy . It takes no strain of the eyes to see that, the Happy Life as seen on TV is not only devoid of virtuous people but missing real Happiness as well. So, what has this to do with Paris Hilton? The answer is this: Paris Hilton, despite what the average philosopher may believe ( and there is such a thing as an average philosopher), serves a purpose. If we can learn anything from Ms. Hilton, it is this: a big, expensive life is exactly what the eudaimonic life is not. I was enlightened to this fact while watching Entertainment Tonight. This is how: If you asked me what makes Paris Hilton famous, I would say that Paris Hilton is famous because she is famous. My fellow philosophers may scoff at this point, but fame, according to society’s happiness meter, is the first step on the path to eternal HAPPINESS. Popular belief holds that public adoration not only produces Happiness, but is HAPPINESS. Paris HIlton is not only famous, she’s rich, good-looking, and has a talent that extends to amateur filmmaking and a recording career. Paris Hilton’s life is filled with pleasure, and according to the average Joe (well, me anyway), the pleasured life is what makes us HAPPY. Aristotle writes that most people lead lives the equate happiness with pleasure. Unfortunately, Aristotle says that this kind of life is one of “the most vulgar type”. We might all agree that a person who spends their time pursuing pleasure– excessive drinking, all-night partying, or making DIY porn — is about the most vulgar life as one can live. Aristotle asserts that people who live their lives devoted to pleasure are “slaves to their tastes”, and live the lives of beasts. Now, how many of us has proclaimed that our dog has morse sense than the average famous person? How many of us notice that celebrities seem to follow every silly trend or crackpot religion, newest rehab fad, or get busted for DUI for the fifth time? How many of us have concluded that the life that is supposed to bring the greatest Happiness doesn’t seem to be happy at all? That is exactly my point. Although it may be tremendous fun, a life devoted to mere pleasure cannot steer us onto the right path. And, if Aristotle is correct, if we are not on the right path we cannot achieve a life of philosophic fufillment. Ultimately, we must conclude that despite all appearances, celebrities including Paris Hilton lead unHappy, un-eudaimonic lives. I arrived at that conclusion around the time the Paris experienced her own moment of (sort-of) philosophic enlightenment. I call this type “spending a little time behind bars”. Remember when Paris was released from a 23-day stint in a Los Angeles jail for violating the terms of her probation? I watched the TV coverage of Paris weeping in the back of a police cruiser on her way to the pen. It was obvious that she wasn’t happy — in any sense of the word. I wondered how someone who has everything that should make a person happy (and HAPPY) end up in such a miserable situation? Aristotle’s answer came to me loud and clear: Paris Hilton was not a virtuous person. Despite the fact that she’s happy by popular standards, Paris lacked the proper character that would have kept her from breaking the law. Paris Hilton’s lack of Aristotelian virtuous moral character not only led her to sully her reputation, but also lead to her legal troubles as well. Aristotle might have said that, if Paris had spent more time developing the right moral character, she might have been living the eudaimonic — if not jail free life. Instead of being seen as a empty-headed “celebutante”, her name might have been uttered with the same reverence when we say the names Plato, Kant, and Spinoza. What we learn from Paris is that the material things that we think will make us happy — fame, wealth, adoration — do not, and more importantly, cannot make us happy. But, Paris may have found enlightment after all. Following her release from the bighouse, Paris appeared on the Larry King Show, where she announced that she was giving up her life of partying, and devoting her life to philanthropy. She said that she had read the BIble during her time in the poke, and that she had learned (i.e. gained wisdom) from her time up the river. I don’t think that I’ve seen Paris feeding the poor or building schools in Africa lately, but she’s announced her intention to change, and I know that change takes time (none of us got our philosophy degrees overnight, did we?). I know that recently she sought out a new BFF, and I know that finding new friends is often a sign of change. I’m sure the one she will find will undoubtedly be philosophically inclined. I know that once a person has experienced philosophic enlightment, that it is nearly impossible to turn away from it. One knows that devoting one’s life to philanthropic causes is something that virtuous people do. So I say that Paris is on the right path to The Good Life. So get ready my friends, Paris Hilton may indeed become one of us — a philosopher! All I can say is kudos!

Divine, Icon of Feminism

Like many women of my generation, I tend to shy away from the moniker “feminist”. I think it has something to do do with the successful characterization (some would say smear) of feminists as man-hating, non-shaven pits having, too fat that no guy would date you, so you’re resentful and bitter because you sit at home with your cats while the hot chicks get dates, so you’re better off dating other women, but not the “lipstick” lesbians but the women who look like truck drivers just like you sort of ladies. By the way, I own a dog, not cats. Anyway, some women feel uncomfortable with the idea of calling themselves feminists because of the stygma associated with the title. It seems to, by it’s definition, radiate a certain hostility to men. I think it was Gloria Steinem who said that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. But then, she was hot enough to be a Playboy bunny. Some women, on the other hand, feel that the so-called feminist “icons” don’t quite fit the type of woman that they feel represents them, either ideologically or physically. I must say that I (think I) fit in the latter. I’ve been watching the films of John Waters for some time now. Although John Waters is gay, and therefore assumed unable to understand the mindset of the typical heterosexual female, I think that he and the late Glen Milstead created the greatest feminist icon of all time — Divine. Not only is Divine an icon of feminism, but a sterling example of Existentialist feminism. Before I start my argument as to why I feel that Divine is an example of Existentialist feminism, I’d like to get this one thing straight: I’m not an expert on the history of John Waters’ Dreamland studios, nor on the evolution of the character Divine. Nor am I an expert on Existentialism ( This is strange, because I’d most likely say that I am an existentialist. I am an existentialist who hates reading existentialist philosophy. It’s boring). But, as a casual observer of popular culture and a part-time philosopher, from the point of view of my half-baked analysis, the persona created by Glen Milstead and feminism, in particular, the Existentialist feminism of Simone de Beauvior, seem to fit. Both challenged our perception femininity itself and demanded that we ask “what is a woman?” In her book The Second Sex, de Beauvior states that women needed to overcome the barriers inposed on women by society and psychology. Women, de Beauvior writes, have always been defined by the male-dominated society as “the other”, a role which women accepted, often against their own best interests.. Women were attached to men for their identity, and identified not with other women, but with the social class into which they were assigned by men. According to de Beauvior, our identity, who we are, is a manifestation of the role we are assigned by society. De Beauvior states that the tradtional or classic view of women gave women “no past, no history, no religion of our own”. De Beauvior insisted the the differences between men and women were rooted in our sociology, not in our biology. De Beauvior states that we must make a distincton between gender and sex (gender, according to de Beauvior, is a social convention. Sex, on the other hand, is biological), and that the social perception of “gender” dictated the role that women are assigned — wives, mothers, servants of men. De Beauvior held that the biological distinction between sex, was insignificant so far as our sex should dictate what social roles individuals should or can occupy. De Beauvior’s existentialist view held that individuals determine the meaning of their own lives and reality, and that our true potential can only be sought if we are free to choose for ourselves. Assigned social roles such as gender interfere with the individual’s ability to choose for their own lives. Because gender is a social construct, de Beauvior says, we are left to ponder the nature of feminity itself. Femininity, according to de Beauvior, is connected to a social construct of what it “means” to be a woman. De Beauvior asks, what, then does it mean to be a woman? If what is feminine is purely socially constructed, de Beauvior asserts, then some females are not women. I hold that, if womanhood is a social construct, then some males are or can be women. As the influence of Postmodernism on popular culture spread during the 1960s, the rise of feminism and growing gay rights movements challenged the conventional notions of gender and sexual identity. The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie all featured male frontmen wearing make-up or dressed completely in women’s clothing. Feminists burned their bras, demanded abortion rights and took the pill, thus allowing them the same sexual freedom previously (exclusively) enjoyed by men. As the 1960s came to a close, the lines between male and female social roles began to blur. By the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see moms at work and stay-at-home dads. Now, as the 21st century gets underway, we’ve seen the emergence of the female equivalents of the “dirty old man”, the MILF and the cougar, older women who actively pursue younger men. But what does this have to do with Divine? Divine, like de Beauvior, sought to deconstruct the traditional role (and expectation) of womanhood. Each suggests that we ask ourselves to challenge and abandon our own perceptions of femininity and womanhood. Like de Beauvior, Divine challenges what is socially, aesthetically ( and even biologically) acceptable of women, and once again leads us to ask, what is a woman? John Waters said that before Divine, drag queens were “squares” who were trying to imitate the “traditional” image of womanhood and femininity. “They were trying to be their mothers or Miss America”, Waters said. Waters stated that he wanted Divine to defy the notion of what a drag queen was supposed to look like. Waters stated that he wanted Divine to be the “Godzilla of drag queens” and that he wanted other drag queens to “run in tears”. Like the heterosexual community, the gay community, including drag queens, were suject to the same gender role expectations. Despite the fact that they were not women, drag queens, even as they defied what was expected of men, were still bound by what they believed was expected of women. They wanted to conform to what a “real” woman was supposed to look like — namely, that, despite the fact that they were men, they were expected to look like beauty queens and act with grace and femininity. Beauty queens , by convention, are not fat. The late Van Smith, who created the look for Divine most notably in the film Pink Flamingos, stated that the style he created for Divine was “aggressive, in your face” and that he was not interested in having Divine pass for a pretty girl. Just as feminists of the late 60s and early 70s were defying the tradtional perceptions of womanly beauty by refusing to shave their underarms and legs, taking on male-dominated occupations, and wearing unisex clothing, Divine not only challenged traditional heterosexual standards of beauty, but drag queen perceptions as well. What Smith created instead, was a woman who, despite her weight, despite the fact that she would never be mistaken for a real woman, flaunted her body with tight-fitting clothes, peek-a-boo dresses, and eventually, according to Waters, scars. “Rather than consealing fat, there it is”, Smith stated. According to Smith, Divine’s fat was sexy, “depending how you look at it”. In Waters’ movies, Divine is unapologetically sexual; she knows that she is sexy and is unhindered by either her non-feminine looks or her weight. Divine lives by her own rules on her own terms, whether she commits crime for beauty, lives in a trailer with her mentally infirm mother (proudly proclaiming that she is the filthiest person alive), or is sexually ravished by a giant lobster. Freud states that all women are motivated by a want to have a penis of their own. Freud’s theory of female “penis envy” creates a strange question when thinking about Divine. I feel that it through the removal of a penis (not Divine’s but another character), that Divine becomes de Beauvior’s vision of feminism. First, Divine is biologically male. But, the characters Divine plays in Waters’ films are undoubtedly female. His characters Babs Johnson, Dawn Davenport, Francine Fishpaw, and Edna Turnblad are all mothers (in fact, we see Dawn Davenport give birth to her daughter “Taffy” in Female Trouble). Yet, in Pink Flamingos, Divine participates in the castration of a male character, and gleefully laughs at his cries of pain when he is emasculated. I wonder, could this be interpreted as Divine’s total rejection of his own masculinity? (not Glen Milstead, mind you, but Divine). It seems to me that the emasculation scene in Pink Flamingos was, perhaps inintentionally, a declaration that Divine is female. No man in his right mind, would ever participate in the removal of another man’s sexual organs. As the butler, “Channing” pleads for mercy, Divine shows him no mercy. There is no sly wink at the camera. No suggestion that Divine is in reality a man. In the film, Divine sides with the two female prisoners in the pit, not with the butler. She allows the two prisoners to remove the butler’s penis as an act of solidarity with her fellow women. Through this act, I believe, Divine not only assumes the mantle of a full woman ( a truly existential act) but also commits an act of true feminist defiance, striking a man down at his source. She allows the emasculation not because she wants a penis of her own (and not because she already has one of her own), but because the butler deserved that particular punishment. Like many feminists, Divine has no need for a penis herself, she is completely at peace with herself and her womanhood ( that she defines on her own terms). She is a woman, criminal, a mother, and as Dawn Davenport describes herself, a “shitkicker”. Whether she is wearing a tight hot pink fishtail dress or mystic heel pumps, or scars on her face, Divine is a real woman, undefined by what is is expected to be. As she declares in Pink Flamingos, she will be queen one day, and her coronation will be celebrated all over the world. And that she is, in a single word, Divine. And that, is what every woman is.

Post-twenty, Teenage Poetry

I used to write really atrocious poetry when I was in high school. I mean, really bad. I think it’s a phase that every teenager who takes himself way too seroiusly goes through. You know, to seem deep or something to that effect. Navel gazing as a sign of wisdom and maturity…To be called an “old soul”. The problem is, though, is that even though I understand that, when I was 18 I was angry for absolutely no reason at all, I’m still holding on to a fair amount of cynicism. To be honest, I’m holding on to alot more than a fair amount of cynicism. Last night, I was thumbing through some of my old philosophy term papers, looking for something to write about. I was thumbing through a epistemology term paper when I noticed a single page of looseleaf notebook paper sandwiched between a couple of pages of my term paper. It was the last poem that I wrote. I wrote it while that whole unpleasantness about hurricane Katrina was going on. And, typical to form, it was atrocious. But, I thought that I’d put it here. So, in lieu of an actual blog entry, I present crappy poetry: “if you can’t, don’t” i’m not gonna talk politics. I’m not gonna protest, or walk out, or demonstrate I’m not gonna sit-in And I’m not gonna write a letter, or send an e-mail, or make a phone call. I’m not going to do anything. I’m going to sit here in my comfy chair Look at my unused Ab-Rocker, and Be utterly, entirely AMERICAN. I’m gonna overeat and not get sleep And watch too much TV. And not give a good goddamn about anyone who hasn’t been On Extra! or on Entertainment Tonight Or seen on YouTube. It’s an E! Entertainment Television world out there And it don’t matter If it ain’t beautiful. therefore, I’m not going to do a damn thing. NOT ONE GODDAMN THING I’m not gonna care while the war is raging I’m not gonna care while children are starving Or when women are being gang-raped in Bosnia Or mutilated in Sudan, or while people are being Ethnically cleansed, bunker bombed, collaterally damaged, Or shocked or awed or otherwise wiped off the face of this earth. ‘Cause it just don’t matter to me anymore. Or just that it never did. I can watch floods in New Orleans And pretend to pity the so poor and the so black. I can watch genocide in Darfur And not even offer a piss-poor prayer to GOD in hopes that Maybe he’ll watch over them… Ican stare at the TV for hours And turn it off and still Have a nice day. I can do this because an American can do this. And besides, I live in a pretty good neighborhood.

God Is Just Not That Into You

I think that there’s something that I dwell on way too much. Well, actually (sorry alex) two things: 1) God, and two, my philosophy classes concerning God, and — in particular– my (attempted) conversations with my philosophy of religion professor. Since I’ve heard it said that no novel is ever finished ( George Lucas, my personal hero, said that films aren’t finished, they’re abandoned), I started to think about a paper I wrote in my philosophy of religion class. The class topic (officially) was THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, but the last paper topic was the hiddenness of God. Officially, my position is that something that does not exist cannot hide from anyone (I realize the serious positivist faux pas, here). But, if one wants a grade (a passing one anyway) one must play along and write the required term paper. So I wrote one. Which, now that I think about it, I could have dicked off the class given the fact that I didn’t actually (sorry alex) need the class to get my degree, but took the class because ( and I’m being completely honest here) I enjoy talking out loud in class and that professor in particular seemed to indulge my want to gab. In actuality, that man, just short of ball gags, would not have been able to silence me. Now that I think about it, ball gags would have spiced up the class quite nicely. Originally, my conclusion was this: God is all around us, and if one fails to see it, or Him, then one is ignoring the obvious. God need not reveal himself to prove that he exists. I actually reworked my paper as my last blog entry. But then, I thought, somewhere in the Bible, there’s a line that says that God is a jealous God. That means, if God is capable of experiencing jealousy, then God may be so inclined to experience any number of human emotions, including plain, old dislike for someone. Brad Pitt says in Fight Club that ther reason why our lives didn’t turn out the way that we were promised may lie in the fact that God has abandoned us. That, in all probability, he says, God never wanted us. He doesn’t like us — personally. As I look about the world around me, I’m beginning to think that Tyler Durden is right. Maybe God doesn’t like some people. So then I thought about the problem of hiddenness. Maybe God is hiding from us because he doesn’t like us as much as we like him. It could be that God is really not that into us. Take someone like Joel Osteen for example. If you don’t know who he is ( and really, don’t be embarassed at all if you don’t), he’s what was called in the 1980’s a “televangelist”. He does the Lord’s work via television. And for his work, he’s been rewarded. He’s got a hot wife, lots of dough, and he’s FAMOUS. All rewards, he may say, from God. Now, look at where you are. Swimming in cash? Are you or your significant other “hot” or “smokin'”? Do you have a TV show or millions of followers who are willing to send you cash to read a from a book that is available in nearly any bookstore and that they can read themselves? Probably not. You work hard, you may even pray or go to church. So why is God not sending you earthly rewards in abundance? It’s probably because he just plain doesn’t like you. Look, any of us knows that when you like someone you want the best for them, right? You at least try to see that the ones you like are safe and secure and are to some degree prosperous. Right? Haven’t you ever stopped to think what the hell did those people in Darfur do to piss God off so thoroughly? Why some people seem to be afflicted with so much unpleasantness while for others the worst that happens to them is a stubbed toe? There’s a saying that God doesn’t give to us any more than we can handle. Which, if we interpret that saying at face value, that means that any woman living under the Taliban can kick my ass in a New York minute. But, why would this God who is alternately described as a loving God give some people a life that, if you allowed the same thing to happen to someone, you wouldn’t be asked to babysit anyone’s dog anytime soon? Don’t we want to help and protect the people that we love? So, if God loves us, and he only gives us what we can handle, I’m guessing that God doesn’t love people with really shitty lives. He piles it on these people because he wants them to suffer. And he wants them to suffer because he doesn’t like them. It’s not that God is hiding. It’s that he’s hiding from you. I’ve never seen a miracle. I haven’t seen the face of Jesus in a tortilla either, but there are people that have. There are people who have been saved by guardian angels, and survived plane crashes that killed everyone else on board. There are people who, like our last president, claim that they personally talk to God. I used to scoff at them. But now, I realize the truth. God, despite my attempts to get his attention, just isn’t into me. It’s sort of explaining why Paul ditched Jane the model and hooked up with Linda. It’s that he saw her, and that was that. I guess it kind of works the same for God. And since, presumably, God sees all, he knew when he created the world that he wouldn’t like me ( which makes the whole idea of predestination all the more crappy, doesn’t it?). My God, I think that I really depressed myself there. I’d better stop before I really say something depressing.

On One of Life’s Least Interesting Subjects Or, the Problem of the Hiddeness of God

Has anyone really seen God? I’m not talking about seeing the face of the Virgin Mary on the side of aluminum siding, or hearing a voice in your head tell you to wait before stepping into the crosswalk moments before a car speeds through the intersection , nor am I talking about any sort of metaphorical experience ( a “closer to God” sort of moment), but has anyone really felt like God had revealed himself to us? As a steadfast empiricist, I would (for the sake of consistency) have to say that neither I or anyone else has seen God, and that fact counts as evidence against the existence of one such being identified as the “Creator”. But, does the fact that you cannot see God mean that we are justified in saying that he does not exist? The fact that we cannot see or feel God in a strict, material sense leads many of us to say that we cannot — with any definitive proof — claim that God exists. Are we justified in believing in something that we cannot offer proof that it exists? Would we believe in any other claim about ourselves or the physical world if the proof of its truth continually and consistently eluded us? We wouldn’t put faith in any “truth” about the physical world is we said that the proof of it’s truth was hidden. For instance, say I tell you that I could create physical matter from mere thought. I think of a ball, I say, and one appears. Well, the first thing that you might ask, is to prove my claim. But I then tell you that I can’t quite explain or even prove that I can. The fact that you saw a ball when you walked into my living room is my proof. (ok, bad analogy, but the idea is, is that if I said that I can do something, you’d be inclined to ask for proof). I can’t get by saying that the process is hidden. Or worse yet, I can’t say that it’s not actually me but an elf that does it, and I can’t tell you where he is right now. He’s hiding, I say. Well, that’s the way that some feel about God. His hiding from us complicates that whole believing in him thing. We might, if we were funny enough, say that God seems to us like a bit of a prankster. That is, he always seems to be hiding when we need him most. Who among us hasn’t looked to the heavens and asked the Creator to strike either ourselves ir someone else down at a moment of pain or distress? But, empirical or unfunny, borderline blasphemous comments aside, we really do want to believe that we are under the watchful eye of a benevolent creator who loves us and wants us to know that he is present in our lives. But how are we to know that he is there? Biblical accounts aside, we often find ourselves calling out to a God that is not present (at least physically) in our lives. God, for the most part, and on many occasions, remains enigmatic to us, something that is hidden from our view. Ok. But is that really a problem? I was in my philosophy of religion class one afternoon, barely paying attention, when this subject came up. I think the professor was saying something along the lines of he wouldn’t put faith in a marriage if he had never seen the woman he was married to ( I don’t know, some guys would call that kind of marriage heaven). I think that the idea was, if you never see your wife, then you’re not really married. You can’t even say that you know that she positively exists. But, as so many of our examples (or “thought experiments” for the uninitiated), his example was dealing with physical objects. So, of course if I make a claim about some object in the physical world, we’d eventually have to pony up some evidence that it exists. Or else we’d assume that your “wife” is as likely to be a balding, overweight self-employed guy living on the East Shore of New Jersey, as she is likely to exist at all. But, God, if this is new to anyone, is not a physical object. Rules concerning HIS existence operate, by nature, outside of the rules concerning the physical world. Even Hume admits to that. I remember saying in class that I felt, and still do, that philosophers do not belong in the business of religion. My professor said that, given my lack of knowledge in the subject, that I was in no position to make that judgement. But, his phd aside, I still holdfast to my claim. I feel that, in matters of God and our belief (or lack of) in his existence, we should, indeed, must from time to time shrug off our philosophic coats, and try to understand God as he wants us to come to know him — by faith. Whether we “see” God is a matter best handled by the heart and not by the intellect. Any evidence we offer, whether we are engaged in fierce philosophic debate or quiet contemplation, is, at best, anecdotal. Our evidence is and will always remain the Virgin in the sheeting, or the feeling of love we feel when we are in church, or the voice in our head telling us to stay on the curb for another half second. Our evidence that God exists is based on what we personally see, or hear, or feel — what we’ve heard and what we believe to be true. And evidence of this type, as we know, cannot be verified no matter what well-formed argument that we construct. Which is why I maintained then and now that the philosopher, so long as he maintains that he can offer proof for the existence of God via an argument, will never find the proof that he wants to find. Arguments are constructed for a standard of proof that is dictated by men. And of course we know that God is notorious for not adhering to the standards of man. The plain truth is, is that, despite all of the best defenses and logically correct arguments, we can neither reason ourselves into finding God, nor can we demand that God reveal himself to ease our doubts. If we want to find God, we must remember the lessons that we were taught in Sunday school. We must remind ourselves that God is found in all creation. He tells us that we, human beings, are reflections of Him ( we are proof of God, the Father’s existence just as we are proof of the existence of our own parents, even after their deaths. The fact that a parent may be dead does not serve as a negation of the proof of their existence — especially if you are alive and well and saying to me that you indeed have parents). God tells us that to find him, all we need to do is call upon him. We may recall that God does not “prove” himself to us though spectacular displays ( i.e. God does not do parlor tricks), but through the fact of existence itself. A believer claims that his own existence justifies a belief in God. The atheist counters that no evidence short of an appearance by God himself, gives proof that miracles or other so-called evidence draws back the curtain to reveal a hidden God. But then, by holding each position, we land right back at the position where we started: each camp entrenched on either side, claiming that the other is “epistemically challenged”. However (or unfortunately, if you look at it another way) our lack of definite evidence leaves us to rely on what we know — faith. Perhaps it is faith that allows those who see God to see him. Those who do not have faith simply will not see. We know, as sinners, that it is us who must prove ourselves to God, and that our failure to see him is a sign of our separation from God rather than proof of God’s hiding from us. So, we ask, is the hiddeness of God a problem? My answer is no. A believe has no problem finding God. And, if you ask him how he knows how a God that hides from him exists, he will tell you that the point of his faith is not to see God, but to seek God. Those who do not see God merely refuse to see in the face of overwhelming evidence of the existence of an almighty Creator. All we are left to do, the believer may say, is say that those who want philosophic proof may find themselves forever lost in a torrential sea of probability and valid but unsound arguments. What we must do, he may tell us, is to deal with those who do not see as graciously as possible and that we should not hold their epistemic defectiveness against them. Eventually, our believer friend may say, the lost may simply quiet themselves and stop demanding answers. When they learn to be quiet, the answers — better yet — the proof may come. Which, by the way, is a better way of answering the question than any argument involving possible worlds or a derivation.

Group Solipsism

Oprah’s # 2 thing that she knows for sure: You define your own life, don’t let other people write your script. I used to think that this idea was existentialist, and at it’s face (excuse me, prima facie) it appears to be so. Telling a person to “define your own life” is straight out of the existentialist handbook. (By the way, there actually is one: The Ultimate Guide To Navelgazing and Self-Overexamination. I think it’s available on Amazon or something like that. Maybe not). Existentialist philosophy says that the meaning and purpose of life is defined by the individual. We have no innate nature that determines what or perhaps more importantly, who we become- which fits perfectly with the last half of the statement, ” don’t let other people write your script”. Existentialism, like Oprah, is all about how we relate to the world. Oprah’s #1 thing she knows for sure ” what you put out comes back all the time, no matter what”, certainly addresses the fact that we operate in a world with others, for and with whom our actions will be held in to account. And, like Heidegger, Oprah believes that the way that we live authentically is manifested in the way that we deal with the situations that we are “thrown” ( to use Heidegger’s term) into. The way that we act in a given situation, both believe, is reflective of who we truly are. So far, the philosophy of Ms. Winfrey seems to tell us nothing that we haven’t heard before. It may come out of the mouth of Deepak Chopra or Dr. Phil ( and you can absolutely trust that either of them has read Heidegger or Sartre, among others), but on it’s face, Oprah is giving us early 20th century French philosophy.And this totally falls in line with any other talk/advice show host that has taken a whack at the self-improvement tree of knowledge. And that’s what I thought while I started watching Oprah’s “best life ever”. I thought that she was purely, albeit a little mixed up, chatting the existentialist rag — until I thought a little harder about what she was saying. The first lightbulb ( I suppose Oprah would call it an “a-ha” moment) went off while I was watching Oprah’s show about weight. All the time she was speaking, she was singularly focused on herself. Nothing new, afterall it was Oprah. I know that existentialism, by its design, focuses attention, perhaps too much attention, on the self. After all, it’s all about figuring out how you, the individual, relates to the world. But then, I really started to pay attention: it wasn’t just ordinary self-centeredness; there was something else at work in what she was saying. The something else was revealed when Oprah said that we need to put ourselves back on out to-do list. It seems that we haven’t been self-centered enough. we’ve been spending too much time doing nice things for other people, and that is wrong. We need to reclaim the focus of our attention. We need to be at the top of the list. So, I thought, I’m at the center of the universe, and no one is going to define my life for me. I thought that defining something, especially when one is defining a life, is an act of invention or creation. It clicked: I create my life. I CREATE MY LIFE. It was if there were a flash of light and the sky suddenly parted. All my definitions are self-created. And, it seems, no one else can write the definitions for me. I am more than mastering my own life, if I follow Oprah, I am creating my own reality. I thought, this is amazing. Oprah is saying so much more to us than pop-psych clap trap that you can get any afternoon listening to Dr. Laura. Oprah is laying down some serious metaphysics. So, once more I thought about Oprah’s #2 thing she knows for sure: “You define your own life, don’t let other people write your script” I thought, that I would, break the statement in half and look at the two parts of Oprah’s #2 statement separately. I thought, what if the second half of the statement ” don’t let other people write your script” wasn’t just encouraging existentialist authenticity, but instead a statement about the states of other people’s minds? What do I know about other people’s minds, I thought. The answer: nothing. I can’t even be sure if other minds exist. Maybe this is what is motivating what Oprah is saying to us, I thought. I don’t know what intentions others have for me, so I cannot allow them to set my agenda. And if I cannot be sure of the existence of other minds, I surely cannot allow them to determine what is the best course for my life. I must be in control of what goes on in my own life because I only know what I think is good for myself. Likewise, I must be in control because I can only know myself so far as I know that I exist. So then, I looked at the first half: ” You define your own life”. I was reminded of something that I had heard that drifted along the same lines. Not to long ago, a Bush Administration staffer announced that the Bush Administration created it’s own reality. Meaning, that if the president said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, then by golly, they did, even if your “reality” contradicted theirs. (this may be a slight distortion of the real meaning of that statement, but this distortion fits the point that I am trying to make, so bear with me). Well, I think that I wouldn’t be wrong if I assumed that, as far as Ms. Oprah defines it, that “define” and “create” are similar in this context. I define who and what I am. If everyone else thinks that I am a dork, so long as I do not share the same sentiment, I am not. I must remember that I refuse to let anyone else define my life — all evidence to the contrary. If I take Oprah’s advice (to the extreme), so long as my “life” is defined by me, then that life — at least my sentiments and beliefs about that life — is true, meaning that life is my authentic or “real” life. And, being the empiricist that I am, my beliefs about the world are my basis for what I hold is true about the world. If I see the bullet to the heart kill the fisherman, than I believe that the bullet to the heart killed the fisherman. And it is true, because I cannot let others define it for me, because I cannot be sure of their intentions for me. I am the only mind that I can know, or at the very least, I am the only mind that I can trust. So, if my mind is the only mind that I can trust, and that mind is the mind that defines, or creates my life , and my life (or beliefs about) is a reflection of an overall “reality”, then I define reality. Wow. But it’s not just that, it goes further. If everyone who follows Oprah’s advise will also define their own lives, the result is the creation millions of separate “realities” — each for every Oprah viewer. If this is the case, then Oprah isn’t advocating existentialism, but group solipsism! Each of us exists in a self-defined universe of one. As crazy as it may seem, I believe that this is what Oprah is truly getting to. We not only create our own perspective on what we believe is real or true, we create our own universe — a separate entity wherein we reside, creating and changing its own separate reality as we see fit. ( so, if I say that someone is on a different world than I am, this statement may be more than mere metaphor, but a statement of fact. Stew on that for awhile). I know that there are some non-adventurous philosophers who would say that Oprah and her ilk are damaging the philosophic enterprise by allowing people like me to take what she says and distort the bejeezus out of it. I will not disagree. On the othre hand, I would also assume that there is some posmodernist who welcomes the destroyers and distorters of philosophy and welcome the opportunity of finding a new way of beating a dead horse. As disfond as I am about fence-riding, I think that there is room here to split the difference. I think that it is, at least, worth the effort to look at what our popular culture is doing to the theories that philosophers hold so near and dear to their hearts. We must remember that philosophic ideas are out there, and that it would do philosophers a little good to roll around with those who may be more clever at peddling distorted philosophical theories than they are at peddling the correct ones. But for now it seems, the media reigns, Oprah is more popular than Swinburne, and so we stand on the precipice of a new view: Oprarian philosophy. I’m not sure where Oprarian philosophy will get us, but I’m sure if it gets us to somewhere where we don’t want to go, we can simply choose to redefine it, our lives and the whole universe, and start over again. Maybe by then, some talk show host will have succesfully distorted Kant.