On A Tangentally Philosophic Topic

This may be more for sociologists than for philosophers. I was watching the Dancing with the Stars update on the local TV news a few days ago, when they informed us (because it is vital that we know) that former dancing star and “girl next door”, Holly Madison was getting a show in Las Vegas. The show, if I heard correctly, has some toplessness action in it. I guess that’s why it’s important that we know. Anyway, hearing about former playmates made me think about former Playboy Playmates, which made me think of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner. Especially so, since Ms. Madison was one of his girlfriends as depicted on the E! reality show The Girls Next Door. I thought to myself that, whenever I listen to the local rock stations (I’m amazed that I live in an area where there rock stations are still around!) and the topic of Hugh Hefner comes up, there’s nothing but all hoots and hollers and ‘boy don’t we envy that guy’ going on. Hugh Hefner is praised because he, despite needing to use the little blue pill, is forever young. Instead of calling the codger a dirty old man, we congradulate him on his scoring 3 hot chicks. We all want to drink from the well of eternal youth, and celebrate those who have beaten the clock and stayed forever young. Or at least forever young acting. Hugh Hefner behaves like a man more than half his age. This is supposed to be a good thing. I don’t think that I takes a philosophy degree (at least I hope that it doesn’t) to realize that there is something so fundamentally wrong with praising old people who act young. We live in a culture where no one ever gets old. At least if you get old, God forbid that you actually look your age. We praise the allmighty Botox, and we celebrate “cougars” and watch women like Janice Dickinson act and compete with women half her age. And we see nothing wrong with any of it. We say that 40 is the new 20, and that you’re only as old as you feel. I guess at some point 80 will be the new 17. We keep trying to find the knack for living indefinitely and sustaining our youth to the point where we ultimately have to give it up ( usually that happens somewhere near death). We want to find the place where, as Wilfred Brimley said in Cocoon, we’ll never get sick, we’ll never get old, and we’ll never die. Life is one neverending nip/tuck. This is so not good. I was looking at a picture of Walt Wittman recently (no really, I was). Here in the picture of old Walt was a guy with a great burly gray beard. He looked like an older man — an older man who would scare the woohoo out of me if he was sitting at the busstop that I needed to stop at to catch the bus. But the point is, he looked like a pretty old guy. I noticed that many of our great thinkers, writers and artists sported that same look. They were older and they looked it. But more importantly, they were regarded, not for how hot they looked, but for what they had to say. Their words and thoughts were what we turned to for WISDOM. And that’s just the thing, isn’t it? In a world where no one ever gets old, who do we turn to for wisdom? I remember when Leonardo DiCapprio was the hot poo. even though he was over 21, he looked like he was about 13. I remember people saying that he may be agood actor, but no one would ever believe him playing the president or any role of substance. He didn’t look old enough, they said. The fact is, is that he didn’t look like he had lived enough years to gain the wisdom that is required for a president or the Pope. We often think that someone is wise if they look the part. You looked the part by looking old. But we don’t look old anymore. Once upon a time, being wise was associated with living a life long enough to acquire information and havng the ability to apply the information that you learned in a manner that was conducive to living a pleasant, dare I say good, life. We used to be impressed with people who read many books (because we often find information in books), and who didn’t spend time caught up in material things. We used to value sitting quietly and thinking. People who think used to be called wise. It’s a little upsetting when you hear someone praising a child who consistently does poorly on state standardized tests as smart because he knows how to upload a video on YouTube. As a matter of fact, Chris Hedges said that nearly 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduating from college. I understand that standardized tests are for shit, but my point is, is that we think a child is smart if they can do something techinical, and neglect the fact that the little knuckledragger may barely know how to read. All that book reading is wasted time, we say. It’s stuff that old people do. In fact, I was listening to a radio show on the topic of Kindle (an electronic books service offered by Google), and someone said just that — old people read books. Meaning that books are passe, relics of an ancient time, irrelevant (One could infer that those who read such relics are also irrelevant). The thing is, is that reading a blog or someone’s MySpace page isn’t reading. And there is no great wisdom to be culled from the world of reality television. And if people aren’t reading, then where are our thinkers going to come from? Who will lead in a world where youth is beyond praised and doing something like reading books is made out to be something that “old people” do? All things old are to be avoided. I mean, I’ve noticed lately this national obsession with the “cougar”. Cougars have replaced MILFs as the femme dejour. They’re not new by far. Mrs. Robinson was a cougar. In the 80s, Cher was a cougar (for a brief time her beau, whose name slips my mind, was semi-famous). And now, we see the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore. It’s cool to date guys that sre the same age as your kids. And, if you do it looking like your kids’ slightly older sister, even better. It’s ok to date younger men — but the idea now seems to be that you’re not dating a younger, albeit mature man (he may act older than his age) — but that you’re the one who is 47 and acts and looks like she’s 22! We congradulate women who drop all their baby weight as quickly as possible. We actually take it a step further and congradulate women who don’t look like they’re pregnant! We pressure our famous people to drop the excess poinds after giving birth so they can get back to being sexy. But there’s a connection: looking like you don’t have kids often leads people to act as if they don’t have kids. There used to be something of a badge of honor to look like somebody’s mother or father. Looking like the older members of the family was connected to the idea that you were mature and dare I say, wise. There was a time when parents were expected to pass the knowledge they gained through life experences to their children. How can anyone pass along life lessons learned from life’s experiences if one’s parent is experiencing those life experiences right alongs side of their childern? More and more we hear of parents cruising bars with their kids or dating their kids’ friends ( I need not mention the Hogan family here). These parents neither act or look mature. Why would someone look mature (that is look old) if looking like someone’s mom is a sure fire way to not get dates with younger men. Looking mature used to be associated with words like “distinguished” and “erudite”. We’d assume that the older gentleman with the graying beard and glasses was the wisest guy in the room (we may have been wrong, but the idea is that we didn’t hold it against him that he looked older than everyone else). No offense, but when I look at Brad Pitt, the word “erudite” doesn’t spring to mind ( I say Brad Pitt, not just to pick on the guy, but because there has been some speculation that he has had some “work” done recently). People who looked like the elders were assumed to play the part, giving us wisdom and the knowledge to lead good, productive lives. Not only does no one want to look the part of the elders these days, no one really wants to play the part, either. The elders tell us when we need to shape up and act the way that w should — they shouldn’t tell us how cool it is to bang a trio of hot chicks, or tell us that it’s ok to act like we’re 21 when we’re about three decades past being that age. We are a culture run by children. And children do not know how to properly behave — they are impulsive, and notoriously unable to guide themselves through life without direction. Children are easily swayed and influenced. You can change a child’s mind easily because they do not think critically. My fear is that, if no one is willing to be the elders, to be the guiding force in society, then we are a culture that is lost. We are a nation of lost boys in desperate need of a Wendy to be the big sister to tell us when and how we should behave. Until then, I guess I’ll … oh wait, TMZ is on.

And You Say The Devil’s A Bad Guy

I seem to enjoy doing things that really creep me out. A couple of months ago, I decided to watch The Exorcist. Now, I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and there’s really nothing in it that wasn’t there the last time that I watched it. But somehow, that movie ends up unnerving me. That Spider walk is plain creepy. May I take a moment to say here, that it’s not so much the fact that the movie, that is the visuals, that are scary. What’s scary is Mercedes McCambridge’s voice! In that scene where Reagan does the crucifix number, and then whips her head around and says to her mother “do you know whay she did?!?”, I nearly crap my pants every time! So, I was busy creeping myself out, watching “the version you’ve never seen” ( during the daytime, with the lights on, I’ll admit). But I was alone, and that counts for something. Anyway, there’s a scent that is in this version, where Father Karras and Father Merrin have just finished a session with Reagan. They are both exhausted. As Father Karras, who is caught in a crisis of faith himself, rests, he asks Father Merrin a question. He asks, why this little girl? What purpose does possessing and possibly killing her serve? Father Merrin answers — the possession has nothing to do with the girl. The devil wants us to feel that we are unworthy of God’s love. He wants us to feel that we are sinful, vile, and lowly creatures who cannot earn or deserve the grace of God. That’s the way, Father Merrin explains, the devil gets us to turn away from God. That made me think. Now, if the devil wants me to turn away from God, he may cause a situation (say something like a demonic possession) that causes me to lose faith and turn from God. But, I have to remember that my rejection of God was due to my free choice, not because the devil made me do it (so to speak). I will burn in Hell for all eternity because I made the choice to turn from God. I have to be held accountable for the choices that I made and make freely. This is because I have free will. One of the reasons that we are given that there is evil in the world, is because people, like me, have the freedom to choose to do evil deeds. Because God made man with the ability to choose, he cannot interfere with our choices (because if he did intervene that would mean that we didn’t have very much free will). So, I thought, we make ourselves so busy asking what role that God plays in man-caused evil, that we don’t ask what role God plays in Satan-caused evil. If all intelligent beings created by God have free will, does that mean that the devil has free will as well? And if he has free will, is God bound to allow the devil to make choices that may be the source of the world’s evil (or at least a strong influence)? Ok, I know that Satan, as an angel, is what we call a fully actualized being. That means that he is all that he will ever be. He doesn not “grow” in the sense that people mature and find enlightenment or come to know the divine.As something near perfection, once the devil makes a choice, he’s locked into it. Which explains a bit as to why he cannot repent for his misdeeds. But that’s just it. He chose to fall from God. We might assume that he didn’t have to. That is, if you don’t believe that there is such a thing as determinism. So, Let’s say that Satan chose to leave God. There. He made a choice. And God seems to have respected his decision to do so. So, Satan decides that he is so thoroughly disgusted with mankind that he will forever torment God’s creation. He will make our lives so horrible that we will run to God for shelter. These all seem to be career choices that the devil made when he decided to leave the family business. If our actions aren’t determined, then is it ok to say that Satan’s actions aren’t determined, either? But then, if we assert that the devil has free will, we must account for exactly what kind of free will he has. According to the standard free will defense, man’s free will is libertarian — that is, with any choice we make, we are free to do otherwise. So, for example, if someone has a gun to my head and says that he will kill me if I don’t announce in a public place that I molest collies, I don’t have to choose to make the announcement. There is the choice, albeit a very unlikely one that I’d pick, to get shot. There are alternatives that I may take. But, the devil is fully actualized. He doesn’t get the mulligans that I do when I make mistakes or decide to change my mind (for instance, I can decide to repent from my evil ways and accept Jesus as my personal savior. It’s unlikely, but I very well could). Satan, as stated, cannot so as such. But he seems to make choices all the same. Although he free will is not libertarian as it is with people, he seems to have some, limited free will. This free will (if even the freedom to do one thing) is to create evil. So, it may be that we are hanging our coat on the wrong rack. We’re looking to God to explain why he allows evil (as if we are saying that God somehow is a generator of some of this evil), but we might take a look down and say that God “permits” evil because Satan has free will that God is bound to respect. As with any other agent, the lord of all that is unholy is free to do as he sees fit. Unfortunately for us, that means occasionally killing someone’s grandma with colon cancer, or running over the family pet, letting Two and A Half Men run for another season, or putting the desire to set the forest ablaze in the mind of an arsonist for the sole purpose of burning furry little animals to a crisp. To make matters worse, the fact that God is bound by Satanic free will means that (lest we give rise to a massively irregular world) God may, and in fact does, lose souls to the devil’s influence (This is due in two parts: 1) Satan has free will, and b) humans have the free will to follow the devil’s influences). I don’t know if I’m putting forth anything revolutionary (I’m sure that I’m not), and maybe I’m giving the devil a little too much power, but it is worth thinking that the devil’s influence on our actions may be because he has the same free will as we. Besides, it’s really a cheap way to say that we can have evil and God at the same time — resorting to that old, worn-out cliche “the devil made me do it”. I thought that this time I would try to give it some philosophic legitimacy. I don’t think it worked.

Gettier Gods

I think that I have an OCD. Really. I’m an atheist, but I just can’t seem to stop thinking about God. I guess it may be due to, in some part, the fact that I live in a culture that is, whether it practices it or not, Christian. No matter where I go, there is either a “God bless you”, “have a blessed day”, or someone declaring that they’ve been blessed. So, no matter how hard I try, God and thinking about God is unavoidable. This would be bad, if not for the fact that I have this blog. At least it gives me something to write about. That said, I was thinking some time ago about my philosophy of religion class (that I had almost a year ago). There was, as I recall (then again, I could be making this up for the sake of making a point), there was some talk about the limits (if any) of the powers of God, namely on the topic of God’s omnipotence. The question was, are there things that God can’t see? That is, if we say that God knows all (all events that happen in the past, present and future), how can humans have free will? Well, for one, when I was a Christian, I was steadfastly a determinist. I figured that God, being a all-powerful being, had ultimate knowledge. There is no thing that he does not see. And being that he saw any particular event, it has to happen.The events of our lives are not only seen by God, but also actively planned.I thought that, if God even sees all things generally, he also sees what occurs specifically — including the choices that we make. And since God’s knowledge is eternal, he may have seen what I’m doing right now the instant that he created the universe. So, I figured, there is not such thing as free will for people. But my Christianity didn’t stay with me for long. I soon shrugged it off in favor of the cold, harsh cynicism of atheism. When I started on the path to Hell (i.e. becoming an atheist), I slid from divine determinism to biological determinism. Instead of God commanding my destiny, my choices were determned by my genes. Anatomy is destiny, as they say. This has always been a problem for me — not because I don’t like the idea of everything I do being beyond my control, but because I fancy myself an existentialist. And that’s all free will. I know that, even among non philosophers, the idea of determinism is none too popular. People don’t like the idea that the things that they do are out of their control. That makes sense. I hate the idea myself. But, for the life of me, I can’t figure how a God that sees all events in all times does not in some way determine my fate. Which made me think of something that I heard on the radio a couple of years ago. Out here in So Cal, there’s a radio show that comes on on Sunday mornings called “the Jesus Christ show” (it’s on KFI AM 640, for those who want to know). The show is hosted by the Son of Man himself! The format is that callers call in with questions to Jesus and he answers them. I suppose that all of his answers are the correct ones, given the fact that he’s Jesus. Better than calling Dr. Laura. Anyway, a couple of Christmases ago, a caller asked Jesus about predestination. She wondered how man can have free will in the same universe with a God that sees and knows all. She said that even if we attempt to do otherwise, God can make you do what he has seen you do, and since we humans cannot defy God (I’m thinking that she meant physically), we are subject to God’s will. Therefore, she concluded, we have no free will. Jesus answered that man does in fact have free will. Despite the fact that God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful, we humans still determine our own choices in life. Jesus said that the caller was mistaken, and gave an example of what is meant when we say that God sees and knows all. He explained it by way of analogy: Jesus said that our free will and God is like “The Newlywed Game”. He said that, during the game, one spouse let’s say the husband, is secluded from his wife while she is asked a series of intimate questions (usually something to do with “whoopee”). The husband returns and is asked the same questions. They get points when their questions match. So let’s say that the wife is asked “what part of your body does your husband like most?”. She answers. “he likes my very shapely rear end”. When the husband returns from seclusion, he is asked the same question. He answers, “well, my wife knows that I totally dig her sweet bum!”. He got the same answer. Jesus told the caller that God’s knowledge is just like that. He said that the fact that the husband answered the same as his wife doesn’t mean that he knew what she was going to say. He said that God gets the answer right despite the fact that he doesn’t know what we’re going to do exactly. But then, all sorts of red, flashing lights went off in my head. The husband guessed the right answer. He really had no clue what she was going to say. A man’s knowledge of what goes on in his wife’s head is limited. But when we speak of God, this is not the case. God knows what we feel in our hearts. He knows about the sins that we merely think about. So, if God knows all the nasty thoughts (well, to be honest — in most cases, desires) that I entertain about rock stars, former high school classmates, and college professors, how can he not know what actions that I will undertake during the course of my lifetime? It seemed to me that the God that radio Jesus was describing was a God who only managed to get the right answers by guessing the right ones. He was right, but only gettierally. Besides, that, I know that, given the law of averages, some guesses are bound to be wrong. If there is even a chance that God might ( God forbid) guess wrong, then what does that mean for a God who among his qualities is perfection? I’d say that that would make him not God, wouldn’t it? Well, some people out there say that what the deal is, is that God sees all possibilities, that is, among the possible thousands of choices that we could have made in any situation, God sees every one of them, which includes the one that we eventually choose. So, say there are five possible worlds, and I’m trying to figure out which pair of shoes to wear. In one world, I put on my black Converse high tops. In another, I choose the white Nikes. In another, I wear high heels. In the fourth, I put on flip-flops, and in the fifth, I go barefoot. God sees all of these. (he sees every possible alternative, even the ones that I’m not aware that I have). All of these includes the choice that I make. I choose, since it’s such a nice day, to go barefoot. Now, that allows me to choose, since God saw everything and not me specifically. But I still have a problem. If God sees possible worlds, who he saw in those other worlds wasn’t me — as I exist in this particular world. He saw someone who looked like me who put on a pair of Converse high tops, but I, in this world, did not. So, God doesn’t know what will happen anywhere, which is really bad for the creator of the universe. Then again, we say that God sees all possibilities. Even if there are a million, God sees them (which leads me to ask, is there a point where we say that all those possibilities of everyone on the earth makes God’s task of seeing all possibilities too big of a task for God?). That means that my array of choices is within God’s knowledge. God is still setting the boundaries of my choices. Even if he sees all choices, my actual choice is there — he still saw it. This means to me that God is not only determining what goes on in my particular universe, but since all of those other people in those other possible universes (who look like me) have choices that are seen by God, he knows what they’re going to do. God not only determines choices here, but in all of those other worlds as well. Wow.

A Word

Before I lay into my topic, I want to say that I’ve been cruising the blogisphere lately, and I’ve seen something that others possess that my blog severely lacks, namely pictures. As I have chosen to write about the influence that popular culture has on philosophy, and by extension, on our collective psyches, I realize that a tremendously important element of our popular culture is the visual image — the photograph, the motion picture, the television, YouTube, etc. I realize that my omission is well… disabling in that a blog about pop culture should reflect just that — popular culture. I should have pictures of Gerard Butler or Megan Fox plastered all over my blog. But I do not. It’s the philosopher in me that insists that I need not display flashing lights nor need I show big boobs to garner an audience. Which just serves to prove why Katy Perry is more popular than Alvin Plantinga.