Thank you, Mr. Jackson

This morning when I woke up, I heard on the news that Farrah Fawcett had died. I have to say that it really didn’t affect me, because I’m a) female, and b) I was too young when Charlie’s Angels was on to remember anything about her being on the show. I think that My earliest memories of the show was when they added Shelly Hack. But this is all besides the point. My first thought, when I heard that she died, wasn’t “how sad” or even ” I wonder if she died with her family around?”. It was, in typical ghoul fashion, “who’s next?”. They say that celebrities die in threes — the old guy you thought was already dead, the obscure one and then the one from left field — that is, the person you’d least expect to die suddenly. I quicly went over the lists of celebrities in my head — Is Debbie Reynolds still around? When’s the last time Lindsay Lohan made the headlines? Wow, I haven’t seen Danny Devito in a movie lately, is Richard Branson still planning to try to go to space? That’s dangerous, right?… Then I thought about the celebrities that I’d appreciate it if they died, and then the ones that I’d really feel bad if they did, like Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart (why do we always say their names together, as if they’re a matched set or something) or George Romero. But then, my sister called me to say that Michael Jackson was in the hospital. I got kind of worried. I guess for my generation, Michael Jackson was about as big as you can get. If God was to go into music, he’d be Michael Jackson. I wouldn’t say that I had the Jackson bug bad back in ’83, but I was by no means immune. I definitely sported a “Beat It” t-shirt back in the day. I stayed up late to watch the premiere of “Thriller” on NBC’s late night video show (the name of the show escapes me suddenly). I have a copy of Moonwalker. So, although I’m reluctant to admit it, I am a fan. My thought, when my sister called me wasn’t he’d make the three — it was, “My god, I hope he’s ok”. It seems that there are people that you don’t want to die. It’s weird, that when my sister called me again to say that he had, I didn’t believe it. I kind of still don’t. How can Michael Jackson be dead? I can imagine the deaths of just about anyone else — my parents, some of my philosophy professors, that dude from my favoritte band, Kurt Vonnegut, even myself (and as an existentialist, I am quite prepared for that), but not him. There are some people that seem to exist in some other realm, somewhere where other people like me and everyone else don’t. Some sort of land of immortals. Like once you reach a level of popularity you become transcendent. I don’t know. It’s really hitting me more weird than I expected it to. I feel kind of bad for eagerly awaiting the next celebrity death this morning. I just feel kind of bad altogether. I’m not going to say anything more than to thank Mr. Jackson for putting out some of the most infectious music that has ever been given to the human race (and I mean that in a good way). I’ve never seen kids get up and dance to any other music as quickly as I’ve seen kids spring to their feet the instant someone puts on “Billie Jean”.
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An Opinion From A Meat-eating Non-vegan

For My money, the best thing to happen to vegans is the factory farm. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone, on the radio, on TV or in my face prattling on about how bad it is that we still live in a world where people still eat meat. What nonsense. I’ve noticed lately, that this sentiment seems to be spreading. I see a whole crop (yes, I meant to use the word crop — totally intentional) of anti-meat eating business out there. Books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, (and who can forget that wonderful Skinny Bitch?) movies like Food, Inc., websites like “Meet your Meat”, philosophy professors (in general), and all those other folks who like to say that they can’t eat anyting with a face or experiences pain (there are two really good dirty commants there, but I’ll ignore them for now). I don’t think that in all of my lifetime that I’ve ever heard the word “organic” as much as I’ve heard in the past six months. I’m trying hard not to think that Obama has something to do with all this health talk. But it does seem a little more than coincidental. I heard it said before, but the standard cud-chewers litany goes a little like this: if people had to render their own meat, the wouldn’t eat meat. This suggests that, for most people, having to look a cow in those big, dumb, eyes before you take him out to devour his muscle would turn even the most die-hard meat eater into a sniveling apologist for every person who ever ate an animal’s flesh. There’s the othre point that if we saw what goes on in the factory, none of us would want to eat meat (that’s why they like to pull out the pictures of veal calves. It’s funny, now that I’m thinking about it somewhat, that so many people who are plant eaters are also pro-choice. They are unphased by pictures of dead, aborted fetuses, but moved to action seeing a chicken in a cage. I’m not trying to open up that can of worms, but it is something worth thinking about.) I think that, at least on the first part, that they are wrong. I cannot say that having to kill my own food would turn me against eating meat. In fact, for some people, it has the opposite effect. Until quite recently, many people lived on farms, or at least had more to do with where their food came fromm other than waiting for it to be delivered in 30 minutes or less. For some of us, we are a generation or two from people who had to kill their own meals, at least from time to time. People who are raised on farms know that the animals amy be cute and cuddly when they are young, but they are not pets. There is s reason why you have cows or pigs or chickens on a farm — one day, you will be eating them. The ast of killing one’s dinner is, of course, not for everyone. And we’ve all heard the stories from people who were raised on farms who (usually when they were kids) spirited away papa’s best tom turkey before it became Thanksgiving dinner. The story usually ends up that the kid eventually wins over the family, and they have a wonderful, cruelty-free vegetable dinner (I’m not saying that these stories are made up, but they do tend to sound the same. All I’m saying). If you don’t want to kill your own food, don’t. I’m not going to question anyone’s manhood if they don’t or can’t. What I’m saying is, is that for every person who hid the chickens from grandma so she couldn’t wring their necks, there is a Ted Nugent, who gleefully hunts his food with a bow and arrow! By the way, a Time Magazine article called “Cow-Pooling” (June 15, 2009) shows the new “trend” in meat eating — families who buy meat directly from the farmer. A woman who was profiled for the piece called this practice “inspirational”. They say that the meat is better quality and it allows people to get to know the farmer who is raising their meat, so it eliminates the potential yuck factor in that knowing the farmer means seeing where the meat was raised and more importantly, rendered for human consumption. As for the second point, that the conditions under which meat is made meat, there’s a point there. I do have a slight queesiness when I look at the label of my ground beef, and it reads, “product of Canada, Mexico and USA”. It’s a little unnerving when you don’t know exactly from where your food comes from. Especially when it is a mix of every cow from here to wherever. I’ll cede the point that there is a problem with the fact that most Americans don’t know how to provide for themselves (myself included), and that we are too far removed from the food-making process. I think this is why there are people who are revolted by the meat industry. We should be. It’s disgusting how we get our food — meat and vegetable. But, I don’t think that that’s enough to give up eating meat. The fact that cows are made to eat other sick cows or that chickens are pumped up with hormones to the point that they are all breast meat can be remedied. I heard in a movie, it was a pretty shitty movie, but a character said to another that she thought that her friends were vegetarians because they’re afraid of death. I don’t think that that’s too far off. The fact that, in order to get meat, something has to die, and the fact that something does does not sit well with alot of people. Maybe the problem really does have something to with death. Death, no matter how you pull it off, has some amount of brutality to it (some may say it is the fact that things die that makes death brutal, regardless of the circumstances). I think that some people see becoming another animal’s meal as especially unbecoming of a creature. It’s kind of a low reason to die. But if we look around, that’s the reason why I’d say the majority of animals go. If you ask me, a lower reason to die would be that some asshole who runs your government decides that he wants to invade another country, so he send a bunch of people to go fight his war for him — compared to that, nourshing another animal seems like a downright noble reason to die. I’m politicizing here. Sorry. What I think is happening in the mind of my vegan planet earthers is a very noble, albeit misguided (maybe a little too simplified) notion of human nature. Most people that I know who object to eating meat on moral grounds are generally optimistic people. They tend to see the good in people. (or say that they do). I think that they see eating meat as a brutal practice that is done by brutal animals (although you may be hard pressed to get then to admit that any animal is actually “brutal”). They see people, because of their intelligence and capacity for self improvement, as better than what we often are. So, if we get rid of those parts of us that are brutal, we will be better people. If we stop eating meat, we will end world hunger, save the whales, end the genocide in Darfur, end the oppressive patriarchy that enslaves women and brown people across the world, and of course, spread a wave of socialism that will lift each person up and oppress no one. There will be peace finally if everyone would stop eating meat. Somehow I feel that even if everyone decided that we sould reduce our carbon footprint and stop eating meat tomorrow, that …. well.

The Art Of Not Paying Attention

I was reading through an issue of Entertainment Weekly, when I read that The Seventh Seal was being released as part of the Criterion Collection. I know that the movie is supposed to be about life and death, and God and all that, and that it’s one of those movies that I must see before I die — and I have seen it — it’s just that I don’t remember a damn thing of what I saw. What makes matters worse, is that I watched it in a philosophy class. You see, since I was in a philosophy class, I was supposed to be paying attention. And I thought that I was. Well, truth be told, I payed attention long enough to remember that there was some dude who played chess with Death (who, by the way, looked a little like Observer from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe that was no accident.), and that they’re all dead at the end. It’s not that the movie ended on a sour note that did it, either. Hell, I like bummer movies. And It’s not because it was in black and white. A few of my favorite movies were shot in black and white including Night of the Living Dead and The Bad Seed, both of which end with the deaths of the primary characters. And it wasn’t because the movie was long and boring either. I made it through taking philosophy classes — the realm of the tedious, sleep-inducing lecture. But a strange thing happened while I was watching this movie. It’s like I was never there to see it. Physically I was there, but my mind decided to take the day off (or my experience machine had powered down for repairs or whatever), because anything that happened between the opening credits and when the screen went dark at the end is a blur. (Which, consequently, is kind of the same thing that happened to me when I saw Donnie Darko. The opening credits started, and then everything went black.) Even now when I try to think about what I saw, all I can remember is how much a young Max von Sydow doesn’t look at all like Stellan Skarsgard, who played a younger Father Merin in the prequel(s) to The Exorcist. I remember more about those anal rapes they call the prequels to The Exorcist than I remember anything about an important film of philosophical significance. I know that this movie has lots of philosophical significance and that it is one of those movies that I’m supposed to see before I die, but I don’t really feel that bad for having missed it. I feel bad for lots of things (some of which I’m sure to tell in detail in future posts), but I don’t feel even the slightest bit of guilt for publically saying that I don’t remember anything about this movie. Which makes me think of something that a psych 101 professor said. He said that, for most people, childhood, when they think back on their own, is filled with many memories. They remember trips to the Grand Canyon with the folks, or fishing Lake Erie with granddad (wait, would that be safe?), or having their cheeks pinched past the point of human endurance by grandma’s knitting club (those women could have been guards at Gitmo). The point is, is that for most people, their childhood supplies them with many memories. Many memories of childhood, my psych prof said, is a pretty good indicator that a person had a fairly good childhood. But, for some people, he said, when asked about what they remember about being a kid, they usually say, “nothing”. My professor said that people who truly had a bad childhood don’t remember much, or what they do remember is sketchy at best. The point is, is that there was nothing that happened (while they were kids) that was worth remembering. That’s why they draw a blank when they thing back to when they were young. (And until then, I thought that everyone’s minds suddenly went blank after they reached four.) Anyway, I think that the same thing happened when I saw The Seventh Seal. I really didn’t see anything worth remembering. I’m not saying that the movie sucked (after all, it’s foreign — and that means that it has to be good), but what I am saying is that I already saw Bill and Ted play Twister with Death much more entertainingly. Once you’ve seen the knock-offs, it’s a little hard to appreciate the original. Like when you hear Beatles covers, and then hear the originals… kind of like that. So maybe what I am is a little jaded. Or maybe a little stupid.

While On A Walk

I HEARD THAT NIETZSCHE said that most (good) philosophy is done while one is on a walk.

That is to say, that getting out into the world does more to stir one’s mind than does sitting in a university, speaking to other people who do no more than echo exactly what we already think or say.

I think that’s true.

Sometimes, however, going out for a walk only results in experiences that only confirm why so many people out there, myself un-excluded, claim that they hate humanity.

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It’s not just a claim. I really do.

I thought that I would try, for god knows for what umpteenth-number time, to rid myself of the practice of seeing things so negatively.

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I thought that I would try to see the bright side of life, as suggested by the Monty Python song.

I think that there must be some higher force at work somewhere in the galaxy, because every time I attempt to see the worthiness of humanity as a whole, my hopes are dashed and I only end up confirming that people, as the Slipknot song says, equals shit.

Why the relentlessly negative and bad attitude towards people, you ask?

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To get back to Nietzsche, I was out for a walk. Nothing monumental, just a short jot before it really got (gets?) hot outside. You see, here, where I live in SoCal, there is no such thing as a gradual climb in the temperature. It’s cool one day, and 101 degrees the next. Go figure.

Anyway, I was out for a walk. Just like Nietzsche wants us to.

My walk kind of started off nice, mostly because I literally  hadn’t been out of the house all week. I gazed at the green grass, deeply inhaled the aroma of fresh-cut lawns, and listened to the chirping birds. I was deep in thought of what I had read the night before, a chapter from Kurt Vonnegut’s Man Without A Country. In the book Vonnegut said that he likes talking to people. I don’t. But I, having newly committed myself to sunny up my personality, decided that I would at least try to enjoy the company of others.

At the very least I could get in some thinking about things philosophically.

 

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DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS GOING ON RIGHT HERE

 

So I was out for a walk.

I realized I was enjoying my walk because I wasn’t bothered by anyone else’s company at that time.

…since I was walking alone.

But that’s kind of besides the point.

Now, I know that there are people who, for reasons that only they and their god know, decide that they should shout out things to people walking on the sidewalk or along the road.

I’ve personally never understood this phenomenon.

Well, that’s precisely what happened while I was attempting some Nietzsche-inspired walking.

Usually, if someone says something it’s something incoherent. It’s like the person shouting whatever decided to shout something, but then decides to back down — but only after the words have already left his mouth. It’s almost always a he who does it.

 

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THIS DUDE IS GONNA SAY SOMETHING…I GUARANTEE IT

 

Usually, the words they say aren’t so clear. But his time, it was a loud and clear “fuck you!”

This really left me confused.

Not to mention that it broke my chain of thought.

Now, really. It’s not that the words themselves offended me. They didn’t. I’ve said that particular phrase to other people on more occasions than I care to remind myself. But, usually, at least in the case that I’ve used that particular phrase, the person to whom the comment was directed deserved to have it said to them. I was just walking on the sidewalk.

And when I looked to see who said it, the guy seemed pretty angry, too. He looked really pissed off.

Schopenhauer pissed off.

 

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IMAGINE THIS FACE DRIVING BY SHOUTING “FUCK YOU!” OUT OF THE WINDOW

 

How can I explain what happened to me? I thought, for a moment, that I might have done something to offend the guy in the car. I thought about what I was wearing — just a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. That usually doesn’t get people that worked up. I was wearing a backpack, but there’s nothing on my bag I think would upset anyone. I had taken all of my Leftist political patches off of my bag.

Besides, I don’t think by the looks of this guy that he would have noticed if they were still there.

For a few moments, I really thought about why that guy would have said shouted “Fuck You!” at me.

For a moment I wondered if Nietzsche himself manifested in the flesh and shouted “Fuck You!” at me while I was walking?

I actually attempted to figure out if any of the (limited) list of philosophers I know of ever addressed why people feel the need to shout things to people who aren’t doing anything to them. I couldn’t think of any.

Kant probably did. He wrote about everything.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that there must be some explanation for why this is. Some deep-seeded philosophical need to express one’s ontology by shouting “Fuck You!” at people one doesn’t know.

There is, but I guess that, in the long run, the answer is psychological rather than philosophical.

That means Hume would probably know why.

 

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LOOK AT THIS GUY AND TELL ME HE DIDN’T SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” AT PEOPLE WALKING DOWN THE STREET WHILE HE RODE BY IN HIS CARRIAGE

 

There is some not-so-deep seeded need in some people to yell at people — the more shocking the statement the better. And since you’re in a car, and your intended shockee is walking, you’re long gone before the person ever gets his bearings straight enough for a proper response, whatever that would be.

What would be the proper response? An “ok, thanks buddy” or a “well, good day to you, too”?

I’m guessing that, on this subject at least, philosophers may not have spent any time thinking on why this is so; why people feel compelled to shout things at people walking down the street.

That would mean that at last there is something that philosophers don’t have an opinion about!

 

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ASKING PHILOSOPHERS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” FROM CARS SHUTS UP PHILOSOPHERS BETTER THAN DUCT TAPE

 

So, I guess my queries on the subject are better directed to the headshrinker than to the guy boring his class to death with examples of Gettier problems. Maybe with the proper philosophical insight, we’ll eventually figure out how and why anyone would find the need to shout “Fuck You!” to passersby by way of some epistemic debate or metaphysical claim.

I’m more than certain that some philosopher has some opinion about it.

They can’t leave any subject untarnished by their supposedly expert thoughts about everything.

I never did get those deep thoughts like Nietzsche said I would, though.

 

I’ve Got Oprah Winfrey On My Mind (to be sung to the old Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer jingle)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I adore Oprah. You don’t even have to say her last name, you just have to say “Oprah”, and everyone will know exactly to whom your voice refers. And of those souls around the world who have not yet heard of Oprah, they should — and they will. Earlier this year, Oprah hosted a series of programs called “Best Life Ever!”. An episode that aired January 5, 2009, was about weight. Oprah told us that weight isn’t just a physical issue. Our inability to contro our eating stems from a lack of love (bet you didn’t know that!). We must learn to love ourselves before we can shed the pounds (and as we all know, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all). I remember this quote, “The overweight you doesn’t stand before you craving food. It’s craving love”. The idea behind the episode is that what we think, in particular, what we feel about ourselves, influences how we act. This statement is a no-brainer. Oprah says that the cure for our food-induced self-destruction is this: You have to change your mind before you change your body. This, at first glance, seems like another duh statement. But, look at what she says. Immediately, several questions pop up. 1) what does the statement mean? 2) Does it mean that we must change what we believe about ourselves? 3) Is it possible to change beliefs in the way that Oprah suggests that we should? 4) Is she saying that we can make ourselves believe something? 5) So, for Oprah, is belief an act of will? I thought that, since I had no reason to assume that Oprah was insisting that changing one’s beliefs is an act of will, what she was suggesting was a tactic that is a little milder, like Pascal’s wager. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal suggested that we can acquire a belief in God by way of a “wager”. Pascal asks, what have we got to lose by believing in God? Pascal says, if we believe in God, and there is none, then no harm no foul. We don’t lose anything. But, if we believe in God and he does exist, then all the better. We are rewarded with eternal salvation. The idea is that your belief in God is prudential — it is in our best interest to do so. This may be what Oprah means — not as it pertains to God — but in what we believe in/about ourselves. It is precisely ourselves that changing one’s mind is supposed to fix. This is why I suspect that Oprah’s edit is more forceful that Pascal’s wager. Many dieters and addiction specialists know that, to change or end an addiction, compulsive behavior, or bad habit, such as smoking, gambling or overeating, one must change one’s mindset (in addition to changing behavior). This may require throwing out our entire belief system or at least our beliefs that have to do with ourselves. This is the mechanism behind 12-step programs and rehab. As George Clinton famously said, “free your mind and your ass will follow”. Again, a bit of a duh. We can say that this is a rehash of the mind-body issue. Descartes said that the world (reality) appears to him as he perceives it. Which is why Descartes employed his method of doubt to discern what he could accept as true (what he believed) about himself and the world. So, it seems that Oprah is suggesting that I must change what I believe if I want to gain contro of myself and my life. Perfectly Cartesian. But, there’s a problem. It is this: If I believe or say that I think that I believe that I cannot lose weight, this is because I hold that I am helpless against my own lack of willpower. Therefore, I will not lose weight. My behavior confirms my belief. I cannot stop myself, so I will not lose weight. Oprah says that this cycle will continue so long as I do not change my mind. I must stop telling myself that I cannot lose weight. But how do I do that? She says that I must stop accepting that I cannot. This appears to be a true (using the term colloquially) statement. It’s certainly anecdotally true, and may even be psychologically true. It may even be empirically true. But there’s something dubious about Oprah’s claim. When you start looking deeper at many of Oprah’s claims, the stink of dubiosity begins to rise. The problem may be this: Oprah is simply guilty of using a poor choice of words or worse yet, she is guilty of non-specificity. When we say that we’ve changed or are going to change our mind, we’re talking about what we think, believe or feel. We tend to use these words interchangably, but they are not the same (at least not philosophically). I suspect that this is what is going on here. This kind of word-switching is what is creating the problem. On it’s face, Oprah’s sentiment sounds wonderful and better yet, actually practicable. But, when we look at what the statement means, it gives us no means for actually solving our problem. It’s nothing more than flowery self-affirmation claptrap dressed in a nicely tailored, but empty suit. Before we do anything, we have to figure out what we are working with. Figuring out whether we are dealing with thoughts, emotions, or beliefs is crucial to whether we can follow Oprah’s advice at all. Since feelings do us absolutely no good when things philosophically, we must throw that out. Let’s assume that Oprah feels the same way about emotions as philosophers do (it’s not that they don’t have their place — it’s just that they don’t here). Let’s assume that Oprah wants us to change either our beilefs or what we think. If I say that I think something, I realize first off, that I can think of nearly anything. I can think that the sky is orange, or that I am 5’1, or that I will find a unicorn that knows and can sing the entire Donovan songbook, or that I will get a Ph.D in philosophy (hey, it could happen). But my thoughts can be anything that comes to my mind. They need not be true or actualizable. My thoughts need not be “thought through”. Unfortunately, my thoughts can and are often wrong. They are merely whatever I can conceive of in my mind. I could change my mind, but there is no obligation that changing my mind has to changing my body. I think that what Oprah is going for is something stronger — that if I change my mind, it will necessarily lead me to change my body. If that is what she is asking us to do, then what we must change are our beliefs. What I think differs from what I believe in that my beliefs are the thinks (if you will) that I am entitled to. My beliefs are connected (necessarily) to the idea of Truth. My beliefs cannot be any old thing or some willy-nilly notion. I must be justified, or have a good reason, for believing (a think) before I can call any think a belief. Without adequate evidence or unless something is analytically true ( I suspect that some will claim that what Oprah says is), I am not entitled to believe anything. Ok, this is what Oprah wants us to do, but the question that confronts us here is can we actually do what she wants us to do? Maybe not. There is a problem with what she is saying. The problem is two-fold: 1) Oprah is being vague (although one might say that the problem is ambiguity). Because we don’t know what Oprah is saying, we must make alot of assumptions (the only thing that I took away from my logic 300 class is that we don’t assume anything unless we have to). Oprah’s directive lacks clarity and definitude. Even though we might assume the she wants us to change our beliefs (as opposed to changing thoughts), we don’t really know. We’re not clear on what we’re doing because we’re not clear on what we’re doing (this may sound like a confusing duh, but it is really a sailent point to our discussion). 2) it’s impossible. If we are merely changing thoughts, Oprah’s advice is easy. But, if we are changing beliefs, then we might run into a problem. Namely, beliefs are not so easy to change. We cannot force ourselves to believe something, even if believing so will be better for us in the long run. Beliefs cannot be willed. Unlike body movements or thoughts that I can change by deliberate action, I cannot do so with beliefs. Truth is a necessary element to belief. What is true must also reflect what is. I cannot will what is true or what is not true. My beliefs aren’t the product of decision-making. If I accept one belief as true, but I have an opposing belief, I cannot accept both as true (lest I dare contradict of the Law Of Non-Contradiction). If I take both as true, I am guilty of self-deception. Worse yet, if I take contradictory beliefs to be true, I may be delusional or endulging in the worst kind of bullshitting (I could make a pretty good argument that this is exactly what Oprah requires one to do to follow her advice in the first place). The problem is, is that she doesn’t tell us either way. Our solution is to close our eyes, hold our noses, pick one (thought or belief) and hope for the best. While I’m on the subject over whether we should be dealing with what we think or with what we believe, I just thought of the tons of advice out there urging people to “think”. I, myself, own a T-shirt bearing the quote, “Think: It’s not illegal yet” (come to think of it, I think George Clinton said that, too!). I recall that the commedianne Janeane Garofalo used to sport a tattoo bearing the word “Think” on her wrist. After thinking about all this Oprah, I think that our emphasis on thinking is a part of why we’re having so much trouble with what we’re doing. Perhaps the city of Baltimore had the better idea with its billboard campaign that urged the citizens of the city to “Believe”. I think, perhaps, that believing is better than thinking. I wonder what Oprah would say about that?

Conversation Enders # 15: How To Appear Smart While Convincing Others How Stupid You Really Are Or, A Short Treatise On Pretentiousness and Choplogic

When I was in elementary school (5th grade to be precise), my 5th grade teacher, who shall remain nameless (not so much to protect his identity, but to avoid being sued), initiated a lesson that proved that “gifted and talented” kids may not be so. Some teachers did and still operate under the impression that so-called topnotch children should develop their critical thinking skills. This idea is obviously a big mistake. Try to see where this idea goes wrong. My 5th grade teacher attempted to introduce a classroom full of eleven year-olds to the philosophic enterprise of logical thinking. Yeah, right. Dude, we were eleven year olds! It’s difficult enough to get a classroom full of well over twenty one year-olds to sit down and shut up during an actual college level philosophy class, let alone attempting to reason with a group of hyperactive and disinterested kids (and we really were disinterested in learning any of that crap) that reading philosophy was going to make us into better people. The only thing that I remember about the whole ordeal is that the focus of all that crap he had us reading about was some dude named Harry Stottlemeyer. Needless to say, the attempt did not go over — at all. It was a lead zeppelin in the truest sense of the phrase. Unfortunately, my teacher’s failed attempt was just the first of many attempts by subsequent teachers to nurture one of education’s worst side effects — thinking too much. This overthinking is a problem to say the least. It affects both the educated and the uneducated alike. Unfortunately, it’s found among the educated in greater frequency than any other segment of society. This overthinking silll leads to another affliction among the over-educated set: the need to convince others how smart we are. If you’ve spent too much time around these over-educated types, you mave have noticed that they tend to manifest their need to impress with their brainpower in one of two ways: 1) impressing others with their extensive book knowledge. This is usually examplified by the incessant need to add more detail or backstory to information that other people already know. For example, a group of people are discussing the evils of slavery in the Americas. There is no real need to add detail to the horrors of slavery more than the fact that human beings were bought and sold as property. But the individual who needs to impress others with his smarts will inevitably add such factoids as the fact that the first recorded slaves came to the Americas in 1620, and that, throughout the slave-holding states, it was illegal for a slave to own a comb, or that, because of the prevalence of rape of female slaves, as high as 70% of the U.S. black population has European ancestry. It’s not that these facts aren’t entertaining or interesting. But the plain truth is, is that no one asked to hear what the guy had to say. His point was that he had to prove that he knew more about the subject than anyone else in the room. The second type of overthinker is the worst of the two: he is the person who finds the hidden significance and deep meaning in damn-near everything he sees — no matter how trivial or insignificant the thing is. We’ve all seen this jerk. Let’s say that there is a group of people reminiscing about the incredibly stupid TV shows that aired during their collective adolescence. The show that they are discussing is the incredibly, mind-numbingly awful saturday morning classic, Saved By the Bell. Without ever being invited into the discussion, Mr. Smarter-than-you decides that he is going to learn everyone about how Screetch reflects Hegelian alienation, or what Slater’s physique can teach us about Platonic forms. He decides to wow us all by explaining in painstaking detail, how Zach is really Nietzsche’s ubermensche. Whichever one we encounter, conversations tend to drift into the realm of the academic — where words like “pedantic”, “didactic”, and “soporific” come to mind ( I did a little wowing myself just there. I pulled out three 50 cent words!) All this overthinking (bombastic overthnking at that) tends to result in the exact opposite effect that it is intended to have. Amazingly, overthinking deralis thought. It creates a type of disposition in those who are prone to overthinking that we should only think about those things that are “important”. Inevitably, this line of thinking itself tends to cast the net of subject mater very narrowly. Conversations tend to be small and for the most part, uninteresting. I say, if you want to try this out, try talking to an academic about any subject other than their subject of choice or expertise. Good luck. The unfortunate result of this mindset is that those who think too much are often accused of snobbery. This, I think, has to do with why so many Americans are so dismissive of education. It’s esay to see that we have a real disdain for bookworms, smarty-pants, know-it-all’s. We hated Al Gore in part because he came off like he was smarter than everyone else (and worse yet, knew that he was). The allegation, however, isn’t entirely untrue. People who overthink are sometimes arrogant jerks who do feel that they are the smartest people in the room. The unfortunate side effect for those who overthink is that many of them become so wrapped up in being dismissive of anything that does not warrant intellectual merit, that they often miss the point of thinking entirely. The key is that we must remind ourselves that it’s not that nothing trivial has significance to it. Eric Draven (aka, “The Crow”) said that nothing is trivial. Unfortunately for Mr. Draven, he realized that fact after he was stabbed a few times and chucked out of a 4th story window. For the majority of us, our lesson need not be so extreme. Now, it may be true that there are really trivial things that lack any significance whatsoever (for instance, it is a waste of time to contemplate the philosophic significance of my big toe), but it is easy to understand Draven’s sentiment. When it comes to overthinking, we have a problem. But, our solution is not dismissing all as insignificant, either. During the last KPFK fund drive (wait, that might still be going on now), a host lamented the fact that there are a bunch of movies at the cineplexes that don’t teach anything. That statement, and I think that she might take offense to my supposition, is exactly what is wrong with overthinking. It is possible to find, if one looks hard enough, significance or a lesson in nearly anything. I’d say that her problem is, is that she was being intellectually lazy and dismissing anything that set out to entertain as its first priority as non-instructive. There is as much to learn from Madea as we can learn from a documentary about detainees at Gitmo. (Really, this is true). That’s the trap. There is a possibility that, with all of our looking, that we run the possibility of looking too deep. The key is finding what the Buddha called the “middle way”. That is, when we look for significance, we must be careful not to overthink, but we must also watch that we do not underthink, either. Take what you watch or read or hear with caution. I was listening to “Fresh Air” a couple of nights ago while I was washing dishes. Terry Gross was talking to Woody Allen. I’ve been around philosophy types long enough to know that this guy is the total package so far as filmmakers go. Ask any philosopher which Woody Allen film he digs and you’ll be sure to hear Annie Hall, or Crimes and Misdemeanors sure as I can crack my knuckles. Personally, I’m a fan of What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. But that’s just me. I was amazed to hear Woody Allen say (alright, I already kind of knew this) that he isn’t a deep thinker. He says that people look all over his movies, looking for clues for life’s hidden meanings. But to him it seems, his movies are merely the product of his or his partner’s imagination. There is nothing more than what makes for a good story. He says that he’s more likely to be the guy wearing a T-shirt drinking a beer than he’d be the guy knee-deep in some philosophic roundtable discussing the merits of some deep and complex philsophical theory. I know that many philosophers hail Woody Allen as some sort of movie god, and often rank him among those who are “philosophers” in the academic sense. I learned some time ago that Woody Allen, unlike say, Lakers (Go Lakers!) coach Phil Jackson, Harrison Ford or Steve Martin, wasn’t a philosophy major in college. He studied film… and flunked out. But you see, that’s where overthinking gets the best of people. Not only do they see deep thinking where it isn’t, but they also created a persona for a filmmaker to match their own tendency to overthink. I think that the king of (cinematic) pop, George Lucas, said it best when he said that there are people who dismiss films like Star Wars as fluff, but on the flipside, there are people who look way too deep. They’re so busy looking that they miss the point. I’d like to end on this note. I think that it applies: Back in the mid-90s, there was this Tom Petty video for the song “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. The viedo had all sorts of flashy images in it, and plenty of people started asking,”what does all of this mean?” (I guess it’s worth noting that this is the era when video directors like Mark Romanek and Mark Pellingham were churning out videos that had “meaning”). I remember watching VH-1 one afternoon when the subject of Tom Petty’s video came up. The second most frequently asked question about the video (right behind “Is that a man?”) was what did the video mean? Tom Petty’s answer was that the video meant nothing. There was no point other than to throw alot of cool stuff together in a video (although I suspect that there was some deconstructivist that said that there was meaning, and of course, Tom Petty didn’t see it). That’s so cool! And it’s especially cool for this point: you can dig too deep and shoot right past the answer. You can dig enough and find meaning that was lurking in a Romero zombie flick, or finding the Jungian archetypes in Lucas’ Star Wars. But you can also not look at all and still get it. The point in all of this is that, despite my early trauma with the likes of that Stottlemeyer bastard, and my excursion into the academic world of overthinking (something I have not completely shed from my soul yet), I am aware of, and seeking that happy balance between the two extremes.

Half-assed Apologies

While I’m on the subject of negativity, I’d like to acknowldge that, from time to time, I can go a bit too far. I was looking at a previous post I’d written called “I truly hate the well-intentioned”. I was shocked by the level of vitriol that I had expressed in that post. I don’t think I was being so much negative as I was being mean. I must have been really pissed off about someting or on my period to write so meanspiritedly about people who mean well (and the Pacifica listening audience). Sorry to those who were the targets of my meanspirited commentary (and there were particular people that I had in mind writing it). Though I’m apologizing for the level of meanness, I’m not, however, taking abck the sentiment that I had expressed in that post. I still think that people who say that the solution for racism is race-mixing are more than a little misguided in their “solution” for the problem. If you think about it, their solution may be worse than the cure. But I don’t want to open up that can of worms today.