Who Wants A Pizza Roll?

Last night, I spent several hours of my like (that I most assuredly will not get back) watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on YouTube. I wouldn’t bring this up but for the fact that I spent hours watching re-dubbed clips from a cartoon that I didn’t even watch when I was a kid. HOURS….

Like many of my fellow internet (is that supposed to be spelled with a capital “i”?) junkies, I’ve fallen victim to the internet meme. I’ve seen The Bed Intruder, David After Dentist, Shit People Say (white girls, black girls, fat girls, gay guys, straight guys, broke black guys, you name it, I’ve seen every bit of shit they say), “Chocolate Rain”, Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat, “Friday”, Double Rainbow, the cinnamon challenge, Bert is evil, and the Star Wars kid. I’ve seen Tebowing, planking, epic fails, Charlie the Unicorn, The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger,  and “Leave Britney Alone!” I’ve been one cupped, Rickrolled, and I’ve taken an arrow to the knee. I can’t say that watching any of these things has enhanced my life in any discernable way – but I can say that taking the time to think about why I’ve watched – and continue to watch these internet memes means philosophically.

For those of you who have ever wondered, the word “meme” (short for the Greek word “mimeme” meaning “something borrowed”) was coined by the famous (or infamous) atheist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, described a meme as an idea, style,  behavior, or other piece of culture that is transmitted from and/or imitated by a person or group to (or from) another person or group. Internet memes are usually (with a few exceptions) meant to convey humor or to exploit play upon the public’s familiarity with a pop culture reference.

Although most of us know our memes through social media (notably social networking sites such as Facebook,  YouTube, and websites such as “Know Your Meme”), the public’s knowledge of memes has expanded beyond cyberspace to include people who are admittedly unfamiliar with or do not use social media — you know, those people that claim that they have a “life”. Everyone and their grandmother knows who the “ridiculously photogenic guy” is, and there’s not a person on Earth who hasn’t either heard of or seen Kony 2012. But that’s, as they say, where the problem lies.

The thing about memes, in particular, internet memes, is that they are purely there to grab our attention for a brief amount of time before we move on to the next thing we’ll pay attention to for the next fifteen minutes. Internet memes embody the worst of our culture and our tendency to focus too often on the trivial and  simplistic, dumbed-down soundbites that cater to the powers of anti-intellectualism (thus failing to comprehend deeper meanings). When people focus too much on the trivial, philosophers warn, we fail to fully understand the complexity of ideas such as reality and Truth; we cannot operate in a world that we do not fully understand.

The late Canadian literary critic, philosopher, and communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) said, “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”  This is why in the Republic, Plato says that we must be mindful of what kind of entertainment that we show to our children. As a child’s mind is impressionable, the wrong kind of entertainment can corrupt a child’s mind. Mind you, Plato isn’t making a moral argument – he’s not saying that watching internet porn makes people behave badly (although that may or may not be so). What Plato is saying is something much worse than moral corruption – that watching trivial things makes people stupid. What we see, particularly on television and (increasingly so) on the internet influences our thinking. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “The aim of philosophy is to think for oneself.” When we spend our time watching Miss Teen South Carolina flubbing her Q&A or the Tron Guy instead of studying (preferably philosophy) or spending time in contemplation, we lose the ability to function as fully autonomous rational beings.

And really, would the world be a better place if everyone watched LOL cats?

 

 

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NOW I HAVE TO BE A FASHION ICON?!?!?!?

The great Coco Chanel once said, “Beauty comes when fashion succeeds”. The key to doing good is looking good. That’s because every girl’s crazy for a sharped-dressed man. It seems that everbody has to look good these days. I mean EVERYBODY. I’m not that old, but I recall a not-too-long-ago when one’s looks, at least one’s fashion sense, wasn’t subject to so much… scutiny. Really. I live nowhere near the fabulous Hollywood lifestyle, yet, even I feel that I have to a maintain ready-for-paparazzi wardrobe.

One never knows; I might end up on YouTube.

What’s really bugging me about our 24 hour runway look is that I know that we weren’t always like this. Sure, one is incouraged to look good (that means no wearing pajama pants at the bank), but there were at least sometimes when you could let your looks “go”. As a person of the female persuasion, I was especially grateful that women, who are often held to an impossibly high standard of feminine beauty, are given a pass on at least two occasions: pregnancy and weight gain.

There was a time — long ago in a galaxy far, far away — that once a woman put on weight or had another person growing inside of her body could “get away” with not paying so much attention to how she presented herself in public. After all, until recently, fat chicks and those with child elicited more “ewws” than “oohs”. I don’t know exactly when food or pregnancy-induced plumpness stopped being a viable excuse explanation for one’s less than fabulous fashion choices (I blame Demi Moore) but the fact that I’m not a size five is no longer an option to excuse explain why I choose to wear men’s shorts and a 2x T-shirt to pick up tomatoes and air freshener the supermarket.

In my defense, I gotta say those shorts are comfortable.

You see, there’s more to this than we think. What we wear isn’t just a matter of looking good versus looking frumpy. How we look, and how we present ourselves, really has more to do with who we are than wearing the appropriate color palettte for the season (this Spring’s colors include Tangerine Tango, Sodalite Blue, Cabaret, and Starfish). What we wear has deep philosophical meaning.

Anyone who has ever seen anyone wearing (at a local Starbucks) or sported a Che Guevara T-shirt knows that our clothes can be used to convey what we believe. Clothes can tell other people our politics, religious convictions (or lack thereof), our sense of humor, or that we’re with stupid. Our clothes often tell others whether we are rich or poor, where we were educated — and especially our gender. When we see a person wearing a dress, even if we cannot see the person’s face, we assume that the person wearing the dress is female. Likewise, if we see an individual wearing a 3-piece suit and hat, we’d assume that Don Draper has just entered the building (that is to say, we assume that the wearer is male).

The problem I think (when I think about it) that I have with the pressure to always look like I’m ready to shashay down the runway is that our clothing defines us, but our clothing can also confine us. My inner feminist philosopher feels that the necessity to look as glamorous as a supermodel or celebrity traps me in an ideal of feminism that is more of a social construct than it reflects who I authentically am. When I dress according to how Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine says I should dress, am I truly being me? Am I representing who I am or am I just conforming to a social convention created by the sexist, heterosexual, patriarchy intent on, as Simone de Beauvoir says, perpetrating “a myth … to confine women in their oppressed state”?

I’m Pretty Sure I Know Why Philosophers Don’t Get Chicks

I think too much about things. I don’t even discriminate about what I’m thinking about. I remember that Heidegger once said something about a difference between thinking and philosophy. Heidegger encouraged taking long walks to contempate life and stuff. Good advice. Then again, Heidegger also encouraged National Socialism.

Which brings me to what I’ve been thinking about: thinking about thinking too much. It can really be a bad habit. This is a short list of what I thought about today:

  1. why are all the clocks in my house set to a different time?
  2. where is that smell coming from? (i know it’s not the refrigerator since i just cleaned that. can a microwave stink?)
  3. what’s going to happen on season 3 of The Walking Dead?
  4. i hear a meow but i don’t see my cat
  5. the toothpaste stain on my shirt is really noticable
  6. i don’t have enough gifs on my tumblr page
  7. really, where is that damn cat???
  8. three really is a magic number
  9. nicolas cage can’t be that bad an actor

With the exception of item #3, nothing that I thought of today was really worth thinking about –at least not thinking in the sense of Heidegger meant. My thoughts yielded no philosophical insight, no enlightenment, nothing. I could have literally taken my brain out of my skull this morning and my thoughts would have yielded the same result!

Can you believe that’s exactly the problem with thinking? Believe it or not, the problem isn’t when you substitute thinking for philosophy that you’ll end up thinking about the downward trajectory of Nicolas Cage’s film career, but that you don’t think about the trivial stuff  — the stuff that shouldn’t matter — at all.  You see, that’s wha Heidegger really meant when he said we should think instead of philosophize. Thinking about things that shouldn’t matter sometimes gets us ’round to thinking about the things that do.

This Egoist Is No Fan of Ayn Rand

      Some time ago, I wrote blog post called “What Is Kantian Egoism?”. Although the concept of egoism was clear to me, I soon realized that others had other ideas in mind, namely, an idea that, from 1905 to 1982, was known as Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982), the Russian-born author/philosopher, most known as the founder of Objectivism and the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, is often associated with egoism and it’s ethic of rational self-interest. For those unfamiliar with Ayn Rand’s sentiments on rational self interest, Rand wrote this:

“Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness.”

Although egoism is most associated with Ayn Rand, Rand is not the first to espouse the virtues of egoism. The German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856)   said that it is irrational not to act in one’s own interest. Pursuing one’s own interest is a part of our self-realization. According to Stirner, egoism isn’t necessarily about getting the immediate pleasure or good. That’s why interests are called rationalself interests, we think before we act. And for the egoist, an act is morally permissible if and only if the act produces the greatest good for the agent — even if we have to wait awhile to get what we want.

Now, I can explain that egoism simply means acting in a way that is beneficial to me and my interests, but no matter how many times I omit the words “Ayn” and “Rand” from my description, the first question I inevitably hear is “Oh, so you like Ayn Rand?” For the record, my answer to that question is and shall be no. I am not a fan of Ayn Rand. I freely admit that I harbor more than a few kooky ideas — but none of my ideas includes the sentiment “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

For the record, Ayn Rand’s ideas did.

As an egoist, I admit I just don’t understand Ayn Rand. Sure, we’d all like to think of selfishness as a virtue. And really, how many of us has been accosted by a particularly aggressive panhandler and wished that said “moocher” would go away; or rather, that we could find a place to live that’s moocher free? Those sentiments are easy to understand but they’re often difficult to live by. As much as we’d like to live for no one but ourselves and our own rational self interest, there’s a big world out there filled with people that, moochers or not, we have to interact with. An egoist, if he’s smart enough, will figure out that the world is just too big — and the romantic ideals of (completely) self-made, self-sufficient men like Howard Roark and John Galt work better on the page or the silver screen than in reality.

If you don’t believe that’s so, remember this: Ayn Rand died on Social Security.

Zombies and Matters of Pragmatism

Funny thing about zombies…

The zombie film, most associated with George A. Romero’s flesh eating ghouls first depicted in Night of the Living Dead (1968), isn’t supposed to be something that one thinks about — that is to say, when one watches a zombie flick, one’s attention would not be focused on analyzing complex philosophical issues or concepts. Certainly with the standard zombie fare represented by notable titles such as Bong of the Dead, Redneck Zombies, Hood of the Living Dead, L.A. Zombie, Nudist Colony of the Dead, Zombie Strippers, Pot Zombies, and Aaah! Zombies, it’s no surprise that any serious philosopher would dismiss the entire zombie horror sub-genre as crap. I will admit I am no exception to this rule.

Don’t get me wrong, most zombie movies are crap. And really, they need not be anything more than what they are — simply movies with people being attacked and consumed by hoardes of the undead. (NOTE: the fact that a movie is crap does not negate the fact that it may be entertaining). The funny thing about generalizing, even when you generalize in the name of philosophy, is that sometimes — often times — you make a mistake. The mistake I’m thinking about goes by the name of the AMC series The Walking Dead.

Now I know what you’re asking, “what on earth does a TV show about zombies have to do with philosophy?”. Philosophers can debate whether zombie movies and TV shows like The Walking Dead are worthy of metaphysical or epistemic analysis, but certainly no philosopher in his or her right mind would ever claim that a zombie and/or zombie movie or TV show cannot be subjected to ethical scrutiny. My answer to the question is this: SHANE WALSH IS THE MOST PHILOSOPHICALLY FASCINATING CHARACTER ON TELEVISION. And how, you say, is Shane Walsh the most fascinating character on television? The answer is this: ETHICS.

Ethics is defined as the science of morals in human conduct. Ethical philosophers construct theories concerning how individuals can and should act. Ethical theories include utilitarianism, deontological ethics, situational ethics, divine command theory, ethical egoism, emotivism, intuitionism, pragmatic ethics and applied ethics. To be sure, Shane Walsh, or rather the late Shane Walsh (formerly played by Jon Bernthal) is certainly an ethical piece of work. We, the audience, watch Shane, a cop before the zombie apocalypse, devolve into a paranoid, murdering, unrepentant, would-be rapist psychopath, whose scheming to murder his best friend and former partner Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) results in Shane’s eventual death and zombie resurrection. To the causal observer Shane Walsh lacks any remaining thread of civility, but the philosophically-oriented eye, Shane is a case study in pragmatic ethics.

Just as pragmatism, founded by American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910) holds that the truth of a theory rests on how the theory works in practice, Shane Walsh’s method of dealing with and operating in the zombie apocalypse rests on his ability to get things done — that is to say, how his theories work in practice. William James wrote, “In practical talk, a man’s common sense means his good judgment…”, and certainly Shane Walsh’s common sense is based on his good judgment.

So… when Shane shoots Otis in the leg and leaves him to be eaten by a pack of zombies, or openly expresses his desire to call off the search for Sophia, or when Shane, against Rick’s orders, opens Hershel’s barn and treats the denizens of Hershel’s farm to the zombie equivalent of a turkey shoot, or when Shane openly challenges Rick’s ability to protect his wife and son (Shane tells Rick, “I don’t think you can keep them safe”), or when Shane leads Randall out to the woods to kill him, or attempts to kill Rick on three separate occasions, it’s not because Shane has lost all contact with his humanity. Shane does what he does because he know that his method of getting things done is simply what works.

Shane tells Rick, “You can’t just be the good guy and expect to live”. And in the end, Shane is right. In the last episode of season two, “Beside the Dying Fire”, Rick Grimes (after dispatching Shane) declares that he is leader of the group of survivors and that the group is no longer a democracy (fans of the show lovingly refer to Rick’s declaration as the beginning of the “Ricktatorship”). Rick realizes that Shane is right. In the post-civilization zombie world, high-minded ethical systems like Kant’s deontological ethics or Aristotle’s virtue ethics are no longer applicable. If a man wants to survive the onslaught of the undead he has to be willing to only do what has practical value — what will allow not only himself, but others to survive.  Shane Walsh does not lack morality, as some have claimed. He is neither amoral, nor is Shane Walsh purely in it for himself (Shane’s repeatedly tells Rick that he wants to protect Rick’s wife and son, and even saves the lives of others, including Rick Grimes and fellow survivor Andrea, thus demontrtating that he is motivated by someting other than his own desires). Instead, Shane Walsh exhibits the kind of morality that is not bogged down by concepts of virtue or absolute duties. Shane’s willingness to follow the pragmatic approach to morality not only saves lives, but also allows Rick Grimes to live long enough to stab Shane through the heart.

Sobering thoughts on Death means Socrates is right

Philosophers love to think about things. We make it our habit of thinking about everything, even things that most people don’t — or to the point, won’t think about. A philosopher’s thoughts are usually limited to thinking about round squares, the nature of reality, or some obscure Leibniz text that no one has ever read or wants to read. This activity usually satisfies the intellectual curiosity of most philosophers. However, one of the sobering side effects of thinking about everything has us contemplating subjects that no one, not even philosophers, like to think about.

The subject at the top of that list of subjects is death.

That’s right. Death.

I must admit, I hadn’t thought that much about the subject for quite awhile. But just as each rising dawn and setting sunset reminds us that each day we slowly trudge closer to our own inevitable end, sometimes death jumps right in our faces and tells us that we are all doomed to fall into her inescapable hands.

May 4, 2012. For some people, May fourth was a joyous day — and as I rose that morning I looked forward to celebrating my undying fandom of Star Wars (for those of you who don’t know May 4th is Star Wars Day). But, a quick glance on MSN ruined my commemoration of  George Lucas’ science fantasy masterpiece. May 4, 2012, Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, died. He was only 47 years old. Now, if I was a younger person, Yauch’s age wouldn’t have bothered me. But seeing that I am closer to 40 than I am to 20, Adam Yauch’s death has affected me much more than it would have (even) several years ago.

As a Beastie Boys fan, I am saddened by the loss of such a talented artist. But even since Adam’s Yauch’s death two weeks ago, the philosopher inside me is wondering: Why am I still bothered by the idea of death?

In Phaedo, Socrates said that the philosopher, more than other people, wants to be free from “association witht the body as much as possible.” Death, according to Socrates, frees the soul from it’s impure body. Once we die our souls are free to be virtuous — we are pure. The point of philosophy, Socrates says, is to prepare us for death. I know that this is how I’m supposed to think about death, but somehow the thought of having to die a painful death from cancer, heart disease, or a shark attack in order to be freed of my impure body so my soul can be virtuous is not at all comforting.

In my philosophical opinion, that idea kind of sucks.