What I think about what happened in Colorado

I guess living in America (and when I say America, I mean the United States) you get used to a few things: presidential elections every four years, a media that specializes in “infotainment”, and mass murder.

Statistically speaking, the U.S. is a pretty violent place to live.

There was a mass shooting in Colorado five days ago.

The shooting suspect, James Holmes, is accused of killing 12 people and wounding more than 70 others.

It’s pretty easy to become jaded about things like this (to dismiss this as just one more crackpot on another killing spree) or to make light of the situation by cracking jokes about the color of James Holmes’ hair or whatever else we can laugh at from afar. But, as a human with a family of my own and people who I care about (not to mention caring for my own safety), I am horrified by the actions of an individual who, for whatever reason, decided to take the lives of innocent people. As an American, I am saddened by the realization that along with the shock and horror, inevitably will come the media with their vulture-like fascination with all things violent and tragic. But, as a philosopher, I am left to wonder why philosophers are so silent (or have been silenced) in the media?

Let me get this straight; I don’t want to throw my two cents in just because everyone else has something to say about what happened. There’s enough speculation and entertainment-izing of this tragedy going on as it is. But when every news show, entertainment program and blogger has either thrown in his or her “this is what I think happened”, with an unending que of guests, therapists, and experts ready and more than willing to explain their version of the what and why behind James Holmes’ act (most of these guests are tangentially connected to the event — at best),  I am left to wonder, if the actor Stephen Baldwin is acceptable enough to go on Headline News’ Showbiz Tonight to talk about James Holmes’ act, why wouldn’t a philosopher be welcome on any media program as well?

I can’t be the only person who has noticed this.

After all, are philosophers not qualified to discuss matters of ethics? Certainly we would place a moral value on what James Holmes did. If we say that what he did is wrong, why would we not trust a philosopher to explain why we feel that it is? Again, I ask, are philosophers not qualified to discuss the morality of violent cinema or gun control? Are philosophers not capable or qualified to discuss the ethics of how we treat the mentally ill, punishment and retribution or the death penalty? Certainly, if there is any time when we should look to philosophers, shouldn’t that time be now?

Is there not one ethicist that the media can talk to?

I suppose not.

Instead of philosophers, we get this:

sbt-stephen-baldwin-colorado

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NSFW

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey has 20 things that she knows for sure? Really. She does. She absolutely, positively knows at least 20 things (although I suspect that Oprah knows a great deal more than she’s letting on). Personally, I don’t know much. Honestly I don’t know jack.

But of all the things that I don’t know (and there are plenty), I know this one thing: If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that philosophers are full of shit (and they do), I wouldn’t be worried about how I’m going to make money doing philosophy for a living.

I’m not really worried. I’d say I’m concerned about the fiscal future of my chosen profession.

In addition to being broke, I’m also a bad liar.

It’s time, as they say, to face the truth.

There’s something called the truth out there. But there’s also something out there called the bitter truth. The bitter truth is, every time I tell someone who I non only have a philosophy degree, but I also intend to make a “living” doing so, some joker ends up emailing a supposedly “funny” picture like this:

It seems that everybody and their high school dropout best buddy with an opinion has got something funny to say about philosophy.

The funny thing is, pictures like the one above (see: above picture) is just about the only time that you ever see philosophy being funny. Take any area of philosophy. The result will always be the same. You’ll find plenty of stuff about reality and the meaning of life, monads, and Hegelian alienation, but you know what you ain’t gonna find? Anything funny.

Not to say that philosophy should be anything like watching Lisa Lampanelli do her stand-up routine or anything like that, but I’ve been around philosophers. Epistemologists aren’t funny. Neither are philosophers of religion, Transcendental Idealists, people who take Derrida seriously, or Randian Objectivists. And feminist philosophers are absolutely no fun at all.

While you’re thinking about other kinds of philosophers who induce sleepiness, watch this (NSFW):

I know, I know. The reason why Lisa Lampanelli is funny is because her humor is rooted in an appeal to the emotion. Not only that, but it’s also easy to be funny when the inherent quality that makes humor funny is its logical incongruity.

Philosophy is supposed to be all about reason.

I know this because philosophers of humor know this.

Really, there is a philosophy of humor.

You know, I’ve read a lot of philosophy, and I’ve seen some philosophers say some pretty amazing and controversial stuff. But I have never once seen a philosopher say in the title an email “NSFW”.

I don’t think I ever will.

Well, maybe Wittgenstein would have. I’m sure  if there was such a thing as social networking in his day, his Facebook status updates would have been very…

entertaining.

I think I should totally exploit this having boobs thing

I’ve heard so many times in life, to be truly happy, you gotta do what you love. I love philosophy. NO joke. I do. I love thinking about things and studying the ideas behind everything we do and believe. I love philosophy so much that I wrote a book about it. It’s called Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed To Know About Popular Culture.

This is what the cover of my book looks like

 Like every other philosopher out there, I also share the single-minded belief that philosophy is not only still relevant in our pop-driven culture, but that I’m just the philosopher to bring philosophy back to the intellectual discourse-starved masses.

Lofty ideals, I know.

I know that I love philosophy (as much as any person can “love” an abstract, anyway). I know that I want to spread the word of critical thinking to the people (a particularly relevant goal given the Texas GOP’s opposition to “critical thinking skills”*). But here’s my problem: my goal isn’t quite working out the way I want it to. I know this might be difficult to believe, but I haven’t exactly succeeded in bringing philosophy back to the masses.

One problem might be that I insist on calling people “the masses”.

I blame that on Marx.

* by the way, if you think I’m either joking or lying about the Texas GOP, I’m not. Check this out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html

Anyone who has a dollar in their wallet (right now I have two. At least I’m making money like a philosopher) knows that the key to success is popularity. And the key to popularity is marketing. If  I want to make philosophy, specifically philosophy written by me, popular, I have to market it correctly. That means I have to make philosophy interesting to people who aren’t inclined to read philosophy.

I think the professionals call that knowing your audience.

Wait — hold up. I’m hearing Karl Marx screaming in my ear. He’s saying something about bourgeois property and the victory of the proletariat.

Obviously Marx knows nothing about selling a book.

Did I mention that I’ve written a book?

I did, you know.

Anyway, we all know that philosophers are a dime a dozen (probably not even worth that much these days), and everybody’s got something to say about everything.

 … even Dr. drew’s got a night-time show.

If everybody out there thinks they got some kind of philosophy that everybody needs to know, marketability is a not-too-unimportant thing. So, I ask, what makes me marketable? What things about me can I exploit to my philosophical advantage? I gotta admit, that up until now my unsuccessful tactic has to be neutral — that is, I use my initials instead of my real name. I use a picture of Nietzsche, dressed in a Superman outfit, wearing a cape instead of using a picture of the real me. When I write philosophy, I’ve decided to make sure not to reveal that I am neither male nor white (you see, most philosophers are male and white). I’m beginning to think this wasn’t a wise move.

It seems my attempt at neutrality might have neutralized my philosophy career.

Although pretty much everybody in one way or another does philosophy, among professional philosophers, women — especially minority women — are pretty rare. I want to be a philosopher, but I know if I write from a “female perspective”, I’ll end with a BIG OL’  NAME TAG that says feminist philosopher.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate feminism and I appreciate feminist philosophers. But when people think of an image of what happens when feminism meets philosophy, this is sometimes what they think:

this lady probably reads a lot of Kate Millet

If I tell people what I am a black (yes, I still use the word “black”) feminist philosopher, people might think this:

this is not me. it’s close, but it’s not me.

 

I would be expected to wear this shirt everywhere I go

Being a philosopher is all about truth, and truth be told, this may be my most pressing philosophical dilemma.

I think Sartre said our most pressing philosophical dilemma is deciding if should or shouldn’t commit suicide.

I have no idea why Sartre would say something like that.

Maybe it was because he didn’t feel his philosophy was very marketable.

He should have written a book.

I know if I want to get my name up there with the philosophy big kids I got to make myself marketable…

Hmmm… Kim Kardashian got popular with a sex tape.

I don’t think that’ll go over with the philosophy crowd, though.

*by the way, if anyone knows of a sex tape with a philosopher, email me at girlwithrox@hotmail.com

… I’ll write a book about you.

I don’t think Alex Comfort ever mentioned an epistemic position…?

When I want to be honest about what I do; when someone asks me exactly what doing philosophy is all about, I tell that person that I’m in the business of opinions. Well reasoned opinions, mind you, but opinions nonetheless.

However, one opinion you’ll rarely, if ever see is my opinion on religion.

On the subject of god worship, I tend to think to each his own. A person is free to worship whatever or whoever (whomever?) they choose. I say, you can worship Allah, Jehovah, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, invisible pink unicorns, the devil, a head of lettuce, or the cat next door, so long as your god of choice doesn’t want to interfere with my business, I could care less what you believe in.

I know that some people disagree with me on this.

I know that as laid back as my attitude is about religion, there are folks out there who take the business of worshipping a deity as seriously as I am apathetic towards the topic. I’m talking about the kind of people who are willing to blow up you, your mom, your neighbor’s dog, or anyone within several square blocks if you say you don’t believe exactly as they do.

With this in mind, I often fail to understand why philosophers would want to get involved with religion.

But they do.

CAUTION: FLASHBACK AHEAD

I remember I once told a professor of mine that I thought that philosophers shouldn’t get involved with religion. You see, I argued that the average Joe or Jane wouldn’t be inclined to visit their local philosopher of religion if they were stuck in a crisis of faith. A person who is struggling with the question whether to believe or not believe in God isn’t likely to be swayed by logically correct arguments or a theodicy that claims to solve the problem of evil. What the average Joe wants, I said, is to have a reassurance of faith — and faith, a belief or trust without logical proof,  is exactly what philosophers claim philosophy is not about. I said that philosophers should abandon philosophy of religion and leave the God debate to the pastors, priests, and theologians.

My professor told me I was in no epistemic position to make that kind of judgment.

I guess he was right.

Robert Audi, William Lane Craig, John Hick, Anthony Kenny, William Alston, Paul Draper, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, and Peter van Inwagen are a just a few philosophers who have decided to throw their hats into the ring they call philosophy of religion. Wait, you say. You say that you heard somewhere that philosophers are all godless reason worshippers who cram their Randian rational self-interest down the throats of defenseless college students and claim that we should be reading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris instead of studying the blessed eternally true Word of Jesus Christ.

Actually that’s a fairly true statement about philosophers.

Epistemologists, anyway (rimshot).

Really, there are many philosophers that not only worship a supreme deity, but argue that believing in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly good being makes philosophical sense. Believe it or not, there are philosophers out there, right now, that argue that God exists. There are other philosophers who argue that even if we can’t prove that God does (or does not) exist, we are perfectly rational for believing that God is as real as you and me.

If you think I’m lying to you watch this:

You know something? Even though I’ve seen and read a few philosophers of religion, I think that philosopher are missing something. Sure, philosophy brought the world Warranted Christian Belief, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and divine command theory (that’s an ethical theory, in case you didn’t know), but I’m still convinced that philosophers are missing the point. There’s a reason why more people read Rick Warren than William Lane Craig — and it’s not because Rick Warren is sexier.

The reason why we turn to the church when we want to contemplate God is because churches, unlike the hard, logical arguments of philosophers, offer believers emotional comfort. Philosophy isn’t about comforting people and it certainly isn’t about emotions. Philosophers don’t really like it when you tell them that you believe on faith or that you feel that your belief in God is right. Be honest, if you wanted to feel God’s presence, would you rather watch this:

or this?

 

Plantinga seems like a swell enough fellow, but you don’t have to be in any epistemic position to know which one you’d choose.

Am I right?

By the way, what the frak is an “epistemic position” anyway?

 

 

A Friend Indeed

It’s happened to everyone.

…Well, at least everyone with a Facebook account.

You know what I’m talking about. That moment when you’re looking at your Timeline (still despising Mark Zuckerberg for changing a perfectly reasonable layout) when you suddenly realize: you’ve lost a Facebook friend.

No matter how cynical we get, friendship is still a pretty big deal. We need friends. Without friends there would be no shoulders to cry on after a bad break-up, no one to tell secrets and start rumors about other friends to, and more importantly, no wingmen (or wingwoman) to “jump on the grenade” for you when your head to the bar to get your “f**k on”. Friendship is so important that this TV show not only existed, but made its stars very famous:

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers recognized the importance of friendship. Aristotle wrote,

“Friendship is a virtue, and the most necessary thing…Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things of life.”

The philosopher Epicurus also wrote,

“Of all the means which wisdom gives us to ensure happiness throughout ours lives, by far the most important is friendship.”

Having friends allows us to take adorable pictures like this.

… and groupshots like this.

… and watch this on Saturday mornings

We know that our friends not only comfort and support us, but also teach, guide, and influence what kind of people we are (which explains why our parents never wanted us to play with those kids). Our friends are our mirrors; they reflect the kind of people we are and want to become.

NOTE: If you’re really interested in what professional philosophers have to say about friendship (and I seriously hope you aren’t) you might want to skim over read this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/

But of course, when we read what Aristotle, Epicurus, and philosophers in general have to say about friendship, the kind of friends they’re talking about are the ones we actually interact with — the people we say that we know. This, of course, is the distinction between our real world friends and the friends we have online. Our online friends increasingly are people that we’ve never met. Many of our online friends are people that we will never meet.

You might want to add a “thank god” after that.

So what’s so troubling when we realize that we’re the victims of a Facebook extraneous friend purge? It obviously can’t be that we will feel the sting of our 308th Facebook friend’s absence. We won’t lament the lack of the intimacy that Aristotle argues is necessary for authentic friendships. So what is it? Why does it still hurt to lose a Facebook friend?

Ok, it hurts me. I’ll admit that.

I think that I know the answer.

We don’t really miss the friendship. That was non-existent to begin with. What we miss is the number. We’re a species that tells itself that bigger is better and the number of our Facebook friends is no exception. Most of my Facebook friends have 100 friends or more. A couple of my Facebook friends have maxed out their alloted friend capacity. Until this afternoon, I had 69 friends. (yeah, I know. A painfully pathetic minute number). Right now, I have exactly 68 Facebook friends — because one of my “friends” unfriended me. Now, I didn’t know the person personally, so I know that Aristotle would say that this person and I were never really authentic friends to begin with. And really, I wasn’t too terribly upset by the unfriending (ok, maybe a little miffed), but what was really on my mind was now I only have 68 Facebook friends.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It’s not that I’m losing real friends. I’ve still got those. But the reason why I was so upset about losing the friendship of someone who I’ve never met and most likely will never actually meet is because that number, my Facebook friend number, means something. It doesn’t count your friends, you know. You know what that number does? It tells the world how popular you are. That’s why everyone else can see it. In a world where fame is considered the most addictive drug of all (wait, I think that was a quote from the opening credits of Politically Incorrect. But hey, it works) our Facebook friends list becomes our own Me Appreciation Society; an exact count of our admirers who view and respond our posted pics like we gawk at the pictures of high-profile celebs (and the cast of Jersey Shore) in checkout counter tabloids, and literally “like”what we have to say, whether we’re commenting on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign or announcing what we’re cooking for dinner.

If this our Facebook friends are really about our need for adulation, then we’re in some deep philosophical poop, my friends. George Santayana wrote that the “Love of fame is the highest form of vanity”. And like Narcissus, if we spend too much time admiring our own reflection, we’re likely to drown.

Of course, I realize that although I may have lost a Facebook friend, I did not lose my sense of irony.

After all, what better platform to deride the philosophical dangers of internet friendships and narcissism than a blog?