A Few Thoughts on November

It’s November.

Usually the month of November means one thing: Thanksgiving.

We think of Thanksgiving dinners like this:

thanksgiving rockwell

I guess some people would also think of Guy Fawkes.

Apparently this is what the real Guy Fawkes looked like. Did every dude in history look like Shakespeare?

Apparently this is what the real Guy Fawkes looked like. Did every dude in history look like Shakespeare?

But more and more lately, November means only one thing: Kennedy.

As in John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. This is how people found out what happened:

They say when Kennedy died the nation lost its innocence.

He was assassinated before I was born.

I’ve never been politically innocent. I’m a post-Nixon kid. I’ve always been skeptical of government. For me, it’s all Watergate and 9/11 conspiracies.  I can’t remember ever caring that much about my president.

They say it’s cynicism that’s destroying America.  We don’t place our faith in anything anymore.

No more visions of Camelot.

Today, we ask to see the president’s birth certificate.

trump asks for certificate

When I see photographs or film of the president in his motorcade, smiling and waving at the Dallas crowd, unaware that he is living the last moments of his life,  it makes me wonder ….

kennedy

What’s the real reason why I’m watching this?

I remember after 9/11,  the media all agreed to stop showing the collapse of the Twin Towers because the footage was too upsetting to viewers.

Yet, every November, they have no problem airing the Zapruder film.

Repeatedly.

on-the-zapruder-film

Z312zoom-2

zapruder-313-314-frags

Every second to last week of November, there it is. Sometimes shown all in one go; sometimes frame by frame. Kennedy is waving. Kennedy grabs his throat. Jackie climbs on to the trunk of the car.

Frame 313.

Back and to the left.

The last moments of a man’s life.

There’s something wrong about this.

Thinking of the media’s response to viewer complaints after 9/11; that repeated airings of the deaths of nearly 3000 people was upsetting enough not to broadcast it, I wonder why the media acknowledged the wrongness of airing 9/11 footage, but not the assassination of JFK? Now days, Kennedy assassination footage is just another TV show. We’ve become desensitized to the horror of seeing a man’s head blown off.

That should be morally offensive, shouldn’t it?

I’m not thinking of any moral theory in particular, but to me it seems a bit wrong to show a man’s death on television. Wait, not just show – but show year after year, close-ups, slow motion, computerized re-enactments. Like it’s entertainment. Just another bit of reality TV.

Every November, here it comes: The John F. Kennedy Assassination Show!

I almost expect to see opening credits and a dance sequence. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest. Special guest stars William Atherton and J.B. Smoove.

A tie-in with Duck Dynasty or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Sponsored by Procter and Gamble.

But it’s just another weeks’ worth of programming with the cable and network news readers throwing out running commentary like they’re watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

misties

I know that the assassination happened fifty years ago and that nearly all of the major players are dead, but that doesn’t make the footage any less horrifying. It doesn’t make it any less offensive that a man’s death is aired dozens of times, often for what seems  to be pure entertainment. Maybe there’s something to be learned from the myriad of shows about conspiracy theories, magic bullets and where are they nows, but I don’t know, something about all of it seems to ignore the fact that President Kennedy was a person.

As someone who, Kant would say,  is an end in himself  (and not mere means to my entertainment).

Kennedy wasn’t a mythical figure. Wasn’t just the president who averted war with the Soviet Union. Wasn’t just the guy who bedded Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Sam Giancana’s girlfriend.

He was a person who had no idea that he would die in Dallas that afternoon in November. He was a person who had promised his young son that he’d be home in time to celebrate his son’s birthday. He was a person whose widow, daughter, son  and family had to sit by every November and watch  his death over and over.

Seems strange, but through all this past week of remembering, eulogizing, and speculating, I found myself thinking that the right thing to do wasn’t to think about the connection between Lee Harvey Oswald, the Cubans, the CIA, and George H.W. Bush. The right thing to do, I thought, was to not think about  the conspiracies and the TV movie based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly, starring Rob Lowe as President Kennedy, but to think about an appropriate way to think about the death of the president.

Which, of course, meant writing this post.

Advertisements

Oh, Carol!

Zombies.

They’re in, you know.

When you’ve gotten to the point you’re using zombies to sell cell phone plans, you know society is in pretty bad shape.

 

 

You don’t have to ask around, but I think it’s entirely safe to say that zombies are probably the least appealing monster in the movie monster kingdom.

It’s not that the zombie’s least appealing status is undeserved. There are plenty of reasons to dislike them. Zombies aren’t at all like well-cultured, romantic, erudite Vampires. They’re not mischievous like your local poltergeist.  They’re not powerful and all biblical like demons. And they’re not beastly manifestations of man’s repressed id like a werewolf.

 

Nope. That’s not a zombie.

 

Zombies are smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

If a zombie finds you, it will not bid you good morning or offer you its seat on the bus. A zombie will tear you apart and eat you.

Zombies don’t sparkle. They don’t talk to you through the TV. They don’t look like David Naughton. Zombies look like this:

 

The-Walking-Dead2

 

You can’t get rid of a zombie with sunlight. Or by driving a stake through its heart. Or with love. You can’t hire a priest to perform an exorcism.

The only way to get rid of a zombie is to do this:

 

dawn-of-the-dead-head-explosion

 

Even killing a zombie is pretty gross.

It’s a wonder why zombies are so popular these days.

 

Wait a minute. That movie Warm Bodies. They cured zombies with love, didn’t they?

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

 

If you ask me, Warm Bodies movie is the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 of zombie films.

It’s an ok movie, but… I think they aimed for the wrong audience.

But then, we’ve dealt with running zombies, haven’t we?

 

For the last time, zombies do not run!

For the last time, zombies do not run!

 

It is a well-established fact that you have to kill the brain to kill the ghoul. But zombie brain bashing might get a little messy.

Some people might be put off by that. Squeamish types, you know.

However, there is one thing about zombies that isn’t too gross zombies are fantastically ethical monsters.

You can discuss matters of ethics using zombies, that is.

Luckily for us, the AMC television network has made discussing zombies fairly easy.

Yes. I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

 

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

 

In the season 4 episode “Indifference”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) kicks fellow zombie apocalypse survivor, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), out of the group for killing two people who are sick with a deadly strain of the flu. Rick tells Carol that the two might have lived (Carol hadn’t given them a chance to get well), and that Carol had no right to decide who lives and who dies. Carol tells Rick that her justification for killing the two sick people is that she was trying to prevent anyone else from getting sick; that she was protecting the group.

If we look at Carol’s actions through our ethics glasses, we see that Carol’s reasoning is based on the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. John Stuart Mill wrote in Utilitarianism:

The creed which accepts [utility] as the foundation of morals, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

Carol believes that she has done the right thing. And by killing two people, she believes that she will prevent the deaths of the several dozen living people in the camp. Carol argues the two were terminal, and it’s not wrong if you kill someone who is terminally ill. Carol tells Rick that she ended their suffering, and by hastening their deaths, she saved them from a very painful death of drowning in their own blood.

If a couple of people die so that others may live, Carol reasons, so be it. She tells Rick that she “stepped up” and did something when no one else (including Rick) was willing or able to do what had to be done.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

 

If we judge Carol’s actions based strictly on the Greatest Happiness Principle, Carol appears to have done the right thing.

Of course, there’s a problem.

Vulcan logic might work well for Mr.Spock, but when people in the real world use the Vulcan logic dictate that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (…or the one)”, things don’t always work out well.

The problem with utilitarian ethics is that utilitarian-based decisions are often based on speculation. Our actions are based on what we estimate will be the best outcome. Unfortunately, we know, despite our best guesses, that speculation is sometimes wrong.

How do we determine what “the needs” are, and more importantly, how can we definitively know what is the best solution for satisfying those needs?

The answer is we can’t.

The reason why is simple: we can’t know all things. That is, humans lack the ability to foresee all possible outcomes. So all the utilitarian is really stuck with is good intentions and a hope that things turn out for the best.

So, we can assume that we’re doing the right thing so long as out intentions are good, right? If Carol meant to do the right thing, she’s in the moral clear….. Right?

Nope.

We might think that what matters (when we act) is that our intention is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but according to utilitarianism, intentions don’t matter. An act is morally permissible if the act actually produces the greatest good for the greatest number. You might be driven by the best of intentions, but if your actions fail to produce real world good outcomes or makes the situation worse, you’ve done something wrong.

Carol did something wrong.

Listen, there’s no denying that Carol’s argument is appealing. She meant well and she did what she thought was the best thing to do. It’d be tough to argue that anyone shouldn’t do what they think is best. And several killings on The Walking Dead  were committed (justified) in the interest of the Greatest Happiness Principle (Otis, Dave, Tony, Randall, Shane, Big Tiny, Tomas, Andrew, and Hershel’s leg). However, Rick concludes Carol’s utilitarian-based argument doesn’t hold.*

Of course, as Rick surely must have been thinking to himself, the problem with Carol’s argument is that her rationalization for killing the infected is based on speculation. Carol perceived the pair as an immediate threat and determined that the only way to deal with the immediate threat was to kill whoever was infected with the flu. Rick counters Carol’s argument, stating that there was a chance, however small, that the two might have recovered from their illness. We know that even the most virulent strain of flu (like the 1918 Spanish influenza upon which The Walking Dead flu is based) is not 100 percent fatal.

 

what ever you do. do. not. cough.

 

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if there is another, equally acceptable or better solution, we are obligated to either consider other options or not act as we had intended. In short, if there was a chance that the pair might not have died, Carol was morally obligated to NOT kill them.

Carol’s miscalculated utilitarian ethics led her to commit an act that ultimately was not only morally wrong, but showed that Carol was liable to act without fully considering other possible outcomes. Carol went for the immediate, not best solution. Carol’s impulsive act made her a threat to the (overall) safety of the group. This is why Rick is perfectly justified when he kicks Carol out of the group.

By removing Carol from the group, Rick did the greatest good for the greatest number.

 

Oops. Carol's bad.

Oops. Carol’s bad.

 

Carol argues that she was trying to save the group, but ultimately her effort did not work. Other people were infected with the flu and died. AND to make matters much worse for Carol, Tyreese, the boyfriend of one of Carol’s victims, has pledged to kill whoever killed his girlfriend.

Carol not only failed to save anyone, but by killing people, she put her own life in double jeopardy if the flu doesn’t kill her, Tyreese will.

 

Carol isn’t a well-intentioned hero. She’s nothing more than a common murderer.

AND

let’s not forget that because of her actions Carol was kicked out of the group and left to fend for herself in a world populated by smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I speculate that Carol’s reasoning might have been more on the side of rule utilitarianism that simple utilitarianism (or act utilitarianism).  I think Carol might have followed a rule utilitarian position as described by JCC Smart:

“generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. In general, they are relevant only in deciding what rules are good reasons for acting in a certain way in particular cases”

Carol might have believed that in any circumstance where there is an immediate threat to the group, one must eliminate the threat (the rule). However, as a rule utilitarian, she might have not actually acted on her principle until this particular set of circumstances.

 

 

 

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 5th edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. (Wadsworth) 2007. p. 208.

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.

 

 

 

Cumberbatch? How ’Bout CumberHOT

“Chuck Klosterman wrote that science fiction is philosophy for stupid people. He’s right. But in a room full of philosophy lightweights, the guy who watches Star Trek is a fucking philosophy genius.”  The Mindless Philosopher

I am a fan of science fiction.

If that’s an indication that I’m stupid, I’d be the last person to figure that out.

Like many sci-fi fans, I eagerly awaited the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the reboot I nearly soiled my drawers in anticipation.

TMI?

After all, I thought. A Star Trek reboot directed by the guy who did Lost and staring the guy who played Sylar on Heroes could not go wrong.

Apparently my assumption was incorrect.

If you asked the die-hard Trekker crowd, plenty did believe that there was something terribly wrong with a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot.

Worse than a mining disaster on Praxis wrong.

The “wrong” was that for the first time in Star Trek history, a Star Trek movie based on the original characters created by Gene Roddenberry would not feature the original actors.

This was and is (still) very upsetting to some Star Trek fans.

I don’t see how they could have been angry. William Shatner may be a thoroughly entertaining actor, but there is no way Shatner could pull off playing a young, Starfleet Academy-aged James Kirk.

Not to mention DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are dead.

That alone would complicate getting them to play their original roles.

However, I, unlike many Star Trek purists, enjoyed the 2009 reboot. But then, I liked Star Trek: Nemesis. So there you go.

So when the Star Trek prequel/sequel came out, I bought a fresh pack of Tena and bought a ticket to see the movie.

Ok, I admit it. I’m an action fan. I was raised on Star Wars. There I said it. I said Star Wars.

Those movies had Jedi, and Wookies, and lightsabers, planet battles, the Force and stuff.

This is Han Solo. He is a Corellian badass. Where he goes, action follows.

han solo

This is Surak. He is a Vulcan philosopher. He convinced Vulcans to ditch their emotions.

Surak

Notice the difference between the two?

I do.

I expect a certain amount of excitement in films, especially in science fiction. And honestly, the past few Star Trek films hadn’t been delivering much on the action front. Captain James T. Kirk used to fight the Gorn. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films just had bunch of Captain Jean-Luc Picard talking… and talking… and talking.

Kirk fought enemies like this:

Gorn

Picard fought enemies like this:

malcolm mc dowell

That’s right. Captain Picard fought an old man.

awesome kirk

Of course, the purists hated all the action.

What the purists wanted from the Star Trek reboot was the one thing that set the original Star Trek apart from the standard 1960s science fiction of its day: Star Trek, unlike its predecessors (and most of its descendents), was chock-full of philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was a thinking man’s science fiction.

I don’t recall thinking too much while watching the reboot.

That may be (in part) due to the fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a pretty straight forward (actually kind of cliché) sci-fi fare about time travel: an unintentional time rift sends bad guy into past intent on destroying the future. It’s hardly an original plot.

It’s not even an original plot for a Star Trek film.

The last time a time traveling bad guy was in a Star Trek movie, the bad guy looked like this:

borg queen 2

Time travel movies usually don’t require the viewer to do much heavy mental lifting, other than the occasional bitch at the newly rearranged plot line not keeping with established canon.

I’m guessing this is what happened when most die-hard Trekkers watched the Abrams’ reboot.

If that’s what they felt while watching the reboot, they were really missing out.

What they failed to realize is, if you could get past the lens flare, they would have noticed a little bit of philosophy going on.

Listen: If those angry Trekkers hadn’t thrown off their Star Trek philosopher’s hats in angry protest, they would have noticed that any time you discuss time travel you automatically bring in the idea of possible worlds.

And any time you bring up possible worlds, you inevitably address philosophical ideas like free will and determinism.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HEAVY DUTY PHILOSOPHY.

So let’s get down to the philosophy, shall we?

But first, some plot:

In the 2009 reboot, Ambassador Spock and the Romulan bad guy Nero are sucked through a wormhole after Spock attempts (and fails) to prevent the destruction of Romulus by a star gone supernova. When Nero arrives at the other end of the wormhole, he discovers he’s been transported 20-something years into the past. Nero (for reasons that are fairly mystifying and never adequately explained) immediately fires on the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship carrying the parents of the future Captain James T. Kirk.  During the attack, Kirk’s father, Commander George Kirk, is killed an event, as we are told later in the film, that did not happen in the original Star Trek timeline.

I mean, the timeline where Nero doesn’t go back in time through a wormhole created by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to thwart the destruction of Romulus and destroy the planet Vulcan by creating a black hole with red matter and whatever. You get the idea.

An elderly, from-the-future Ambassador Spock informs the young Kirk that in his timeline, Kirk’s father lived long enough to see his son graduate from Starfleet Academy.

Here are a few more things that didn’t happen in Ambassador Spock’s (original) timeline:

  • The planet Vulcan did not receive the Alderaan treatment (i.e. it wasn’t destroyed).
  • Lt. Uhura and Spock are not (and never were) romantically involved.
  • Spock’s mother was not killed during an attack on Vulcan.
  • Kirk did not serve on the USS Enterprise with Captain Christopher Pike.
  • Humans did not know what Romulans looked like until the TOS (the original series) episode “Balance of Terror”.

If we learn anything about the philosophy of time travel (yes, I nabbed that from Donnie Darko) from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is that events are not static. The past and future can be changed by a seemingly insignificant and/or random event as a Romulan war bird becoming unstuck in time.

That is to say, events, past and present, are not on an inevitably determined path; events can vary drastically from one timeline to the next. Events in one timeline do not necessarily happen in another timeline. Events are not determined. That explains why it would be totally useless for the Enterprise crew to speculate or base any predictions of events in their time line on information from Ambassador Spock’s timeline.

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

 


But, if determinism is defined as the theory that some or all events and human actions are ordained to happen; that every thing, event or action is the inevitable result of a prior chain of causes, the fact that Nero’s appearance has thrown events a wrench into the timeline suggests determinism is false.

That means all events in the universe are manifestations of free will.

So far, there’s no problem, right?

If you think that, you are as delusional as Chekov after a fall off the deck of the USS Enterprise.

You see, in Star Trek IV, Chekov and Uhura were on the U.S. Naval ship USS Enterprise to get oh, never mind.

Ok. A common complaint with Star Wars fans is about George Lucas’ apparent disregard for continuity. It’s quite a nuisance, but by no means is discontinuity just a Star Wars problem. Star Trek has its fair share of continuity “errors”.

Even philosophical continuity errors.

Remember what I just said about determinism?

That according to the philosophy of Star Trek time travel it’s false, right?

Well …..

In the 2012’s Star Trek Into Darkness (the sequel to the 2009 reboot), the crew of the Enterprise encounters new bad guy, the genetically-altered, super-human, Khan Noonien Singh, a character originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the TOS episode “Space Seed”.

This time, Khan (as he is called) is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.*

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

 

In the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks Ambassador (original timeline) Spock if he had ever dealt with a man named Khan Noonien Singh.

Because Khan has become a bit of a problem. A homicidal kind of problem.

You can see the determinism problem coming, right?

Just so you know, this is what the German philosopher (and determinist), Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), had to say about determinism and what people do:

… he is connected to universal nature, and submitted to the necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all beings she contains…Man’s life is a line that nature commands to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.

Holbach also says:

In short, the actions of man are never free; they are a necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas… by education and by daily experience… Man then, is not s free agent in any one instant of his life.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, reboot Spock declares Nero’s appearance in the reboot timeline so altered the course of history, that any event in the original timeline (Ambassador Spock’s timeline) is not applicable to the new timeline. Therefore, one cannot assume continuity between both timelines.

In case you missed it, the dialogue about Nero and predicting the future goes as follows:

Kirk:

You say he’s from the future, knows what’s gonna happen. Then the logical thing is to be unpredictable.

Spock:

You’re assuming Nero knows how events as predicted unfold. The contrary. Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, cumulating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura:

An alternate reality.

Spock:

Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the continuum wasn’t disrupted, our destinies have changed.

Now, either Spock failed to watch the 2009 reboot, or even Spock does not believe that there is no continuity between both (or any possible) timelines.

Because he asks someone to make a prediction. Himself.

That’s right, in Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks original timeline Spock for advice in dealing with Khan.

He asks the guy who said that we can’t use alternate timelines to predict events in other timelines.

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

 

Despite his prior statements, (reboot) Spock assumes that Ambassador Spock has knowledge of and/or knows how to deal with Khan.

Lucky for (reboot) Spock, Ambassador Spock’s advice works.

Of course, we the viewers, are left to assume one thing: whether Khan is played by Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan Noonien Singh, in any timeline, is the exact same guy.

At least psychologically so.

So psychological determinism is ok.

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

 


It’s not just Khan that is the same. There’s plenty of continuity between the two timelines.

Enough to tell yourself exactly what Khan will do.

We’re told that Nero’s appearance has thrown events into flux, however, given the predictability of Khan’s actions and psychology in both timelines, it seems that no matter what happens   whatever alternate course of action or possible outcome, some events necessarily happen in every timeline.


Here are a few examples:

  • Despite the fact that the death of Kirk’s father has turned him off from joining Starfleet, Kirk still joins Starfleet.
  • Kirk’s insatiable sexual appetite.
  • Kirk and Spock’s friendship (despite a very bumpy start).
  • Kirk Becomes captain of the Enterprise (assuming command from Captain Pike).
  • Captain Pike is injured and paralyzed.
  • Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru test.
  • Kirk meets and begins a romantic relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (we may be free to assume that Carol Marcus will eventually give birth to a son, David, who will, in turn, be murdered by Klingons).
  • Harry Mudd (and announcement about Mudd is made over the ship’s intercom in Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Khan meeting Kirk and the Enterprise crew.
  • Khan’s crew and his willingness to kill to protect his crew.
  • Khan’s grudge against the Federation/Starfleet.
  • A “death” in the Enterprise engine room in an attempt to defeat Khan.
  • The “dead” person coming back to life.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk must join Starfleet, Kirk must cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk must meet Spock and they must become friends, Kirk must  become captain of the Enterprise, Kirk must meet Carol Marcus, the Enterprise must encounter Khan, the Enterprise must have a problem with the fuel cells, and someone must “die“ realigning the dilithium crystals.

The similar dialogue between Kirk and Spock’s “death” scenes in the Enterprise engine room in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and in Star Trek Into Darkness not only suggests that some events are necessarily determined to happen in every timeline, but what characters say is determined as well.

 

Spock’s “death”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

 

spock death the first time

 

Kirk’s “death”, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

kirk's death

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.

So… what are we to think about philosophy and the rebooting of Star Trek?

Well, for starters, the philosophical continuity sucks.

But more importantly, despite the high action, new actors, and lens flare (really, they need to cut that crap out), the new Star Trek fits in quite nicely with its so obvious you’d have to have the vision of a mole to miss it philosophical predecessors.

The philosophical lesson we learn from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, is that no matter what alternate reality they’re in, no matter what happens to Vulcan or what Khan looks like, the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise are locked in an inexorable series of events.

No matter what they do, all roads will lead to the same point.

Star Trek is a determined universe.

It doesn’t matter how Kirk gets command of the Enterprise, he will always be captain of the Enterprise.

Kirk will always cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk and Spock will always be friends. Khan will always be defeated.

 

And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier will always suck.

 

 

 

*By the way, it is worth noting that neither Ricardo Montalban nor Benedict Cumberbatch is of Indian descent, as the name Khan Noonien Singh would indicate one’s likely national/ethnic origin to be. But hey, the French captain of the Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard is played by English actor Patrick Stewart who does not speak with a French accent despite the fact that Picard was born and raised IN FRANCE.

 

 

Sources:

Baron d’Holbach. “Are We Cogs In the Universe?”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p.681-2

What Does God Want With A Starship?

It’s generally accepted among Star Trek fans that Star Trek V is the worst of the film series.

It’s subtitled The Final Frontier.

 

I suppose it’s because it was supposed to close the franchise. But apparently it was so bad they had to make a Star Trek VI.


With lots of quotes from Shakespeare.

 

Really, there are Shakespeare quotes and references all over that movie.

 

I’m not excluding myself from the general consensus regarding the cinematic quality of Star Trek V, but I don’t think it’s really that bad of a film. It’s really not even the worst Star Trek film (I put my money on Star Trek: Insurrection).

The movie had a good idea, something happened in the execution.

Some people blame the movie’s badness on William Shatner’s direction. I don’t. There are worse actor-directed movies out there.

The Brown Bunny comes to mind.

 

Damn Vincent Gallo.

 

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

 

The movie’s subtitle, The Final Frontier, suggests a pretty deep idea. When you’ve explored everywhere where no man has gone before, what else is there? Is there anything else?

What is the final frontier?

 

THE ANSWER: GOD

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn’t the first film to ask the God question.

How God gives our lives meaning. How the power of God vanquishes Pazuzu. How God will switch places with an average guy to let him see what God’s life is like. How you shouldn’t open up boxes filled with the power of God especially if you’re a Nazi.

 

GOD HATES NAZIS

GOD HATES NAZIS

 

Sometimes God is sought out. Sometimes The Almighty kind of pops up.

Most of the time in the movies, people are just trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us and the universe. Sometimes the question is about God himself. And sometimes, somebody asks, “what does God want with a starship?

Ok. Now it’s time to explain the plot.

 

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

 

You see, the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Mr. Spock (that’s the pointy-eared, Vulcan dude with no emotions) has an older brother named Sybok.

Nobody knew of this guy until now.

The never-once-mentioned-before-even-in-episodes-that-take-place-on-Vulcan-like-“Amok Time” Sybok was banished from the planet Vulcan because he refused to get rid of his emotions (or something like that).

The movie was pretty bad. I didn’t pay exact attention to the never-existed-until-the-would-be-last-Star-Trek-film Sybok’s back story.

Come to think of it, I guess it worked out pretty good for Sybok to be banished since it probably saves his butt in the J.J. Abrams universe, too. Unless he was banished in time line Roddenberry after the time when Vulcan was destroyed in time line Abrams.

 

Ok. Now I’m off track.

 

Oh, yeah. Ok… so Sybok was banished from Vulcan because he refused to ditch his emotions and he had this crazy notion of this place called Sha Ka Ree.

According to whatever legend Sybok was in to, Sha Ka Ree is where God lives.

Could they rip off a word that sounds ANY closer to Shangri la?

Anyway…

 

Sybok, through some Vulcan mind trickery, manages to wrangle control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk (of course!) and heads straight towards the edge of the universe.

Because of all the possible places in the universe where God could be, that’s where God would be.

Didn’t you know that?

So…. long story short (too late), when Kirk, Spock, Sybok, and Dr. McCoy arrive at Sha Ka Ree they find that the “God” Sybok has been amped up over enough to heist a Federation starship is a disembodied, big-headed, blue-faced dude, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Laurence Oliver in the original Clash of the Titans.

 

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

 
Sybok discovers that “God” isn’t terribly interested in Sybok, God’s own status as the Almighty, or answering any of life’s big questions. Instead, “God” presents Sybok, et al. with a strange, if not ungodly request:

God wants the Enterprise.

Naturally, this is a problem…  For God.

 

You see, apparently God has never met Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

 

Captain Kirk, unwilling to give up his ship to anyone including God demands to know why an all-powerful God would want a starship.

 

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

Captain Kirk’s failure to immediately acquiesce to God’s demands angers the Almighty. God not only refuses to tell Kirk’s why he wants a starship, He punishes Kirk for his insolence by  promptly striking Kirk in the chest with a lightning bolt.

Wait a minute. Maybe they’d found Emperor Palpatine.

 

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

 

Here’s the thing, though. Sybok might as well have found a Sith lord.

‘Cause he sure didn’t find God.

 

He would have had better luck finding God if he’d climbed Mt. Olympus.

 

Sybok didn’t find God at the edge of the universe, but Kirk’s question, “what does God want with a starship?” is a question that man has asked about God for centuries. Namely, if God is an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, perfectly good being, why would God need anything from not-powerful people?

Why does God need our praise and worship? Why does He need blood sacrifices and monuments?

Why would God need $8 million from Oral Roberts under threat of taking Roberts “home” to Heaven if he failed to deliver the money?

We can’t do anything near what the power of God can do. Men cannot create planets or life from dust. We can’t will anything into existence. God can create anything.* God has the power to be in all places at one time.

Which is exactly why Captain Kirk asks the “God” of Sha Ka Ree why he needs a starship.

Of course, we know that Kirk isn’t looking from an answer from “God”. What Kirk is doing is challenging the claim that the blue-faced, Sith lightning bolt-throwing, creature of Sha Ka Ree is God at all. You see, Captain James Tiberius Kirk does not believe that God exists.

You don’t have to watch all five television incarnations and all 12 feature-length Star Trek films to figure out that Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train in space” is a godless universe. Captain Kirk’s universe operates more by the dictates of Darwin than by Deuteronomy.

Philosophically speaking, the Star Trek universe is grounded on the principles of humanism.

Humanism is the 14th-15th century philosophical movement that emphasized the capacity of human rationality and the inherent worth of individuals without reliance on Christian teachings.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a universe where testable science and reason is preferred to superstition and religious faith. Throughout the Star Trek franchise science triumphs over religion. In Roddenberry’s future, science answers all of life’s big questions. Hunger, war, sexism, racism, even the common cold, have been done away with through reason and science.

The Star Trek universe is a place where sectarian-driven conflicts have been replaced by a secular peace. Where star dates have replaced our traditional Christian-based B.C./A.D. calendar.

God is no longer necessary as either the cause of cure for human progress or suffering.

In the Star Trek (TOS) episode “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, the crew of the Enterprise dispatch with a “God” by refusing to believe in him. The god simply fades away. Just as God has faded away from Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Check out what Enterprise-D captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has to say about religion:

 

 

 

The fight against irrational religious belief and superstition plays a part in more than a few episodes of Star Trek:  “The Apple”, “Catspaw”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Chase”, and “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, to name a few.
The Star Trek preference of the secular over religion is best articulated by Bertrand Russell in his essay, “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Russell writes that religion:

… inflicts all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in he world… Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all of your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing fear of the mysteries, fear of defeat, fear of death.

 

Fear is exactly what the “God” of Sha Ka Ree wants Kirk, Sybok, etc. to feel.

 

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP


And this is how Kirk knows that “God” is a complete fraud.

 

He knows this god, let alone any god, isn’t a real deity.

As a secular humanist, Kirk doesn’t (won’t) grant the “God” of Sha Ka Ree an ounce of legitimacy; especially legitimacy to any creature that issues senseless demands enforced with fear and lightning bolts. So Kirk refuses to believe “God” is God.

Any real God wouldn’t punishment someone for asking a simple question.

Science and reason don’t punish people for being curious.

Obsolete gods do.

So, the “God” of Sha Ka Ree loses his power.

That’s not really all that bad though. God isn’t really what the movie was about, anyway.

 

logical spock

 

 

What Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is about is what every Star Trek show, novel, comic book, cartoon or movie is about: us. It’s not God or even the universe that is the final frontier. The final frontier is people. It’s man himself that is the universe’s greatest mystery. Sha Ka Ree did not reveal God to Sybok.

However, what Sha Ka Ree did reveal was Sybok.

Sybok was arrogant, sinister, and dangerous. His intent wasn’t to find God but to accumulate more power for himself; more like Jim Jones than John the Baptist.

Sybok may have thought, or rather, fooled himself into thinking that he was going to solve the mystery of God. But as things in the Star Trek universe go, Sybok was nothing more than a standard sci-fi villain.

Unfortunately, even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I know this statement is quite controversial. It seems that it’s not entirely true that God can create or do “anything”. God is unable to create any universe that he does not exist, grossly violate the laws of nature, interfere with human free will, or manifest contradictions (such as a round square) or create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bertrand Russell. “Why I’m Not A Christian”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Dennon. NY: Touchstone. p 596.