Becoming A Philosopher Was the Worst Thing To Happen To My Record Collection

I WASN’T BORN a fan of philosophy.

Many, many years ago I was just another latch-key kid who watched too much TV. With an empty house, plenty of snacks, and a TV remote in hand, I spent countless hours not doing my homework, watching everything from He-Man to The People’s Court to The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Back in the day, when music television meant a channel actually showed music videos, I watched a lot of MTV.
Now, back then, when music videos were becoming a thing, most videos weren’t very good.

And sometimes after watching a video, you would wish you’d never seen what the band actually looked like.

 

3-air-guitar

I WISH I’D NEVER SEEN THIS VIDEO

But every so often you’d see a video that had something more than bad camera work, cheesy sets and costumes, and big 80’s hair going on.

Some videos gave you the idea that there we something going on behind what we see.

In some cases, the thing going on behind the thing we see is philosophical.

Before I had ever heard of Jean-Paul Sartre. Before I had heard of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. And long before I had ever heard of postmodernism, I had heard of David Bowie.

Not only were Bowie’s music videos visually stunning, but many of his videos would leave me thinking, “Is there something else going on, here?”

As it turns out, there almost always was.

 

bowie-ashes-o

LOOK CLOSELY. THERE’S SOMETHING GOING ON, HERE

This explains why when David Bowie died in January of this year, I felt a little sadder than I normally would for the usual celebrity death. Bowie’s death wasn’t just the loss of a musical idol. It was a philosophical loss as well.

 

bowie kierkegaard

THE FACT THAT THEY LOOK ALIKE MAY NOT BE COINCIDENTAL

If I had my choice, I’d much prefer that my philosophical lessons come from watching music videos rather than from reading philosophy books. Really, if you think about it most songs are kinda philosophical, so it would make (some) sense that one would learn a philosophical lesson or two from their favorite musician.

 

bill ted and socrates

WE ALL REMEMBER THAT TIME SOCRATES TOURED WITH WYLD STALLYNS

 

It wouldn’t be too unreasonable, then, to consider the philosophy of some musicians in the same way that we adhere to the ideas of a particular philosopher.

The trouble pops up when one’s musical idols become what YouTube famous* atheist Steve Shives calls “problematic”.

And David Bowie certainly is “problematic”.

 

apollo-13-houston-we-have-a-problem-tom-hanks

 

David Bowie, like many other musicians, had certain relations that may be called “inappropriate”.

 

(comment) chris hansen

THIS KIND OF INAPPROPRIATE

“Baby Groupie” Lori Mattix recounted in an article for Thrillist that was deflowered by Bowie in the 1970s when she was just 14 years old.

Although Mattix insists that she’s suffered no irreparable damage from her encounter with David Bowie (in fact, Mattix says she was a willing participant and has no regrets), the fact that Bowie was an adult and Mattix had not yet reached the age of consent presents a problem. To wit: sexual relations with an individual under the age of consent, even if the individual is willing, is illegal.

The law calls it statutory rape.

 

giphy

 

The statutory rape allegations against David Bowie rape have lead some to argue that we should think of Bowie less like this:

 

Greatest Artists of All Time

 

and more like this:

 

bowie mugshot

 

The reason why, I think, has something to do with the fact that our favorite musicians are more than mere entertainers.

You see, music, according to Socrates, is an essential element in life. Not just because listening to music makes a long road trip fun, but because music plays a part in the formation of a good soul.

According to Socrates, it is important that we not only listen to music, but also listen to the right kind of music.

 

don't let your baby

And because the music we listen to is the right kind of music the quality of the music also reflects the quality of the people making the music. The right kind of music is made by the right kind of people.

And by “the right kind of people” we mean the kind of right-souled examples the community should follow.

 

not socrates 2

IT’S NOT AN UNFAIR ASSUMPTION THAT SOCRATES WOULD APPROVE OF MUSIC PERFORMED ONLY BY PEOPLE DRESSED LIKE THIS

 

But what about philosophers? As lovers of wisdom, philosophers should also be the right-souled kind of people the community should follow. Socrates even suggested that society should be ruled a philosopher-king. If we use the same standard for philosophers that we use for music and the makers of music, how many philosophers qualify as the right kind of people?
Well, let’s take a look at a few philosophers, shall we?
Hume and Kant were racists. Jean-Jacques Rousseau abandoned his family. Hegel was shitty to his illegitimate son. Hegel also said “The difference between man and woman is as between animal and plant”. Schopenhauer was a misogynist who described women as “[a] mental myopic” and pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

 

arthur schopenhauer 1

Bertrand Russell had multiple infidelities with the wives of his friends. Nietzsche was a German nationalist who may or may not have influenced the Nazis. Heidegger was a Nazi. Descartes experimented on cats while they were still alive. Diogenes masturbated in public. Colin McGinn resigned from his position at the University of Miami following allegations by a female student of sexual harassment . Rutgers University philosophy professor, Anna Stubblefield was tried and convicted of sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled man.

 

Foucault was just weird.

 

sexy foucault

If you think about it, it’s not exactly a group of good souls.

Long story short, if we’re looking for the kind of good-souled people worth following, we may find very few in philosophy.

And that’s the point – just like some advised when David Bowie’s sexual improprieties came to light following his death – perhaps we should learn to separate the artist from his art – and the philosopher from his philosophy.

art from artist

philosophy from philosopher

 

Although I think that it’s sometimes for our own psychological peace of mind to ignore the unsavory bits of a philosopher’s or artist’s personal life, there’s something about overlooking the unpleasant parts that kinda, well, bugs me.

 

grinds my gears

EXCUSE ME WHILE I HAVE A PETER GRIFFIN MOMENT

I mean, why would we? Can we ignore the unsavory bits? Should we? Is it to our philosophical benefit to excise aspects of a person’s life and actions? Are some illegal acts really no big deal? At what point can we or should we not overlook the personal life or actions of a pop culture idol or a philosopher?

 

no heidegger

 

To be honest, I don’t know. I’m well aware of Bertrand Russell’s adulterous behavior and yet I still believe that Russell is one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I’ve read the racist views of Hume and Kant and yet I still refer to Kant’s ethics and Hume’s metaphysics regularly in my writing. And even though Schopenhauer truly was an awful person, he retains a soft spot in my heart.

 

I still hate Hegel, though.

Finding out that Hegel was a turd of a human being only makes me hate him more.

 

hegel TLDR

 

I probably won’t stop listening to David Bowie’s music, either.

 

I think, in the end, we shouldn’t be required to abandon our fandom or appreciation for Hegel, Heidegger, Hume, Kant, or David Bowie. What we should be, however, is mindful. We should be mindful of the fact that anyone we look up to, be they a philosopher or our favorite singer, is a flawed human being.

We should never fail to remind ourselves that the ability to communicate profound words or deep insights does not make a person perfect (nor should it). We should remember that sometimes even good people do bad things.
tumblr_inline_mxe0qqbxnq1qcryb6

When all is said and done, there’s still a philosophical lesson to be learned – if only for the opportunity to ask what do we do when our idols are “problematic”?

I still don’t know.

If you figure out the answer let me know.

 

 

 

 

* I mean the term “YouTube famous” un-disparagingly, but to merely state that Steve Shives has a sizable following on YouTube. I, for one, am rather jealous of Shives’ following. I’m not even “Wordpress famous”.
I would also recommend checking out Shives’ commentary on David Bowie: 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/17/david-bowie-and-rock-n-roll-s-statutory-rape-problem.html

WHERE’S CARL? (On The Walking Dead and moral culpability)

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW things that really get me excited these days.

One thing that gets me going is a good deal on outdoor summer plants at Home Depot.

Another thing is watching The Walking Dead.
I’m not going to say it’s the best TV show ever (Lord knows that’s Firefly), but I will say that, as a philosopher, The Walking Dead is chock-full of philosophical whatnot!

Whatnot is a legitimate philosophical term, by the way.

One philosophical topic that is particularly whatnotty on The Walking Dead is ethics.

The show is a never-ending bounty of moral dilemmas.

Philosophers love moral dilemmas.

moral dilemmas

 

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time,

 

Seriously, how does Carl Grimes do five years worth of aging in eight months?

carl

THIS KID IS GOING TO HAVE A FULL BEARD BY SEASON 7

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time, the primary goal of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his bad of fellow survivors is to survive. Morally speaking, the fight for survival would make the show much like Hobbes’ Leviathan – a world where life is nasty, brutish and short. A war of all against all.

 

anigif_enhanced-buzz-2514-1381252332-0
But there’s something else going on in The Walking Dead besides mere survival. The characters don’t just want to survive, they want to live. They want to make a better world. To bring about a greater good.

Unfortunately for Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors, morally speaking, The Walking Dead plays out more like a series of unfortunate events.

How the best of intentions sometimes paves the road to hell.

 

mg7ts

 

The idea of pursuing the greater good is the focus of the ethical theory of Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism, most associated with the English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), is based on the Greatest Happiness Principle, which is, according to Mill in Utilitarianism (1861):

 

the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, 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.

 

That is to say, utilitarianism dictates that an act is morally permissible if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number (of people).

However, unlike Kant’s deontological ethics, which emphasizes the intrinsic goodness of an act, utilitarianism is teleological, that is, the ultimate rightness of an act depends on an act’s consequences.

This only highlights the main problem with utilitarianism.

The focus is on expected consequences.

 

consequences

IT’S ALL YOU, CONSEQUENCES

You see, when we use utilitarian ethics, we notice something almost immediately. Utilitarian ethics seems very easy to do. We simply do what we think will make the most people happy. Unfortunately, the seemingly ease of utilitarian ethics is often deceptive.

Figuring out what “happiness” is, is often more difficult than it appears to be.

 

mad-men-don-happiness

 

There’s one, BIG problem with evaluating moral goodness on consequences.

 

the big problem

 

As the saying goes, even your best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned. Shit happens, and sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way that we wanted it.

 

meat

 

The Walking Dead seems to be plagued by a nasty, little cause and effect scenario: Some character’s (often well-meaning) direct action constantly leads to something worse happening.

And when something worse happens; when outcomes don’t turn out as planned, we’re in a position to assign moral culpability.

 

blame it on

 

Ok, utilitarianism requires us to make decisions based on expected consequences (what we think will bring the greatest good for the greatest number), but we often lack full knowledge of a given situation.

 

god

UNLESS YOU’RE GOD. AND IF SO, YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO TURN OUT

Because we do not possess full knowledge of a situation, our utilitarian moral judgments are always going to be based on our best estimates. There is always a chance that even our best estimates of what actions will bring about the greatest happiness will not result in the greatest good.

Even with the best of intentions bad things happen.

Remember: Mill tells us that 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.

 

  • So, when Carol tells Sam a story about zombies eating him so he won’t snitch about seeing Carol in Alexandria‘s food pantry/armory, Carol’s terrifying story eventually results in the deaths of Sam, his mother, Jessie, and his brother, Ron. Carol tells Sam the story with the intention of keeping Rick’s group’s plans to take over Alexandria (a move that Rick’s group thought would be for the greater good) secret. However, when Sam and his family are surrounded by a herd of the undead, Carol’s story repeats in his head, causing Sam to panic and draw attention to Sam and his family.

 

The show had already established that Sam was s bit unhinged and suggests that what Carol tells him is what sends poor Sam over the edge.

Because Carol failed to calculate the ultimate consequence of what she said, we feel that Carol bears (at least some of) the blame for Sam’s death.

  • Also in that scene, Michonne fatally stabs Ron with her Katana when Ron points his gun at Rick after Ron’s mother and brother are devoured by walkers. We (and Michonne, we assume) know that if Rick dies, the group will be leaderless.

 

And that would be bad.

Michonne, we presume, stabs Ron because keeping Rick alive would be good for the group (i.e. the greater good).

 

richonne

THIS MIGHT HAVE ALSO HAD SOMETHING TO SO WITH IT

 

However, what happens is Ron shoots Carl in the eye.

An unforeseen consequence.

Because Michonne didn’t calculate the possibility that Ron would flinch while being stabbed through the back with a katana, Carl lost an eye, it wouldn’t be too far fetched if we ascribed a little bit of moral blame to Michonne for what happened to Carl.

 

  • Then there’s Morgan, who lets a group of attackers (The Wolves) escape after they’ve viciously attacked and slaughtered people in Alexandria. Morgan allows The Wolves to escape because he believes that all life is precious and that not killing is the greater good. The bad guys, in turn, attempt to kill Rick. And – a lone Wolf that Morgan captures takes a hostage and nearly gets the woman killed while attempting to leave Alexandria. Morgan’s goal was to rehabilitate the Wolf – something he thought would be good for everyone.

 

It makes sense that people are pissed off at Morgan for thinking that “all life is precious”.

 

morgan jones

ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS. EXCEPT FOR THIS GUY. F@#K THIS GUY

 

That’s because Morgan is morally culpable for The Wolves nearly killing Rick and the hostage.

 

  • Earlier in the series, Carl Grimes taunts a walker stuck in the mud and runs away when the re-animated corpse breaks free from the mud and grabs hold of Carl’s pants. The walker eventually makes its way to Hershel’s farm where it attacks Dale, who has to be put down. Carl wanted to prove that he was capable of handling himself and could contribute to the group and not just be a helpless kid, something that would benefit the group as a whole. However, Carl didn’t calculate that the walker he taunted would follow him to the Greene farm and kill Dale.

And viewers were right to be pissed at Carl for “killing” Dale.

 

Throws-rocks-at-zombie-stuck-in-the-ground-gets-Dale-killed-by-t-a77a78

 

We’re angry with Carl because Carl is (partly) morally responsible for Dale’s death.

 

  • In the series’ third episode, “Tell It to the Frogs”, Rick leads a small group back to zombie-infested Atlanta to rescue Merle who (whom?) Rick has left handcuffed to a pipe on a roof. Rick argues that rescuing Merle is the morally right thing to do. Despite the warning that the camp needs as many available men as possible to protect the camp from the undead, Rick insists that retrieving Merle and Rick’s dropped bag of guns will serve the greater good.

 

While Rick and the small group are away, the camp is attacked by a herd of walkers, resulting in the deaths of several no-named red shirts and a couple of relatively minor characters.

Rick failed to calculate the possibility that the camp would be attacked in his absence.

 

victim the-walking-dead-amy

SERIOUSLY, DOES ANYBODY REALLY MISS AMY?

 

Therefore, Shane isn’t all wrong when he says that by leaving the camp Rick bears some culpability for deaths in the group.

 

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BEING THE BAD GUY DOESN’T HELP EITHER, SHANE

 

That’s just a few examples of moral culpability in The Walking Dead.

You can write an entire book about philosophy and this show.

 

the walking dead and philosophy

WELL, WHADDYA KNOW?!?

 

Well – as season six of The Walking Dead draws to a close, there are sure to be more utilitarian miscalculations – as well as many other examples of philosophy gone wrong. And I’m sure I will be watching seasons to come, watching my weekly dose of philosophical whatnot.
That is, unless Daryl Dixon dies.

I’ll be too busy rioting.

 

 

 

if daryl dies we riot

 

 
SOURCES:
John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.. p.8.