I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About John Lennon Lately… and Too Much About Death

I’M PRETTY QUICK to admit that John Lennon is not my favorite member of The Beatles. He’s not even my second favorite (Ringo) or even the The Beatle I say when I’m feeling particularly assholish.

That’s Pete Best, by the way.

If you’re wondering, it’s George. George Harrison is my favorite Beatle.

LOOK AT THIS BRO. HOW CAN HE NOT BE YOUR FAVORITE BEATLE?

Honestly, John Lennon isn’t even in my top 5.

And there were four The Beatles.

But, given that I, at one time, existed at the same time as John Lennon, and I am a The Beatles fan, I do think, from time to time, the perennial Beatles fan what if — what if John Lennon hadn’t been murdered on December 8, 1980?

That kind of question is called a hypothetical. You know who LOVES hypothetical questions — philosophers.

Philosophers call their hypothetical questions thought experiments.

A WELL-KNOWN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, THE TROLLEY PROBLEM

Like a lot of people, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to think about hypothetical situations. Since I (and everybody else) wasn’t going anywhere, I had to imagine situations and places i would go — if I could go out. You kinda have to when you can’t leave your house.

If I’d say there’s a silver lining to any of this, life during lockdown has been a godsend for my imagination.

Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? Covid-19 hasn’t changed a damn thing about my social life. I never go outside. And I’ve always avoided people.

Although Covid hasn’t altered my Schopenhauerian tendencies, it has affected me in one significant way.. Namely, life during quarantine has me thinking a lot more about death.

The past year has put me in a thinking about death kind of mood.

Covid has also got me digging through my old record collection. I’ve been listening to The Beatles quite a bit; John Lennon in particular.

My not-favorite Beatle.

Listening to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, and thinking how “Run For Your Life” is possibly the most red flaggy song of all time (Jesus, how did they not see that song was problematic?), my mind, unoccupied with actual thoughts generated by actual socializing, naturally drifted to the question,

what if John Lennon wasn’t murdered?

Never said I wasn’t a morbid bastard.

As I’m a philosopher. I tell myself A) I can’t just toss out some simple, over-asked hypothetical question, and B) That’s a genuine THOUGHT EXPERIMENT.

So naturally I had to dig a little deeper.

And then the question hit me: WHY was I asking what if John Lennon hadn’t died in 1980? My (first) answer was this: the reason why I (and every other The Beatles fan) asks “what if?” is because we believe John Lennon shouldn’t have died in 1980.

John Lennon’s death was, for lack of a better word, bad.

And if you’re gonna say death is bad and not also say the name Thomas Nagel, I’d suspect you weren’t a real philosopher.

Yep. I’m going Nagelian on this one.

John Lennon’s death (he was only 40) deprived him of what could have (and arguably what should have) been.

There would be albums of songs that would never be recorded. Lennon would never again have the opportunity to perform live. Fans would never see a full The Beatles reunion. With his death, Lennon’s sons were deprived of their father; Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, deprived of her husband. More importantly, John Lennon himself was deprived of the ability to engage in a long, active, (hopefully fufilling) life.

Any person’s death, not just John Lennon, is bad because death, as Nagel writes,”is an evil because it brings to an end all the goods that life contains”.

MAYBE IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T MURDERED HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED PAUL McCARTNEY FROM RECORDING “SAY SAY SAY”. NOT HATIN’, BUT THAT SONG IS WORSE THAN “EBONY AND IVORY

Now, if I actually left my apartment and had any kind of a social life, I’d end things right there, satisfied with my slightly Nagelian thoughts on a decades-dead rock legend.

But I’m a lover of wisdom. We’re never satisfied.

Not when it comes to a damned thought experiment, anyway.

So I kept thinking.

So…

The German not-actually-nihilist-but-existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously thought up a little mind blower of his own: Eternal Recurrence.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883), Nietzsche introduces the thought experiment. He writes:

“What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence—and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself.”

The underlying question the demon is asking is a question of the quality of life. If you say yes to the demon’s proposal to repeat your life forever, you’ve probably lived a good life. However, if your answer is no, you better go do something with your life. It sucks.

Ok, we got some Nagel. We got a little Nietzsche — but what does this have to do with John Lennon?

I’m getting to that.

Alright. Let’s imagine some scientist (or demon. Wait — is there a difference?) invents a machine that can transport us back in time to Liverpool in 1962, right before The Beatles made it big in England. After some sight-seeing, the science-demon stakes out a spot to meet a pre-fame John Lennon.

The science-demon meets John, and because it’s a science-demon, it’s able to talk to John for a few minutes, long enough to, in a most serious philosophical tone, offer a proposal: what if I told you you will be in the most influential rock & roll band in music history, be more famous than you can possibly imagine, become fabulously wealthy, and more popular than Jesus, BUT 18 years from now you’ll be murdered by someone who wants to kill you precisely because you’re rich, famous, and more popular than Jesus?

It tells young John Lennon if he agrees to be a famous star of the screen, he absolutely will be murdered in 1980 — there’s nothing he can do to prevent it. Of course, if John, not wanting to die young, gives up a career in music, he’ll (likely) live a longer, but perfectly ordinary, life.

The question that John Lennon has to ponder is which life is the better life — that is, which life is worth repeating for an eternity?

Would John Lennon choose the presumably good life — the life of a rich and famous (and rich) rock star, doomed to die at 40

THEY DON’T CALL IT THE GOOD LIFE FOR NOTHING

Or, would he have chosen an ordinary, not-rich and famous (presumably longer) life?

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A WHAT IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T FAMOUS FLICK, CHECK OUT SNODGRASS (2013)

That’s the question Nietzsche says we (all) must ask about our own lives.

Would you go back, Jack and do it again?

Of course we’ll never know what Lennon’s answer would be, but I have the feeling whatever he chose I’d still end up hearing “Say Say Say”.

Seriously, I like Paul McCartney. I like Michael Jackson. But that song sucks.

SOURCES:

Thomas Nagel. Mortal Questions. New York: Cambridge U. Press. 1979.

THE ETHICS OF DEAD PIGEONS

THERE ARE FEW things, I imagine, as positively dumb as a 24-hour Facebook ban.

I mean, you can pretty much get slapped with a can’t post, can’t comment for just about any stupid thing, and it’s not like I posted bare ass or unclothed man peen.

I actually did that. I posted a link with a barely visible thumbnail pic of John Lennon’s naked weenie.

Wait. I mean the thumbnail pic itself was barely visible, not…his… uh…

By the way, I wrote about that 24-hour ban, too.

I thought (mistakenly) that I was being careful about what I was posting and commenting, but as one’s best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned, I found myself once again violating Facebook’s confusion-inducing COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Seriously, does anyone really know what TF Facebook’s “community standards” are?

IT’S NEVER FUN WHEN YOU SEE ONE OF THESE IN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

And, like I said in a previous post, Facebook’s community standards are a well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at moral policing.

I KNOW THIS COMMENT LOOKS BAD, BUT THERE’S A LITTLE MORE TO THE STORY

I mean, certainly Facebook’s intentions are good. Suggesting that we kill people and leave the corpses for others to see is a problematic statement. It’s reasonable to think that a social media site that ignores a comment like that would be failing in its moral duty to its users.

…assuming we think a social networking site has any moral obligations to its users.

But here’s the thing. J wasn’t talking about harming people. I was talking about birds.

I wanted to kill

dirty.

disgusting.

nasty.

birds.

Pigeons, specifically.

Parrots and parakeets are fine, but pigeons can straight-up go F themselves.

This is the meme I violated community standards commenting on:

You see — dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this — sometimes morality isn’t so cut and dry. Sometimes morality needs a little bit of context.

Now, for the record, I’m a fan of deontology. This guy’s deontological ethics, to be exact.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

And, because I’m an ethical kantian, I’m not concerned with the consequences of our actions. What matters to me when evaluating an act is the motivation behind an act.

For Kant, the proper ethical motivation is not consequences — we act from duty.

BY THE WAY, HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN IN THIS PORTRAIT IDENTIFIED AS IMMANUEL KANT? WELL, IT’S NOT. IT’S ACTUALLY FRIEDRICH HEINRICH JACOBI. IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY JACOBI’S PORTRAIT IS PREFERABLE TO KANT.

This is why, according to Kant, we must tell the ax murderer the location of his hiding intended victim. Our ethical duty (or obligation) is to not lie…

Ok, I’m gonna interrupt my post right here to say that Kant explains why we are more morally obligated to not lie to the ax murderer than to not facilitate a murder (and other imperatives)in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. If you haven’t already read it I suggest thumbing through it at least once.

And here’s where I think the problem is.

Facebook seems to be guided by a utilitarian ethical principle. That is, they feel that it is their moral obligation to provide a safe space for social interaction for the greatest number of people. Providing that safe space can, from time to time, result in a bit of over-policing and the occasional (and unnecessary) 24-hour bans. However, as long as the company’s intention is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, they can provide at least some justification for an hyper-reactive algorithm. My comment simply pinged the algorithm.

My comment, regardless of the intended target, was a threat, and threats pose a danger to he greater Facebook community.

Now, I know that being a utilitarian isn’t only about meaning well; you’ve got to produce results. Utilitarianism is all about consequences. Facebook wants to create a safe space for social interaction (for the greatest number of people), but are they?

I honesty have no idea if they are or not.

According to utilitarianism, we are obligated to consider the effect of (consequences) of our actions on, well, pretty much everybody. “Everybody” may or may not include non-human animals, like pigeons. If “everybody” extends to non-human animals, my kill ’em and let God sort ’em out-inspred comment may have violated Facebook’s community standards and the 24-hour ban was justified. However, as an ethical kantian, I’m not required to extend my moral obligations to animals lacking the capacity for autonomous decision making and rational thought.

Therefore, a mere threat against pigeons is neither a moral outrage nor is it worthy of a 24-hour ban.

After all, I didn’t threaten a person.

DAMN, I HATE THESE THINGS

Although… I’m not sure leaving the corpses to warn other pigeons is morally kantian, either.

Well… in the end did I deserve a 24-hour Facebook ban? I dunno. Probably. I did make a threat, and even though it was directed at a bunch of lousy pigeons in a meme, I — ugh — violated community standards.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that, as a member of a community, I have moral obligations to others, including (and perhaps most importantly) to help nurture an environment where participants feel (yes, feel) safe. And really, I shouldn’t be calling for the mass slaughter of pigeons, anyway.

What I should be worried about is Facebook finally catching all that German poop porn that I posted nine years ago.

That stuff is gonna get me permanently banned.

I Don’t Care What You Do, Just Wash Your Hands When You’re Done

THE INTERNET REALLY likes Diogenes.

I mean, it really likes Diogenes.

If you’re a fan of philosophy memes, you know the internet of online philosophy is all about Diogenes.

and Hegel.

Unfortunately Hegel,

Diogenes is one of the holy triumvirate of memed philosophers, which also includes (the aforementioned) Georg Hegel, and inexplicably, Max Stirner. I guess, if I think about it, it kinda makes sense. Diogenes is an ancient philosopher made for these modern times.

IF YOU.VE BEEN ON THE INTERNET, YOU’SEEN THIS DUDE, MAX STIRNER. HE’S EVERYWHERE… JUST LIKE THAT STUSSY THING

The funny thing about Diogenes is, although Diogenes has internet popularity, I can’t find anyone who actually is familiar with his philosophy.

Kind of like Ayn Rand.

I absolutely believe that nobody has ever read Ayn Rand.

BY THE WAY, THAT STUSSY THING IS THIS. JUST IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING…

Seriously tho, does anyone know Diogenes was a cynic? Doubtful. Can anyone actually quote Diogenes? Probably not. But I’d bet soup to nuts I know why Diogenes is so popular.

Diogenes masturbated… in public.

DIOGENES BASICALLY WAS THIS GUY

I think he also peed on things. And pooped when people were looking, too.

Worse than that, Diogenes was a shabby dresser.

AN ANCIENT GREEK CITIZEN REACTING TO DIOGENES’ SHABBY ENSEMBLE (COLORIZED)

So, ok. Sure, the internet loves Diogenes and his public masturbatory habits, but besides that, what does anybody really know about Diogenes?

I mean, does anyone know Diogenes’ last name was Johnson?

I’m kidding about that. It was Gillooly, It really was.

LISTEN: I know that dressed like shit, and jerked off in public, and said, “In a rich man’s house, there’s nowhere to spit but his face”, but i’ll admit in all the years that I’ve read and written about philosophy, I’ve never actually read any of Diogenes’ philosophy.

What did he write? Did he write anything? I dunno.

Well, since I’m confessing, I haven’t read any Stirner either.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

But, as a lover of wisdom, I seek knowledge. And because I’m only an occasional douchebag, I’ll share what wikipedia told me about Diogenes of Sinope:

HERE’S DIOGENES IN HIS BARREL. YOU CAN’T SEE HIS OTHER HAND BECAUSE HE’S PROBABLY MASTURBATING WITH IT

Alright. After Wikipediaing {don’t care if that’s a word or not} Diogenes, this is what I now know:

*Diogenes was born in modern-day Turkey

*He was a founder of Cynicism

*Diogenes’ slovenly lifestyle was a form of criticism of a corrupt society

*His behavior was described as “dog-like”

STATUE OF DIOGENES (AND DOG) IN SINOP, TURKEY

*He was sold into slavery

*Diogenes may or may not have died from holding his breath or an infected dog bite

I wish that last one was made up.

It’s not tho.

Of course, this is nowhere near a comprehensive study into Diogenes and his philosophy, and I could throw in a Diogenes quote or two — but Im not going to. I don’t think It would help my mission much. After a slightly more than cursory glance at Diogenes of Sinope, I still can’t say exactly why he’s so popular, other than the fact that, with his criticism of society, unconventional public behavior, and full podcaster beard, Diogenes definitely has Gen Z appeal.

TYPICAL PODCASTER WITH DIOGENES-ESQUE BEARD AND GEN Z APPEAL

So, is that it? People like Diogenes because he’s like us (like us, if you’re a dog-loving, public-peeing, spittin’-in-Jeff-Bezos’-face cynic Greek philosopher}. We can relate to a guy who, even though he’s kinda gross, we can imagine is the that dude that we all know — the guy who took a shit behind the 7-11 and wore a TRE45ON t-shirt for four years straight — because he simply does not give a fuck.

But it’s probably because of the masturbation thing.

THE ONE WHERE I WRITE ABOUT DEATH

I DON’T THINK I’m that old. I mean, I know I’m not young, but I’m not old either.

I’m young enough to know who BTS is, but old enough to write a blog post about Paul McCartney.

I did, by the way. Write a blog post. About Paul McCartney. Check it out.

I think it’s pretty good.

Anyway…

I’ve got enough years on me that I’ve lived through the deaths of a few of my idols. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard Kurt Cobain died.

Ok. Wow. That dates me.

I heard the news while listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show. Yeah, I know. I was young. I did a lot of dumb shit when I was a kid.

Anyway…

Although I’ve lived through the deaths of some favorite celebrities and a few people I actually know, I’ve been kinda Stoic on the subject of death: I know it happens. I know it’s eventually going to happen to me. And I know there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

So why get upset about it, right?

I’ve been mostly chill about our collective shrugging off of this mortal coil and joining thd choir invisible, but every once in awhile one just kinda gets to me.

Ok, at this point, I’m gonna need to do a bit of exposition. And please excuse any inappropriate levity. Making light of serious stuff is a coping mechanism.

Ok…

So, politically speaking, I tend to lean to the Left (I do philosophy and I’m a Leftie — BIG SHOCK). As a Left-leaning, philosophically-inclined person, I’m (somewhat unsurprizingly) a fan of Majority Report. And, like many fans of the show, I was listening to Sam Seder and company during that show —

You know, I usually can wave off death with a shrug, but Michael Brooks’ death got to me. It’s been almost a year since and it’s still kinda weird watching the show and reminding myself that the reason why there’s no Right-wing Mandela or Nation of Islam Obama is because Michael is… dead.

As a philosopher, I’m bothered that it still bothers me.

Socrates said (in Phaedo) that philosophy is a “training for death”. You see, according to Socrates, the soul is immortal. We must train ourselves to separate the immortal soul from the corporeal body.

Wait. Corporeal body may be redundant. Sorry.

See, our bodies, according to Socrates, are driven by carnal (i.e. lower)desires. The soul’s purpose, on the other hand, is higher. That is, our souls’ purpose is to release the corrupted physical body and join the realm of Truth (Forms and all that jazz). Philosophy, Socrates says, trains us how to free our soul from our bodies. Socrates says:

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward. (Phaedo, 63e)

So… if we’re living our lives Socratically, we should not fear or be bothered by the inevitability of our own demise. The philosophically-oriented should want to get rid of our imperfect material meat suits.

Hey, not endorsing suicide here. Just paraphrasing Socrates… who committed suicide.

Although Socrates is the father of Western Philosophy, he’s not the only (or even definitive) philosophical opinion on death.

LISTEN: Not every philosopher thinks death is a good thing.

Thomas Nagel (b. 1937) states that death, no matter the circumstances, is always an evil. Death, according to Nagel, is an evil because dying permanently deprives us of our ability to participate in activities of life.

You can’t enjoy a yummy plate of nachos supreme if you’re dead.

IF THERE’S A HEAVEN, THERE BETTER BE NACHOS

And that’s a bad thing.

Even if your life sucks, Nagel argues, it’s better to live than to die.

Ok. Nagel goes much deeper into asking what harm is death in his book Mortal Questions. You can read the section “Death” here: http://dbanach.com/death.htm

Death is bad because death is deprivation.

As Socratically as I’ve attempted to live my life, I hate the fact that my cat is going to die. I dread the inevitable deprivation of her companionship.

Epicurus believed that death doesn’t harm the person who dies because death is merely a return to a state on non-existence. You can’t experience anything, harmful or good, if you’d don’t exist.

Just throwing that out there…

Now, as a lover of wisdom, I had accepted the inevitability of death. I’m not gonna say I’m eager to be rid of my flesh prison, but I’m not not comfortable with death — both mine and the people I know. However, I’m still bothered that certain people have died (and will die).

It’s still weird listening to Majority Report. Something is missing. Something I know will never come back.

I realize my thoughts on death may be more Nagelian than Socratic.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about that.