Living the Good Life: On the Pursuit of Happiness, Fame, Fortune, and the Philosophical Necessity of Twerking

Miley Cyrus.

There. I said it.

Nowadays, if someone even whispers the word “twerking”, she’s the first (and often only) name that comes to mind.


I guess it’s up to you whether you want to tack a “fortunately” or “unfortunately” on that fact. For the record, when I think about twerking I think about this:

I’m not going to say anything about whether it is a good career move to officially shed one’s child star image by shaking one’s rear end in public places, but what I will say is that I can’t watch more than five minutes of TMZ Live without hearing the words “Miley”, and “Cyrus”, and “twerking”.

I’ve heard the word Syria on TV fewer times than I’ve heard the word “twerking” all month.

I gotta say that as much as I enjoy watching people twerk, I’m not a Miley Cyrus fan.

Luckily, for everything one can grow to dislike as much as one hates paper cuts or tequila-induced hangovers, there’s a philosophical something hidden in it somewhere.

They say that all of Miley Cyrus’ twerking antics isn’t about being inappropriate, but is about her want to reclaim the childhood that she lost while she was the star of the Disney series Hannah Montana®. It seems that Miley Cyrus has decided, now that she has the opportunity, to act the manner she wasn’t permitted to act when she was at the age when young people typically behave in a manner that we would call “acting out”.

In Miley Cyrus’ case, her “acting out” includes smoking weed and hanging out with “Molly”.





It seems that what’s really at the heart of Miley Cyrus’ behavior is that Miley, like so many of us, is trying to live the good life – the kind of life that makes one happy.

And when you talk about stuff like the good life and happiness, you’re talking philosophy.

Philosophers, from Socrates to Mill, have written about what kind of life constitutes the good life. Socrates wrote (actually, Plato wrote) that the good life is a life of philosophical contemplation. For Aristotle, the good life meant that one lives virtuously. John Stuart Mill says that once we’ve acquired a preference for higher pleasures (instead of lower pleasures) we are well on our way to living not only a good life, but a happy life. Mill writes that lower pleasures (e.g. sexual promiscuity, intemperance, gluttonous consumption of food and twerking) are merely physically satisfying and can’t make us happy. Indulging in mere physical pleasures, Mill writes:

“a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do no regard anything as happiness which does not include their contemplation.”

Mill says that we should want to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig.
Unfortunately, though Socrates tells us that the best life is a life spent in philosophical contemplation, that’s not what society tells us is the good life. Two thousand years ago you could hire a philosopher (or a sophist, if you went that way) to teach you how to think. These days, the media not only tells us what the cultural zeitgeist is, the media tells us what to think about it.

The media tells us not only what’s important, what we should care about, but more importantly, what makes a good life. If you pay attention to the media long enough, you’ll soon be convinced that nothing matters more than being young, rich, famous, and beautiful.

And if you watch TMZ you’ll spend your day wondering what Lindsay Lohan is doing right now.

lindsay lohan tmz

What the media tells us is no matter how good we think our lives are, there are people out there (i.e. famous people) whose lives are marvelously better than ours. Not only are their lives better than ours, we should want to live the lives they lead. Their lives are the good life. After all, what could be more essential to living the good life than smoking salvia or twerking?

What can be more essential to living the good life than being famous?

So, when we watch the real-life downward-spiraling life of a Hollywood starlet or watch a fictional character whose life is nothing but a meaningless, black void, as long as they are either rich, famous, of good-looking, we can believe that their lives, despite all appearances, is good. Sure, a guy like Don Draper is a morally bankrupt, miserable, S.O.B., who lies not only to himself but to everyone else, but the fact that Don is moderately well-off and looks swell in a Brooks Brothers suit tells us that we need not worry about his philosophical well-being.

A guy like Don Draper is certain to live a good life and be happy.

I guess it has to do with pulling off a debonair look while smoking a cigarette.

don draper smoking


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily condemning Miley Cyrus, TMZ  or any other celebrity.

Well, maybe I am condemning TMZ.

Any philosopher, well, most, will tell you that the right amount of physical pleasure is a good thing. A proper philosophical soul knows how to satisfy our higher and lower pleasures. And really, when’s the last time you heard of a philosopher drowning in his own vomit?

Our problem is that when we look at the media, they tell us that a good – THE good life is a life devoted to lower pleasures. According to our culture, the life of celebrity is the quickest way to living a lower pleasure-filled life. He might not have known it when he said it, but Andy Warhol hit the nail when he said that everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.

As long as there’s reality television, everybody’s got a chance of getting famous on TV.

No doubt that being rich and famous is a good gig, but there are far too many examples of how fame and fortune has good reversing effect on people’s lives.

I mean, have you ever heard of the 27 club?

It’s not entirely wrong to appreciate the fact that the contemplative lifestyle requires longevity. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Gram Parsons, and Amy Winehouse all lived the culturally-approved good life, but they all died before their 28th birthday.
Aristotle lived to be 62.
Leibniz lived to 70.
Sartre died at 76.
Ayn Rand unfortunately lived to the ripe old age of 77.
Immanuel Kant lived to 80.
Heidegger died at 87.
Bertrand Russell nearly made it to the century mark. He died at age 97.

Noam Chomsky is 85 years old and counting…

Listen: A philosopher may be a dissatisfied Socrates, but living past the age of twenty seven might give us enough time to realize that satisfied piggery isn’t the best life to lead. Having fun is alright. We have an inalienable right to be happy (The Declaration of Independence says so), but we also should want to do more than have a good time or feel that knowing intimate details about the Kimye baby is more important than knowing details about the Chelsea Manning case. We should know that twerking or even reclaiming one’s lost childhood isn’t a bad thing, so long as we realize that some of the things we believe will make us happy or make our lives “good” are merely distractions; things that keep us from pursuing the kind of life that will make us truly happy – the philosophical life.

… But then again, it’s hard to argue that partying with Molly won’t make your life good, too.


John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. pp. 12.

If you’re happy and you know it rattle your chains

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

I won’t explain it here. I don’t want it to get weird.

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

I watch MSNBC. I even watch on weekends. I suspect that whoever is in charge of weekend programming thinks no one is watching because they air the same shows practically every weekend. They show that Dominick Dunne show about people killing each other. A lot. I think I’ve seen the same one about the poor dude who marries the rich lady from Texas and then poisons her with arsenic-laced pills about a dozen times already.

Besides, Dominick Dunne has been dead for how many years now?

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it's time MSNBC change it's weekend line-up

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it’s time MSNBC change it’s weekend line-up


Anyway, in addition to showing the same episodes of that Dominick Dunne show (Really, MSNBC. Airing that show is getting a little creepy) the weekend programming staff seems to be fascinated by shows about sex slaves.

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

Next to illegal drugs and guns, human trafficking (especially for the purpose of prostitution) is big (illegal) international business. It’s estimated nearly 800,000 people, especially women and children, are globally trafficked a year.

I'm not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

I’m not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.


You Know, if you think about it, it’s not entirely shocking that modern slavery still exists given the fact that slaves and slavery (of some form or another) have been around since the birth of human civilization.

Slavery is not only a historical fact; it’s been tolerated (historically) in many cultures. Slaves traditionally were conquered people or people who owed money and were sold into slavery to work off debts. Ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and pre-Columbian Americans held slaves. Slavery is even mentioned in the Bible. Despite its prohibitions against such immoral acts such as witchcraft, mixing fabrics, eating shellfish, and making fun of bald men, the Bible does not prohibit slavery. Christian civilizations sometimes lessened slavery and occasionally slaves were liberated,  but neither Christian nor Islam (Mohammed urged that slaves should be treated well) did not end the practice of enslaving people.

By the way, the Bible does tell us how we should treat slaves (Leviticus 25:35-55).

Seriously though, according to the Bible making fun of a bald man may be a bad idea.

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.





Bears, man. Bears.


And now for the philosophy.

Like many folks in the ancient world, the Greek philosopher Aristotle does not object to slavery. Aristotle argues that just as nature produces philosophers (the highest men), nature also produces natural slaves. Some are designated from birth to rule while others are destined to be ruled. Aristotle states that in the household (which is the foundation of society) slavery is not only expedient, it’s right. The slave is (and should be) naturally inferior to the master. Slaves should not be Greeks but inferior people but barbarians, (who are natural slaves). In Politics, Aristotle writes:

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say:

“It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians”;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

The slave, says Aristotle, is a “living tool” and the master cannot be friends with his slaves (that’s because slaves are not full people like their masters). Aristotle states that slaves should not be educated as a superior person is educated (because they can‘t be, anyway). Slaves should be taught useful arts like cooking, cleaning, and how to care for livestock.

Although the ancient Greek philosophers inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it’s clear that there is no “all men are created equal” according to Aristotle.

(At this point it’s important to note that even though slavery has existed since people figured out that you can force other people to do hard work for you if you beat them, the criteria for who was fit (in Aristotle’s case naturally fit) for slavery is not racial in the same sense that we view race. The racial qualification for servitude (i.e. being African) wasn’t established until the mid-1400s when the enslavement of Africans was justified on the basis that Africans were an inferior race only fit for servitude).

With the pre-Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, and self-determination spread across Europe and the American colonies, some saw enslavement of Africans as contrary to those ideals and by the mid-1800s objections to slavery on the grounds that enslaving one’s fellow humans is morally wrong (namely because lifelong servitude causes suffering) grounded the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists saw slavery as a sham, a denial of human rights; and to force others to forfeit their God-given liberty is contrary to the American belief in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Slaves were miserable. They weren’t happy and presumably would be happier if they weren’t slaves.

That’s a fairly easy assumption to make about people who lived like this:

slaves in chains


The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed how the institution of slavery contradicted the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wrote:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham… your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy

A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages


Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”


The funny thing about slavery (if it’s even possible for anything to be funny about slavery) is that the America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom were certainly slave owners, believed that slavery was wrong. The late historian Howard Zinn writes that in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that King George III of England suppressed “every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain the execrable commerce”.

However, Zinn adds, Jefferson’s condemnation of the king was excised from the final draft of the Declaration by the Continental Congress.

The funny thing about the funny thing about slavery is although Jefferson believed that slavery is evil he still owned slaves. Jefferson, like his fellow Founders, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, believed slavery was an evil institution that was antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

Besides the fact that no one who has the opportunity to say no wants to pick cotton by hand.

I know I’m going to do a bit of stretching here. But play along with me.

We trace our ideals of freedom and liberty (at least as a politically guaranteed right) to the philosophy of John Locke (who, by the way, was heavily invested in the slave trade), but we also trace our idea of democracy to ancient Athens, a society that believed that not only is slavery morally permitted but a part of the natural order. Our idea of democracy isn’t just Lockean but also the ancient Platonic/Aristotelian view of the purpose and function of proper government.

I’m getting to my point. Bear with me. It’s gonna take a sec.

Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates) believed that the aim of government is the good of the whole. And Happiness (capital H) is a part of that good. The good, according to Aristotle, consists in acting virtuously, but also (as Socrates also believed) in performing according to one’s assigned role in society. The good of the community is inextricably tied to everyone doing what he (or she) is supposed to do. Society cannot function if people do not perform according to their characteristic function this is the only way a society can be harmonious. Aristotle writes:

But perhaps the reader thinks that though no one will dispute the statement that happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.

This will best be gained, I think, by asking. What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function or business to do, lies in that function, so man’s good would seem to lie in his function., if he has one.


So, when everyone is acting according to his/her characteristic function, we are not only acting for the good of the community, we are also Happy. We are unhappy when we don’t perform according to the role assigned to us by nature.

Aristotle says “thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”

Ok, Aristotle wants everybody to be happy. And we know that being a slave obviously makes one unhappy, so there’s no way we can justify having slaves, right?

Well, not entirely.

You see, when Aristotle wrote about happiness, he wasn’t exclusively writing about how we feel. He was writing about how we are that is, what kind of people we are. If we are virtuous, we are happy no matter what role we occupy in life. Aristotle calls this kind of Happiness eudemonia.

Aristotle writes that the good things that make us happy (wealth, pleasure, health, etc.) are second to a higher good. According to Aristotle, eudemonia consists in development of a virtuous soul.

And as we all know, Aristotle says when we act according to our characteristic function we are participating in virtuous activity.

This all has me wondering…

If it was believed that Africans were naturally fit for slavery is it possible that, despite the fact that slavery is brutal and is a denial of human freedom, that Jefferson believed that his slaves were happy?

At least in the philosophical sense?




If anyone objects to my argument, remember this is just a philosophical exercise (or thought experiment, if you will), not an actual treatise on slavery, its philosophical merits (if any), or Thomas Jefferson’s actual view on the emotional/philosophical state of his slaves. I’m more than certain that my ancestors would have thrown over philosophical happiness for freedom.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.” (pg. 233)  According to Aristotle, since a slave is not a full human being, a slave cannot be happy.

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!


1. Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1999. 1980. NY: Perennial Classics. 72, 182-3.

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 2004 [1893] . NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 10-11, 232, 233.

3. Aristotle. “Politics”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Pocket Aristotle. 1958, 1942. Ed. Justin D. Kaplan. NY: Pocket Books. 279.


Have You Ever Seen "Bound"?

I figured that I’d throw my 2 cents into the ring concerning the fight over whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married or not. First, I think what this whole to do about nothing is, at its core (and pittifully so) a semantic argument. We’re not even arguing over the issue. We’re arguing over a word. A world that, so far as I know, isn’t copyrighted by any group so anyone is free to use it or any other word (I guess except for “threepeat”) any way they see fit. As we define marriage, marriage is rooted in the notion of a monogamous, legally binding, relationship between two people, traditionally between a man and a womam. Of course, traditionally, according to some had entitled them to more than one spouse, be it more than one wife or more than one husband. Here, of course, that practice has been traditionally regarded as bigamy. Lets also not fail to mention that, before the advent of all this marrying for love business, most marriages were arranged, and that the bride is usually younger (sometimes quite significantly so) than her husband. In fact, this type of traditional marriage is still practice around the world. But, in all of this, marriage not only had a biblical or spiritual element, but also a legal one as well. Marriages are binding in that they cannot be dissolved by one or both parties merely deciding that they’re marriage sucks and they’d rather not see each other ever again. (and if they did, it would be too soon). There’s always some kind of authority that has say over whether you are married or not. In our case, marriages are subject to licensing — like fishing, your firearms, or your pitbull. The fact that you both have to get a license to marry and/or pack heat is something to think about. That said, however, this is an important thing to consider — whether it is morally (or legally) ok to treat a group of people differently, or deprive them of something that I, as a breeder, can do freely myself. That is important. When Prop. 8 was passed here in California, there was some to-do over exactly which Californians voted for the proposition. There was plenty of talk about how a high number of black voters voted in favor of keeping anything but straight marriage illegal. They said it’s because many black folks are tied to churches, and although Liberal leaning, their moral compass is still firmly rooted in Christian ethics. I recall listening to a few talk radio shows where te hosts seem to be headed down the ‘blame the darkies’ path. Which is funny, because so many of those shows were on Conservative radio stations, which one would assume would also support Proposition 8. There were a few callers who told the hosts that, despite the fact that the local news outlets weren’t saying so, there was a bit of hostility in the gay “community” at the betrayal at the hands of black voters. If I may digress for a moment here, I ‘d like to say, that, despite (or maybe in spite) of my minorityness, I voted against Prop. 8. But I also have a problem with people who assume that the fact that I am a minority, that I must side with every other “oppressed” people’s causes. Sometimes, I do not. Although I will say that the argument is at its heart a semantic issue (especially in light of the fact that many people who oppose gay marriage say that they support civil unions, which are, qualitatively speaking, the same as marriage.), I understand that there is a serious legal issue at stake. I think that it is wrong, ethically and legally to disallow anyone the opportunity to marry whomsoever they choose. Alright. I’ve already started to fiddle with the language. Instead of using the word “right”, I wrote opportunity. I did this knowing that there are many who claim that gays and lesbians are assuming they have a right where no right exists. Unfortunately, this claim may have some merit. The United States Supreme Court has established that we have a right to reproduce and a right to not reproduce (as decided by Roe v. Wade). We have a right, if we decide to marry, to marry others of any other race than our own. But, we may not have an expressed right to marry. I assume that, on grounds of risking opening up a can of worms that no one wants to dael with, that very few people would want to challenge marriage as a fundamental right. Especially those who object to gay marriage on moral grounds. Saying there’s no right to marry can complicate hetersexual unions as well. Secondly, I’m aware that there’s the slippery slope argument that pops up whenever someone claims that we have a right to marry whoever we like. The immediate objection sometimes goes something like, ‘what if I wanted to marry my goat?’. This is exactly what Rick Santorum tried to pull of some time ago. This argument is specious on the grounds that, even if the right to marry a goat was an option, most reasonable people would not marry farm animals. I mean, I have a dog, he’s really cute and he’s always glad to see me. But he’s a dog. A not-so-minor qualification for marriage is that my spouse to be is a t least the same species! The same goes for those who claim that allowing homosexual marriage will lead to child molestation. First, let’s get the stats out of the way. If you are molested, it’s most apt to be at the hands of a relative. Second, most molesters tend to be self described as “straight”. I think that there are a few states (and in some spots in Europe) where gays are allowed to marry. I don’t think there was a rush on marriage licenses filed by 47 year old men wanting to marry 10 year olds. Likewise, I don’t think that, people being rational, that instances of necrophillia will skyrocket if the unstraight are allowed to join in holy matrimony. Most people, I assume, object to gay marriage on some sort of moral grounds. Even those who say that they support gay rights generally (meaning that they think that gays should be allowed to join the military or that a person shouldn’t be fired from their job because they’re gay, etc.),they still assert that they believe in gay rights on “everything but marriage”. I’ve heard this one alot. They say that marriage is something special. “Something special” traces back to God snatching one of Adam’s ribs and making the worst mistake that God ever made, the wife. Womam was given to Adam by God, and they were bound to each other by divine decree. Anything else is ungodly. Ok, first, I’m not going to argue that that belief is just plain stupid (prima facie stupid), because I believe that people are entitled to believe whatever claptrap that they wnat about whatever deity that they wish to receive their orders from. If a head of cabbage wants you to dance the hokey pokey every morning for fifteen minutes, and you believe that your salvation depends on it, believe away. Maybe you’ll drop a few pounds. But, where I draw the line is where people attempt to place their God’s instructions on everyone else. This, of course, is notthing new. I’m simply saying that I don’t appreciate someone trying to legislate morality. I also submit that there is some of this that is done. After all, I can freely walk up to any lunch counter and demand to be served. The fact that people had moral objections to racial discrimination led to the end of racially discriminatory behavior on the part of the law and private businesses. But, I realize that Americans, more so than being moral, are also pragmatic. (it’s no wonder that the only school of philosophy contributed by America is pragmatism). Racial segregation, in the long run, isn’t very useful. It’s bad for business to keep people out on the basis of race. Sure, you can say that God hates racists (as well as you can make arguments that God loves those who keep to their own), but it’s just as useful to say that being a racist is plain counterproductive. It causes more problems than it solves. Likewise, keeping marriage a heterosexuals-only institution is counterproductive. If you listen to the governator, the our state of California stands to benefit from revenue to be had by gays and lesbians flocking to the state to make their fornication legal. One could say that, to keep marriage restricted would be to deprive the state of much needed funds, and that is not exactly the moral thing to do, either. We can, and do, go around in circles till Jesus himself descends from a cloud and tells up what’s up. The problem with making the moral argument is that someone can come back at you with their version of what morality should be. If I for instance, say that God does not condone the ordination of women clergy, I’m bound to be confronted by some Unitarian who emphatically objects to my assertion. we’ll each claim that our God does or does not condone some activity. I can think of a half dozen sins, such as adultery or bearing false witness, that can be used as some grounds to deny people all sorts of rights — if we use God as a grounds for doing so. If someone who is divorced wants to remarry, do we have the right to deny him on the grounds that his second marriage is adulterous? No, we do not. So let’s get rid of the religious argument now, shall we? Besides, once someone admits that we have been rendering laws by way of the Bible, we’re off to First Amendment challenge land. As a philosopher (excuse me, “philosopher”), I should say a word or two how keeping gays from getting married is unphilosophic, that is that a prohibition violates the philosophic principles upon which American ideas of freedom is based. At the heart of much of the American way of life is the idea that we are free individuals who have an inalienable right to choose. (Says so in the Declaration of Independence). The idea of choice, including the right to choose what makes us happy, is found in the works of Mill, Locke, and Kant. Man’s freedom is based, in part, in determining the life path of his own choosing. He is not a truly free individual is he is thwarted in his attempt to live his life according to his plan. Now, I’ve used the word “happy”. One may define “happiness” as a felt emotional state, as in the notion that strawberry milkshakes make me happy. (They do). But, “happiness” as defined philosophically, is more than what we feel. Happiness, for the philosopher, connects to what is Good (another ambiguous term). The good life is a life in which the rational individual flourishes (to borrow an idea from Aristotle). A part of flourishing is the cultivation of beneficial, meaningful relationships. I would not doubt that a stable, committed romantic relationship would contribute to one’s flourishing. The philosopher John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” demonstrates how prohibiting gay marriage is philosophically damaging. According to Rawls, if we are to consider which laws we should adopt for our society, we should first cast ourselves in the veil of ignorance. Rawls asks, if we were born unaware of what we were to be, which rules would we adopt for our society? That is, if we did not know our race, gender, physical condition, sexual orientation, etc, would we cast laws that would discriminate against a group of whom we may be a part? The answer is no. If I did not know that I would be born a (fill in the blank here), would I make laws that would restrict the freedom or opportunities of that group? The answer is hell no. We would, and should, make laws that allow for the most freedom of everyone. That’s the idea behind having the freedom to choose. The idea that a person cannot choose to do (or pursue) what makes him happy is inherently un-American. But that’s just what some philosopher thinks, it’s his opinion. And we all know about opinions.I can argue philosophy and waste daylight the same as one can take up religious arguments that take all day and solve nothing. The point is, is that our nation is a nation of laws — and that’s the only argument worth looking at — the only one that’s got even a snowball’s chance of working. The bigger matter to be confronted is the plain fact that banning gay marriage is legally wrong. So lets look at the law, shall we? The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause abides by the principle that all men are created equal under the law. Physical or biological differences, such as race, disability, or gender are insignificant according to the law. The courts have already determined that in the arena of employment that a person’s sexual orientation is beyond the reach of the law. The Court’s decision in Lawerence v. Texas declared that consentual, private sexual activity is protected by the 14th Amendment. The Court stated, ” moral disapproval does not constitute a legitimate governmental interest under the equal protection clause”. Simply put, the Court stated that whatever people choose to do in their own homes is their business, and should not be used to deny constitutionally protected rights. So, if one has an biblical objection to a married gay couple doing what comes naturally (in the privacy of their own bedroom), their objection has no legal merit and should not be used to interfere with a right to engage in a constitutionally protected activity (which is why it it important to determine if there is a constitutional right to marry). This isn’t a matter of one group demanding “special” rights, but, like minorities and women before them, it’s a matter of a group demanding that their rights be recognized. Sometimes, a legal decision establishing a right to a particular activity can be used to establish a right to another. Allow me to explain: In light of some dastardly (an highly morally objectionable) unconsentual sterilizations of poor, white Southerners during the early part of the last century, it was established that no citizen can be denied the right to bear have children. Citizens of the U.S. have a constitutionally protected right to reproduce. That was fine and dandy. But, it was soon discovered that some people, although they can have children, don’t want to have children. So the question arose, ‘can one be compelled to have childern even if one does not want them?’. Some assumed that a right to reproduce had a correlate: the right to reproduce implies a right to not reproduce. The question was finally answered with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which established that the government had no power to compel individuals to have children. Some find a correlate to gay marriage in the debate over interracial marriage. The Supreme Court’s 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, struck down the last of the nation’s anti-miscegenation laws. (I mention the year that the decision was reched by the court in interest in showing that it was a full century after the end of the Civil War before it was legal to marry a person of a different race in all 50 states). The Court recognized the fact that individuals are entitled to marry whoever they choose to marry, and that the state cannot prohibit individuals form marrying based on mere biological differences such as race. The Court ruled that the previous system of racial segregation based on the principle of seperate but equal violated an individual’s freedom of choice. Mixed-race couples were treated significantly different than other, same-race couples in that they weren’t allowed to marry based on mere biological differences. The Court found that to do so is unconstitutional and ended the legal practice of anti-miscegenation. Interracial couples won the right to marry based on the idea that two individuals who love and respect each other should not be denied the right to marry. Likewise, the fact that one’s gender is a mere biological characteristic should not be a factor in determining whether homosexuals can marry. Modern science has proven that our sexual preference (s) may be one of dozens of traits that are biologically rooted and are as much a part of genetic make-up as our eye color, height, body type, or race. We cannot help being gay or straight any more than we can help being short, prone to baldness, or to high blood pressure (not to say that being gay is a malady akin to being bald or hypertensive). We would not support barring two individuals with different eye color from marrying based on the fact that the thought of a blue-eyed person marrying a brown-eyed person offends us personally. If we say that homosexuality is a personal choice and not a matter of biology (as many claim), the argument for allowing gays to marry is even stronger. If being gay is a choice, then being gay is no different from a person choosing to be a Republican or an anarchist, or choosing to be a vegan or a Catholic. If the thought of two vegan Catholic Repubilcans marrying offends me morally, and it does, I can’t restrict their right to marry on the grounds that I merely disagree with how they choose to vote or what they choose to eat. To say that my moral sensibility trumps their right to marry in this case would be absurd. Likewise, to say that the fact that a gay person’s behavior offends me should be a reason why they should not get married is equally outrageous. Lastly, we often hear that allowing gay people to marry is somehow akin to detonating a society-destroying atomic bomb. Allowing homosexual marriage will end civilization as we know it. But, here’s the fact: there are places on this hellhole that we call earth where same-sex oriented people already possess the right to marry. That’s right, no one can make any sort of argument without bringing in the European — especially the Canadians and Scandanavians. Oh, wait — did I just write that Canadians are Europeans? I think that I just proved somebody’s point about Americans, eh? Anyway. In Denmark, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 1989, statistics show that rates of suicide, sexually transmitted disease, sexual promiscuity, and infidelity among homosexuals has decreased. In a declaration that certainly would not be music to many American ministers’ ears, Denmark’s clergy has declared that same-sex marriages have not destroyed marriage, but strengthened them. In other countries where same-sex unions have been legalized, such as the Netherlands, Canada, and Belgium are not societies on collapse, but in fact, thes countries often enjoy a higher standard of living than in the United States. Ultimately we cannot decide if allowing gays and lesbians to marry is harmful to society until we actually make same-sex marriage legal. To sum it up, I think that I agree with actress and Christian, Kristin Chenoweth, who told host Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, “people are born a certain way, and God doesn’t make mistakes”. I think she’s right. Besides, George Takei seems happy.

On Living Life Philosophically: Getting All Eudaimonic with Paris Hilton

I wouldn’t normally confess to being a celebrity watcher. I think mostly because I have a philosophy degree and philosophers are supposed to be above That. I wouldn’t admit that I do more than glance over the pages of People, Star, or US Weekly. I have to admit, I do. I am one of the millions of willing/unwilling consumers of American popular culture. And yes, I probably know more about the stars han I know about people that I’ve known my entire life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, the lives of the very rich, fabulously famous, beautiful ones are unavoidable. But, instead of wasting valuable mental energy lamenting the fact that I am a devotee of the bling-bling world of celebrityness, I have decided that I would use the rich and famous as a source of life lessons and philosophic enlightenment. what have I learned from watching celebrities? My answer: how to achieve eudaimonia. My teacher: Paris Hilton. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics addresses the type of character that is most conductive to living The Good Life. A virtuous character is necessary if an individual wants to conduct his life in a manner that is sucessful and satisfying. Virues such as self-control and temperance must be cultivated in individuals and in our social institutions. We must be steered onto the right path if we are to develop a virtuous character and achieve the life of philosophic fufillment or happiness. In short, we can only achieve happiness when we are virtuous. Now, one might say, “I am happy, but I am nowhere virtuous”, in which case, I’d probably agree with you. However, Aristotle does not define “happiness” in the same sense that we or the average celebrity ( is there really such a thing as an “average” celebrity?) means when we say that we are happy. Happiness, according to the popular definition, is often and almost exclusively applied in the material sense. We often say that we are happy if we possess material wealth, expensive car, a big, expensive boob job, or a big, expensive reality TV show. But, according to Aristotle, despite what we may believe ( or what we see on TV) these are not the things that make us Happy . It takes no strain of the eyes to see that, the Happy Life as seen on TV is not only devoid of virtuous people but missing real Happiness as well. So, what has this to do with Paris Hilton? The answer is this: Paris Hilton, despite what the average philosopher may believe ( and there is such a thing as an average philosopher), serves a purpose. If we can learn anything from Ms. Hilton, it is this: a big, expensive life is exactly what the eudaimonic life is not. I was enlightened to this fact while watching Entertainment Tonight. This is how: If you asked me what makes Paris Hilton famous, I would say that Paris Hilton is famous because she is famous. My fellow philosophers may scoff at this point, but fame, according to society’s happiness meter, is the first step on the path to eternal HAPPINESS. Popular belief holds that public adoration not only produces Happiness, but is HAPPINESS. Paris HIlton is not only famous, she’s rich, good-looking, and has a talent that extends to amateur filmmaking and a recording career. Paris Hilton’s life is filled with pleasure, and according to the average Joe (well, me anyway), the pleasured life is what makes us HAPPY. Aristotle writes that most people lead lives the equate happiness with pleasure. Unfortunately, Aristotle says that this kind of life is one of “the most vulgar type”. We might all agree that a person who spends their time pursuing pleasure– excessive drinking, all-night partying, or making DIY porn — is about the most vulgar life as one can live. Aristotle asserts that people who live their lives devoted to pleasure are “slaves to their tastes”, and live the lives of beasts. Now, how many of us has proclaimed that our dog has morse sense than the average famous person? How many of us notice that celebrities seem to follow every silly trend or crackpot religion, newest rehab fad, or get busted for DUI for the fifth time? How many of us have concluded that the life that is supposed to bring the greatest Happiness doesn’t seem to be happy at all? That is exactly my point. Although it may be tremendous fun, a life devoted to mere pleasure cannot steer us onto the right path. And, if Aristotle is correct, if we are not on the right path we cannot achieve a life of philosophic fufillment. Ultimately, we must conclude that despite all appearances, celebrities including Paris Hilton lead unHappy, un-eudaimonic lives. I arrived at that conclusion around the time the Paris experienced her own moment of (sort-of) philosophic enlightenment. I call this type “spending a little time behind bars”. Remember when Paris was released from a 23-day stint in a Los Angeles jail for violating the terms of her probation? I watched the TV coverage of Paris weeping in the back of a police cruiser on her way to the pen. It was obvious that she wasn’t happy — in any sense of the word. I wondered how someone who has everything that should make a person happy (and HAPPY) end up in such a miserable situation? Aristotle’s answer came to me loud and clear: Paris Hilton was not a virtuous person. Despite the fact that she’s happy by popular standards, Paris lacked the proper character that would have kept her from breaking the law. Paris Hilton’s lack of Aristotelian virtuous moral character not only led her to sully her reputation, but also lead to her legal troubles as well. Aristotle might have said that, if Paris had spent more time developing the right moral character, she might have been living the eudaimonic — if not jail free life. Instead of being seen as a empty-headed “celebutante”, her name might have been uttered with the same reverence when we say the names Plato, Kant, and Spinoza. What we learn from Paris is that the material things that we think will make us happy — fame, wealth, adoration — do not, and more importantly, cannot make us happy. But, Paris may have found enlightment after all. Following her release from the bighouse, Paris appeared on the Larry King Show, where she announced that she was giving up her life of partying, and devoting her life to philanthropy. She said that she had read the BIble during her time in the poke, and that she had learned (i.e. gained wisdom) from her time up the river. I don’t think that I’ve seen Paris feeding the poor or building schools in Africa lately, but she’s announced her intention to change, and I know that change takes time (none of us got our philosophy degrees overnight, did we?). I know that recently she sought out a new BFF, and I know that finding new friends is often a sign of change. I’m sure the one she will find will undoubtedly be philosophically inclined. I know that once a person has experienced philosophic enlightment, that it is nearly impossible to turn away from it. One knows that devoting one’s life to philanthropic causes is something that virtuous people do. So I say that Paris is on the right path to The Good Life. So get ready my friends, Paris Hilton may indeed become one of us — a philosopher! All I can say is kudos!

Two Words: Coleman Francis

I like bad movies. No, that’s an understatement. I like shitty movies. Real crap. Now, there are people that will name all sorts of supposedly bad movie directors: John Waters, Renny Harlin, Ed Wood… but absolutely no one ever made such magnificent turds as the late Coleman Francis. If I were a meaner-spirited person, I would say that it’s a good thing that Coleman Francis is no longer among the living. I might say that it’s a good thing that god decided to end his life so that he is no longer able to force his cinematic swill onto the movie-going public. I might have said that, if I were that kind of person. Like many horrible movie watchers, like myself, I saw my first Coleman Francis movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie was “Red Zone Cuba”. If there is some dictionary that has moving images along with the definitions, the word “unwatchable” would be accompanied by this movie. There are almost no words to describe what this movie does to me. It’s kind of like when there’s an accident right in fromt of you and the only thing you can think is to stare wide-eyed making all sorts of monosylabic sounds and giggles. There are so many things wrong with this movie that you can’t name just one thing. First off is the plot itself. Three middle aged men somehow get hornswaggled into volunteering to invade Cuba with a force of, if this movie is historically accurate, about six men. Six equally physically not-adept men. Equally so, it’s amazing how someone could take one of history’s most politically stirring events, the Cuban Missile crisis, and turn it into a film that watching it ranks only slightly preferable to a swift knee to the groin. There are no words to describe the absolute pain this film will inflict on you. I thought, since I have made it my business to think of all things philosophically, how either this movie, or its creator can be analyzed through the philosophic lens. Kant said that we have certain moral duties not only to others, but to ourselves as well. One of his duties to self is to not let our talents rust. If we have a certain ability to do something, it is wrong to not do it. So, if I had an ability to run as fast as the wind, I would be doing myself a moral disservice to not use my talent to do something. (what that something is, I have no idea). Ok, so let’s say that our dear departed Mr. Francis thought that he had a talent for filmmaking. So, if he didn’t make “The Beast Of Yucca Flats” he would have actually been committing a moral wrong by not doing so. Ok, so according to the Kantian, he’s in the clear. But, is it possible that doing your Kantian moral duty is so dreadfully wrong according to another moral theory? Not only wrong, but impermissible? That making shitty movies is a moral threat to everyone? What would the utilitarian say? Ok, so let’s say that Coleman Francis releases his movie. And it’s dreadful. People actually experience unhappiness when they see this film — and not the good unhappiness like after seeing “Sophie’s Choice”, or after listening to a good Cure cd, but real unhappiness. In fact, you can say that it’s unhappiness bordering on pain. Physical pain. So, if we’re following Bentham, we need only to consider the amount of pleasure we are losing whenever we see a Coleman Francis film. We discover that we would be happier if we don’t see movies like “Red Zone Cuba”. The best thing to do, we may say, is to stop the production of bad movies. After devising an actual method of determining what a truly awful movie is, we decide to implement the stop crappy movies program. No more bad movies means more happiness for all. But is this right? Even though I’m happier that I won’t ever have to see another Roland Emmerich movie again there is still something nagging at my conscience. I’m suddenly thinking about my happiness coming at someone else’s expense. Somehow I feel that I am denying someone their happiness. And worse yet, I’m suddenly hearing Kant yelling imperfect duties to self in my head. So, are we doing something wrong when we tell people that the visualization of their talent isn’t so good for the rest of us? Should we continue to let a bad filmmaker like Coleman Francis make his art if not for his own happiness but because he has moral obligations to himself that demand that he continue to make rotten movies? This question, of course, goes beyond Coleman Francis and his movies. Is it possible that our duty according to a moral theory — and not even a competing theory — end up not being the right thing to do? And what if it’s not a matter of moral wrongs, but a matter of someone who just isn’t as talented as they might think that they are? Should we encourage him to let his talents rust for the sake of the net happiness of all or does the Kantian view of “talent” have anything to do with quality at all? I don’t watch “American Idol” (no one does, right?), but I realize that there are at least a couple pf people who aren’t plants put there to sing badly for our entertainment. Some people actually think that they have a real gift for singing. So, they go on the show, just to have their dream crushed by the acid tongue of Simon Cowell. And so, after a public lashing, they decide to give up their dream of a life on the stage. We might think, hurray! score one for the utilitarian. NO crappy music. But, did Kant tell us that we had to be good at that talent? Is it a matter of only putting the things that we are good at to use, or is it the idea that we should pursue what we may feel is a calling? Maybe if the no-talent on “American Idol” wasn’t humiliated on national television, they would have pursued a career singing to the homeless at soup kitchens, which would have in turn, lifted the spirits of some homeless people, who, although the voice wasn’t the best voice, it was a voice of someone who cared enough to get up and try to lighten a few spirits. Perhaps the real moral wrong was Simon’s cruel comments, which in the long run, caused less happiness overall (the problem with utilitarianism is that it’s horrible at predicting long-range goods and harms). My god, where was I? Was I anywhere? My point is, if I had one, is that Coleman Francis is a bad filmmaker. And that after I watch his movies, I really do feel real pain (usually in my gut), but the fact that watching his films has enabled me to write this one entry has, in some way, benefitted me. And because I am continuing to think philosophically about life and stuff, I am benefitting my fellow man (it’s a stretch, but it sounds nice). The films of Coleman Francis and all who follow his lead are the silver lining on this cinematic storm cloud. A storm cloud with a top end made of poo.