Alt-Philosophy

ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN writing this blog for awhile, I haven’t really made a habit of writing about my opinions. I mean, I write philosophical interpretations of movies and TV and music and stuff based on some other philosopher‘s philosophy, but rarely (I think) have I ever said, “Y’all know what I think?” about anything, much less on a topic that may not be (at least at first glance) philosophical.

After all, who wants to hear opinions?

You know what they say about opinions?

a63ab54d8fd1ce51479b93a6cd13484d

 

And most of them stink…

That was then.

This is post-November 9th 2016.

Now, a big part of, dare I say, the allure of philosophy is that it’s all about thinking.

Thinking about stuff; thinking about anything, everything.

Philosophers do a great deal of it. Thinking. In fact, philosophers are often accused of over thinking.

Unfortunately, I may been doing way too much overthinking these days.

Some of it has to do with this guy

trumpandflag

The President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.

62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump.

I was not one of them.

Since the election of Donald Trump on November 9th, 2016 (or maybe because of the election of Donald Trump), things have been a little weird for those of us who “think” too much.

And I mean weird as in President Trump and his administration have a lot of people thinking and talking about not telling the truth.

Specifically, that the President and his administration have some difficulty saying it.

The truth.

There’s so much non-truth telling going on that the experts are now saying that President Trump and his administration are proof that we living in a “post-truth” world.

Post-truth is defined as:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

So far as politics goes, appealing to emotions isn’t new. Politicians have appealed to how we feel over what we think for, well… since there have been politicians.

And it’s not as if politicians have suddenly become not truthful.

It’s just that I can’t quite remember when the truth was so… unimportant.

Folks on t.v. and on the internet are conjuring up images of the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; painting images of a world where facts are not objective but are, well, whatever they say that they are.

At least that’s the way the truth goes down in Oceania .

4b347998493febba30cf47962ae7b669

The president doesn’t lie, he’s merely “misspoken”.

That’s not a lie coming from the administration. It’s a “alternative fact”.

images-11

Although it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to think, there are some people out there who believe that telling the truth isn’t as important as people say it is.

Truth is kind of funny, though.

The funny thing about the truth is that the truth, despite what we may believe, really is important.

You see, those of us who are into over thinking philosophically about things place a high value on truth. Truth is a very important thing to philosophers. Truth gets us to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom.

i_love_wisdom_philosophy_i_love_sophia_postcard-rc10363aff64f4777b9b3a9ab77f4d91d_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Truth is an essential part of how we accurately describe reality, how the world really is.

How we know things.

It is easy to come up with two conditions for knowledge: truth and belief. It’s clear that knowledge requires truth. That is, you cannot know something unless it is true. – Richard Feldman, Epistemology.

We know things because our beliefs about things in the world are true.

As Plato said,

And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are

Truth may not be a valued commodity in politics, as Machiavelli wrote:

Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.

And like Machiavelli suggested, lying may get you far in politics… and sometimes quite far in life.

machiavelli-meme-2

 

But there’s a very important reason truth matters.

Not telling the truth (aka lying) isn’t just a matter of disseminating bad information or misspeaking. Not telling the truth is pernicious deception and manipulation that makes us incapable of making correct choices.

If we are indifferent to truth or we don’t know what the truth is – if someone is lying to us and we believe them – we’re unable to navigate in the world. We see reality how it really isn’t.

cyu3whowsaabgxg
Imagine that you are planning to take a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

No need to say why. You got your reasons.

You’ve been told by the ship’s owner that the ship you are sailing on is safe and that there is absolutely no chance of the ship sinking. You believe the ship owner’s assurances (because you have no reason not to) and believe that the ship is sea worthy. You decide to take the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

However, the ship owner is not telling you the truth. He knows that the ship shouldn’t be anywhere near water, let alone sailing upon a whole ocean full of water. He knows the ship will not complete its voyage.

man-watching-ship-manouvering-in-tidal-river-lune-glasson-dock-lancaster-bc2h3m

YEP. HE KNOWS WHAT’S UP

While at sea, the ship begins to take on water and eventually (and inevitably) capsizes, killing all aboard. Including you.

Now, you made a choice based on the word of someone who did not tell you the truth.

And it cost you your life.

Possible death wishes aside, had you known the true state of things (i.e. reality) you probably would have decided to not take the trip.

Truth is important. And not just in dealing with issues of metaphysics.

We must know what the facts are if we want to make the right decision, not just on practical matters but also when we act morally.

Truth is an absolute necessity when assigning moral culpability.

4131769

 

Lying, withholding truth or otherwise not being truthful are generally considered to be immoral acts.

52575494
The reason why you shouldn’t maintain your own set of “alternative facts” in the face of objective reality is because when we act, our actions have consequences.

cnn_rs_facts_170122a-800x430

And consequences, unless you’re a deontologist, can be judged morally.

Remember that ship owner I was talking about? Well, because the owner withheld the truth from the ship’s passengers and misrepresented the safety of the vessel, the passengers couldn’t make the correct choice – to take the trip or not.

The ship owner’s deception led to the loss of lives. People died because the ship owner didn’t tell the truth.

65457472

Causing other people’s deaths is bad and if people die because of you, your are morally responsible for their deaths.

We really don’t need to go to an extreme of people dying to demonstrate that truth is a good thing – and not just because philosophers say so.

Without the truth, claims are unreliable. Truth cannot be “alternative” or “relative” or “its true for me.” Without the belief that what we’re told is true, we cant place our trust in the individuals (or institutions) that make claims or tell us anything about the way the world is. When we don’t trust people; when we don’t trust institutions (that they run), and the lack of trust undermines the legitimacy of institutions (like government). We need to be mindful that truth is an essential for good government

If you know your Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, government necessarily depends on legitimacy.

giphy

Legitimacy relies on the consent of the governed.

Consent is based on trust.

Trust requires truth.

And this is kinda why we have to believe that truth is important.

We need truth to point out those who, by not telling the truth, corrupt government and undermine our ability to trust what others want us to believe.

In the end, we all know that seeking and preserving truth isn’t just about the right now. Presidents come and go; there will always be ship builders who’ll lie about the seaworthiness of their ship.

 

 

 

 

And that’s the honest truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definiton/post-truth

Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. 12.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. 1532.

Advertisements

All I Want For Christmas Is For Jimmy Stewart To Teach Me the Meaning of Life

It’s the end of the year. It’s the time we look forward to the year ahead and turn back to think of the year we’ve left behind. As we open up or Christmas presents, we celebrate the people who mean the most to us and pray (if you’re into that kind of thing) for peace and good will on Earth.

After over-stuffing ourselves on holiday ham and all the fixings, we might find ourselves, gazing at our distended bellies, falling victim to meat sweats and a bad case of the ‘itis, as we ask, “what have I done with my life?”

 

full

I FEEL SO MUCH SELF HATRED RIGHT NOW.

And as we settle down for a long winter’s nap, gazing into the glowing light of a yuletide fire, we realize the funny way the Christmas season gets us thinking about things philosophically.

 

The Austrian philosopher, Kurt Baier (1917-2010) says scientific theories cannot make the universe “intelligible, comprehensible, meaningful to us.” Baier claims that science isn’t structured to answer the “why” and causal explanations for the existence of life and the universe cannot produce “real illumination”, and  if we look to science to tell us why we are here, the only explanation that science can give to explain our existence is that we are here solely for reproductive purposes.

 

disappointed-couple-in-bed

PICTURED: A MEANINGLESS LIFE

 

Baier says that in reality a scientific universe is harsh, cold, and indifferent to us.

 

THE UNIVERSE IS SPEAKING TO YOU

THE UNIVERSE IS SPEAKING TO YOU

 

So what does that have to do with Christmas?

 

Nothing, other than I have the feeling that this is exactly what George Bailey was feeling the night he decided to kill himself in the Frank Capra-directed holiday favorite It’s A Wonderful Life.

 

download (1)

These days, the only time most people watch It’s A Wonderful Life (originally released in December, 1946) is during the holiday season when the television networks temporarily preempt their regular programming to air Christmastime classics like, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and  A Charlie Brown Christmas (a very philosophical thought-provoking television program in its own right).

Although some may dismiss It’s A Wonderful Life as a film that embodies all that is cheesy and hopelessly cliché about Christmas, the Frank Capra perennial holiday programming favorite is, I think, the most philosophical movie ever made.

 

At least one of the most.

 

OK, SO HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS:

George Bailey (James Stewart) lives in small-town of Bedford Falls. As a young man, George dreams of leaving the small town for the big city. George wants to go to college. George tells his sweetheart, Mary Hatch (soon to become his wife, Mary Bailey, played by Donna Reed) his dreams for his future:

Mary: What’d you wish, George?
George: Well, not just one wish. A whole hatful, Mary. I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here and go to college and see what they know… And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

 

But, unfortunately for young George Bailey, life intervenes and George is called to manage the (failing) family business, Bailey Building and Loan. George gives up his dream of leaving Bedford Falls to tend to the family business.

Sure, George is married to a woman who loves him, has a couple of pretty good kids, a war hero brother, and the respect of the community, but when Bailey Building and Loan comes up $8000 short, George is suspected of stealing the money and faces arrest. To make matters worse for George Bailey, local corporate kingpin, Henry F. Potter wants to take over the Bailey family business and cut off bank loans to the town’s poor residents (George does not know that Potter not only found the missing $8000 but has pocketed the money).

 

Screen_Shot_2015-12-15_at_3.59.22_PM

WHY DID MR. POTTER TOTALLY NOT GO TO PRISON FOR STEALING ALL THAT CASH?

 

With the possibility of a prison sentence looming over his head and an overwhelming feeling of failure and despair, George Bailey feels that the world would have been better if he was never born. George wants out of his unfulfilled, meaningless life.
George Bailey experiences what Thomas Nagel says is the realization of “the absurdity if our own situation derives not from a collision between our expectations and the world, but from a collision within ourselves.” When faced with the seeming reality of his own meaningless life and unrealized dreams of a better life outside Bedford Falls, George feels that his life is no longer worth living and like Dostoevsky’s Kirilov, George believes that the only way out of his life’s never-ending meaninglessness is to kill himself.

giphy1

 

We can imagine George Bailey, standing on the edge of a bridge, waiting for the right moment to throw himself over the side, hearing the words of Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”, in his head:

 

… …in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.

 

 

Camus writes, “There is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.” When life has ceased to have meaning the natural inclination is to end it.

This is exactly what we can assume George Bailey is feeling as he contemplates suicide.

After getting drunk at the local bar, George decides to throw himself off of a bridge.

its-a-wonderful-life

 

However, a moment  before George flings himself over the rail, an angel named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) intervenes in George’s suicide attempt.

download (13)

 

Clarence tells George that he is George’s guardian angel. Clarence wants to earn his wings and to do so, he has to prove to George Bailey that his life is not meaningless and that the world is better off with him in it.

For Camus, ending one’s life is not an option and it isn’t for Clarence Oddbody, either. So, to prove to George Bailey that his life is worth living, Clarence grants George’s wish, and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born.

 

74797807469041eaa76f530e00be8187
In a world without George Bailey Mary is a lonely spinster. George learns that not only is his younger brother Harry dead, but that the men on the troop transport that Harry saved during the war also perished – all because George was not there to save Harry when Harry fell through an ice-covered lake as a child.

Clarence shows George Bailey that without his presence, Bedford Falls (or as it is called in the George Bailey-less alternate reality “Pottersville”) is a den of sin filled with casinos, criminals, crazy people, dance halls, and dance hall floozies. Clarence tells George, “You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?” Clarence tells George sees that his life positively affects the lives of all he knows, including the town of Bedford Falls itself.

Clarence says,

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.
When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

 

tumblr_lueifaknsh1qd6k8fo1_500

 

Dismayed by the sight of a world worse off without him, George Bailey realizes that his life isn’t as meaningless and insignificant as he had believed and begs Clarence to return things back to the way it was.

*Interesting philosophical tidbit: It’s a Wonderful Life suggests that not only is determinism true, but that our lives are determined by a divine plan. Clarence Oddbody, who thwarts George Bailey’s suicide by showing George what life would be like if he was never born, introduces himself to George as George’s guardian angel. That means George Bailey doesn’t kill himself due to divine intervention  George Bailey wanted to kill himself, but God had other plans -plans that have nothing to do with what George Bailey does or does not want to do.

 

George Bailey’s purpose in life wasn’t to build airfields or skyscrapers, but was right there in Bedford Falls. George learns that what makes life meaningful isn’t getting what we want or satisfying our desires, but what makes life wonderful is doing good for others and fulfilling one’s purpose in life. George Bailey’s life had meaning, even if he didn’t know what it was.

What-s-the-meaning-of-life-Sirius-I-don-t-know-But

 

Even though George Bailey wasn’t aware of it, he indeed had a wonderful life.

 

tumblr_mnkxj7zm6j1r03pmko6_250
In the closing scene of It’s A Wonderful Life, the townspeople of Bedford Falls, recognizing the fact that George Bailey is the town’s only hope of warding off Potter’s plans to turn Bedford Falls into a small town Sodom and Gomorrah, rallies behind George, giving him more than enough money to cover the lost money.

Kimmel 1213

 

The townspeople know, even if George Bailey does not, that he has played a meaningful role in their lives. As the residents of Bedford Falls sing a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”, a bell on the Bailey’s Christmas tree rings. George’s daughter Zuzu  famously tells her father (now, everybody say it together) “every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings”.

 

tumblr_myh0tz6y531spl1eeo6_500

 

We see that George Bailey means something to Clarence Oddbody as well – he’s helped Clarence to earn his wings. In an inscription in a book, Clarence leaves a final message for George Bailey; no man is a failure who has friends.

 

tom_sawyer

IF THERE IS ANY PHILOSOPHICAL SIGNIFICANCE TO TOM SAWYER, WE HAVE NO IDEA.

 

Whoa, hold the phone! What Clarence Oddbody tells George Bailey is worth repeating. Clarence tells George Bailey no man is a failure who has friends. This certainly sounds like a sentiment that we can all rally behind. If we’re to trust the words of Capra’s angel, it’s possible that Clarence Oddbody knows the true meaning of life. What this means folks – is perhaps we have we finally found what every great philosopher, thinker, theologian and layman has been looking for: Friendship is the meaning of life.

 

download (11)

THEY’LL BE THERE FOR YOU

Alright, I’ve never been shy about my dislike of Aristotle. And generally speaking, I still do. But listen; as much as I am reluctant to admit it, Aristotle gives us a reason to believe friendship is the meaning of life.

 

friendship is magic

FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC

Aristotle states that a Good (i.e. eudemonic) life is a meaningful life and that a requirement for living a meaningful life is friendship. Aristotle tells us that no one can be truly happy without friends. In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle writes:

But it seems strange, when one assigns all good things to the happy man, not to assign friends, who are thought the greatest of external goods… Therefore even the happy man lives with others; for he has the things that are by nature good. And plainly it is better to spend his days with friends and good men than with strangers or any chance persons. Therefore the happy man needs friends.

 

If you think about it, perhaps the reason why we pursue philosophy – the reason why we want to know about truth and reality, why we need to know how to distinguish true beliefs from false beliefs or why we want to know the ethical way to act because, as Aristotle tells us, not only so we can determine what friendship is, but also good and virtuous people attract the right kind of people; people of good moral character.

 

man in toga

ARISTOTLE WOULD PROBABLY SAY THAT THE BEST KIND OF FRIENDS DRESS LIKE THIS

 

We may claim that we are the products of our own invention, but as much as we define our lives, our lives are also shaped by the people around us.

Our friends are not just our companions; our friends give us examples to live by, they teach and inspire us, support and encourage our better natures, and share with us our values and the most meaningful moments in our lives. Our friends are our mirrors. Our friends reflect what kind of person we are and what kind of person we want to be.

Having a head full of Descartes, Kant, and Hume may be philosophically satisfying, but what’s the point of studying philosophy if we have no one to share our ideas and knowledge with?  Just remember as you’re swigging back a third mug of eggnog, a philosopher may attain enlightenment, but the individual who has soul enhancing, long-lasting friendships truly has a life worth living.

 

the-end

 

 

 

SOURCES:

It’s a Wonderful Life. 1946. Writ. Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Jo Swerling, & Frank Capra. Dir. Frank Capra.

Thomas Nagel. “Death”. Mortal Questions. 1979. NY: Cambridge University Press. p.17.

 Albert Camus. “The Myth of Sisyphus”. The Meaning of Life: A Reader. p.73.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. W.D. Ross. 1909. Clarendon Press. W.D. Ross’ translation is in the public domain and available online at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.

Descartes Would Have Done the Maury Povich Show (Metaphysics vs. METAPHYSICS)

I finally figured out something.

After many years of soul searching and asking other people, I finally figured out why philosophy isn’t popular. Why no one ever mentions the name Immanuel Kant or says the words “virtue ethics”, even when the conversation is about deontology or virtue ethics.

Or why contemporary philosophers like Peter Singer and Slavoj Žižek are relegated to occasional appearances on NPR.

Or why Cornel West is identified as a social critic and not a philosopher. And why, when anyone discusses matters of religion, they turn to guys like Rick Warren and not to philosophers like Peter van Inwagen.

There’s a reason why the only metaphysics ever spoken about is ghost hunting and talking to the dead.

That kind of metaphysics gets its own TV show.

 

 

paranormal TV show

 

 

What I discovered is this: nobody talks to philosophers or talks philosophy because nobody likes philosophy.

It’s all pie-in-the-sky navel gazing and talking about nothing.

 

 

IF YOU SAY YOU'RE INTO PHILOSOPHY CHANCES ARE PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SKIN CARE PRODUCTS.

IF YOU SAY YOU’RE INTO PHILOSOPHY CHANCES ARE PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT SKIN CARE PRODUCTS.

 

 

More people follow the life philosophy and ethics of Donald Trump than they follow the life philosophy and ethics of Aristotle.

That’s why this metaphysician

 

james van praagh

 

 

Sells more books than this metaphysician

 

peter van inwagen

 

 

If you told the average person you’re into metaphysics, it’s more likely that they’d think you’re into Sylvia Browne or that you’ve mastered The Secret. There’s a real problem for your field of interest when you mention the word “philosophy” and people think you’re talking about the Laws of Attraction.

If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the reason why small “m” metaphysics is more popular than capital “M” metaphysics (that is, philosophical metaphysics) has to do with the fact that when you practice small m metaphysics, you’re supposed to get things.

Practitioners of The Secret call these things “abundance”.

Mike Dooley, who is featured in The Secret, says “Thoughts become things”. According to Dooley, it’s not just that what we think influences how we perceive reality, what we think actually affects the world around us. That is to say, our thoughts can become real things in the real world. We can actualize our desires for a good job, a good home, stable, and substantive relationships with our significant others. And, we can manifest abundance.

That means lots of money.

You see, if you practice small “m” metaphysics, it can make you very rich.

I wouldn’t claim that Rhonda Byrne is infinitely more knowledgeable than Socrates or Immanuel Kant, or that James van Praagh’s Talking to Heaven is a better philosophical guide than Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. it’s just that subscribing to one philosophy is potentially more financial rewarding than the other.

It’s as simple as that.

Think of it: small “m” metaphysics tells us that we can attract things like money and happiness simply by thinking about it. On the other hand, Aristotle’s brand of happiness, eudemonia, or “flourishing”, doesn’t even require that a person be emotionally happy.

According to Aristotle, even a dead man can be happy.

In fact, according to John Stuart Mill, we should prefer to be a dissatisfied Socrates than want to be a satisfied pig.

If how our lives end is any indication of how fulfilling one’s life is (financially or otherwise), one can make an argument that being a philosopher positively sucks.

  • Socrates was condemned to death and forced to drink hemlock.
  • Isocrates starved to death.
  • Hypatia was killed by a mob of Christians.
  • Seneca was ordered to cut his own throat.
  • Descartes died from the common cold.
  • Richard Montague was beaten to death.
  • Jacques Derrida died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Leibniz died of arthritis and gout (I had no idea either one of those conditions was fatal)
  • Camus died in a car accident.
  • Foucault died from complications from AIDS.

…. It’s been rumored that Nietzsche died of syphilis.

I’d bet that none of those philosophers were blessed with “abundance”, either.

Deepak Chopra is worth an estimated 80 million dollars.

And, unlike Descartes, Deepak Chopra was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

 

 

 
Sources:
http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/deepak-chopra-net-worth

The philosophy of head colds

This morning I woke up with a sore throat. I think it might be a pre-summer cold, but then it might be due to the fact that I tend to sleep with my mouth open. Either way, when I woke up, my throat felt like it was on fire.

My morning illness got me thinking about something. I don’t think in the entire time that I studied philosophy that I ever read anything any philosopher had to say about being sick. After all, the first physicians were philosophers — they must have had something to say about it. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote

what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life.

I had figured that thinking about illness and disease is at least as important as thinking about phenomenalism or Fregean truth-functional statements, so I decided to spend a little time trying to find out what philosophers have to say about the state of ill-health.

I wish I looked this good with a sore throat

 

I already knew that Aristotle (and ancient Greek philosophers in general) wrote about matters of health and medicine — Aristotle wrote about (everything) causes, including his theories of the causes of disease. The ancient Greek Philosopher Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine” (and also for the Hippocratic Oath) established medicine as a discipline separate from philosophy. And the Muslim philosopher Ibn Sina (also known by the Latin name Avicenna) not only wrote extensive treatises on topics ranging from philosophy to medicine, astronomy, logic, and physics, but also Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine (1025) was the standard text used in Medieval universities. The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) is not only one heck of a political philosopher, but was one of Europe’s most respected physicians… even if he didn’t have a medical degree.

Ok, so what does this mean?

After looking for information about philosophy and medicine for approximately fifteen minutes, I concluded that any one who spends even a minimal amount of time on Google can find the philosophical history of modern medicine. But the history of the study of illness wasn’t really telling me what to think about my sore throat. I was still wondering: what do philosophers have to say about illness and disease?

This is what I found:

When philosophers think about illness, disease, and health, philosophers often ask questions like, “what is health?”, “Are disease-causing entities real?”, and whether a reductionist approach to medicine is correct. While I was reading about ontological and epistemological debates concerning the metaphysical status of “disease-causing entities” I couldn’t help from thinking about what Wittgenstein said about philosophy needing to be about improving our thinking about everyday life. I know that discussing epistemology is all in good fun for philosophers, but is this really helping me get any closer to getting rid of my present malady?

Not really, no.

I think this is why, when we think about illness, disease, suffering, and death, we often look to New Age metaphysicians rather than to philosophical metaphysicians. A philosopher might be good for a debate about “the diminution of complex objects or events to their component parts.”, but if I’m thinking about healing and/or the origin or end of suffering, I might open up a book written by Dr. Wayne Dyer rather than by Aristotle.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that philosophers have missed the mark entirely on matters on medicine (although I will say so about philosophers and philosophy of religion). Philosophers in the field of medical ethics question and debate issues of every day medical and philosophical importance: abortion, euthanasia, organ donations, stem cell research, quality of life, end of life — even the doctor-patient relationship (itself).  I know that when I read Peter Singer’s writings on suffering or on irreversibly brain damaged patients, think about the pros and cons of universal health care, or when I hear the words “death panels”, that someone is making not only a statement about modern medicine, but about medical ethics as well.

All of this still does absolutely nothing for my sore throat.

 

 

A Fate Worse Than God

At the end of the movie American Beauty, a post-murdered Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) tells us, the audience, that he is, despite all appearances, grateful for “every single moment of my stupid, little life”. Now, there’s a philosophical pinata in this movie, and it’s been written about and commented on by professional and layman philosophers aplenty. A common theme that emerges among those who look at American Beauty philosophically (and I assume even those who don’t), is the question of the meaning of life. At first glance, Lester’s life seems pretty pathetic — loveless marriage, crap-ass cubicle job (from which he is fired), and a daughter who propositions the neighbor kid to off her dad, not to mention Lester’s growing obsession with the best friend of his teenage daughter. We look at Lester and see someone worthless, someone who has let life pass him by, someone who, if he disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice. Lester’s life stank of the quiet desperaton that Thoreau wrote of in Walden. However, even though we know that Lester’s life has come to nothing, at the end, he’s still grateful for every single moment of his life. So, there are no wasted moments after all. At the end, Lester found meaning in something that seemed so meaningless. But for the rest of us, in the real world, how can we tell that, in the end, we’d be so grateful like Lester? How do we determine that the lives we have are worth living? The 18th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was nice enough to give us a method for solving one of life’s most vexing questions: Is my life worth living? Nietzsche’s solution? Eternal return. Nietzsche’s “eternal return” goes a little something like this: a demon come to you and says “this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it… every pain and every joy… everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you…” . Nietzsche says if our response is that we “throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus”, that our lives are not meaningful. that is, if, at the prospect of having to live your life over again for an eternity, you greet the news as someone would greet a death sentence, you had better rethink how you’re living your life, and fast. Because your life sucks. Most of us would say yes to the demon if we had the possibility to change things we had done in our past — to improve on ourselves, to change things for the better. Most of us wouldn’t have a problem if the demon presented us with the situation that wheatherman Phil Connors experienced in the movie Groundhog Day. Phil was stuck living the same day repeatedly, but each time he began a new day, he was able to change his actions. Eventually, Phil discovered that the point of repeating the same day over and over was so that he would change something about himself. At the outset, Phil wasn’t a very nice guy. Repeating Groundhog Day allowed Phil to see where he was going wrong. The day became a kind of cosmic mulligan. He did it ’til he got it right. Only when Phil improved himself was he allowed to move on to February 3. But with Nietzsche, there is no release. There is no moving on to the next day. And absolutely no changing things, either. What would we do if we realized that, wnlike Phil, we couldn’t change what happened? We would have to live every excruciating detail of our lives forever? I suspect that only after a few times, we would end up alot like Michael Palin in the “Deja Vu” sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It doesn’t take long before Palin’s nerevs are frazzled, knowing that the same thing will happen over and over and over again. (if you haven’t seen this sketch, watch it). The idea that is scary is that there aren’t enough good times to make the truly awful times bearale for an eternity. For every fantastic birthday or trip to Cancun, there’s that time that you were attacked by the neighbor’s dog, or the time you spent a week in jail for unpaid traffic tickets. Those times sucked. In Nietzsche’s eternal return, the demon gives us a choice. We can decide whether we want to take him up on his offer or not. But what if the afterlife (or whatever lies beyond our plane of existence) is more like what happened to Phil Conners? What if we don’t have a choice? What if when our lives end, nature or God automatically pushes the “repeat” button? What if repeating our lives was something that wasn’t meant to teach us a lesson about life so much as it becomes a punishment for our lives? There’s this movie that came out in the mid-80s called High Spirits. It’s reallya forgettable movie, but there’s a character who is doomed to live the night of her murder for an eternity. Every night, she and her husband Martin reenact their wedding night. Martin accuses her of cheating (which she wasn’t), chases her down and then stabs her. She dies and then the next night it’s back to the same thing chase and stab again. By the time the audience sees the unfortunate bride and her husband replay her murder, they’ve been at it for over a hundred years. (Once again, however, she is released from her eternal bonds by love. She finds the true love of her life, played by Steve Guttenberg. Win some, lose some, eh?). But this poses a very interesting question. Ok, Nietzsche wants us to find meaning in our lives, but what if the real meaning is in our death? There’s this idea that meaning has to be cultivated over a lifetime. That, taken as a whole, life either has or hasn’t meaning. But why is this so? There are plenty of people who say that their entire point of view about life changed in a single moment. All the meaning of one’s life can be crammed into one, singular moment. So why not live that moment for an eternity? That’s ok, only if the moment we are living is worth living for an eternity, but what if it’s one of those punishment moments? What if, if we are doomed to eternal punishment, we have to live the single worst moment of our lives for an eternity? In the movie Salvage, a young woman is forced (again, for seemingly inexplicable reasons, well at first anyway) to live the day of her murder over and over. As she begins to realize that she’s repeating the same day over and over, she attempts to find ways to stop her murder from taking place. But, it seems that no matter what she does, she always ends up at home, where the murderer brutalizes her before murdering her and burying her body in a field. We think, like she does, if she can just figure out what’s going on, much like Phil in Groundhog Day, she can break the cycle. But here’s the thing. She’s not repeating her murder to figure out anything about her life at all. In the grand scheme of things she really doesn’t matter at all. It’s because it’s not about her life, it’s about her death. She is a part of someone else’s punishment. She’s not stuck in her own eternal return, she’s struck in her murderer’s eternal return. He is being punished for murdering the young woman, her boyfriend, and a bunch of other people. He has to feel her pain, but the only way he can feel her pain is if she feels the pain of being murdered. That made me think, if a person chooses to take the demon up on his offer, exactly whose lives are involved? Is everyone you know doomed to be a part of your eternal repetition? If they are not, are they just facsimilies of the people you know? Is eternal return a group effort or is each person’s recurrance solipsistic? (and if that is, how can I be sure that my life isn’t now?). If I’m in something like Groundhog Day, and if everyone else wasn’t repeating the day as I was, who were those people that I was dealing with? Were they convinvingly realistic looking holograms like the holodeck on Star Trek:TNG? If Igot to know those hologram people, did I really know the people that I thought that I knew once time returned to normal? You know, this may have all been an exercize in overthinking. I should try to just sit back and enjoy what I’m watching instead of analyzing everything for it’s “philosophical significance”.

Who Else Would Be Following You On Twitter?

Strange thing about technology. Before you know it, everyone is doing it and you’re woefully behind the ball. A few years ago, it might have even been last year — I can’t remember a damn thing — the supposed burning question that I was sopposed to be asking myself when I woke up every morning was for what good reason I was not on YouTube? Now, I’m, if what everybody else is telling me is correct, supposed to be asking myself why don’t I tweet? That is, why am I not on Twitter? I could have sworn that as late as three weeks ago, neither I or anyone else that I knew knew what a “Twitter” was. But now it’s like Twitter is everywhere. I had, until I got technologically caught up, operated under the impression that one twittered when one giggled and trembled uncontrollably. But, my life it seems is incomplete if I am not giving the world updates about myself and exactly what I am doing and thinking in 140 characters of less. Well, I don’t … tweet. For awhile, or at least that’s what they will let you believe, I thought that I was the only person who doesn’t… tweet. Stephen King doesn’t tweet. Neither does Kid Rock. Trent Reznor did but quit. By the way, Kid Rock said this about tweeting, ” I don’t have anything to say, and what I have to say isn’t relevant”. I thought that was pretty thoughtful. But then, he backed up his comment with “Twitter this dick, motherfucker”. You decide. Like with YouTube, Facebook, and that internet dark alley, MySpace, there are stories aplenty about people ruining or semi-screwing up their lives with things that they posted online. It seems like these social gathering places have become modern-day slambooks (if that reference doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will). It seems like every one of these ‘I got fired because my boss saw my Cancun pictures on my MySpace’ became instantly overnight like Harriet in Harriet the Spy, when she lost her book of trash talk and everyone she knew got to see what and how she really thought about them. But it isn’t just the people that you know who get to see you slutting it up in Mexico — the whole world gets to see you. Twitter, launched in 2006 (why am I only hearing about this now?) co-created by Evan Williams, who is responsible for blogger.com, according to Nielsen, has 13 million users (well, I guess minus one). That’s a number that’s somewhere between alot and not alot. If you look at the fact that there are roughly 6 billion people on this island earth, 13 million is barely the number of people who simultaneously farted just now. But, if you think about things from the point of view of trends, 13 million is a pretty sizable number. You only have to sell a million records to go platnium. It’s not that I’m down on the social networks. I slum the internet from time to time and I blog. But I’m not on Facebook, nor do I have a MySpace account. At my age, having either seems a little … odd. Although I am well aware that the fastest growing segment of new Facebook users are women over 50. When I tell people that I don’t do Facebook or MySpace, they find this fact rather incredulous. I am told that there is a world of friends and followers that I am not updating or communicating with, and that this fact is supposed to make me feel bad. It doesn’t. Strange, with all the hubub about Ashton Kutcher, who, according to Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris, is “someone who is, if nothing else, expert at staying famous” making it his life’s mission to get more Twitter followers than CNN, it seems that the ordeal about Twitter is only about how popular you are or can become. And for folks like me, who won’t even use their real name on their blogs, that strikes us as a little arrogant and a tad creepy. There’s something more than unimpressive about Ashton Kutcher accumulating a million “followers”. What we should be asking it how many people have to participate in something so incredibly inane before we can call it a bonafide mental illness? The bonus, they say, about Twitter is that my “tweets”, unlike other forms of communication, like actually talking to people, takes place right now. Like the bank employee who tweeted when the bank where she worked was robbed, or when that plane crashed into the Hudson, they say that the news hit Twitter before it made the TV news. Plus, they say, on Twitter you get what really matters: sage advice from Dr. Drew, music listening tips from John Mayer, health tips from Ellen DeGeneres, celebrities musing about… whatever, or declaring that they’re ditching Twitter because there are too many crappy-looking, fat chicks (who fantasize about banging rock stars) following them. We know tweets are full of self-importance (see previous comment), but the bigger question we naturally are inclined to ask is is there really important being said on Twitter? Afterall, how much can a person say in 140 characters (assuming, of course, that the point is to say anything important at all)? Maybe Kid Rock’s observation about himself isn’t limited to himself, but also spot-on about every other Tweeter out there. All of this, of course, begs for someone to examine it with the philosophic eye. (even if it doesn’t, philosophers are in the business of relating anything, whether it is “philosophic” or not, to some philosophic theory). It doesn’t take too much deep thinking to come up with a few philosophy-like questions. Since Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc, are collectively known as “social networks” our philosophic sense leads us to ask about the “social” gathering places that these sites claim that they are. We all know, whether we like it or not, that humans are social animals. We want to find and look for people who are like ourselves. This is how these networks are marketed — you may not know anyone who is like you where you live, but rest assured that there is some dude in Sweden who likes fresh blueberry pancakes, hard-core Japanese Animation porn, Chuck Norris flicks and Grizzlybear just like you do. Anyone can find their brethren in cyberspace. No longer are we the lonely beegirls looking for our hive like that adorable bee kid in that Blind Melon video. All I have to do is post a profile, and people will want to be my friend. That sounds good. But is it? Is it really better for us? There’s a saying that you can spend so much time looking elsewhere for what you want that you miss it right where you are. There’s a fear that we might be sacrificing potential local relationships with people relatively near to us for “relationships” with people who aren’t anywhere near us (or who might never be — and that’s not always a bad thing). We might be giving up actual connectivity for what seems like real relationships, which in turn, leaves us actually disconnected from other people (it seems that plenty of people have experienced this one: you’re having an actual physical conversation with someone. they tell you to send them an email. but, you’re right in front of them! it’s not that they’re pressed for time, it’s just that they’re so used to not speaking to people face to face that they can’t actually speak to people when they’re in the same room with them). The question is, who are we connecting to? The idea of the internet and sites like Twitter is that there we are free to be who we really are. The lure, for some, is authenticity. We’re not bound by social conventions or even by distance — I can discuss how cool Forced Vengeance is with a pal in Sweden as readily as he can discuss the merits of the new S&M comics stuff put out by the dude that co-created Superman with his buddy in Clairmont. We may never admit to our predilections among our philosopher friends, but on the internet, we are free to discuss whatever we choose — to be who we are. But are we? Of course, this issue relates back to the question “who am I?” And, asking “who am I?” relates to our own questions about the meaning of life and existence. There is a tremendous amout of pressure to be online. Local news stations tell us to follow up their news broadcasts by looking up the stories online. We are told that we can get the best deals on restaurants, cars, stereos, plane tickets or whatever we might want by looking up bargains on the internet. We’re told that the printed book is dead and that what we need is kindle. It goes on and on. For those who aren’t hooked up to the world wide web, we might begin to think that we’re being left behind. By not joining the bandwagon, we become relics, as useless and outdated as a dog-eared copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (do you know how many people haven’t read this book?!? It’s amazing!). It’s almost like, if I’m not online somehow, I don’t count. I might find myself thinking that I’m like a tree in the forest. If I’m not on MySpace, do I exist? If I’m not telling the world exactly how I feel at every minute of the day, what other purpose is there to serve? I might think that being online — Tweeting, being on MySpace or Facebook, somehow varifies who I am, not just that I “exist”. But the problem is, is that I may be so caught up in the zeitgeist that I forget that posting my whatnot online isn’t just a matter of what I reveal online but about what I reveal online reveals about me. I think this is why people often post things that they shouldn’t. They gey so swept up in the idea that they lose who they are. We become profiles. We become 140 characters. That enevitably leads to a kind of detachment and (to use a term) alienation from others and I think also from ourselves. I heard somewhere that 60% of Twitter’s users drop out after a month. Maybe they find that relating to people who aren’t really there isn’t really relating to people. The problem isn’t so much a matter of corpulent followers, as it is a matter that the experience isn’t very satisfying for alot of people. It doesn’t replace actual human to human interaction. It leaves us wanting. Maybe Kid Rock had it right. He said that Twitter is gay. His words, not mine, folks.

Thanatopsis

Arguably the best line ever delivered in the history of modern cinema was said in 1968 in George A. Romero’s classic tale of the undead, Night of the Living Dead. When asked by a local reporter if the dead are slow moving, Chief McClellan answers, “They’re dead. They’re all messed up”.

The chief’s response is the perfect meeting of a great line and a great delivery. That line had always stood out of the movie for me, even when I wasn’t in the habit of looking at things philosophically. But now since I’ve been bit by the philosophic bug, that line has lead me to ask myself a few questions: 1) What’s so messed up about death? 2) Is it messed up that you die? 3) Is there something inherent to death that, once someone dies they become messed up? 4) Are they messed up because they’re dead? 5) Is death itself a state of being messed up?

It really started to bother me.

Chief McClellan seems to think that the messed-upness about death is the fact that one is dead. Being dead, as evidenced by the chief’s sentiment and the ruthlessnes with which they “kill” the undead, robs an individual of his humanness.

Once a person dies (and in particular, if one reanimates) a person ceases to be morally considerable as anything other than something that must be destroyed.

Perhaps then, being messed up has something to do with the idea that a person lacks humanness.

So, I’m assuming that it goes something like this: person + dead = messed up, messed up = not human.

This seems to be the sentiment that not only runs through Romero’s movies, but throughout other zombie flicks as well ( I think a funnier description of the messed up state of dead people is said by the character “Rhodes” in George Romero’s Day of the Dead. Rhodes calls the undead “fuckin’ lunatics”. I say this because Rhodes may have been onto something and not known that he was).

This assessment, of course only leads us to more questions. I ask, if one can lose his humanness, what is humanness?

Does the fact that we die mean that we have to lose what makes us human (or at least morally considerable)? Also, I ask, when do we stop being human (this is important in the real world when we consider those who are only mostly dead, like someone who is in a persistent vegetative state or is “brain dead”)?

Does death mean we stop being human? Or is the sum of our humanity more than the sum of our (living) parts?

In the average zombie film, it seems that there is an inextricable connection between being human and being alive. This is exemplified by how the dead are described in the various films of the genre — “things”, “them”, “ghouls”, “stenches”, zombies”, “undead”, “deadites”, etc. They are called anything but “human” or “people”. If these movies reflect how we actually feel about the dead, then being a human (and thus morally considerable) is being something that is a body imbued with life.

It would take up too much time to get into the various views on what exactly life is, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that a thing that lives is something that breathes, has a discernible heartbeat, has a body temperature roughly around 98.6 degrees Farenheit, and neither rots nor attempts to eat the flesh of the living.

So, if life (as defined here) is a qualification for human classification, why do we worry about how the dead? Why do we worry about how dead bodies are treated (like why necrophilia is illegal in most states. I think that there are still a couple where you can have sex with any dead person that you want to get it on with), or why are we strongly discouraged from speaking ill of the dead?

Afterall, they’re not there to see us do anything to or speak ill about them.

Why do we keep promises to dead people? Seems like a waste of time to hold a promise made to a dead guy over our heads.

Perhaps our concern has more to do with our fear of ghosts, or visits from restless spirits, or divine retribution. Speaking of, I hope that Thomas Jefferson was haunted by the spirit of a dead friend whom he promised to use the friend’s money to buy the freedom of slaves when he died.

Jefferson didn’t.

But the question remains. If a zombie is messed up and morally unconsiderable, can we somehow cause harm to a zombie or other unliving person?

Since it’s so much fun, let’s look at zombies.

A zombie, according to Random House College Dictionary (def. 1), is

“the body of a dead person given semblance of life by a supernatural force”.

So, by definition, a zombie is someone who has the outward appearance of something that is living but is not: A zombie moves (or shambles), makes noise in the form of moaning, and in the case of Re-Animator’s Dr. Hill, it will perform oral sex on you.

(it’s a visual pun).

Zombies are put through various abuses throughout the pantheon of film: In George Romero’s Land of the Dead, zombies are made to fight each other over food (the “food” is a live person thrown into a cage with two zombies). In the 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead, the heroes play a shooting game where they shoot zombies who resemble celebrities. In Shaun of the Dead, zombies are used as contestants on a game show. In Tom Savini’s 1990 re-make of Night of the Living Dead and in Romero’s Diary of the Dead, zombies are used as target practice by local hillbillies.

In movies, zombies are killed, or re-killed in ways that we would never imagine treating a living person. This is because they’re “all messed up” — that is, not human.

There is a body but no one to offend. Since they’re dead already, you’re not killing anyone. “Killing” a zombie is no different than playing the latest RPG video game. But for some of us, this sentiment doesn’t sound right. Zombies look like us — they used to be regular people. It seems counterintuitive to treat someone who is dead in any way that we please. Being messed up doesn’t completely disqualify someone as morally considerable.

We do take care not to offend the dead, either by words or by deeds. In Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, Barbara (who survives this time around) says about the zombies, ” They’re us. We’re them, and they’re us”. Barbara says this when she sees the local yahoos having their way with zombies. In Barbara’s view, a zombie is still a person. They’re more than their physicality. They don’t lose their personhood or humanness upon death. We’re still capable of committing violence against them. Their violence against us doesn’t seem to warrant mistreatment by the living.

There is a common thread that runs through the zombie films of Georre Romero that sets his films apart from other films in the genre. Namely, that Romero’s films may be entertaining, but they are also meant for us to think. This is a good thing.

The question (and the finer point) that runs through Romero’s zombie films is “who are the monsters?”. There is an obvious answer and there is the one that makes us a little uncomfortable.

Barbara discovered the answer when she saw the townies abusing the zombies.

When we think of an individual doing another person harm, there are two individuals that come to mind — the victim and the perpetrator.

We consider the act, but we also consider the intent of the person who committed the harm. This is where (I think it was) Kant was going when he suggested that it is wrong to break a promise to a dead man.

The moral transgression isn’t in that we harmed the dead person, so much in that it speaks to what kind of person we are morally. We evaluate the intent of the agent.

If I promise to buy the freedom of slaves with the money of my friend’s estate after he dies, and I do not, the moral harm is that I have shown myself to be untrustworthy, that I do not honor my own promises.

It does not matter who I made the promise to — I gave my word and I should honor my obligations to keep my word.

It’s funny that there is a reason [one might say excuse] as to why Jefferson acted as dastardly as he did. Jefferson wrote, ” The Earth belongs… to the living. The dead have neither power nor rights over it”.

Jefferson was kind of an Asshole.

Even Alexander Hamilton knew that.

A better example to use with zombies is how we treat animals or people with diminished capacity.

As Rhodes observed, zombies operate much like “lunatics”. That is, a zombie, as we are reminded in zombie flick after zombie flick, cannot be reasoned with. Likewise, people who have no control over their actions (perhaps because of mental illness) are not rational. It is incumbent on us, the rational ones, that we care for those who cannot control or care for themselves.

So perhaps we should think of zombies (or those who are mostly dead) more like we think of the mentally ill, or people who suffer from an addiction or compulsion. Since they cannot be but what they are, we should treat them sympathetically.

But not paternalistic.

Kant says that’s wrong.

For instance, my dog does not understand that there is a legitimate reason why he is not allowed to poop in the house. If I attempt to demonstrate my very well thought-out reason he shouldn’t, he won’t understand my reasoning. I cannot treat him as if he should understand. Nor would I hold him to the same rational standard that I would another rational adult human.

Therefore, when my dog leaves an “accident” indoors, I cannot punish him in the same way that I would if he were a grown (rational) man who had crapped on my livingroom floor. If I did, I would be out of line for doing so. If I do (which would entail some asskicking, if he were a rational human), then I am in the moral wrong for my behavior. My willingness to overpunish my dog reflects on me as a rational moral agent.

My moral aptitude is demonstrated by my actions.

So, if I string a zombie up and poke it with sticks for shits and giggles, it says much more about what kind of person I am than about how dangerous the zombie is.

And that’s precisely what Barbara saw.

It wasn’t the zombies who had lost their humanity, but the living.

The living had ceased to act like humans.

Their intent was to cause harm — it just so happens that their targets were people that they could get away with treating so badly.

Like the man who makes a promise to his dying friend and then breaks it, they treated the zombies harshly because they knew that they would get away with doing so. To them, a zombie is nothing more than a thing. It is not a person. It deserves no moral consideration. It deserves no respect.

An interesting side note is that we can see this attitude (maybe not to such a degree) in our electronic world. Websites such as Second Life enable people to enter a “reality” where they can act and do what they choose. A person can indulge any and every desire. The idea is, is that if there is no real person, then there is no moral transgression. There is no living being to offend.

This is the same idea that is behind the idea of virtual child pornography. Since the child in question is the product of a computer and there is no real child who corresponds with the virtual image, then there is no moral wrong with having (virual) sex or viewing sexually explicit images of children who do not exist. But, we know that even if there is no actual being being molested, but there is an actual someone in the real world who is having sex with virtual children.

If one doubts that there is a problem here, all one needs to do is ask this question: would you feel comfortable alone, camping in the woods with someone who you discovered enjoyed rape/murder fantacies in a virtual world? Would it matter if nothing actually happened to anyone who actually existed (that they only did it with/to a virtual person, an automaton, or god forbid, a zombie), or would the fact that that person even entertained those sorts of intentions cause you to turn down the invite to go camping this weekend?

My guess is you’d suddenly have to wash your hair and take the cat to the vet that weekend.

What matters isn’t that the victim is dead and “all messed up”, but that, like Romero suggests, the monsters — the MORAL monsters — are us.

The end scene in Diary of the Dead is the perfect example of this point of view:

The final scene of the film depicts a couple of gunsmen who have rigged up zombies for target practice. Their last target is a female zombie who has been strung up from a tree by her hair. One of the gunsmen shoots, blasting her body away from her head. As her body drops, the top half of her head and her hair remain rigged to the tree. And as her head dangles, a single blood tear streams from the corner of her eye.

This final scene, the zombie’s single tear, suggests that despite her condition, she still retained some bit of her humanity.

Perhaps she wasn’t as messed up as Chief McClellan has believed. Somehow she, despite being dead, still feels.

The body my die and whither away, but there is some part of us that remains.

There’s a “something else” (the soul, perhaps — if your theology goes that way) is what is harmed by the actions of the living.

It seems that many people, when they think of people who died, tend to treat the dead according to this view.

But of course, any atheist (or strict materialist) would object to notions of souls existing past death.

Spoil sports.

We’ll grant them that.

(primarily because that’s what I believe myself).

So, in real life, the dead do not a gamble around and eat the living, and godless materialists may not believe in souls, but we do have, in our own minds, memories of those who have passed.

We can or should respect that.

There’s an old cliche — that a person isn’t truly dead so long as we keep them in our hearts. This may be why we are offended by the idea of treating a dead person improperly — why the idea of necrophilia or cannibalism (unless we happen to be stranded in the Andes mountains with our soccer team), or procuring organs without the original owner’s consent, are abhorent to us.

The body is material and will eventually rot and turn to dust. But the body is also symbolic of the person who once was. And to that, we feel have a deep moral obligation.

Until we are completely forgotten and lost to history, we may argue, when we die, we become more than the sum of our parts. At least as long as those who remember us are living, our existence, our humanity, becomes transcendent.

More importantly, how we regard the dead reflects on who we are — that we  are honorable, moral people.

So, it is indeed possible to harm the dead, because when we harm the dead, we harm ourselves.

Treating the dead harshly takes away from our own moral standing — we become less human when we do so.

The short of it is, is that when we die we don’t lose our humanness. And being dead isn’t so messed up.

Well, it’s either that, or we really are afraid of visits from good old Jacob Marley and his rattling chains.

….. or even worse, that kid from The Ring.