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?

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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

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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 .

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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?”

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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).

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

 

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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?

 

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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”.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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

 

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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), 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.

 

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NOT COOL, LESTER

 

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 desperation that Thoreau wrote of in Walden.

 

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SMELL THE QUIET DESPERATION OOZING OFF THE SCREEN

 

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?

So, how do we determine that our lives 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.

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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 weatherman Phil Connors experienced in the movie Groundhog Day.

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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.

It’s only when Phil improved himself was he allowed to move on to February 3.

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But with Nietzsche’ eternal return, 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, unlike Phil, we couldn’t change what happened — that we would have to live every excruciating detail of our lives forever?

FOREVER.

I suspect that only after a few times, we would end up a lot like Michael Palin in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch “Deja Vu”.

It doesn’t take long before Palin’s nerves are frazzled, knowing that the same thing will happen over and over and over again.

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(if you haven’t seen this sketch, watch it)

For some of us, there aren’t enough good times to make the truly awful times bearable for an eternity. For every fantastic, Mas Tequila-soaked birthday 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.

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Luckily, Nietzsche’s eternal return, the demon gives us a choice. We can decide whether we want to take the demon up on his offer or not.

But what if the afterlife (or whatever lies beyond this 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 (or the Q collective) automatically pushes the “repeat” button? What if repeating our lives is something that isn’t meant to teach us a lesson about life as much as it becomes a punishment?

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There’s this movie that came out in the mid-80s called High Spirits. It’s really a forgettable movie, but there’s a character, Mary Plunkett, who is doomed to live the night of her murder for an eternity. Every night, she and her husband Martin reenact their wedding night.

That’s the night Martin murders Mary, by the way.

Martin accuses Mary of cheating (which she wasn’t), chases her down and, fuelled by his rage at her denial, stabs and murders her.  The next night it’s back to the same thing — chase and stab all over again.

 

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THIS IS RIGHT BEFORE MARTIN GETS ALL STABBY

 

By the time the film’s protagonist (played by Steve Guttenberg) witnesses the unfortunate ghost bride and her husband replay her murder, they’ve been at it for over a hundred years.

Don’t feel too bad for Mary Plunkett, tho. She is eventually released from her eternal curse by love. Love with Steve Guttenberg.

 

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IF YOU’RE DOOMED TO RE-ENACT THE NIGHT OF YOUR MURDER FOR AN ETERNITY, MAKE SURE THAT STEVE GUTTENBERG IS CLOSE AT HAND 

 

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?

Or somebody’s death.

This relates to that punishment thing I brought up a bit ago, I swear.

There’s this idea that one’s life’s 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. If so, why not live that moment for an eternity?

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That’s ok, if the moment we are living is A) worth living for an eternity, and 2) if it’s not one of those punishment moments.

What if… what if we are doomed to an eternal punishment; we have to live the single worst moment of our lives for an eternity?

In the movie Salvage, a young woman named Claire Parker is forced (again, for seemingly inexplicable reasons… well at first anyway) to live the day of her murder over and over. As Claire 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.

Yep. If you’re thinking you just saw this plot in a movie released this year, you’re absolutely correct.

 

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WARNING: VIEWING THIS MOVIE MAY INDUCE FEELINGS OF DEJA VU

 

But, it seems that no matter what she does, Claire always ends up at home, where the murderer brutalizes her before murdering her and burying her body in a field.

We (the audience) think, like Claire does, if she can just figure out what’s going on, much like Phil in Groundhog Day, she can break the cycle.

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But here’s the thing. She’s not repeating her murder to figure out any meaning about her life at all. In the grand scheme of things Claire really doesn’t matter.

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It’s because it’s not about her life, it’s about her death.

Claire is an unwitting participant in someone else’s punishment.

She’s not stuck in her own eternal return, she’s struck in her murderer’s eternal return.

The murderer is being punished for murdering Claire, her boyfriend, and a bunch of other people.

The murderer is condemned to feel her pain, but the only way he can feel Claire’s pain is if she feels the pain of being murdered.

 

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I WONDER IF CLAIRE’S FAVORITE SONG IS “EVERY DAY IS EXACTLY THE SAME”?

 

Watching Salvage made me think… if a person chooses to take the demon up on his offer, exactly whose lives are involved?

Is everyone you know also doomed to be a part of your eternal repetition?

Is eternal return a group effort or is each person’s recurrence solipsistic?

…and if that is, how can I be sure I’m not in someone’s eternal return right now?

If I’m in something like Salvage or Groundhog Day, and if everyone else isn’t repeating as I am, who are these people that I am dealing with? Are they convincingly realistic- looking holograms like on the holodeck of Star Trek:The Next Generation? If they’re not, are they just facsimiles of the people you know?

 

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ONE OF THESE YOUNG WOMEN IS THE REAL PATTY. THE OTHER IS AN UNCANNY IMPOSTER

 

If I get to know those hologram people, do I really know the people that I thought that I knew once time returned to normal? If someone opts out of eternal return do they disappear from mine???

You know, this may have all been an exercise in overthinking.

I should try to just sit back and enjoy what I’m watching instead of analyzing everything for it’s “philosophical significance”.

 

 

But not High Spirits, though. It’s really not a good movie.

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.

Philosophical Blah Blah Blah of a Star Trek Geek

I saw the latest Star Trek flick the other day.
This is a picture of the cast
FINE LOOKING BUNCH OF ACTORS, AREN'T THEY?

FINE LOOKING BUNCH OF ACTORS, AREN’T THEY? TOO BAD THE PURISTS HATE THEM.

Like so many Star Trek “purists” out there, I really wanted to hate it.
Something to do with messing with a hallowed tradition, or some BS like that.
I really wanted to leave the theater seething and declaring that Gene Roddenberry would be rolling in his grave at the travesty that passes itself off as a Star Trek movie. But I liked it.
Not just moderately tolerated it, but really liked it.
Too bad. I was looking forward to a good rant.
Now, if only someone would get hold of Star Wars*
What I noticed, and what I liked about the new Star Trek movie was the fact that it didn’t have the typical/traditional Star Trek bash you over the head philosophical grandstanding that’s usually passed off as “undertones” or “subtext”.
The stuff that’s supposed to be why smart people like sci-fi.
I found the fact that it was lacking quite a relief.
But, a funny thing happened while I was watching the movie. Despite the apparent lack of obvious philosophical subtext or overtones, the philosophical question started coming to me.
I was there, sitting in the darkened theater, and my mind started thinking. My brain actually started to look for some philosophical subtext to the plot. And I found one. It actually didn’t take too long to find it. Ok. Here it is:
Because of a slight time travel problem ( it wouldn’t be Star Trek without some time travel, would it?), the result is a pair of Spocks — one older and one younger.
This is Spock #1
images (3)
SPOCK #1, A.K.A. TOS (The Original Series) SPOCK
OR SPOCK PRIME
And here is Spock #2
download (1)
SPOCK #2, THE OTHER ONE
Now, I thought, as I sat in the darkened cinema, munching on my sneeked in food, hoping no one would recognize the snap and crisp fizz as I (hopefully) secretively opened my can of Coke,  if there are two Spocks, are they the same person?
Let’s say that I stick the duo side by side and said something like, “Spock=Spock”. Would I be correct if I said so? Is what I am putting forth actually true?
Putting age aside, we can state with some assurance that the Spocks are  genetically the same: they are both the offspring of a human woman, Amanda Grayson, and Vulcan Ambassador Sarek. If  they are the same genetically, I presume, that both Spocks are identical on the quantum level.
That means atoms and molecules and s#!t.
images (4)
And anything that is the same on the quantum level is identical to itself.
dave chappelle
What I mean to say is that, if Spock and Spock are the same on ever level that is quantifiable, then they are the same person.
Or at least go along with this for the sake of the argument, ok?
I would be forced to say that Spock and Sopck are the same person. And since I’m no physicist, I will state this as fact, even though I am unaware that there may be some additional requirement to state that the Spocks are indeed the same person.
I mean, I can easily argue that they are not based on the different life experiences of each Spock. Or if the fact that they are not the same age makes them different. I don’t know.
But, even without considering any additional scientific questions or possibilities, I will indeed state that Spock and Spock, despite their quantum similarities, are not the same person.
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I know, from reading Quine, that if say, one Spock was missing his left index finger, that we could easily say that the Spocks are not the same person. The pair would be strikingly similar, but not the same (as one is missing his left index finger). I’m not sure if non-physical factors such as one’s life experiences functions the same as a missing finger, but, when we think of the things like what makes us who we are, we tend to look beyond our physicality. We are, we say, more than our DNA.
Master Yoda says that we are more than “this crude matter”. Yes, I mixed franchises. I am sci-bi after all.
THE ULTIMATE SCI-BI FANTASY

THE ULTIMATE SCI-BI FANTASY

We are made up of many things that comprise who we are: our experiences, our environment, our beliefs, thoughts and feelings all have to do with what makes us us. Our physical bodies may suggest some thing, but taken as a whole, we are something else — that is, our bodies may define what we are, but there is a matter of who we are.
I don’t think that the Existentialists are alone in suggesting this.
In the much maligned Star Trek: Nemesis, Dr. Crusher explains to Captain Picard the reason why he and Shinzon are not the same person is that their life experiences made them different people.
( BTW: I still think this is one of the better flicks, despite the fact that they totally ignored the fact that Dr. Soong created more androids than Data and B4)
Shinzon, for those who haven’t seen the movie ( and plenty didn’t, since it only grossed $43 million) was a clone of Captain Picard — an exact physical replica of the Captain. Although Shinzon was an exact duplicate of the Captain,  the two men experienced vastly different lives. Picard grew up on earth, the son of a winemaker. Shinzon was raised on the Romulan moon Remus, where he was enslaved and abused by his Romulan captors.
The men shared the exact same DNA, but in essence, they were not the same person.
Uh-oh. I done used a philosophical word: person.
“Person” is a loaded term. Being a person, as opposed to being a mere being, conveys a a uniqueness, perhaps even something transcendent within all of us. Each person contains an essence of who we are — something that is unique to us as individuals that differentiates us from all others,  including identical twins or clones. The idea of an essence is connected to the fact that we see personhood as something individual to each being and beyond the mere physical.
The Spocks’  experiences make them different. It’s not beyond the possibility that experiences make us physically different as well. We know that we can influence our physical bodies with our own minds. Anyone who has ever thought himself sick or worried about a midterm to the point of puking knows this. We know that what we think can change ourselves internally. A brain of a person suffering from depression looks different from a person who does not. Scientists even theorize that one’s mental outlook can influence a person’s chances of developing diseases such as heart failure or cancer.  
THIS MAN IS GOING TO THINK HIMSELF INTO A MASSIVE CORONARY

THIS MAN IS GOING TO THINK HIMSELF INTO A MASSIVE CORONARY

So, if we looked at each Spock’s brain, we might be able to postulate which Spock is which from looking at their brains. TOS Spock, due to his life different experiences and the fact that he died from radiation poisoning,  might show differences on a brain scan that we would not see in reboot Spock’s brain. If this is so, then we have reason enough to say that although Spock and Spock look alike and share the same genetic code, they are not the same person.
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SPOCK AND SPOCK MAY LOOK ALIKE BUT WE ALL KNOW WHO
IS THE BETTER SPOCK, RIGHT?
You see, Dr. Crusher was right. Scientists may tell us all about our genes and atoms, and tell us that on the quantum level, no human being is really different from another. But, when we think about it all philosophically, there is much difference in and between all of us, even when we look exactly the same.
OK, I know. I know that this one wasn’t supposed to lay on the heavy philosophic stuff. The newest Star Trek movie isn’t supposed to lead to heavy philosophical discussions. It’s all about the early summer action flick. So, I’ll end my post on this note: the special effects were great (especially the scene when the Enterprise comes out of warp speed in the middle of a debris field), Simon Pegg is as entertaining as ever, and Zachary Quinto’s Spock is totally hot.
*This post was originally published before it was announced that Star Trek reboot director JJ Abrams would be directing the next Star Wars film. 

Hell Is Reality Television People

I was thumbing through my copy of Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs a few days ago. To start off, I envy people, any person who can write and make a living off of it. Second, I wanted to re-read the chapter on Mr. Klosterman’s friend’s encounter with a serial killer. I have no idea why. There’s, in this chapter, a bit about serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Mr, Klosterman ( I feel like, since I don’t know him, I shouldn’t call him “Chuck”), wrote about the fame that serial killers achieve as compared to real celebrities. In his book, he used Cameron Diaz. That started me thinking. For awhile, you had to do something like kill a whole bunch of people or blow the president in order to get noticed by the media. But now, it seems like this has totally changed. I noticed that there are a lot of people out there who, I cannot for the life of me, tell anyone why they are famous. I don’t think that they killed anyone, since they’re not in prison. And I don’t think that many of them interned at the White House during the Clinton Administration. But they’re there. I know who these people are and why they’re important to my life. What really struck me about reading Mr. Klosterman’s book, is that, although it was written in 2003 (yeah, eons ago), something he wrote hit me philosophically. It was that he said that he disagreed with the “accuracy of those comparisons” between the fame of celebrities and the fame of serial killers. Mr. Klosterman wrote, ” there was nothing inherently special about Cameron Diaz; until she made a movie. She was just an attractive person. At some point, she became Cameron Diaz. But Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t become Jeffrey Dahmer the first time he killed somebody. That’s always who he was” ( pg. 192. emphasis in original).The fame of the serial killer, he said, is more authentic. Authentic. Now that’s a philosophical word. In a way, Mr. Klosterman is correct. A serial killer just does what he is inclined to do. To quote (the fictitious) Mickey Knox, a serial murderer is a “natural born killer”. A famous person is mostly known for playing someone else. It would be a little odd to assume that, because David Caruso plays the ultra smooth Horatio Caine on CSI:Miami, that that is the way he truly is. Although he pretty much played the same guy in that movie Jade… Ok. Maybe he was a bad example. The point is, is that celebrities spend their careers playing people who do not exist. They are professional inauthentic players. That is, until the human race was beset upon by the authentic celebrity — the reality TV show personality. I was listening to the Billy Bush show a while ago. If you don’t know, Billy Bush is this dude from Access Hollywood, a show specializing in teling us that, in order to have meaningful lives, the American public must know intimate details about the lives of its famous people. I hate myself for knowing that 1) there is such a thing as a Billy Bush, and 2) I’ve seen Access Hollywood. Anyway, Billy was interviewing Kim Kardashian. I was torn for a moment. My crap-o-meter had told me to immediately change the channel. But, something was compelling me to listen. I struggled against myself to change the station. *Note* for those who live under rocks and have no idea who this woman is, is recommend Googling her. Have fun, and bring a box of Kleenex.* Now, we, as a culture, tend to dismiss celebrities like Kim Kardashian and her ilk. These are people that we say have no good resaon to be famous (as if there actuall is a good reason), and therefore, are underving of our attention. In particular, we feel that people like Ms. Kardashian and Paris Hilton are of an even less deserving class of famous people. To most of us, they’re cartoons. They appear to be caricature of what a person, even of what a real celebrity is supposed to be. we often use the words “fake” or “plastic” when we describe them. They are people who seem to have no real to them at all. They are inauthentic. But before we go label crazy, it’s important to explain what we mean. I’ve already trotted out the word “authentic” and attached philosophic significance to it. So what do I mean when I say “authentic”? Authenticity, according to the Existentialists, is ( as uncomplicted as possible) living one’s life unaccording to the expectations of others. That is, an individual lives life, not according to some supposedly pre-determined set of innate characteristics, but according to the terms that he sets out for himself. According to the Existentialist, we are the masters of our own being. We are our own creations. We are not born naturally shy or hot-tempered, or even naturally inclined to act masculine or feminine. The personalities we assume are assumed by ourselves. For the Existentialist, existence preceedes essence. We exist before we become who we are. Now, I recall that I had mentioned reality TV. Television is, according to some experts, a postmodern medium. There’s no need to get into postmodernism other than to say that postmodernism rejects the existentialist’s notion of authenticity. For the postmodernist, there is no such thing as “the real”. We are, at best, a mix of influences that we assume into what we call our identity. And TV seems to reflect that point of view. Just think of the gritty NYPD: Blue like cop show that is also a murder mystery in the tradition of Murder She Wrote, with a twist of My Three Sons, as a single police detective, who also writes mystery novels tries to raise his three sons, including the adorably precocious 7 year-old Billy, as a single father in the rough streets of Claremont, California. But, somewhere in the postmodern mix, someone decided that it was time for people to stop being polite and start being real. I know that they say that the first reality show was PBS’s An American Family, and that the first reality TV star was the late Lance Loud, who appeared on the show. It seems that between the mid 70s and the early 90s, the need to see people being real wasn’t big on America’s to-do list. But, I remember the first time I saw The Real World. Debuting in 1992 on MTV, The Real World opened up a big can of feculent TMI for all of America to see. It brought what they said could not be brought to television: REALITY. For awhile, the only reality on TV, if one was looking for it, was only on the local news. Car chases, police shoot-outs, the local riot… all for the audience to enjoy with real people in real time. But, reality TV brought something new. The people were people that you wnated to see. They weren’t just some hillbilly whose house just got blown away by a tornado. Reality TV brought people that I could identify with — they were real. When Dominic from Real World: Venice Beach got drunk and passed out on the beach, I totally identified with what he was going through! When Ruthie from Real World: Hawaii totally got drunk, like, every episode, I was so there! There were no scripts, there were no rules. This was life as it unfolded. The camera just sat there and recorded whatever happened. So when Irene got socked in the face when she left Real World: Seattle, the camera showed us what was really going on. NO holds barred. Of course, we all know as they say, what you see isn’t what really happened. Let me say something a little bit about TV. What we see on television is not all that goes on to get the show to our eyes. TV shows are a team effort. They require the services of writers, directors, producers, casting directors, and personalities to make it to air. Even a show that calls itself a reality show required a team of producers to cast it and bring it to air. Some shows these days even let us in on this process (American Idol), or let us participate in which cast members stay of leave ( Dancing With the Stars, American Idol, Big Brother, etc). Any reality show producer will tell us that, in order to condense a week’s worth of going’s on into an hour of television, alot of editing takes place. And as was revealed during the Real World: Reunion show, what took place didn’t always happen in the order of actual occurance. Events are arranged for dramatic effect, not in order of how they really happen. Postmodernist writer Jean Baudrillard writes, “the attempt to increase the feel of reality are themselves simulations. Their authenticity is a special effect”. Baudrillard states that “images preceed the real”. But this doesn’t seem right when we think of TV that is supposed to be “real”. The notion that images preceed the real violates the idea that reality TV tells us is behind its being. Reality TV is supposed to reflect reality, how things really are. When we look at a show like The Real World or The Simple Life, we believe that we are seeing what really happened. Which brings us back to the idea of authenticity. What is authentic? I thought about this question for at least a good five minutes before I answered, for some famous people, they really do seem to be the real deal. When I look at Kim Kardashian, she seems to be one of these people. She’s famous for having a big ass. Nothing more. And she doesn’t seem to be inclined to convince us of anything more than that. But when I see someone like Paris Hilton, I see the postmodernist at work. One week, she’s a singer, the next, she’s a philanthropist, the nest, she’s staring in a really crappy movie (see Repo: the Musical, The Hottie and the Nottie, or House of Wax). You can’t put a finger on what Paris Hilton is because she doesn’t seem to be anything. I’m not saying this about her as a person, since I do not know her, but as something that is marketed as “real”, ther appears to be nothing “real” there. Perhaps then, Kim Kardashian is something like Jeffrey Dahmer. She is what she is, rather, she is what her ass is. Paris Hilton, on the other hand, is a Cameron Diaz. The funny thing is, is that, despite what view, existentialist of postmodern, each ultimately concludes that there is no purpose or meaning behind reality, and I guess this covers the world of reality TV as well. You know, Sartre called reality absurd. Exactly.

I tried SO hard to like this movie

With the exception of the films of Coleman Francis, I’m willing to watch just about anything , and usually I’ll find something worth liking about them — whether it’s the fact that Hugh Jackman is nearly always entertaining, or a wacky title sequence. There’s always something. Did I forget to mention that I usually find something worth liking? I know that there are movies that everyone else is supposed to like, and then there are films that only certain people are supposed to like ( supposedly the difference is that everyone else watches “movies” and only certain people watch films or worse yet, the cinema). So I was watching this movie called Pi. It’s directed (and written, I think), by Darren Aronofsky, who is currently enjoying some fame for his Oscar nominated movie The Wrestler. Since I had already seen his other movie, the heart-warming Requiem for a Dream, I decided that I must see more films by this guy! And that was Pi. I guess, for those who haven’t seen it, Pi is about this dude who’s really good at math who decides that he wants to figure out the math behind the stock market. Eventually, as all smart math guys do, he goes a little nuts, and ends up drilling himself in the head. Really, that’s the plot. I thought that, since I’m into philosophy n’ all, that I would like it. Two reasons: 1) it’s in black and white (and black and white automatically means quality), and 2) because it looked like a movie that people who are into philosophy would like. There’s a list, you know. There really is. It’s a list of things that philosophy people are supposed to be “into”. We’re supposed to like Woody Allen movies (except for Antz that’s a no-go for me), Monty Python flicks ( you’re supposed to be able to recite dialogue from these), Coen Brothers movies, jazz music, and “fair trade” coffee. I also think that any movie written by Steve Martin (except for The Jerk) is supposed to be somewhere on that list. They’re supposed to be stuff that are infused with all sorts of deep meaning and philosophic subtexts. Which is why pedestrian level philosophers like Star Trek. In Gene Roddenberry’s universe there isno such thing as subtlety. It’s all whack you over the head with a crowbar — and the point of philosophy is that not everyone gets this stuff. Which, I guess is where the philosophic rubber hits the road. At least that’s what the assholes believe, anyway. But the cold, harsh reality is, is that movies like Pi are damned hard to watch. It’s not that I didn’t get it, either. Oh I got it. Look, Being John Malkovich isn’t so much difficult to understand than it is hard to pay attention to if you have anything resembling a sense of boredom. And by the way, would Catherine Keener please stop playing the smart-talking, intellectually superior ( to you), chick?!? The plain truth is, is that Super Troopers is not only more entertaining than most “philosophic” movies — but it also probably is philosophically better for you. I swear that there is a difference between a movie that is just on its own smart (like the social commentary in the original Night of the Living Dead), and a movie that comes off like it is some sort of philosophy lesson (like Vanilla Sky). I’m not going to say exactly where I think this movie fits,but even now I keep thinking that I really should have liked Pi. While I’m writing this, I’m really thinking, wondering if there actually is some sort of philosopher profile that, once I join the ranks of THEM, I will automatically assume? Are there traits (or qualities, if that’s the way you roll) that I must necessarily have as a philosopher? If so what are they? A tendency to rattle on about things that no one else cares about? The ability to talk for ten straight minutes without ever answering the question that I was asked? Will I lose my ability to talk to normal people?!?!? Of course, half of what I’m saying is in jest (well, except for the not liking the movie Pi no matter how hard I’ve tried to). But, I think that there’s something more going on than this all being about a matter of taste. Without going into some sort of really overcomplicated postmodern take on high and low culture, there is a perception that there are things that everybody else likes and other things that only 0ther people like. That’s kind of messed up.