Any Major Dude Will Tell You Socrates Digs Your Taste In Music

The great Ludwig Van Beethoven said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

I’m guessing most people would applaud this notion.

Beethoven wasn’t a philosopher. He was a musician.

His opinion was biased.

Lots of people’s opinions are. Even a philosopher’s opinions are.

If you haven’t noticed, philosophers have lots of opinions about lots of things life, death, morality, good, evil, God all the “important” stuff. Name any issue and a philosopher has got something to say about it. Anything.

I guess it would surprise absolutely no one that philosophers have something to say about the not-so-important stuff, too. Like movies and sports; even music. This is what a couple of philosophers had to say about music:

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

The French writer and philosopher Voltaire wrote “Anything too stupid to be said is sung.”

Their opinions were biased, too.

Both men are absolutely right.

As a matter of fact, so is Beethoven.

A few weeks ago, I watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. There’s a character in the movie named Chop Top. Chop Top is Leatherface’s brother.

Leatherface is the guy with the chainsaw.

Chop Top was in Vietnam when the first movie happened.

That’s why you didn’t see him until the second movie.

Chop Top tells a late-night radio disc jockey, right before he attempts to bludgeon her with a hammer, “music is my life.”

I think he was paraphrasing Nietzsche.

This is Chop Top. It's pretty obvious from looking at him that music is his life.

This is Chop Top. It’s pretty obvious from looking at him that music is his life.

 

As thinks turn out, philosophers tend to think that music is our life, too.

A long time ago, way before Nietzsche said it, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said that music is important to our lives. Socrates’ reason had something to do with the idea that music possesses a unique quality to influence the way that we think and act. Socrates argues music can stimulate the wrong kind of emotions in some people. If we listen to the wrong music, Socrates says, the wrong kind of music teaches us to prefer a life of frivolity instead of appreciating the serious philosophical pursuit of wisdom. We can become intemperate, cowardly, learn bad habits like drinking, and develop a taste for merriment.

The PMRC weren’t the first people to believe music can make you do bad things. That Kind of thinking goes back quite a long way. Socrates wrote:

“rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themselves into the inmost part of the soul… they make a man graceful if he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite.”

The purpose for music, Socrates says, is to encourage the development of a good soul. According to Socrates, “…good speech, good harmony… and good rhythm accompany a good disposition.” The right kind of music, Socrates says, enables a man to develop the “right kind of dislikes” and an appreciation for the fine things. Through listening to the right kind of music a man becomes a gentleman …a philosopher.

Socrates declares that all bad music should be banned. The only music people should be allowed to listen to is music that encourages good emotions and virtuous behavior; music that teaches people to be courageous and temperate; to develop a warlike disposition and to encourage people love the gods and act for the good of the state.

This is why Socrates says music is important.

If one’s behavior is any indication of what kind of music one listens to, it’s clear that Chop Top was listening to the wrong kind of music.

Probably music like this:

 

Socrates probably would not approve of the song “Me So Horny”…. I think.

Now, I know that there are things (like music) that not only influence who we are, but may be indicative of the kind of person we are. In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell writes that we can tell a lot about a person from a “blink” or first impression. We don’t even have to meet an individual to tell what a person is like. All we have to do to figure out a person, says Gladwell, is to take a glance at what’s on their walls, their bookshelf or in their music collection.

Take a look at my bookshelf.

This is what my bookshelf looks like:

bookshelf 2

 

 

I have a lot of philosophy books on my bookshelf.

At first glance, you might assume that I like to read philosophy books and thinking about things philosophically. If you made that assumption you’d be right.

Socrates would be pleased.

Although an assumption about an individual’s disposition based on one’s reading material may seem like a sure shot, using one’s musical preferences as an indication of one’s personality may not be as cut and dry. Unless you’re an Emo or a metalhead it may be difficult to tell how the music one listens to influences us. There are plenty of closeted Metallica and My Chemical Romance fans; people whose musical tastes and disposition appear to be incongruent. Still, we’d be wrong to say that music bears no affect on who we are and what we do. After all, the way a song or musical artist makes us feel is what draws us to listen to a particular song or artist.

Now, knowing what philosophers have to say about the effect of music on the kind of person we are, what exactly does the kind of music we listen to have to say about us philosophically? If Socrates is correct, and music does have the power to shape one’s character, can a person’s philosophical outlook be identified by simply glancing at what kind of music a person listens to?

If we glanced at a person’s music collection could we differentiate a Socrates from a Chop Top?

More importantly, what does the music I listen to have to say about my philosophical disposition?

Can you tell just by looking at my music collection?

First off, I would say that, if you met me face to face and I had to define my personal philosophical beliefs, I would define them as follows: I would say that I’m an existentialist. I would describe my ethics as ethical egoist with a slight tinge of Kantian ethics (I call it Kantian Egoism). I would add that am an empiricist (which means I’m also a materialist). And  as for what I think about God, well, let’s say that my religious disposition as apatheist.

Having said all that, this is my music library:

 

this is my music collection

 

I know it’s a little bit difficult to see it from here, but there’s quite a bit of Steely Dan loaded up in there.

Yeah I said it. I admit, without any fear of seeming pretentious, I am a fan of The Dan.

Ok, I know. When (or rather if) one thinks of Steely Dan and you’re not a fan of William Burroughs, one will almost assuredly and immediately conjure up visions of over-educated, faded hipster, college-types (who spent too much time in college or at least too much time chasing co-eds) who quote Sartre, paraphrase Nietzsche, drink brands of hard liquor no one has ever heard of, and carry around a dog-eared copy of Camus’ The Stranger in the pocket of a well-worn, cigarette or marijuana (or both) aroma-soaked, vintage leather jacket.

Thinking about it, that’s not a wholly incorrect stereotype of the average Steely Dan fan.

What else would one expect of a fan of a band named after a dildo?

 

This is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They are collectively known as Steely Dan.

This is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They are collectively known as Steely Dan.

 

If you know a fan of The Dan, you’re probably already well aware that Steely Dan’s fans have a habit of pontificating.

About everything.

There is a legit reason why Steely Dan is often associated with overthinking. And no, it really has nothing to do with pretentiousness. It’s because Steely Dan songs are philosophical.

To the point: Steely Dan songs are very existentialist.

Don’t roll your eyes. And stop laughing. They are. Really.

For those of you who have no idea what an existentialist is, an existentialist is a person who adheres to the philosophical theory of Existentialism. Existentialism is:

… the name given to the branch of philosophy which is concerned with the meaning of human existence its aims, its significance and overall purpose and the freedom and creative response to life made by individuals.

If you listen to a Steely Dan album or two (really, you should listen to all of them), it becomes pretty clear that Steely Dan songs like “Hey, Nineteen”, “Deacon Blues”, and “Home At Last” include lyrics about common existentialist themes such as life, relationships, sex, self-reflection, drugs, getting old, and death.

Actually, “Home At Last” is supposed to be about Homer’s The Odyssey.

The Odyssey.

See, I told you there was some thinking in there.

In the song “Deacon Blues” from the Steely Dan album Aja (1977), Donald Fagen sings:

I’ll learn to work the saxophone

I play just what I feel

Drink Scotch whiskey all night long

And die behind the wheel

They got a name for the winners in the world

I want a name when I lose

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide

Call me Deacon Blues

Besides discovering one’s life achievements pale by comparison to the famed University of Alabama football team (nicknamed the Crimson Tide), “Deacon Blues”, with its lyrics about finding and defining one’s self, embodies the existentialist principle “Existence precedes essence”. According to existentialist philosophy our selves are not determined by God, nature, society, or our parents; we choose who we want to be (i.e. we determine who we are our essence). We are born as physical entities (i.e. exist) then we define what meaning our purpose our lives will have. The French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), says:

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.

 

Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) says:

The protagonist is not a musician. He just sort of imagines that would be one of the mythic forms of loserdom to which he might aspire and um, you know, whose to say that he’s not right in a thing like that?

Indeed, if we look at the lyrics of “Deacon Blues”, we should think of the existentialist idea that we make choices in our lives, and that we are accountable for the consequences of  our actions.

Who we are, our identity, is the product of our own creation .

The song says Call me Deacon Blues.

I’m sure that many music experts will say that “Deacon Blues” isn’t about existentialism at all, but when I hear the song I think of Sartre’s declaration that “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Especially when I hear the line “This brother is free. I’ll be what I want to be”. 

Aja-(album)-wallpaper

Listen to this album immediately. Track 3.

The thing is I wasn’t always a fan of Steely Dan. When I was in high school, I was a pretty mopey kid.

Actually, I was downright pessimistic.

Fatalistic, actually.

I could have been the subject of an Emily Dickenson poem.

Back when I was in high school (This was the early 1990s, mind you. Ugh! That makes me feel positively geriatric!), if you moped about and wore black as much as I did, it was pretty obvious what kind of music you were likely to listen to.

Goth music.

goth chick with instructions

This is not me. I never wore pigtails.

 

To be honest, I still wear black these days… because it’s slimming.

Back then, the particular subgenre of goth music every kid who moped around like me listened to could be identified by its raven-haired lead singer. Some kids listened to The Cure. They looked like a Robert Smith.

 

robertsmithnoirpage

This is Robert Smith

 

This is what The Cure’s fans look like:

 

This guy actually doesn't look all that unhappy.... maybe he's really emo.

This guy actually doesn’t look all that unhappy…. maybe he’s really emo.

 

Other kids listened to Siouxie and the Banshees. Some kids listened to Ministry, The Cramps, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire or Alien Sex Fiend. Some kids went old school and listened to eighties old-school synthpop artists like Soft Cell and Gary Numan.

My raven-haired lead-singered band of choice was nine inch nails.

Or NIN, if you like.

Ok, I know. First Steely Dan, now nine inch nails (and yes, I’m using the appropriate small-case letters). I know what you’re thinking. Stop thinking that. My musical preferences do not suggest that I’m a pretentious person.

However, the fact that I write a blog does.

But I digress.

This is Trent Reznor. He is collectively known as nine inch nails.

This is Trent Reznor. He is collectively known as nine inch nails.

 

If anyone was around and watching MTV in the mid-nineties, you couldn’t watch MTV for more than a half hour without seeing some angst-ridden, heroin chic-looking, alternative band front man whining his way through 4 minutes and 38 seconds of music video.

That would explain why nine inch nails was in fairly heavy rotation.

Wait, I know. Nine inch nails isn’t goth.

And I know it’s not industrial, either.

Philosophers know these things.

A quasi-industrial, somewhat goth rock band (or is it artist because it’s just one guy?) like nine inch nails may be difficult to categorize musically but it’s easier than a goth girl at Lollapalooza 1991 to figure which philosophical school of thought nine inch nails belongs to.

Everybody say it together. 1…2…3…

NIHLILISM!

Nihilism, according to Webster’s New College Dictionary, Nihilism (from the Latin nihil: nothing) is:

The belief that all existence is senseless and that there is no possibility of an objective basis of truth

 

Nihilism is most associated with this guy

 

This is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

This is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

 

AND HE SAID:

Nihilism is Nihilism: any aim is lacking, any answer to the question “why” is lacking. What does nihilism mean?—that the supreme values devaluate themselves.

 

Nihilism’s themes of self-destruction, self-loathing, loss of values, hopelessness and despair is pretty much the theme of every nine inch nails song.

Seriously, name any song. Nietzsche’s philosophy is there.

“terrible lie”? Yup. Nietzsche. “hurt”? Title pretty much says it all. “happiness in slavery”? Check. “wish”? Yeah. “somewhat damaged”? Uh-huh. “everyday is exactly the same”? Yeah, Nietzsche is there, too.

Well, there is that one song about double rainbows, kittens, and blooming flowers.

I’m kidding. No there isn’t.

For a minute you felt like googling to see if there is, didn’t you?

Trent Reznor even quotes Nietzsche’s infamous (and often misused) quote “God is dead” in the song “heresy” on the 1994 album the downward spiral. Reznor sings (or is it yells?):

“God is dead and no one cares. If there is a hell, I’ll see you there.”

Not quite exactly what Nietzsche said, but you get the idea.*

 

I spent too many teenage nights listening to this album. Alone… in the dark.

I spent too many teenage hours listening to this album. Alone… in the dark.

 

Albert Camus (1913-60) said “Nihilism is not only despair and negation, but above all the desire to despair and to negate.”

Check out these lyrics to the song “piggy” (from the downward spiral):

Nothing can stop me now

I don‘t care anymore.

Nothing can stop me now

I just don’t care.

 

Does that sound like a sentiment that is not only despair and negation but also the desire to despair and negate to you?

Does to me.

Ok, that sounds pretentious.

You know something? Even though Nietzsche is most associated with nihilism he is often considered an existentialist philosopher.

Wow. I guess that confirms what I told you at the beginning of this blog about being an existentialist.

But I guess I really didn’t need to look at my current favorite band or the bands I liked in high school to know that. I could have started with the first band I ever declared was my favorite: The Beatles.

Not only were The Beatles the first boy band (They were! Don’t deny it), John Lennon and Paul McCartney remain one of music’s most successful and influential songwriting duos of all time. But, more importantly yes, you guessed it

Lennon and McCartney might not have realized it, but they were laying down some pretty heavy philosophy.

… Along with a lot of LSD.

I guess philosophy comes easy when you’re tripping balls.

 

This is John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. They are collectively known as The Beatles.

This is John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. They are collectively known as The Beatles.

 

In a decade that brought us “Wooly Bully”, “Gitarzan”, and the still-indecipherable “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen, The Beatles’ lyrics not only included themes of about love, peace, not fussing and fighting (and the occasional hidden drug reference), but also existentialism, Eastern philosophy and mysticism. The Beatles, though not as philosophically adept as Kant or Heidegger, not only established the boy band phenomena, they were one of the first pop bands to write lyrics that were not only enjoyable but intended to make the listener think.

Some folks out there think The Beatles are philosophical enough to warrant this book:

 

The-Beatles-The-Beatles-And-P-398487

 

And this book was written by professional philosophers.

Professional philosophers.

Look, if you don’t believe The Beatles are at all philosophical, check out these lyrics:

 

The love you take is equal to the love you make.

 

Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.

 

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da life goes on brah.

La la how the life goes on.

 

There’s nothing you can made that can’t be made.

No one you can save who can’t be saved.

There’s nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.

It’s easy.

 

If that’s not philosophical enough, get ready for some heavy philosophy:

When you’ve seen beyond yourself
Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.

Didn’t know The Beatles got that heavy, did you?

You feel enlightened?

Ok, never mind. Do you feel like dropping acid?

Go ahead. Tell everybody you’re searching for philosophical enlightenment.

That one worked for Timothy Leary.

Oh but before you do, take a glance at your music collection.

Ask yourself this one question:

Would Socrates approve?

 

 

 

NOTE:

There is an entire sub-field of philosophy called the philosophy of music. If you’re interested about the exciting world of the philosophy of music, you can read this article:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/

In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell describes an experiment wherein a group of people were asked to assess the personality of individuals (they hadn’t met) after briefly looking at the individual’s living space. Objects we surround ourselves with often indicates what kind of person owns those objects. Gladwell argues that we can accurately assess personal traits of individuals through snap judgments based on what we see in a person’s living space.

The later (Beatles) songs written by George Harrison were largely influenced by Eastern philosophy, which generally includes philosophical and religious systems from India and the Far East, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain, and Confucianism.

Read the Bhagavad-Gita and then listen to anything George Harrison wrote. Check here for a few quotes to get you started on the comparison:

http://thinkexist.com/quotes/bhagavad_gita/

* In The Gay Science (Section 125, The Madman), Nietzsche writes:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

 

 

SOURCES:

1. Plato. Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom.  401d-e, 401e – 402a

2. Mel Thompson. Teach Yourself: Philosophy. 1995, 2003. Contemporary Books. 184.

3. “Deacon Blues”.  Lyrics and music by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Copyright 1977 ABC/Dunhill Music, Inc.

4. Classic Albums (DVD). Steely Dan: Aja. 1999. Eagle Rock Entertainment.

5. “piggy”. Lyrics and music by Trent Reznor. Copyright 1994. leaving hope/TVT music, inc.

6. “All You Need Is Love”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright 1967. Northern Songs Limited.

7. “Within You, Without You”. Lyrics and music by George Harrison. Copyright 1967. Northern Songs Limited.

8. “The End”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright. 1969. Northern Songs Limited.

9. “Ob La Di, Ob La Da”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright. 1968. Northern Songs Limited.

 

Tuesdsays With Maury

If there is any bit of television that makes me think that deja vu is real, it’s the Maury Povich Show. Every time I tune into the show I swear I’m watching something that I’ve seen before: some bird has dragged in a number of equallly morally suspect young men (some of whom are related to each other) to have Maury erveal which fine specimen of erudite gentlemen is the sire of her child. By the time they figure out which one is, Maury has DNA tested half the guys in BFE Kentucky. Although I find the whole matter disgusting (I mean really, if there’s one thing that a woman should be keeping track of, it’s how many guys that she’s balled in one week), I can’t tear my eyes of the spectacle. And I’m so delighted when some dude is on who insists that he’s never even had sex with his cousin’s girlfriend ( he’s usually the one hurling the most insults about her easy virtue) turns out to be the father. Spectacular! Watching the moment of revelation almost beats the fact that I’ve spent an entire afternoon not doing anyting even remotely constructive, like working for an actual paycheck. It’s not that the entire experience is without shame –at least on my part. All the while I’m watching, I keep asking myself “why are you watching this crap?”. When did Maury Povich’s bi-weekly “you are NOT the father” show become something that is acceptable to air on broadcast television? I look at the parade of trash talkin’, baby makin’, semi-illiterates on Maury and I ask, from under which rock did these people crawl?!? Now, I’m not calling these people substandard to be insulting, I’m sure that when they’re at home, some of them are really wonderful people. But what gets me mad is the fact that these people aren’t just cartoons that entertain and then disappear as soon as the show is over. They’re real people, who exist among us. And if that’s the case, I think, then we, as a species, are in a bad way. I think while I’m watching, that there is no such thing as dignity anymore. Or modesty, or decorum, or shame. And I say shame on myself for watching the show in the first place. They wouldn’t be there airing out all of their dirty laundry if there weren’t an audience to watch. In an interview on NPR, Chris Hedges said that our culture has been emptied out and replaced by fantasy. He says that the worse that reality becomes for us, the more we run to distractions; what Hedges calls “pseudoevents” like, gossip, trivia, celebrity breakdowns, and the eroticization of our culture. When I was getting my poly sci degree, I had this professor who would go on rants from time to time about how things like Girls Gone Wild are ruining society by breaking down the barrier between the public and private spheres. He said that when we take our private business into the public arena, we make things that shouldn’t be acceptable to do in public (like showing your boobs and other areas) acceptable. Once we’ve broken down that barrier, he said, there’s nothing that is inappropriate. That’s degrading to the culture, he concluded. I gotta say that I don’t disagree. Everywhere is casual friday. You don’t have to look around too hard to see it, either. Cell phone calls that are way too personal and way too loud, prominently displayed undergarments, people wearing pajama pants everywhere, celebrity sex tapes dominate what we see in the media and on the street. I used to think that eventually things would get back to “normal”, that is, people wouuld see that they’re making fools of themselves in public and start to behave. So far it hasn’t happened. I used to think that acting stupidly on television would be an embarassing enough experience that people wouldn’t do it. Apparently it’s not. Because every week there’s a new batch of ladies on Maury gene testing another batch of suspected fathers. They seem happy as clams up there on the stage. The point it seems, is that the important thing is to be on TV. So long as cameras are on them, they don’t care why — it’s just to be on TV! They can go back home and watch the show when it airs and be local celebrities for awhile, jsut like all the other floks who make their living being professsionally famous. This seems to be the point of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter how you get on the boob tube, so long as you get on. We get so fascinated with ourselves that we don’t see what all of our narcissism is doing to us. In the movie Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle called it “morbid self-attention”. It’s getting so wrapped up in yourself that you fail to see that you’re destroying yourself. Because when we look at ourselves we fail to see the world around us. And if you’re always looking at yourself, then you’re never looking at what’s going on in the world. I remember when the whole President impeachment thing was going down, and Monica Lewinsky was making the rounds on the talk shows. Did it matter to anyone that she got famous for putting the president’s weenie in her mouth? No, it didn’t. Least of all, it didn’t seem to matter to her. She never said “gee, I wish I had gotten famous some other way. This was is something that I should really be ashamed of”. In our fame-based culture, you used to actually have to do something to get famous — invent something, be good at something, cure some disease, act, dance, write, or sing (or all if you’re a quadruple threat, like Justin Timberlake). There was an idea that notoriety had to be earned. Now it seems all you have to do is get on TV. Unfortunately, this is extremely easy. All you have to do is be freaky enough or better yet, have someone post your freakiness on YouTube, and you’re set. You can be famous. So you can give the pres oral, it doesn’t matter. Monica Lewinsky was going to be famous, and we were going to see her being famous no matter whether we objected or not. So is every other freak out there. That makes me think of a character in the movie The Ring, who tells a reporter to ind her own business and stop trying to find out what happened to his daughter. She tells him that she’s trying to help. his response is one that I think applies to the Mauryization of our culture. He tells the reporter that they “take one person’s tragedy and force the world to experience it… spread it like sickness”. I think that shows like Maury Povich’s have the same effect. I would think that Maury, if you asked him, would come up with some reason why having these people on his show benefits the public. He wouldn’t realize that what his show does is spread an infection. It’s a culture destroying infection. One that makes the obscene reasonable and feeds us nothing of any use for our minds or souls. Its’s all bread and circus. And we all know what that did to the Roman Empire. Chris Hedges says that our culture has devolved into a culture of moral nihilism. Funny, that I think that ultimately Hedges and the founder of nihilism (that being Nietzsche) would conclude that our culture is headed on the path of destruction. Nietzsche says that our society is so screwed up because of the “plebian bias of the modern mind”. Nietzsche laments the triumph of the common and the vulgar over the Noble and the Good. For Nietzsche, the ruination of society is in the triumph of the slave over the master. Nietzsche blamed the shift on Christianity, which places compassion among the most desired qualities of man, as the “slave” morality that has weakened the power of the master class over the rabble (that is, over you and me). Christianity elevated the poor, the weak, the meek (you know, all those inferior people who deserve to die), to the status of equals of the rulers. They did this, he says, because they had grown resentful of those who rule. So the slaves had to create a god that would tell the rulers that they must treat the slaves as equals, have compassion for those who cannot do for themselves. For Nietzsche, this is the wrong way to go. Although I don’t connect Christian ethics to the cultural degradation of society as Nietzsche did, I think he is right on one point, that is, that our culture has bee overrun by appealing to the lowest common denominator. When people get famous for blowing the president, there is something wrong with us. If we don’t have something that is the “better” morality to show us what is morally right, we’ll continue to slide down towards the abyss of the Maury P0vich show as a way of life. A little overstated, but it’s true. Back in the 60s, John Lennon famously said that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”. He was blasted for what he said, but in a way he was exactly spot-on. He was repeating what Nietzsche had said about God. For Nietzsche, we had killed God by replacing him with science. For John Lennon, he noted that his fans were more into the music of the Beatles than they were into gong to church on Sunday morning. Lennon was right in suggesting that celebrity often fills the role of god. When we talk about celebrities, we call them “stars”. Stars, of course, are in the heavens, where God lives. We look t the TV to see the stars — to see our cultural gods. This is the victory that Nietzsche was talking about, and what Chris Hedges meant when he says that our culture has been triumphed by spectacle. The victory (in our case) of the pseudo-famous and the fame wannabees over those who really should be looked at (meaning people of fine moral standing). Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to see it, I’m no Nietzsche. I’m not terribly eager to throw off all this spirit-destroying slave morality and live according to the will of the masters. I’ve got a feeling the the Ubermensche show wouldn’t be all that entertaining. I mean, there would probably be no chance of a fist fight breaking out on stage between a couple of two-timing lesbians.

A Frown Turned Upside Down

I have a problem with negativity. Really, I do. I’ve always had it. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t pissed off about something. Nope. I can’t. There are people that say that our dispositions are evident in the womb. That is, we are born who we are. And there’s always somebody’s mother blathering on about how such and such was fidgity in the womb, and went on to be a fidgity kid who grew up to be a fidgity adult. “He was always like that” she says, shaking her head. Our personalities are as fixed as the stars in the sky. Unfortunately, some of us have what might be called “problem” personalities. We’re the ones who are sure fire to bring down anyone’s good time. The Eeyores and Oscar the Grouches who seem to get off pissing all over everybody’s parade. The honest fact of the matter is that we do. Or at least I do. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to find another group of misanthropes who share your disdain for all things happy. In high school, I was lucky enough to find a couple of kids who shared my pessimistic outlook. Back in high school, I was partial to the “gothic” lifestyle. The funny (Iguess slightly ironic) thing is, is that there are plenty of self-professed goths who are, when the world is not looking, fairly upbeat and optimistic people. And this is exactly the situation that I found myself in. I had hooked up with happy-go-lucky goths. My worst nightmare. I was too dour for the downtrodden. All these years later, I find that I haven’t lightened up a single bit. I’m just as bitter as ever. Perhaps even more so. (the past eight years of the Bush administration really put me in a foul mood). I’m so negative, that I’ve caused more than a few of the people that I know to say that i should stop being so negative. I’ve tried. I really did. I tried to do that “the Secret” crap, where you put out positive thoughts to attract positivity to you. Well, it didn’t work. I tried to be positive. Does anyone out there know how hard that truly is — being positive? I guess that experts on happiness (although I believe that being negative does not exclude one from being happy) will tell me that I didn’t work hard enough at changing myself. They’ll tell me that I was trying to take the shortcut, and that I wasn’t being positive so much as I was wishful thinking. Either way, failing to attract the positivity that I deserve in the ling run, gave me one more thing to be negative about. This attitude is quite detrimental to long-lasting relationships. I had thought that I was doomed. No one, it seems, likes a perpetual grouch. I thought that i would spend the rest of my life faking optimism for everyone else while secretly harboring my little, black stormclouds. That is, until I realized that my problem wasn’t that I’m a negative person. My problem was that I was trying to not be a negative person. My efforts to throw off my cloak of despair had led my to a place where I shouldn’t have gone in the first place. I was trying to be so pleasant for everyone, that I wasn’t being who I was. the reason why I was repelling people wasn’t because I was a grouch, it was because I was a faker. I wasn’t a genuine person to anyone, least of all I wasn’t being genuine with myself. That was my problem. So, I’ve embraced my inner crabby person, and agreed with myself that, no matter what, i will not give over who I am to entertain the needs of other people. If other folks can’t handle a little bad mood, then so be it. We’ll part on good terms. I think that’s what I’m going to do. At least until I meet some incredibly hot and painfully optimistic guy. In that case, I will immediately throw out everything about being an incurable pessimist and begin sunning it up immediately. After all, I’m only a girl.

WHAT IS INCONSISTENTISM? (my lips may promise, but my heart is a whore)

First off, the subtitle of this post “my lips may promise, but my heart is a whore”, is a line from a nine inch nails song (from the incredibly kick-ass EP broken. If you haven’t listened to it, I stongly suggest that you do). I include that line because I want to establish early that that sentiment is exactly what Inconsistentism is not. Inconsistentism is not a theory that condones nor promotes the practice of freewheeling philosophy. It is not a do whatever feels right system of thought. My intention here is to lay out a system that, given the human inability to remain consistently consistent, allows one to accept our foibles and carry on in a manner that allow us to function in society without the worry of remaining consistent. Shall we begin? What got me started was watching The Big Lebowski. I was sitting at home, on the sofa next to my sleeping cockapoo, when I started thinking about how this was supposed to be a “philosophic” movie. I had personally found that many of my fellow students enjoyed the movie (although I suspect that few actually found any philosophic significance in it. The Big Lebowski is a stoner movie, pure and simple). But, seeing though I don’t smoke the weed, I was sitting at home acually trying to think of the movie philosophically. So, I thought, this movie is supposed to be nihilist. And naturally, I asked, is Lebowski nihilist? I thought no, he isn’t. That’s because Lebowski doesn’t live according to any rules. A nihilist may say that they reject conventions (such as common morality), but in denying that he believes in anything, he is exspousing a belief that he believes in nothing. Kind of how some people say that atheism is a religion in itself. The Dude doesn’t live according to any ethic or dogma — he simply “abides”. I then thought that there was something funny about the characters who were identified as “nihilists”. They were cartoonish, bafoonish. And that’s what struck me. The nihilists were ridiculous. I suddenly began to see what other people saw all those years that I (too) claimed nihliism as my ethic. Think about this: Does anyone remember the mid-90s besides me? Well, somewhere around 1994 or so, the world first experienced Marilyn Manson. Within a couple of years, there were Manson clones populating the local gallerias scowling and moping outside the Hot Topic and Spencer’s Gifts stores all across America. And what did people do when they saw these would-be teenage diablolists? They laughed. Not out of fear, mind you but because the whole get-up was ridiculous! These kids were convinced that they could live a lifestyle that was, in the real world, unpracticable. There was no way on earth that they would be able to maintain that level of malcontentedness for years on end. And many, realizing that they could not maintain that level of consistency, after a short while, gave it up. I know, I was one of them. But that’s the problem, not just with nihilism, but with philosophy in general. It tends to force us where we not only may not want to go, but where we cannot go. Theories often reflect what or how we want the world to be — and for some, they want elegant, logically correct theories. They don’t want messiness. They want consistency. Consistency is the gold standard for philosophic theories. In order for a philosophic theory to be taken seriously, it must be consistent, or at least enable us to act in a constsient manner. I may be wrong, I may say, but at least I’m consistent. Consistency is how I, the philosopher, measure my ideas against what may be mere opinions. But, as philosophers, we — no, you must battle the persistent charge of inconsistency. But the real deal is that some theories are easier said than done. Emphasizing consistency may force us into places where, as a matter of practice, we may not want to go. Life, unfortunately, is filled with situations that may pressure us into giving up our beloved consistency in favor o f an actual, practical soultion. But, the philosopher, in the face of life’s messiness, demands something that life is not — consistency. And because of messiness is true of life — the philosopher will always be off the mark. That is where Inconsistentism comes in. Inconsistentism simply states that we are aware that life sometimes forces us to act in an inconsistent manner. Instead of rejecting this reality or forcing consistency, inconsistentism embraces this fact and moves on. It allows, in the face of forced consistency, for options. The presiding principle of Inconsistentism is, what I call, “the Curve Ball Effect”, which stated is this: life throws us curveballs, and sometimes we must act accordingly. Occasionally, we must break with our formulas in order to act. But, let’s stop here. Like I said at the outset, the idea of Inconsistentism is not to go about making things up as we go along. There is nothing willy-nilly or freewheeling about Inconsistentism. It’s not “shopping” for any theory that works. The appearance of “shopping” belies what is, in truth, a workable and practicable theory. Let me give an example: In political science, we learn that the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land”. That is, any and every state or federal law has to jive with the Constitution if it is to be enacted. But, not all laws follow the Constitution in a literal fashion. There is, in politics, the notion that a law, although not constitutionally exact, operates in the “spirit” of the law, meaning that, although the law may appear to be something than constitutionally based, it is, on further inspection, exactly in accordance with the ends that the Constitution seeks to achieve. Case in point: Nowhere in the Constitution does any person possess an explicit right to privacy. But, the Supreme Court has decided, that although the Constitution is does not explicitly grant such a right, one exists ,and legislation recognizing and protecting the right to privacy are constitutional. This is so,because the laws operate according to the “spirit” expressed in the 9th and 10th Amendments. So, I offer a theory that operates according to the “spirit” of philosophic theory. My point is not to ignore theory completely, all of our actions, beliefs, etc. are guided by some principle, and we should act according to that principle most of the time. However, we shouldn’t be so tied to dogma that we are unable to render decisions that may turn out to be best for ourselves and others. My point is to have a theory that guides actions rather than dictates them. Consequently, Inconsistentism allows for the major philosophic no-no of holding two contradicting beliefs simultaneously. (And you’re not crazy, and you’re not bullshitting yourself). But since this is still at the time of this writing an underdeveloped theory, I will set aside defending how this is so, and merely insist that is it possible.