MAKE AFFIRMING (the consequent) GREAT AGAIN!

OF THE MANY subjects that I like to talk about but rarely write about, at the top of my list is a little subject called “current events”.

In particular, politics.

Although I enjoy thumbing through a treatise of classical political philosophy or even engaging in the occasional mostly political debate, the act of actually writing about something political kinda makes me cringe.

Mostly because a trip through any comment section about politics is cringe inducing.

toon-comment-section-31515176The internet has made political debate an often cringeworthy endeavor, but the cringe + politics combo isn’t new.

Cringy political talk (often in the form of shit talking and/or trolling) is as old as people with differing opinions saying their opinions out loud.

Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were masters at 18th century shit talking. Jefferson wrote about Hamilton:

I was duped … by the Secretary of the treasury, and made a fool for forwarding his schemes, not then sufficiently understood by me; and of all the errors of my political life, this has occasioned the deepest regret.

That’s pretty much the equivalent of Jefferson calling Hamilton a fucktard.*

20071025_alexanderhamiltonstanding-380x500

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: FOUNDING FATHER, THE GUY ON THE TEN DOLLAR BILL, AND NOTORIOUS FUCKTARD

We’ve all seem that word on Facebook.

…some of us have been called that word on Facebook.

Lucky us, eh?

The entire dialogue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in Book I of Plato’s Republic is one of the cringiest political debates in philosophy.

Especially the part when Thrasymachus asks Socrates if he had a wet nurse.

That’s what we call owning the libs.

9iL2.gif

THRASYMACHUS OWNING SOCRATES, 380 BCE (colorized)

Sometimes — more than sometimes — the internet kinda makes me wish politics never existed.

But, that’s the funny thing about politics. Politics can’t not exist.

I had a political science professor who used to tell his classes, “you can leave politics alone, but politics won’t leave you alone.” What he meant is, even if we personally don’t vote, participate in or keep informed about political affairs, politicians still make laws that effect us.

Try as we might to not get involved, politics is unavoidable.

And no, unfollowing our tinfoil hat-wearing, conspiracy nutjob uncle on Facebook won’t help.

tumblr_loq5o7rd4n1qzl8s1o1_400

Even if politics is unavoidable, exactly why should we get involved?

Well… the answer to that question, my friends, has something to do with a certain 4th century Greek philosopher.

A fellow named Aristotle.

…And they didn’t call him “The Philosopher” for nothing.

Aristotle says, people, it seems, are designed for politics.

In Book I of Politics Aristotle wrote:

That man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear. For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain, and man alone among the animals has speech….speech serves to reveal the advantageous and the harmful and hence also the just and unjust. For it is peculiar to man as compared to the other animals that he alone has a perception of good and bad and just and unjust and other things of this sort; and partnership in these things is what makes a household and a city.

Wait a minute. I forgot to do something.

13579566

As an old English professor of mine repeatedly said, if you introduce a bit of jargon, a writer should define what the but of jargon is. And since I’m writing, and I introduced a bit of jargon, I should explain what that bit of jargon is.

I’ve been using the word “politics” as if we all agree on a universal definition of the word. I’ve spent enough time on the internet and listened to enough talk radio to know that the word “politics” carries different connotations for different people.

So, with that in mind, when I say “politics”, I mean:

 The activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence a government. (Merriam-Webster)

There. Alright. Back to what I was talking about.

If I was actually talking about anything.

According to Aristotle, the role of politics in the city (or, polis — the Greek word from which the word “politics” is derived) is for the proper training of citizens. Proper training, Aristotle says, is to raise virtuous people.

p.s. you might want to check out the prequel to Politics, Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle explains virtue and what it means to be (philosophically) virtuous…and some other stuff.

You see, according to Aristotle, man, like other animals, gather in groups (or herds). However, unlike other animals, man (and he does mean MAN) possesses the capacity for rational thought. Man, by way of his intellect, is able to discern good from bad, just from unjust. This ability enables man to form social units (families) and the social bonds (of families) required to establish cities.

Because the goal of politics, Aristotle says, is the HIGHEST GOOD (i.e. virtue) of the state, citizens must take an active part in city affairs.

That is to say, according to Aristotle, political participation is mandatory — if we want to be Good (virtuous) people. 

And you should want to be a virtuous person.

Whoa. Wait. I’ve done it again.

go-back-trump1

I’ve used a word without defining it. Virtue, as defined by Aristotle, is:

a disposition to behave in the right manner and as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess, which are vices. We learn moral virtue primarily through habit and practice rather than through reasoning and instruction.

Aristotle argues a virtuous citizenry is essential to a successful state.

And only through political participation can we become virtuous.

(Because virtue isn’t merely a state of being, it’s a way of life)

You may not like politics, but you can’t achieve eudaimonia without it.

You can’t.

Can’t.

tenor-1

So…… I guess what I’m saying is, even though the internet has amplified the shitstorm that is politics, we have a philosophical obligation to engage in the political, no matter how soul-destroying we feel it may be.

The strange not-quite irony about politics is that politics isn’t destructive to our souls at all. In fact, we become better people — the city becomes a better city — a VIRTUOUS city when we get involved.

And who can resist that eudaimonia, right?

Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, you may have noticed that nowhere in this blog post have I mentioned anything about affirming the antecedent. I wasn’t going to….I just thought it would make a clever title.

 

 

 

* I’m pretty sure Jefferson wasn’t the only Founder who felt that way about Hamilton. I’d bet cash that the first time someone said the word “fucktard” was referring to Alexander Hamilton.

I’d also bet cash that person was Thomas Jefferson….or Aaron Burr.

1149524_1

SOURCES:

https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alexander_Hamilton

Aristotle. Politics.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics

https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/aristotle/section8/

 

 

 

 

PHILOSOPHY F#%K YEAH!

WHEN A PHILOSOPHER thinks of philosophical things, one’s thoughts usually turn to things like the usual philosophical subjects: metaphysics or ethics or epistemology.

A philosopher may even be inclined to think of logic.

Although I would never encourage anyone to do that.

I suspect that it is a rare occasion that one would think of the word philosophy and immediately think politics.

Yes, indeed. As you may have observed, there’s not one thing that philosophers don’t have an opinion about, including the form, purpose, and function of government.

Yep.

Philosophers think about politics.

A lot.

When professional folks talk about politics they call it political science.
When regular folks talk about government they call it politics.
And when philosophers talk about it, they call it political philosophy.

Now, we’ve become quite accustomed to thinking of politicians and the political process through a cynical lens. Politics is a necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) evil. Many people think of politics as a dirty game where the needs of the people come last and only the most corrupt win. Politics is a bunch of people bought and sold by corporations and special interest groups and the only principles that matter are the ones that come attached to a big, fat, lobbyist check.

whosincharge

 

Politicians consistently rank among the least trusted professions.

Our dim view of government was echoed in the words of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan who said

 

Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.

 

Reagan also said

 

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.

 

The man was president and he said this.

The freaking head of GOVERNMENT.

joke-politics-7

 

Here’s the thing, though: you may not be able to name who came up with what political theory, but you can bet the farm that those philosophers with names you don’t know have influenced the way you live, believe, and act politically more than you know.

Here’s a quick quiz: Name a political philosopher.

Can you?

No?

Come on, take a wild guess.

Still no?

That might have to do with the fact that when we think about politics we think this

donald-trump

 

Instead of this

1b83686d-452a-4dfb-87ed-1062f09418ac_560_420

 

When we think about politics, politicians, and people who think about government stuff, we likely to conjure mental images of former B-list actors or former reality show hosts, but philosophers thinking about philosophy is as old as… well, philosophy.
Whether you’re a conservative, liberal, libertarian you have a philosopher to thank for giving you your political ideas.

Philosophers know that politics isn’t just a bunch of theories but a lifestyle.

Take Plato.

Plato’s Republic, written in 360 B.C.E., is all about what makes the ideal city? Plato (as Socrates) asks, what is justice?

You ever heard of Noble Lies? That’s Plato. The Allegory of the Cave? Yep. Plato again.

ab2470f5da56ee2cc2d7329953067467954d34161b7a9f6fb71b71600d9e42e6

In Politics, Aristotle wrote “Man is a political animal”.

Aristotle asked how do we achieve the Good life for the people and the polis.

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan established the idea of the social contract and is considered to be the foundation of Western political philosophy.

The English philosopher John Locke is credited as the father of Liberalism.

In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Locke lays the groundwork for American political thought, writing of concepts like natural rights, property, the Law of Nature, and the relationship between the government and the governed.

archive lost 110110

IF THIS IS THE FIRST PERSON YOU THINK OF WHEN SOMEONE SAYS THE NAME “JOHN LOCKE”, YOU PROBABLY WATCH TOO MUCH TV

Edmund Burke is considered the father of Conservatism.

Political philosophy is all over everything.

Remember that scene in A Bronx Tale when Sonny asked Calogero if it’s better to be loved or feared?

Sonny was quoting Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a political philosopher.

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NOT ONLY DO YOU GET A GREAT LESSON IN MACHIAVELLIAN POLITICS FROM “A BRONX TALE”, BUT YOU ALSO LEARN THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CAR DOORS AND DATING

Are you a capitalist?

You are because of Adam Smith. And he wrote about politics.

Did you abandon your children and had them placed in orphanages?

You probably did because you read Jean Jacques Rousseau.

8427892e34e8a3ca28bcbc1c55b7963bbbc7d303bd97048189c2a4b4219ac715

Rousseau argued that monarchies did not possess a divine right to rule.

Some say Rousseau’s writings inspired the French Revolution.

Are you a Bernie Bro?

Thank Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

bernie-sanders-socialism-scare-gif

I CAN WATCH THIS GIF ALL DAY

Are you a neo-Conservative who hates modernity, thinks Ronald Reagan is the greatest American president, and you often refer to people on welfare as “moochers”?

If so, your personal political philosophy is the product of Leo Strauss and Ayn Rand.

We say we hate all things political, but the political theories of John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham, Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Friedrich Hayek, Michel Foucault, John Rawls and Robert Nozick (just to name a few) are such an intrinsic part of how we live and think that political philosophy may be – no, IS the most relevant field of philosophy.
You may never read Kant’s metaphysics. You may never experience your own Cartesian method of doubt. Or figure out how to do one of these:

3-1-4d1

 

But you will vote. Or think about voting. Or think about not voting. Vote to stay. Vote to leave. If you pledge allegiance to a flag. Or wave a flag in solidarity. Or burn a flag in effigy. It’s all political – and it’s all philosophical.

 

… Just something to think about on America’s 200 and something-nth birthday.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx

It’s Gotta Be the Head

The new half-season of The Walking Dead starts in about a week.

I’m pretty excited about it. So excited that I’m writing another blog post about the show.

Yeah, I know. I write about this show a lot.

 

oh my god i need help

 

Writing about The Walking Dead (other than writing an episode review) may seem like a stupid pointless unphilosophical thing for a philosopher to do.

Yeah. Immanuel Kant would probably say something like that.

How do you say stupid in German?

 

german for poop

 

 

I’m pretty sure that means something else…
But here’s the reason why I do: I think the show is very philosophical.

 

are you on crack GIF

 

Ok, listen. This is how The Walking Dead is philosophical: Have you ever thought about whether a zombie is actually alive or dead? I mean really thought about it.

 

THE ANSWER SHOULD BE OBVIOUS BUT IT’S NOT

THE ANSWER SHOULD BE OBVIOUS BUT IT’S NOT

 

Sure, you can ask a scientist. But seriously, what’s a scientist going to tell you? A scientist is going to ask you if the zombie is breathing or if it’s decayed or if it has any measurable brain activity.

Something like that.

But you can much more fun if you ask a philosopher.

 

PHILOSOPHY IS FUN!

PHILOSOPHY IS FUN!

 

A philosopher will tell you all about metaphysics and ethics. And talk to you all about philosophers like Rene Descartes, or David Chalmers, John Searle, or Richard Rorty.

Sounds pretty exciting already, huh?

 

DOESN’T DAVID CHALMERS LOOK LIKE AN EXCITING GUY?

DOESN’T DAVID CHALMERS LOOK LIKE AN EXCITING GUY?

 

The reason why we would ask something like, “Is a zombie actually living or dead?” is this: Wait – let me ask you a question first.

When someone on a TV show is arrested what’s the first thing they say to the arresting officer?
Right.

The perp invariably will declare that they have rights.

 

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT COP WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT COP WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

 

But what kind of people have rights? I mean, what does a person have to be to have rights?

Living, right?

Living people have rights.

A person who is alive can declare he has rights. A dead person can not.

 

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT THIS GUY IS ALIVE. …. I THINK.

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT THIS GUY IS ALIVE. …. I THINK.

 

But what about the rights of the undead?

 

Do the dead even have rights?
First, I’m not getting all new agey on this. I’m not talking about life after death or whether beings exist in an alternate plain of existence. These (can be but) aren’t really typical philosophical topics. I’m talking about our general definition of what death means.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (13th edition) defines clinical death as:
Permanent cessation of all vital functions. [defined by]
1) total irreversible cessation of cerebral function of the
respiratory system, spontaneous function of the circulatory
system. 2) the final and irreversible cessation of perceptible
heartbeat and respiration.

 

 

This describes a zombie perfectly.

 

To make things clear, here’s a definition of zombie (as defined by Urban Dictionary):

Zombie: The Walking Dead. Scientific name Homo Coprophagus Somnambulus

A deceased human being who has partially returned to life due to undeterminable causes… In its near-mindless state, it grasps no remains of emotion, personality, or sensation of pain… Circulatory, respiratory, and digestive system are unaffected by reanimation…

 

ACTUAL ZOMBIE BRAIN SCAN…. OR OF A REGULAR VIEWER OF REALITY TV

ACTUAL ZOMBIE BRAIN SCAN…. OR OF A REGULAR VIEWER OF REALITY TV

 

I think it’s safe to assume that we can all agree that a zombie is definitely dead. In horror films the undead are mowed down without a second thought. They must be exterminated before they infect or consume the living.

This is because the living have rights that the dead do not. Namely, the living have a right to life.

Our rights are intrinsically linked to the idea of interests.
The Israeli moral and political philosopher Joseph Raz describes rights like this:

X has a right if and only if X can have rights and, other things being equal, an aspect of X’s well-being (his interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty….

In short, our rights involve not only the well being (interests) of others, but also our well being.

It is in the interest of every human being to live as long and as safely as possible. Therefore humans have a right to life.

 

i_like_being_alive_by_sebreg-d5rktpp

 

But here’s the catch – in a zombie apocalypse the undead inevitably will outnumber the living.

 

THIS GRAPH SHOWS THE RATIO OF LIVING TO UNDEAD DURING A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

THIS GRAPH SHOWS THE RATIO OF LIVING TO UNDEAD DURING A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

 

Alright. Let me tell you something.

You may have noticed it already, but whenever a philosopher talks about stuff like rights they’re talking about politics, or as professional philosophers like to call it, political philosophy.

 

Political philosophy is:

… the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

 

Remember we were talking about interests awhile back? Well, it’s not just political philosophers who chat about interests. Moral philosophers (also known as ethicists) write about interests, too.

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER IS QUITE WELL-KNOWN FOR WRITING ABOUT “RATIONAL SELF INTEREST”

THIS PHILOSOPHER IS QUITE WELL-KNOWN FOR WRITING ABOUT “RATIONAL SELF INTEREST”

 
Political philosophers may speak the language of rights and freedoms, but at the heart of every law, policy, or political argument is a question of ethics.

 

ethics everywhere

 
So – the zombie apocalypse has begun. News reports say the nation is overrun by hordes of the undead.

 

night of the living dead

 
You’ve locked yourself and your loved ones behind closed doors. You’ve boarded up your windows. You’ve hoarded an ample supply of toilet paper and armed yourself with your weapon of choice.

 

HE’S NO DARYL DIXON BUT IT’S AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE GONNA GET IN THE REAL WORLD

HE’S NO DARYL DIXON BUT IT’S AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE GONNA GET IN THE REAL WORLD

 

Several of your neighbors have decided to form a posse to hunt down and destroy the revenant menace. You want to join them but you’re a philosopher. You have to think about things first.

You ask yourself, is participating in the mass destruction of the undead really the right thing to do?

As a philosopher, you know that when you act you’re not just required to consider your own interests but the interests of others as well.

be sensitive

 

According to the website Dangerous Universe, during the first year of a zombie outbreak, the zombie population would surpass the remaining population of living people.

 

zombie population

 

Now, if having rights is all about having our interests served, whose interests are being served in a world populated by the undead? More to the point: whose interests should be served during the zombie apocalypse? Can the living morally justify killing the dead?

We’re told that the undead are no longer our friends, family and neighbors, but should that matter? Do the reanimated have no rights that the living are bound to respect?

 

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT ALIVE WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT ALIVE WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

 

Perhaps the correct question isn’t is participating in the mass destruction of the undead really the right thing to do? but rather, should the living give their lives to respect the rights of the dead?

Utilitarian ethics tell us that an act is morally permissible if the intended outcome results in the greatest good for the greatest number (The Greatest Happiness Principle).

 

THIS IS A UTILITARIAN CALCULUS

THIS IS A UTILITARIAN CALCULUS

 

In a zombie apocalypse the dead outnumber the living.

During the first year, anyway.

If the dead outnumber the living might we argue that according to the Greatest Happiness Principle the interests of the deceased take precedence over the interests of the living?

It would be unwise for a mortal to assume that the fact that the undead can’t articulate their interests infers that they don’t have them. It’s undeniable that zombies, despite being dead, have interests. They clearly want human flesh (or brains, depending on what zombie movie/TV series you’re watching).

 

tarman

 

If our ethics tell us that the only morally permissible acts are the acts that secure the greatest good for the greatest number and the dead outnumber the living, isn’t the happiness achieved if the dead are allowed to consume the living?

Now would be a good time for a …..

 

thought experiment

 

Let’s say, in the real world, cockroaches outnumber humans, and we’re not bound to respect their interests. That’s right. Simple numbers do not determine whose interests count over another. We wouldn’t say the fact that cockroaches outnumber humans means that we are morally obligated to place their needs before our own.

The fact that this:

 

cockroach GIF

 

Outnumbers this:

 

human GIF

 

Is not enough to declare one group’s rights should be achieved at the expense of the other.
Especially if those rights includes consuming the other group.

 

So – we must choose different criteria for having one’s interests count. How do we do that? How we determine whose interests count without running the risk of being arbitrary or speciesist?*

 

Before we define our new criteria, watch this scene from the horror-comedy zombie film, Return of the Living Dead (1985):

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, did you watch the movie clip?

In the clip, a zombie describes the state of being dead as painful and says that eating brains is the only way to relieve the pain of being dead (it’s worth noting that the zombies in the Return of the Living Dead films can articulate their interests, which is eating brains).

 

MERLE LOOKS LIKE HE’S FEELING BETTER ALREADY

MERLE LOOKS LIKE HE’S FEELING BETTER ALREADY

 

So, the zombie’s want to decrease physical pain gives us reason to make the argument that a zombie has at least one interest.

 

zombie protest

 

It’s been established that the living dead outnumber the living. It is also the fate of all men to die, and according to zombies death is painful. Ending the pain of death is actually in the interest of every being that is dead or eventually will be dead. And if the consumption of brains (or human flesh, depending on the movie) is the only thing that stops the pain, then the only moral thing to do is to permit the dead to eat the brains (or flesh) of the living.

Now, I know you’re raising an objection to my utilitarian logic.

Bullocks, you say.

Zombies are dangerous. Zombies eat people.
Well, as any fan of The Walking Dead knows, the undead can be subdued simply by removing their arms and lower jaw, thus rendering the once-threatening revenant harmless.

The character Michonne has employed this successful method not only once but twice.

michonne's pets

 

 

michonne's pets 2

 

 

As has the character Andrea:

 

 

andrea's pet

 
Wrangling zombies is all really quite simple**

 
Let’s look at it this way: what if being a zombie wasn’t dead, but suffering from a mental illness that makes them attack and eat other living people. If zombies were not dead but living individuals overcome by a compulsive behavior, we wouldn’t hesitate to declare that despite their mental illness, zombies have rights we are bound to respect. Even those individuals who are most dangerous to society would not be immediately done away with. This is because they retain rights because that every human is entitled to by virtue of being human – a being with interests that we are morally obligated to respect.

 

download (6)

 

So when “good guy” Rick Grimes slays the undead the audience may cheer for him, but he really is an evil man carrying out an evil deed. Rick Grimes (or any other zombie hunter) has no moral authority to impede on the rights of the undead.

 

RICK GRIMES IS GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY - OR WHATEVER IT’S CALLED WHEN YOU GO AROUND SLAUGHTERING ZOMBIES LIKE THEY DON’T MATTER

RICK GRIMES IS GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY – OR WHATEVER IT’S CALLED WHEN YOU GO AROUND SLAUGHTERING ZOMBIES LIKE THEY DON’T MATTER

 

Even if a person is not mentally “all there” or lacks measurable brain activity, or lacks the ability to articulate their interests, we can‘t morally justify killing them – even if they‘re icky or stinky or want our brains or can’t be reasoned with.

Or perhaps even if they’re dead.

 

 

Any other ethical reason we have for killing zombies boils down to some arbitrary quality like the aesthetics of the undead.

 

We want to kill zombies merely because they rate high on the “eww!” scale.
eww-o-meter
However nasty a zombie may be, a zombie’s “eww” factor doesn’t allow us to neglect a zombie’s interests.

The mere act of finding a zombie unpleasant smelling or to look at or just because it wants to eat your brains are hardly justifiable reasons for committing genocide.

 
Even if you’re Rick Grimes.

 

 

 

 
*speciesism is defined as the human assumption that humans are superior to other animals and therefore entitled to use, abuse, or exploit non-human animals as we see fit.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that many of the living would adopt a speciesist position towards the undead.

** According to utilitarianism the Greatest Happiness Principle requires us to consider the happiness of everyone who stands to be affected by a particular act. “Everyone” also includes zombies. If removing a zombie’s jaw and restraining it is as (or more) effective as killing it, then our utilitarian calculus suggests that we may be morally obligated to remove and restrain instead of kill.

 

SOURCES:
Adam Swift. Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. Second Edition. 2007 [2006]. Malden, MA: Polity Press p. 143.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Zombie

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosophy

http://www.dangerousuniverse.com/du/2013/how-many-zombies-are-there-in-the-world-of-the-walking-dead/

Life Is Brutish, Undead, and Short: On Hobbes’ State of Nature and The Walking Dead

The-Walking-Dead2

Any George A. Romero fan will tell you that zombie movies aren’t just about zombies.

Sure, Romero’s zombies are gross and nasty, and there’s plenty of blood, gore and scares.

Hence the appeal.

Sparkly vampires might get the ‘tween crowds all worked up and kissing their posters of shimmering, brooding, pout-lipped blood-suckers on their walls

Go Team Edward!

– but for some folks (in particular those folks who like a little bit of thinking served alongside their horror) zombies are definitely they way to go.

Wait, are the Twilight films even considered horror? Horrible yes, but are they horror?

Good Lord, I hope not.

If you look (not even so) closely, Romero’s zombies are always about something – civil unrest, consumerism, militarism, bureaucracy, or the war on terror…

and the sorry fact that there will always be some idiot who won’t put down his camera long enough to save his own life.

Of course, Romero’s zombie films aren’t the only place you’ll find zombie symbolism. In Max Brooks’ best-selling novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the undead represent a global crisis: viral pandemics, environmental disasters, terrorism, economic collapse…

You name the crisis, zombies can be it.

This could be part of the reason why zombies, despite their utter grossness, are a pop culture favorite. And the ratings success of AMC’s The Walking Dead has proved that audiences are more than willing to watch a weekly television show about a world full of cannibalistic revenants. Ostensibly, the show is about a group of survivors in a zombie plague. And that works just fine – undead flesh eaters are fun to watch. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll see that The Walking Dead, like the zombie films of George A. Romero, is actually about something.

If you ask me, I think The Walking Dead is really about the state of nature.

Although David Hume writes that the state of nature is purely hypothetical (the state of nature never actually existed at any time in human history), and writes, “‘tis utterly impossible for men to remain any considerable time in that savage condition, which precedes society…”, the state of nature is meant to explore the origin of natural law and the social contract.

In political philosophy the state of nature precedes the political community and leads to the social contract. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Hobbes all wrote about the state of nature.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the “state of nature”, you’ve probably heard the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famous quote in wrote in Leviathan (1651) that in the state of nature, life is “brutish, nasty, and short.”

This is what Hobbes had to say about the state of nature:

In such condition, there is no place for industry… no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (emphasis added)

Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, writes that the state of nature is the “natural condition of mankind.” Nature, according to Hobbes, has made all men equal “in the faculties of the body, and mind” and even though one person may be quicker or stronger than the other, Hobbes writes “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others…”

In the state of nature, Hobbes states, each man is left to define his own rules. Hobbes says human nature positions people to fight each other and with no authority to intervene or prevent violence human “society” is nothing more than a war of “all against all”. Hobbes writes, since self-preservation is supreme, our benevolence towards others is limited, and people are easily offended and quick to fight. Since each person operates according to their own law, our actions are influenced only by our own interests and we treat others not according to how we want to be treated, but according on how we decide to treat them. Thomas Hobbes says people are left to master others “by force or wiles… all the men he can.”

Hobbes states that the need for self-preservation is so essential that in order to save our own lives people agree to band together for mutual protection and to appoint a ruler to maintain social order. We leave the state of nature (where people possess maximum freedom) and agree to mutually binding rules. This is the social contract.

According to social contract theory, we agree that the law may restrict our freedom in order to preserve or promote freedom. For example, we agree to laws that restrict people from murdering each other in the interest of preserving the public’s right to live in peace without fear of their lives being cut short through act of violence.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Try as they might, these zombies will never enter into the social contract.

Although it is entirely possible that the state of nature never existed, it might under the right circumstances.

– like a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the hypothetical state of nature, where Hobbes tells us the urge for self-preservation leads us out of the state of nature and into the social contract, during the zombie apocalypse, the zombie plague infects people back into the state of nature. The zombie symbolizes untamed human nature. It is driven only by base drives; the need to consume and devour everything and everyone in its path. A zombie does not think, it does not reason. It has no desire to create or participate in civilization. Zombies do not create art. They will never participate in the social contract. Zombies will kill you without even thinking about it.

That’s because a zombie can’t think about it.

It is an all-out war between the living and the dead.

There is constant fear of violent death. And as young Sophia Peletier learns, life during the zombie apocalypse is indeed “Nasty, brutish and short”.

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

Alas, poor Sophia. Oh look, her shirt has a rainbow!

After watching a few episodes of The Walking Dead, it’s fairy easy to figure out that The Walking Dead isn’t merely a zombie TV show, but a morality play wherein the main characters, led by former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, struggle to hold on to what is left of their humanity following the collapse of civilized society. Civilization in The Walking Dead has returned to a state resembling Hobbes’ state of nature. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, states that he wanted:

[to see] … how living in a world like this twists and turns things around to where morals get twisted and people’s actions that they would think are morally wrong end up being the right thing to do. And just showing how miserable it would be to live in this world.

However, in the world of The Walking Dead, it is not only the dead who threaten the survivors, but the living do as well. The series’ tagline for the third season was “fear the living”. Without law or fear of punishment, no one is trustworthy. The living are as dangerous, if not more threatening than the undead.

Given the state of lawlessness and incivility in Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse, surely Kirkman was channeling Hobbes’ state of nature war of all against all when he created The Walking Dead. It remains to be seen how civilized the civilized enclave of Woodbury will remain in the aftermath of the attack/rescue mission by Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors in which the Governor (of Woodbury) lost and eye and his daughter is re-killed. By all signs, the traumatic events have caused the Governor to let go of his grip on what remained of his humanity.

Does this mean that there is no hope for these characters to emerge from the state of nature?

I wonder how much deeper into the state of nature the characters of The Walking Dead will go?

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

My guess is that The Governor won’t be reading any John Rawls the second half of season three.

SOURCES:

1. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes-moral/
2. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. 1985 [1651]. NY: Penguin Books. 184
3. David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Bk. 3, Pt. 2, sec. 2)
4. “Making of The Walking Dead”. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season. Anchor Bay Entertainment. 2011.

Every Four Years Someone Is Lying to You

Every four years Americans have the opportunity to elect their new leader. These days electing a new president or re-electing the incumbent president is no big deal. But if you think about how much of history was dominated by monarchs and self-appointed rulers, you’d think that Americans should take the opportunity dare I say right to choose their leaders a little more seriously. However, despite our right to choose less than half of all eligible voters voted in the presidential election.

Thank God for pluralism or we’d never elect a president.

The funny thing about Americans and elections is that despite the fact that the numbers of regular voters seems to indicate a general lack of interest in the political process, people often complain about the quality of the candidates running for office. Americans often say that they don’t vote because there’s no one worth voting for. One reason why many Americans say no one is worth voting for is because politicians are  professional liars who will say anything to anyone to get elected.

It seems that when it comes to politicians, the American public wants a leader capable of telling the truth.

It also seems that a truth-telling politician is a bit of a contradiction. Or at least a creature as rare as a diamond or mythical like a unicorn.

The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt writes that a functional society must have “a robust appreciation of the endlessly protean utility of the truth.”   If you think about it, an honest politician shouldn’t be regarded as an oxymoron. The truth is a necessary element for cultivating the kind of informed public that Thomas Jefferson says is necessary for maintaining a democracy. And on whole, the American public says we want a politician who won’t drown us in platitudes, repeat the same party-approved talking points or God forbid, lie right to our faces. In film and television, movies like Dave, The American President, The West Wing, The Distinguished Gentleman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Bulworth demonstrate our desire for  a leader who tells the truth; someone the public can trust will tell them what the deal really is.
We say we want to elect someone like this:

That’s what we say we want. But is a truth-telling politician really what we want?

…. Or what we deserve?

If history (or philosophy) tells us anything, the answer to both questions is no.

Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (one-third of Publius, authors of The Federalist Papers), wrote that “Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justness of their views…” require the power of secrecy to fulfill their duties while in office. The power of secrecy entails the power to withhold information from the public. The English political philosopher John Locke (whose political philosophy influenced the Founders) argued that executive  (presidential) discretionary powers exist without the approval of the legislative or the people, and that the executive for the sake of the public good may take action that runs counter to the will of the people.

Now, think about it. If the power of the government (the executive branch, anyway) includes the power to do what the public doesn’t want you to do, it might be fair to assume that some lying would be required on the part of the politician. Wait before you object, let me tell you this: Plato says not only is it fair to assume a politician is lying to the public, for the politician, lying to the people is essential.

In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that in order to ensure the loyalty of the people to the city, the people must be told a “needful falsehood” (or Noble Lie), a myth that ties the people to their home nation.* Socrates says:

Could we… somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being… some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?

The purpose of lying to the people, Socrates reasons, is to ensure harmony within the state. And as we all know, Plato says that without harmony, we cannot become philosopher-kings.*

You might be tempted to reject Plato’s we-need-to-think-philosophically-stuff and say that Plato’s lying-as-public-policy argument should remain in the ancient philosopher’s dustbin. Here’s the thing: the argument for lying to the public isn’t just an ancient philosopher’s idea. The late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973), argued that the intent of lie is not outright deception or done with malevolent intent, but that lies are told for the purpose of instilling the people with good morals and fostering personal and civil enlightenment. If we think about lies done for the purpose of making society better, we might be inclined to want a politician who is inclined to lie to the people.

Maybe.

At least we can tell ourselves when a politician lies he’s really looking out for our philosophical well-being.

 

NOTES:

* If you’re familiar with the practice of political lies and politicians lying, you might be thinking what is the difference between Plato and Machiavelli. It may be important to distinguish Plato’s Noble Lies from Machiavellian lies, which are told with the intention of seizing or maintaining tyrannical power or for nefarious purposes.

* Ok, I’ll be honest here. Plato endorsed Noble Lies because he believed that some people (aka philosopher-kings) are smarter and more qualified to lead than Average Joe and Jane like you and me. The Noble Lie, Socrates says, is meant not only to convince the rabble that whatever class and/or occupation we have in life is dictated by the gods, but are also told with the belief that some people are not mentally adept enough to make their own political decisions.

* It is important to mention that not all of the Founding Fathers believed that it is essential to lie to the people. Thomas Jefferson believed that the truth should be plain for all of the people to see.

SOURCES:

Harry  G. Frankfurt. 2006. On Truth.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 15

Plato. 1968. The Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. Book III. 414 b-c

Publius. The Federalist Papers. 1961. Ed. Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics. 422.

There. I said it. Thomas Jefferson was an a**hole.

The presidential election is next month.

I’m not so sure who I’m going to vote for, if I’m even going to vote this time.

…. something to do with voting for the lesser of two evils.

That’s not saying much for my sense of patriotism.

Thinking about the upcoming election and the fact that the country celebrated its 236th birthday this year, I had intended, as a sign of my patriotic love for God and country, to write something in honor of our nation’s 236th birthday.

That would have been on the Fourth of July.

I ended up watching the Will Smith movie Independence Day on AMC instead.

And then I watched Jaws on DVD.

That movie takes place over Labor Day weekend, not the Fourth of July.

Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue gets me every time.

I’m not going to post the clip. It’s something you’ve got to hunt down see for yourself.

….but let the picture below give you an idea of what I’m talking about).

check out the knife quint is holding. the was badass ’til the end

Anyhow, between watching Randy Quaid doing an absolutely bang-up job of chewing scenery as a UFO abductee-turned-nutty hero, and grousing at my neighbors, who despite a city-wide ban on firecrackers, insisted on lighting an arsenal’s worth of incendiary devices as close to my woefully dehydrated (and as dry as the sand dunes of Tatooine) front lawn as possible, I did take the time to contemplate a bit about what it means (to me) to be an American.

Wait, before I get to what I thought, I’ll tell you what scene got me going: it was the scene in Independence Day when Randy Quaid (I’m certain his character had a name but for the life of me I didn’t bother to remember what it was) flies his plane into the belly of the alien mother ship while shouting, “Remember me, boys?!?” I’m no professional film critic, but that scene is just about the best example of overacting (?) I’ve seen outside of a Nicholas Cage film.

But I digress…

This is what being an American made me think:

I thought that being an American and the nation’s founding (is nation supposed to be capitalized?), I realized that this is the image that every American is supposed to think of when we think of Independence Day:

the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

You know, I actually do think of the signing of the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July (I’m not kidding, I do). I consider myself a patriotic American; I stand for the National Anthem (and more importantly, I know the words), I can find the United States on a world map, and I’ve memorized the Preamble of the Constitution.

By the way, it’s estimated that nearly 37% of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a world map — in case you might be thinking finding your current location on a map is not an impressive accomplishment.

But here’s the thing about thinking about one’s homeland: when you think about all the good things (hot dogs, baseball, guns and the constitutionally protected right to own them), you inevitably end up thinking about so many things that are bad. When I thought about the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, the document that not only proclaimed that all men are created equal, but that every person is guaranteed (via the Creator) the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Don’t get me wrong, these are great things. Let me repeat — these are GREAT things. But, contemplating Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words tends to dredge up one, nagging detail about Mr. Jefferson — namely, Thomas Jefferson was a bit of a hypocrite.

In case you didn’t know, Thomas Jefferson, second president of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves.

In short, Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were created equal… except for the ones in the fields tending crops.

… and Sally Hemmings.

But that’s another story.

Now, I know this has all been said before. And there’s nothing wrong with maintaining that the Fourth of July shouldn’t be about dwelling on Jefferson’s (and a few other Founding Fathers) contradictions. But, if we want to appreciate what makes the greatest nation on earth the greatest nation God ever created (read appropriate amount of snark here), we must see things as they are — hypocritical warts and all.

Listen: The Founding Fathers were brilliant men. They were truly visionary in creating a constitutional republic based on the notion that a nation is to be by and for the people. But they were merely men. They were men who were influenced and shaped by the time, circumstances, and ideas by which they lived.

Some folks out there say that Jefferson was a bad guy for writing that all men are created equal and guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while he personally did not believe what he wrote. They ask how a man who believed in natural rights can not be a hypocrite when he was most assuredly aware that 95% of his fellow Americans were restricted from participating in the newly-minted American democracy. How could Thomas Jefferson simultaneously believe that some men possessed God-given rights while others were the property of other people?

This is why:

Jefferson, as well as many other Enlightenment thinkers, believed that nature (oops, Nature) was the basis of all rights. That is, men are born with certain (inalienable) rights and no man or government can take those rights away from him. This argument sounds good, especially when you’re petitioning the British Crown for independence. To declare to an oppressive monarch that every man has natural, God-given rights that even the King of England must respect is laying down the law pretty firmly, but there’s a problem when you claim that all rights are grounded in the natural law — nature often is an unfair bitch.

If you haven’t noticed, in nature, some animals are at the top of their food chain while other animals are merely prey to the dominant species. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed in The Politics:

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient: from the hour of birth. Some are marked out for subjugation others for rule.

Aristotle also wrote:

So it is naturally with the male and the female; the one is superior, the other inferior; the one governs, the other is governed; and the same rule must necessarily hold good with respect to all mankind.

And:

The generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness.

Aristotle believed that in nature, weaker animals were subject to the will of dominant animals, and likewise among humans, weaker humans are subject to the will of dominant humans. Aristotle believed that weaker people were “natural” slaves, and that, as nature intends, natural slaves are meant to serve the will of their masters.

So what does this mean?

What this means is that, though we tell ourselves (and believe) that the United States is grounded upon principles of universal equality among men, a glimpse into the philosophy behind America’s Founding philosophers shows this is not the case. Our nation’s Founders were not inclined to (truly) believe that all men are created equal. Make no mistake; slavery (and the disenfranchisement of a large percentage of free white men) was no accident. Like Aristotle, Alexander Hamilton (who co-wrote The Federalist Papers, which, in turn, informed the Constitution) believed that some people are naturally fit to lead while others are fit to be governed. Some people, according to the Founders, simply lack the mental capacity to successfully govern themselves. Hamilton wrote, Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is why Hamilton wrote that Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation and men with characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue should be in charge of electing the president.

… and why it took the 17th Amendment to allow for the direct election of U.S. senators.

… and why we still have the Electoral College.

So what’s the point of all of this?

You see, if you haven’t realized it before… I mean, if you think that you’re a Founding Father type of person, ask yourself a couple of questions: do I own a toga? do I own a powdered wig? No?

Well then, when you vote don’t forget — it’s the lesser of two evils.