THE PHILOSOPHY OF A POSTING PIC (OF A DEAD MAN’S NAKED WIENER)

I GOT BANNED ON FACEBOOK. 

I suspect that everyone who is still on Facebook has been at least once.

But, with all the crap floating around on Facebook, it’s still pretty shocking to see one of these pop up in my notifications.

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Community standards?!?!? Facebook has community standards???

To be honest, it was only a 24-hour ban, but having a whole twenty-four hour period not being able to like, post, or comment made me think about a few things:

Namely, that interacting with actual people is overrated.

Secondly, I thought about why I was banned. Why Facebook would ban me for violating Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

What is a COMMUNITY STANDARD anyway????

I’ll get back to that question later.

The reason for my ban, it seems, was this: I violated Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS because I posted a picture.

A. picture. Of a naked person. Actually, of naked people.

Two people. Two famous naked people.

This picture:

two virgins

Didn’t have the black bars, tho…

For those who don’t know what that photo is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t), the community standard-violating photo is from the album cover of Two Virgins,  recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1968.

The sixties may have been the decade of free love, but in 1968 the album cover caused quite a stir.

It still would. And does.

Posting the cover on Facebook earns you one of these:

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And a 24-hour ban.

In 1968, critics called the album cover vulgar. Copies of Two Virgins were confiscated on the grounds that an image of full-frontal male and female nudity is obscene.

Lennon’s record label, EMI, didn’t like the cover, either. The album was released, wrapped in a plain paper bag.

If you buy the album Two Virgins, it looks like this:

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Definitely no naked wiener in sight.

When Two Virgins was released fifty years ago, Lennon and Ono defended the nude album cover, explaining that the image of the nude pair is art (whoops. It’s ART). They argued there is nothing salacious or vulgar about the cover. According to John and Yoko,

Art = not obscenity.

The intent of the album art was to depict Lennon and Ono as two innocents — virgins — “lost in a world gone mad”. Lennon explained:

[the album cover] “just seemed natural for us. We’re all naked really.”

Now, naked dong may be innocent art according to John Lennon, but according to Facebook, you can’t post peen on Facebook for this reason: dick pics are bad.

Art or no art, unclothed genitals are obscene.

Pictures, album cover or otherwise, of naked naughty bits are obscene because pee pee and hoo hoo are harmful to the COMMUNITY.

I realize I’m being rather childish, here. I’ve referred to the genitalia as “dong”, “peen”, pee pee”, “wiener”, and “hoo hoo”, instead of using the actual medical terminology. I also realize using childish words in place of the biologically correct nomenclature is ridiculous — nearly as ridiculous as censoring any part of human body.

So, what about those COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

First, when we talk about the “COMMUNITY” we’re talking about the general public.

So…community standards are:

Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct, possibly going beyond legal minimum requirements in relation to either limits on acceptable conduct itself or the manner in which the community will enforce acceptable conduct. (Wikipedia)

The purpose for setting standards of conduct for the community is ultimately in the interest of the common good.

Or so they say…

You see, it is in the community’s interest to censor images like the cover of Two Virgins because images of exposed private areas are pornographic.

If you don’t know, the definition of pornography is:

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2: material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. (Merriam-Webster)

The purpose of pornography is to arouse one’s prurient interest.**

Prurient interest is:

a term that is used for a morbid interest in sex, nudity and obscene or pornographic matters.

In June 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Miller v California created the Miller Test.

The Miller Test established the criteria for obscenity (and pornography). If a work is pornographic, we must determine:

  1. whether the average person, applying contemporary “community standards“, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

  2. whether the work depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, as specifically defined by applicable state law.

  3. whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literaryartisticpolitical, or scientific value.[14]

So… If (particular or on some cases, peculiar) images of the sexual organs have no purpose other than to excite us sexually, we can classify the image as obscene or pornographic.

And, as the Miller Test tells us, if a work is pornographic, it has no redeeming social value.

Things without redeeming social value are bad.

Pornography is bad because it puts bad (prurient) thoughts on our heads.

Bad thoughts make for bad people.

Bad people are bad leaders.

And bad leaders are detrimental to the common good.

In Republic, Socrates argues that a good society depends on the morality of its citizens. If the people are exposed to things that are bad, they will become bad people. Therefore, says Socrates, we must be certain that the people, especially children, are exposed only to things that will make them good people.

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THIS IS TRUE. ESPECIALLY MODERN ART

This is especially true, Socrates says, of the arts. Socrates has no problem with censoring art that he (or society) considers to be bad.

Especially if your names are Hesiod or Homer………

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We know that artists can have a powerful influence on society. As a member of The Beatles and the author of songs (like) “All You Need Is Love”, “Imagine”, and “Give Peace A Chance”, John Lennon was called the “voice of his generation”. In 1966, Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment sparked public outrage.

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OBVIOUSLY FANS OF SOCRATES

The Beatles — Lennon in particular — challenged the conventional social norms and morality of the older generation. John Lennon, like Socrates centuries before him, was the gadfly who rattled authority enough to make his way onto President Richard Nixon’s shit list.

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Nixon felt, because of Lennon’s influence on popular culture, that the former Beatle’s politics threatened the social order.

Or at least Lennon threatened Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign…

Nixon wanted Lennon deported.

Now, if we’re thinking like Socrates, artists like John Lennon, the kind of artists who publicly display their boy parts, defy the city’s gods, and undermine the authority of the city’s leaders (aka, corrupt the young), are the type of people who should be censored.

After all, we must think of the children.

But wait a minute, you say. This is supposed to be all about the Two Virgins album cover, not about President Nixon’s personal vendetta against the politics of John Lennon.

If you said that, you’d be right.

So let’s get back to that, shall we?

Lennon and Ono maintained that their album cover was art, not pornographic. Unlike pornography, which has no redeeming value, the intent of the image was to convey the idea of innocence, not to arouse prurient interest.

The image on the album cover doesn’t meet our traditional notions of pornographic portraiture — there are no erections, no penetration, no sexuality graphic poses… The couple is merely standing still, posed no different than any clothed couple would pose while having their photograph taken.

We can say that the album cover was wrapped in plain brown paper to protect the children, but really, what kid in 1968 stormed their local record store to buy a copy of Two Virgins?

The message that the couple wanted us to hear is that the image of the two nude figures ought to be seen, and that we are all (metaphorically naked) innocents thrown into an often hostile that we cannot understand.

To censor the image would be to deprive people of the TRUTH.

And, as any philosopher will tell you, truth is a stepping stone on the path to wisdom.

In fact, it’s quite philosophical to argue that censorship actually damages society.

When works are censored according to what others deem obscene or offensive, the act of legislating (on the behalf of others) infringes on autonomy.

Depriving people of the ability to use their own rational judgement to decide what they do and do not want to see, deprives them of the capacity of the self-legislation required to make moral decisions.

Rational, autonomous decision making is essential for moral accountability, says Immanuel Kant.

BTW: IMMANUEL KANT IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING.

SO…

In the end, I decided not to challenge my 24-hour Facebook ban. I know I could have laid down a smooth Kantian argument about rationality and the deleterious effect of moral paternalism, but I didn’t. I figured that the time it would take to challenge a Facebook ban would cost me seconds of my life I would not get back.

I mean, come on. It’s Facebook.

Still, when I think about the reason for the ban — that I had violated “community standards” — I’m still left wondering, what is really so bad about a man’s naked penis or a woman’s nipples? Does pubic hair have the power to destroy society?

Is there an inherent soul-corrupting quality located inside human genitals?

If so, does science know about this???

 

 

 

 

 

** This isn’t the purpose of pornography according to me. It is, however, the purpose of pornography according to the U.S. Supreme Court and moralizers everywhere.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https: //en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_standards

https://thelawdictionary.org/prurient-interest/

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/413/15.html

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I THINK THEREFORE I AM (Gonna be your valentine)

IT’S VALENTINE’S DAY – the day to celebrate all things romantic. The day for chocolates and roses, poetry and romance.

Valentine’s Day is a day for LOVE.

…and philosophy.

Not this kind of philosophy

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This kind of philosophy.

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A popular perception of philosophers is of an ineffectual, navel gazing infertility, more inclined to spend the night with Plato’s Republic than out on an actual date with an actual person.

That’s not always, tho.

Another popular perception of philosophers, specifically philosophy professors, is, in movies, that philosophy professors are always pervy. If all I knew about philosophy professors came from movies, I’d swear that philosophers are prone to sleeping with their students.

…and by “sleeping” I mean have sex.

Leaves of Grass, Irrational Man, Lover For A Day…

All movies about philosophy professors.

All maximum pervage.

Movie philosophers live their lives like the lyrics of a Steely Dan album.

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SHE THINKS I’M CRAZY, BUT I’M JUST GROWIN’ OOOOOOOLD

Whether we think of philosophers as hapless neuters or as dirty old (and not so old) men who use their university campus as a eating agency, we often don’t think of real philosopher’s real love lives.

What they do when the lights are turned down.

So, with Valentine’s Day in mind, I think it’s time to take a little time to think about philosophers and love.

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SAID NO ONE EVER

You might think that philosophers wouldn’t be interested in thinking or writing about a subject like love. Love is emotional. Philosophy is rational – logical. Everything love is not.

If you’re thinking philosophers don’t think about love (philosophically), you’d be quite wrong. Philosophers think and write about everything.

EVERYTHING.

If we’re thinking about love philosophically, the first thing we might ask is What is Love?

If you’re Rick Sanchez, the answer to the question “what is love?” is easy

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Of course, if you’re a philosopher, the answer is more complicated than that.

Why is it complicated?

Because philosophical reasons.

Well, if we’re being philosophers about things, to figure out what love is, we can look at love epistemologically. 

We might ask an epistemological question like, how do you know you’re in love?

We can have all kinds of philosophical fun sorting out all the necessary and sufficient conditions to determine what love is and if we are in it.

There are people who actually do this.

If we’re thinking about the ethics of love, we might ask if we are obligated to love others? To love ourselves? What is the value of love? Who should we love?

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Before we look at love epistemologically, ethically, or whateverly, might want to ask what kind of love we’re talking about.

In philosophy, love isn’t just one thing: the ancient Greek philosophers distinguished love between philia (friendship), agape (love for mankind or brotherly love), and eros (erotic or sexual desire).

Plato writes about love in Phaedrus and Symposium. According (but not limited) to Plato, we are torn between the desires of the flesh and the soul. The body, driven by lowly carnal desires, corrupts the soul and gets in the way of finding higher truth.

The objective of love – true love – according to Plato, is to transcend the body. True love gets us to truth.

And truth leads to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Aristotle places a heavy emphasis on philia – friendship.

Book VIII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to friendship. Aristotle writes,

Moreover, friendship is not only an indispensable, but also a beautiful and noble thing: for we commend those who love their friends, and to have many friends is thought to be a noble thing; and some even think that a good man is the same as a friend.

Religion traditionally emphasizes agape, as agape love is tied to our love of God.

The Aristotelian idea of love: the meeting of one soul inhabiting two bodies, is still a part of our modern idea of love.

Aristotle says,

Lovers delight above all things in the sight of each other, and prefer the gratification of this sense to that of all others, as this sense is more concerned than any other in the being and origin of love. 

So, what about actual philosophers and love?

You can probably guess.

Cue Lady Gaga.

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There’s a perception that philosophers make for lousy romantic partners. That perception isn’t too far from reality. After all, philosophy takes time and energy.

It’s difficult to remember anniversaries and flowers and candy for Valentine’s Day when you’ve dedicated yourself to the full-time pursuit of wisdom.

Here’s a short list of the romantic misadventures of a few (western) philosophers:

Socrates married, but if you’ve read anything about Socrates, you know how he felt about his wife, Xanthippe.*

Xanthippe wasn’t exactly the love of Socrates’ life. Socrates’ true love was a young soldier named Alcibiades.

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And there’s no cruising the Internet without seeing this quote from Socrates:

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.

The unmarried philosopher’s club boasts some rather famous members:

Locke, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant never married.

Kant’s life was described as “monastic”.

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Nietzsche and Schopenhauer never married, either.

Kierkegaard’s devotion to philosophy ended his engagement to his muse and great love, Regine Olsen.

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Kierkegaard also never married.

If you ask me, Kierkegaard lost out.

Amazingly, Hegel found a wife.

Speaking of children out of wedlock…

Rousseau, perhaps the poster child for pervy philosophers (He flashed women. Seriously, he did. Look it up), famously abandoned his five children. Although Rousseau married his mistress (who was also the mother of his fifth child), he married her only after he ditched his kids.

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Rousseau’s Maury Povich Father-of-the-Year award might not say much about Rousseau’s romantic inclinations, but it does say he didn’t love his kids.

Not even philia love.

Not even agape.

Heidegger had an affair with Hannah Arendt while she was his student.

Ayn Rand said she loved her husband, Frank O’Connor, for selfish reasons. Rand explained in a 1959 interview with journalist Mike Wallace that her love for O’Connor was in her own interest.

“I take selfish pleasure in it,” Rand said.

We probably know too much about Foucault’s sex life.

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On the bright side of philosophical romance, Sartre had a life-long relationship with de Beauvoir.

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Bertrand Russell not only married (four times!), he also believed that love is important because love leads people to seek knowledge. We seek knowledge to benefit those we love.

Russell wrote,

Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love.

Russell wasn’t too keen on our traditionally modest views on sexuality, either.

…which could explain why Russell was described as suffering from “galloping satyriasis”.

Bertrand Russell

PICTURED:  SEX GOD

Well…

Whether you got mad Bertrand Russell romance skills or you’re kicking it Immanuel Kant style this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget that philosophy ain’t just about contemplating your big toe or counting angels on the head of a pin. Philosophers think about love, write about love, and fall in and out of love just like everybody else.

Unless your name is Immanuel Kant.

So, while you’re celebrating tonight with champagne and roses, while your home tonight with the one you  love, getting down with some Hegel and chill, remember to whisper into the ear of your love the romantically philosophical words of Immanuel Kant, “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds them to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”

That’s romantic speak for Kant, you see.

Because Immanuel Kant never dated anyone. Ever.

 

 

 

 

*It seems that the common depiction of Socrates’ wife Xanthippe is incorrect. History portrays Xanthippe as a unpleasant shrew, however, Socrates described Xanthippe as a good, caring wife.

 

 

SOURCES:

https://classicalwisdom.com/five-reasons-socrates-terrible-husband/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/18/bertrand-russell-what-i-believe-love/

https://www.google.com/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/brilliant-men-always-betray-their-wives/amp/

https://youtu.be/mQVrzWtqgU

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters [1893]. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. 173, 218.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON BUNNIES, BAMBI, AND THE ETHICS OF NOT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL

EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.

Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF SICK S.O.B. PUTS SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN A KIDS MOVIE???

 

Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

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Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?

First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.

Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.

If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.

 

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YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT LIKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT INCLUDING THIS… IT’S THE LAW

 

Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.

Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.

To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato

If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?

Should we just omit the truth?

There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception

Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.

If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?

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Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.

After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.

And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.

The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”

Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.

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It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.

The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.

The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.

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The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.

There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.

So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?

Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.

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But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?

Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Disney)

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission

The Four of Us Are Lying

Bill Clinton. John Edwards. Richard Nixon.

Roger Clemens.

David Vitter. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

Here’s a couple more names…

James Frey. Jayson Blair. Stephen Glass.

Notice the pattern?

No?

How about this one:

Lance Armstrong.

Still don’t see it?

Pinocchio.

Ok. Think then-Secretary of State Colin Powell announcing to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.

Got it yet?

Ok, last one: “Remember the Maine”.

Still no?

Well, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll tell. Each of these men (and one wooden boy) told lies. They were lying.

Not just little white lies, mind you. BIG LIES*.

Whoppers.

The forces-you- to-resign-from-elected-office kind of lies.

The subject of a week’s worth of stories on TMZ kind of lies.

The has to talk to Oprah in a public display of contrition kind of lies.

The kind of lies that’ll have you end up doing this:

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

 

 

Yeah.

Public humiliations galore.

 

Whether we tell half-truths or little white lies, spin tall tales, rip yarns, or lay down the kind of lies that would put Goebbels to shame, the funny thing about lying is even though no one likes it when somebody tells them, everyone lies.

daria on lies

 
Don’t say you don’t. You’d be lying.

 

pants on fire

 

We’ve all lied about one thing or another. We know that lies and lying are an inevitable part of human interaction. We might even say that the occasional lie is useful.

 

good lies

 
Yet we’re offended when it happens. We don’t like it when people lie.

Especially when they lie to us.

 

louie c.k. on liars

 

It’s not even that we’re merely offended by lies – we completely flip our wigs when we discover we’ve been lied to. We’re so put off by lies and liars that anyone who’s caught in a lie not only knows they’ve messed up big time, but also know that a long journey of mea culpas on the path of liar redemption is essential if one wants forgiveness.

If all works well, all will be forgiven.

However, if you’re a regular schmo like me – you get caught in a lie it might ruin you forever.

Contrition is not my forte.

 

baby liar meme

 

 

 

But why is that?

Why do we get so butthurt when someone lies?

Emperor Butthurt

 

 
I mean, after all, even the Bible admonishes us against lying. Exodus 20:16 specifically states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”.

According to the Bible there’s an especially awful kind of lie: false witness.

 

Whatever that is.

 

I don’t know. I don’t read the Bible.

That’s why I’m going to hell.

 

I‘M A PHILOSOPHER. IT’S ALMOST A GIVEN THAT I‘M DOOMED TO ETERNAL DAMNATION.

I‘M A PHILOSOPHER. IT’S ALMOST A GIVEN THAT I‘M DOOMED TO ETERNAL DAMNATION.

 
Alright. I remember in my English 101 class, my professor said if you introduce a term you have to define it. So it might help us a bit to get clear on what exactly a lie is.

A lie, at least according to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), has three “essential features”:

 

1. A lie communicates some information
2. The liar intends to deceive or mislead
AND –
3. The liar believes that what they are ‘saying’ is not true

 

According to the BBC, if you’re not doing any of those 3 things, you ain’t lying.

 

bad luck brian lies

 
But if lying is sometimes useful, we must ask, is lying all that bad?
Before you say yes or no you might want to ask around.

 

Psalm 31:18 may say “Let lying lips be put to silence”.

Obviously God has never heard of Socrates or noble lies.

Noble lies, in case you didn’t know, are fictions told with the intent to preserve loyalty to the state and the social order.

pinocchio bitch

 

 

Wait a minute, you say. Lies are bad. Anyone who watched what followed Lance Armstrong’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs knows that lying causes nothing more than absolute misery. So why does Socrates think that lying ever serves a useful, even a good, purpose?

You see, Socrates thought that people need to be lied to because most people are too stupid to handle things.

And by people, Socrates meant people like you and me.

Socrates says in Book III of  Republic:

“Could we,” I said, “contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need, of which we were just now speaking, some noble lie to persuade in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?”

 

According to the late Socrates fan and political philosopher, Leo Strauss, the state may lie to the public when “an extreme situation in which the very existence or independence of a society is at stake.”

 

So according to Socrates and Strauss, so long as your lie serves a greater good for society, we should heartily approve of some lies.

 

WHO DRANK HEMLOCK AND LIKES LYING? THIS GUY!!!

WHO DRANK HEMLOCK AND LIKES LYING? THIS GUY!!!

 

 

Perhaps our anger at Colin Powell was misplaced.

 

… that’s because deposing Saddam Hussein would be good for everybody.

 

Keep that point in mind.

 

Socrates tells us so long as a lie is told by the right people for the right reasons, lying to people is perfectly fine. In fact, according to Socrates, lying to people is a necessary function of the ruling class.

Alright. Hold on a minute. Before you think Socratic noble lies gives us free rein to fib at will, remember that point I told you to keep in mind. ‘Cause you should be thinking there’s something extremely rotten in the polis.

Two points:

  • We get angry when we are lied to.
  • Even if a lie is justified, we feel that some punishment or an apology is necessary.

 

That’s why Lance Armstrong ended up on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

 

There’s a reason why we feel a sense of moral indignation when we find that someone has lied to us. There’s a reason why this guy’s nose grew every time he lied.

Pinocchio-007

 
The reason is because no matter what explanation, cause or excuse we give for telling a lie, a lying is wrong.

We feel an innate desire to hear the truth.

We prefer the company of those who tell the truth over those who tell lies.

 

This is what Aristotle wrote about people who tell the truth:

Such a man would seem to be a good man. For he who loves truth, and is truthful where nothing depends upon it, will still more surely tell the truth where serious interests are involved; he will shun falsehood as a base thing here, seeing that he shunned it elsewhere, apart from any consequences: but such a man merits praise.

 

According to Aristotle, a person who tells the truth is trustworthy. An honest person is someone of good character who we can rely on when we deal with them – we can expect that what they say is true and that by trusting them we will not experience emotional, philosophical or physical harm.

Of course, we well know that’s not what happens when someone lies.

 

OK, MAYBE ZACH MORRIS IS A BAD EXAMPLE

OK, MAYBE ZACH MORRIS IS A BAD EXAMPLE

 

Let’s remember: the second and third essential features of a lie states that the liar “intends to deceive or mislead”, and that a liar “believes that what they are ‘saying’ is not true”.

Intentional deception and misleading, no matter what  justification for doing so, always deprives others (those to whom the lie is directed) of the full knowledge of a situation. If we lack full knowledge, we cannot make fully rational decisions.

Kant says this is what happens, folks, not me.

 

BLAME HIM

BLAME HIM

 

 

That means that a lie is inherently pernicious. The short-term benefit of a lie is almost always obliterated upon the discovery of the lie.

Lance Armstrong lost his Tour de France medals. Roger Clemens was tried on charges of perjury. President Clinton was impeached.

 

 

th (7)

 

 

Twelve years and we’ve still got troops in Iraq.

 

 

WILL ALWAYS BE KNOWN AS TRICKY DICK

WILL ALWAYS BE KNOWN AS TRICKY DICK

 

 

And if you read Plato’s Republic, you would know that in no way did Socrates think that average Joes and Janes like you and me could – or should – be a part of the ruling class.

 

th (8)

 

What that means for us is that a lie, no matter what noble intention the speaker may have, can do nothing other than to cause harm.

And a liar, no matter what he tells you, is almost always up to something bad.

However, songs about liars are nearly always entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I realize there’s a matter of what exactly constitutes a lie, especially concerning the intent of the liar. I realize that instances of lying include a liar being unaware that his false statement is indeed false or when an individual tells the truth with an intention to deceive. For an example of this kind of lie, I suggest watching Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – in particular, the scene between Count Dooku and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

 

 
NOTE: Socrates details the purpose of noble lies in Book III, 414 d – 415 a-d, of Plato’s Republic.

 

 

SOURCES:
1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/lying/lying_1.shtml

2) Plato. Republic. 1968. Trans. Allan Bloom. NY: Basic Books. Bk. III, 414 b-c.

3) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1953 [1950]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 160.

4) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. p.91.

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.

 

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

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

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

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.

 

badass4

 

 

Bears, man. Bears.

 

And now for the philosophy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

slaves in chains

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Well, not entirely.

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

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

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

This all has me wondering…

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

At least in the philosophical sense?

 

 

NOTE:

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

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

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!

 

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

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

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

 

On The Philosophy of Catfishing

catfish-the-tv-show-logo

I’ve been watching this reality TV show on MTV called Catfish: the TV Show. I haven’t watched anything on MTV in years. I’m hooked on watching this show. And I’m surprised that I’m watching MTV and not complaining that they’re not showing music videos.

The TV show is inspired by the 2010 documentary Catfish. The movie is about the real-life story of filmmaker Nev Schulman and his online relationship with a woman who turned out to be a 40 year-old woman.

She was a catfish.

A few years ago, the important internet question was “Have you been one cupped?” now it’s “have you been catfished?”

I’ve been one cupped. I will never be the same again.

According to Wikipedia a catfish “is a person who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone they are not by using someone else’s pictures and information. These “catfish” use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, usually with the intention of getting other people or a person to fall in love with them.”

In short, a catfish is liar.

They lie sometimes about everything

Dr. Phil even had a show about Catfish. He told his viewers how to spot an internet “catfish”.

He says there are five signs you may be dealing with a catfish.

I’ve met three of Dr. Phil’s five signs.

But I’m not a catfish. I don’t lie online.

I just prefer not to tell anyone anything about me.

It’s obvious that the problem with catfish is misrepresentation. If someone misrepresents who they are we have no idea who we are really talking to. This problem is only amplified on the internet.

The internet (especially social networking sites like Facebook) is supposed to make communication easier and to bring people with like interests together. This is what makes the internet not only useful but fun: the ability to find a potential soul mate or (at least) a friend. I may not know anyone in the town where I live who likes Jean Claude Van Damme movies and blueberry pancakes, but I most assuredly will find someone on the internet that does.

But the convenience of fiber optic communication also makes it easy to be deceitful. The absence of physical contact between individuals communicating via computer means anyone can say anything about themselves or their lives leaving us only to assume what people post on the internet is true. A catfish relies on the fact that whomever they are misrepresenting themselves to is either trusting or hasn’t the time or the know-how to investigate every social network follower and/or friend to verify that they are who they claim they are.

Thus proving what they say about what happens when we assume.

When you assume things you end up making yourself one of these.

When you assume things you end up making yourself look like one of these.

We know what Immanuel Kant would say about a catfish. According to the Kantian view, the real harm of a catfish is that a catfish’s lies are damaging to individuals and society. In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Kant tells us

Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature

Kant’s ethics forbid all lying in all circumstances. He argues that our actions are morally correct only if we can universalize the act. Honesty (at least a certain amount) and trust are necessary not only for the world to function but for relationships as well. Kant argues that one of our duties to others is an obligation to be honest. If people make a universal habit of being deceitful to others, Kant says we have no reason to trust what anyone says (especially people we meet online). Kant states:

He immediately sees that it could never hold as a universal law and be consistent with itself; rather it must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense.*

Kant also states:

…it is nevertheless impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself…

If Kant is correct, the act of lying undermines the purpose of social networking.

However….

The problem with a catfish may not be the lying in itself. Everybody lies to some degree (if you claim that you don’t, congratulations you’re a liar). I think it’s safe to say that the real problem with lying is that when we do not tell the truth to others we are involved with our relationships are inauthentic.

The catfish specializes in inauthentic relationships.

Authenticity is necessary to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with others. Aristotle tells us that the only way to develop true (authentic) relationships with others is to engage in frequent social intercourse with others. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that close physical proximity is a necessary component for real relationships (Aristotle calls physical interaction a “characteristic of friendship”). Aristotle writes:

Such friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together.

A Kantian may argue that a person is damaged by a catfish’s online deception, but Aristotle may tell us we never had a true relationship (at least in the philosophical sense) to begin with.

This, of course, raises and interesting philosophical question.

Is the anonymity of the internet actually better for relationships?

Namely, given the fact that we do not physically interact with people we “talk” to online, some may argue that since we don’t have physical contact with people over the internet, we are forced to deal (supposedly) with people as is, with who they really are.

Let’s say the only thing that a person is deceitful about (in an internet relationship) is their appearance. An individual uses a photo of someone else (presumably more attractive) when communicating with others on the internet. This individual reasons that s/he uses a fake photo because s/he feels that they must hide their physical appearance in order to successfully communicate with others and that using a fake photo on the internet allows them to avoid the (negative) aesthetic judgments of others.

Some might consider this person a catfish especially if they enter into a “relationship” with another person while representing themselves as the person in the photo.

But is that always a bad thing?

Now, some people create fake profiles out of maliciousness. Some people do it because they are mentally disturbed or narcissistic. But if everything else, sans appearance thoughts, feelings, opinions, even a person’s voice (if they speak to others on the phone) are the real deal?  Philosophers often emphasize character over perceived material worth (that is, unless you’re a materialist). Socrates and Aristotle sought virtuous people; Kant wanted people who possessed good will. And John Stuart Mill argued people should rather be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. Would a philosopher appreciate internet relationships with good, virtuous, or philosophically oriented people even if a person lied about what they look like (assuming the intention wasn’t malevolent-intended)? Perhaps a utilitarian (and certainly an ethical egoist) would say that a little white lie may be necessary if one’s intention is to develop a relationship that would be beneficial to both parties.

Perhaps for some catfish the lie enables them to get to the truth. The lie makes them honest.

Then is it possible that catfishing be a philosophically good thing?

Watch this clip and decide for yourself.

NOTE:

In the documentary Catfish, the term “catfish” as a reference to people who misrepresent themselves on the internet is explained  as follows: fishermen, exporting cod from the U.S. to markets in Asia noticed that the cod were soggy when they arrived at their destination. When catfish were shipped along with the cod, the cod retained their firmness and vigor. Catfish, the film explains, are people who keep other people from losing their firmness and vitality.

* Kant’s example refers to someone who repeatedly makes promises to others and subsequently breaks them, which is a form of lying. It’s easy to see how lying about one’s life and/or appearance is similar to breaking a promise as lying  and promise breaking are grounded in misrepresentation of one’s intention and requires trust on the part of the other party.

You can find Dr. Phil’s signs you’re possibly dealing with an online catfish at: http://drphil.com/articles/article/720

SOURCES:

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfish_(film)

2) Immanuel Kant. 1997 [1785]. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition, Revised. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-40.

3) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1893. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 177.