Ask A Vulcan Black Dude

You know something, if a lifetime spent as a pop culture connoisseur has taught me anything, I have learned this one thing: it’s amazing what one sees watching late night television.

A few years ago, comedian Dave Chappelle’s comedy show, the Chappelle’s Show, aired a segment called “Ask a Black Dude”. The general idea of the sketch was that average people would ask a black dude (comedian Paul Mooney) questions about black people. One person asked the black dude why black people like to smoke marijuana so much. Another guy asked can black guys jump high? Really, there wasn’t anything worth noting about the questions asked to the black dude, until one question, posed by horror writer Stephen King, was not only quite startling, but also opened the door for a moment of philosophical contemplation. The question Stephen King asked the black dude was this: do black people prefer to be buried by black undertakers and prefer to go to black dentists?

I’m not making this up. Watch Chappelle’s Show, season 1, episode 7.

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/g25b0b/chappelle-s-show-ask-a-black-dude—dentists—uncensored

 

Now, I’m not a person who is easily startled, but Stephen King’s question was without doubt the most WTF-inducing query ever asked on basic cable television. Although one could spend hours probing the possible philosophical subtext of Stephen King’s easily-construed-as-quasi-racist question, however, Stephen King’s question wasn’t as philosophically interesting as Paul Mooney’s response. Paul Mooney’s answer was this: “What’s the difference when you’re dead? They don’t care who buries you… if they can fix the teeth, cool. If they can’t, that’s cool, too.”

Whoa, did you get that?

If you didn’t, put on your philosopher’s thinking caps and read it again.

If someone asked me to describe Paul Mooney’s response to Stephen King’s question on only one word the word I would say is “indifference”. That is, Paul Mooney appears to be indifferent to the race of his dentist so long as his dentist is skilled enough to fix one’s teeth. For those of you who are familiar with philosopher’s jargon, the word “indifference” should be setting off fireworks in your heads right now. And as I watched the Chappelle’s Show sketch, I thought there’s one type of philosopher for whom indifference is a way of life.

So naturally, my immediate question was Is Paul Mooney a stoic philosopher?

The answer to my question is “possibly”.

Generally when we think of stoics, the first image that often comes to mind is the popular iconic image of the stoic as the strong, silent type; the unflappable hero with the Easter Island statue façade. We’re all familiar with this type of guy: he (and it almost always is a he) is a movie gunslinger like John Wayne, Gary Cooper in High Noon, or Clint Eastwood’s famous “man with no name”.

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF EASTER ISLAND HEADS

 

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF GARY COOPER

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF GARY COOPER

In literature, the stoic is embodied by characters like Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Shakespeare’s Brutus in Julius Caesar, or hard-boiled detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

 

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF HUMPHREY BOGART AS SAM SPADE

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF HUMPHREY BOGART AS SAM SPADE

 

On stage, you’ll find stoical characters like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. And if you’ve watched enough TV, you’re more than well acquainted with Star Trek’s resident stoic, the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Vulcan First Officer, Mr. Spock, played by the late Leonard Nimoy.

 

n' prosper

Although it is quite possible to learn the basics of stoicism from watching an all-day marathon of Star Trek, but as I was reminded by a Facebook friend, one should never watch Star Trek as a substitute for reading the real thing.

Thank you, Jean-Louis.

 

AS THE EXPRESSION ON THIS CAT’S FACE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES, WATCHING STAR TREK IS NEARLY AS FUN AS ACTUALLY READING STOIC PHILOSOPHY

AS THE EXPRESSION ON THIS CAT’S FACE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES, WATCHING STAR TREK IS NEARLY AS FUN AS ACTUALLY READING STOIC PHILOSOPHY

How about a little about what stoicism really is:

Ask a philosopher, and he’ll tell you that stoicism originated in ancient Greece about 300 B.C.E. courtesy of the philosopher Zeno of Citium (Fun Fact: Stoicism derives its name from the Greek word stoa meaning “porch” where Zeno taught in ancient Greece).

 

 THIS IS ZENO OF CITUIM (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ZENO OF ELEA)

THIS IS ZENO OF CITUIM (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ZENO OF ELEA)

 

Zeno’s question, like all other philosophers, was how do we live a good life? The stoics believed that there is an order to the universe and that our lives are better when we act in harmony with nature. Zeno wrote,

All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.

Here’s the thing: the stoics not only believed that our lives are better when we act according to Nature, but that our lives are, in actuality, controlled by an indifferent universe.

 

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN INDIFFERENT UNIVERSE

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN INDIFFERENT UNIVERSE

What this means is that we can’t control what happens to us. The stoic says that the unpleasant reality about life is that sometimes good things happen to us (and that’s great), but sometimes bad things happen and that is, as the say, the way the cookie crumbles. In the end, we have as much control over what happens to us as we would if we were to stand on a shoreline and attempt to control the waves in the sea.

Did you know stoicism has its own emblem?

 

THIS IS THE EMBLEM FOR STOICISM... PRETTY NEAT, HUH?

THIS IS THE EMBLEM FOR STOICISM… PRETTY NEAT, HUH?

 

The stoics believed we can’t control what happens to us in the physical world, but we can control what happens internally – how we think and react towards what happens to us. The stoics believed that stoicism helps us to deal with the things we can’t control.

In a nutshell, stoicism is what we might call a philosophical coping mechanism.**

Stoics claim that the greatest impediment to living a good life is that we tend to get all wrapped up in all sorts of emotions that make us angry and very unhappy. Epictetus said,

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things
which are beyond the power of our will.

According to the stoic, we have more important obligations and duties to attend to than fret over things that we cannot control or ultimately do not matter. Instead of living a life of emotional turmoil, troubling ourselves with our inability to cope with life’s situations, we’re to be indifferent and unbiased; to learn to cope with whatever comes. Once we learn to rid ourselves of our inappropriate emotional responses we can be happy. The Roman emperor and stoic, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.), wrote in Meditations,

 

When thou has been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed in a manner, quickly return to thyself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts; for thou wilt have more mastery over the harmony by continually recurring to it.

If you want a contemporary example of a mastery of stoicism, one need only to watch Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Tyler Durden does not care if Jack’s apartment is blown up, or if he hurts the feelings of Jack’s would-be girlfriend, Marla Singer, or if civilization is destroyed for the sake of Project Mayhem. The reason why Tyler Durden acts the way that he does is because these things, in the grand scale of things, do not matter. Jack describes Tyler Durden as someone who “lets those things that do not matter truly slide.”

 

You-Do-Not-Talk-About-Fight-Club
Oops. Sorry Sir.

The stoics believed practicing stoicism leads to a virtuous character. According to the stoics, the man who has developed a virtuous character and mastered the ability to control his emotions and be free of his passions is a stoic sage.

 

…p.s. If you’re thinking that the main goal of stoicism sounds a lot like Aristotle’s idea of eudemonia, you’ve earned ten extra points. Good job!

 

good job

 

Remember how I mentioned watching Star Trek awhile back?

 

 

Although there are many famous fictional stoics to choose from (ok, there are a few) , undoubtedly the first name that comes to mind is Mr. Spock. It goes without saying that Mr. Spock is popular culture’s most famous fictional stoic.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the origins of Mr. Spock’s emotionless demeanor, here’s a quick lesson in the origin of Vulcan stoicism:

Long before the Vulcans adopted the tradition of ritualistically purging their emotions ( a process called “Kolinahr”), Vulcans were once emotional as humans (and their cousins the Romulans), however, unlike humans, who can occasionally exert control over emotions, ancient Vulcans were ruled by their emotions. Vulcans were quick to anger, paranoid, and violent. The Vulcan race was on the brink of self-destruction until the great Vulcan philosopher Surak observed that Vulcans were sure to destroy themselves if they maintained an emotion-dominated existence.

Surak’s philosophy urged Vulcans to purge themselves of their emotions and devote their lives to logic. Like the stoics of ancient Greece, Surak convinced the inhabitants of the planet Vulcan that life is best lived when one’s actions are ruled by reason or logic.

 

If you’re curious to know what kind of philosophizing Surak did, an example of the philosophical teachings of Surak, is something like this: “Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear”. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock warns the Enterprise’s resident hot headed sawbones and occasional adversary, Dr. “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), “You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.” That sounds a little like stoicism, doesn’t it?

If you’re curious to know what kind of philosophizing Surak did, an example of the philosophical teachings of Surak, is something like this: “Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear”. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock warns the Enterprise’s resident hot headed sawbones and occasional adversary, Dr. “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), “You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.” That sounds a little like stoicism, doesn’t it?

 

Vulcan stoicism adheres to the philosophy that once a Vulcan has purged his or her emotions and lives according to logic, a Vulcan possesses clear judgment and behaves correctly. The Vulcan statement on Logic is: “Logic is the cement of our civilization with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide.” Vulcans believe,

The highest objective of a traditional Vulcan life is to either control or suppress all emotion, thus rendering a purely logical being.

 

It sounds like Surak’s Vulcan stoicism has hit the stoic philosophy of Zeno on the head.
Vulcans accurately capture Zeno’s sentiment that using one’s reason is preferable to relying on one’s emotions, and that uncontrolled emotions can be very destructive not only to individuals, but to society as well. It’s not surprising, then, that for many fans of pop culture, the answer to the question Where would I find a stoic character on TV? , the answer is “Go watch Mr. Spock”.

 

spock approves

 

Ok, now we have our example of a stoic, let’s all take a break, grab some popcorn, and watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek, shall we?
eating MJ's popcorn

 

Hold on a moment; let’s not jump the gun too fast, there. We shouldn’t declare the Vulcans stoics just yet. A stoic and a Vulcan might agree that emotions are our problem but Surak and Zeno would disagree on one major philosophical point: namely, the stoics did not argue that the emotions needed to be extinguished, as Surak’s Vulcan philosophy dictates, but that we should accept what happens to us without letting our emotions control us and interfere with our ability to reason.

For the stoic, the solution to the matter is not the denial of emotions but indifference to circumstances we cannot control. The fact that a Vulcan lacks emotions does not make Mr. Spock a stoic.
Although being emotionless makes a Vulcan a bit of a weirdo.

 

SPOCK IS TOTALLY WEIRD, MAN

SPOCK IS TOTALLY WEIRD, MAN

 FUN FACT: Another famous sci-fi stoic is the Star Wars saga’s Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda is a prime example of a stoic sage: Yoda has emotions but is not ruled by them. He possesses wisdom and virtue. Yoda also warns young Anakin Skywalker (In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace) to keep control over his emotions. Yoda’s oft quoted admonition to young Skywalker is a prime example of Yoda‘s stoic philosophy, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.”

 

YEAH. I WENT THERE

YEAH. I WENT THERE

 

We’ve already established that the stoic says that the purpose of his philosophy is to help him to deal with the things that he can’t control and that life is better when we live in harmony with the universe. Furthermore, the stoic tells us if we let our emotions control what we do we are disturbing that balance and cannot be at peace. But if the Vulcans are getting stoicism all wrong, just how is a stoic supposed act?

 

fake stoic

 

We shouldn’t think that the fact that the stoic lives according to the will of the cosmos necessarily means that a stoic does nothing when something bad happens. It’s just when something bad does happen, a stoic does not allow his emotions dictate his actions. A stoic acts when he can act. Yielding our fates to the will of the heavens does not negate our responsibility to act when the situation requires our involvement. Ultimately, the goal for a stoic is peace, happiness, and acting in harmony with nature. That means if getting involved is required, that’s ok. But if our action is not required, that’s ok, too.

 

SPOCK COULD HAVE ACCEPTED THIS PUNK’S LOUD MUSIC AND DONE NOTHING TO STOP IT JUST AS EASILY AS HE COULD DO SOMETHING TO BRING PEACE AND QUIET TO THE BUS AND ITS PASSENGERS

SPOCK COULD HAVE ACCEPTED THIS PUNK’S LOUD MUSIC AND DONE NOTHING TO STOP IT JUST AS EASILY AS HE COULD DO SOMETHING TO BRING PEACE AND QUIET TO THE BUS AND ITS PASSENGERS

 

Although Spock may not be a “real” stoic, it still sounds like stoicism ain’t so bad, right?

But, before you start your Kolinahr training, there are just a couple of small caveats to mention…

 

EVEN SPOCK DIDN’T FINISH HIS KOLINAHAR TRAINING

EVEN SPOCK DIDN’T FINISH HIS KOLINAHAR TRAINING

 

Although one can claim that stoicism sets us onto the path of life-long, philosophical happiness via the path of indifference, it’s almost guaranteed that if one goes around telling everybody not to worry about things and to just accept whatever happens, one is bound to be accused, not only of preaching a kind of out-of-touch version of Pollyanna-ism, but of preaching that the best kind of happiness is a state of apathy.

 

 THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN APATHETIC PHILOSOPHY

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN APATHETIC PHILOSOPHY

 

This accusation isn’t too far-fetched. Stoicism does seem to suggest that a stoic is at peace because he simply could not care less about what happens to either himself or to anyone else.

Famous stoics, even TV stoics like Mr. Spock, don’t do much to debunk the belief that stoics are cold, callous, and unsympathetic. Given the fact that stoics believe that our lives are controlled by the cosmic forces of fate, it’s easy to criticize the stoic’s “whatever happens, happens” attitude for coming off as emotionally apathetic and more than somewhat fatalistic.

And fans of fatalism are absolutely no fun to be around.

 

debbie downer GIF

 

We may be inclined to give a stoically-inclined friend a pass on his stoic attitude if he’s a fan of The Big Lebowski, and committed to simply “abide” like The Dude, but the fact that one sees more than a hint of fatalism in stoic philosophy suggests that there may be a big something wrong with stoicism – it’s almost impossible to be an actual stoic.

Friedrich Nietzsche called stoicism a “fraud of words!”.

A word about apathy: You don’t have to be a fan or a friend of a fan of The Big Lebowski to come to the conclusion that practitioners of stoic lifestyle can come off as a little apathetic. Dr. “Bones” Mc Coy isn’t the only person who has ever accused a stoic of being an unfeeling hobgoblin. Certainly Jeff Lebowski and Mr. Spock do come off as if they really don’t care (Spock’s feelings towards his crewmates and Lebowski’s about his life in general). But before we officially tag all stoics as apathetic, it would do us some good to understand what apathy is — you see, apathy has both a philosophical and colloquial meaning. Our modern usage of the word “apathy” means an individual who is disengaged from the world and does not care about anything. To be apathetic is to be inactive, unresponsive, a philosophical nihilist. Stoic apathy (apatheia) which was practiced by the ancient stoics is defined as freedom from the passions. Apatheia is tranquility, peace of mind; eudemonia. A man who practices apatheia is indifferent to life’s circumstances, not apathetic. The difference between a stoic and man who is apathetic is a stoic changes what he can change and accepts what he cannot; a man who is apathetic doesn’t do a thing about anything.

Think about it; a stoic has to maintain his indifference-based stoicism in the face of a very emotional world.

Even Mr. Spock got emotional from time to time.

 

spock amok time GIF

 

When the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca was implicated in a plot to kill the Emperor Nero, Seneca was ordered to execute himself by slitting his own wrists. Facing a death sentence is hard enough, but having to perform one’s own execution might prove difficult. Most people, if ordered to commit suicide, would feel emotionally compelled to disobey the Emperor’s command. A stoic like Seneca, on the other hand, has to ignore the innate desire for self preservation, since, according to stoic philosophy, whether one lives or dies is unimportant.

You know what happened? Seneca actually slit his own wrists.

 

Honestly, you’ve got to be one hardcore mofo to maintain that kind of lifestyle.

 

Historical tidbit: Seneca did not die by slitting his wrists. Because the philosopher was old and in poor health, he failed to bleed out as expected. Seneca attempted to poison himself, but that failed as well. Finally, Seneca’s servants were ordered to fix him a warm salt bath (in hopes that the warm water would stimulate blood flow). The stoic philosopher was overcome by the bath’s fumes and asphyxiated. Seneca most likely complied with the order not just because he had to, but because his stoic beliefs Seneca held no philosophical (or psychological) qualms against committing suicide.

Historical tidbit: Seneca did not die by slitting his wrists. Because the philosopher was old and in poor health, he failed to bleed out as expected. Seneca attempted to poison himself, but that failed as well. Finally, Seneca’s servants were ordered to fix him a warm salt bath (in hopes that the warm water would stimulate blood flow). The stoic philosopher was overcome by the bath’s fumes and asphyxiated. Seneca most likely complied with the order not just because he had to, but because his stoic beliefs Seneca held no philosophical (or psychological) qualms against committing suicide.

 

Because it doesn’t matter to a stoic whether he lives or dies or for what reason he lives or dies, one can imagine Seneca telling his Roman accusers, “If I have to kill myself, that’s fine. If I live a long life and die later, cool. Either way works for me.” I suspect that since Seneca knew that there was nothing he could do to save himself, he must have told himself why not just go with the flow; as Bobby Mc Ferrin sang, “don‘t worry, be happy”. After all, we can’t prevent ourselves from dying. If our fate is decided by nature and a part of nature is to die, to go against nature will only make us unhappy. A stoic would tell us that if we must to choose between a death that we cannot prevent and a lifetime of unhappiness, the logical choice is to choose to be not-unhappy.

 

IN STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, A DYING SPOCK TELLS CAPTAIN KIRK NOT TO GRIEVE FOR HIS DEATH. BECAUSE SPOCK WAS GOING TO DIE AND THERE WAS NOTHING ANYONE COULD DO ABOUT IT. FRETTING ABOUT THE ENEVITABLE IS JUST WASTING ONE’S TIME AND ENERGY….. PLUS, SPOCK PROBABLY KNEW HE’D BE BACK IN THE NEXT SEQUEL

IN STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, A DYING SPOCK TELLS CAPTAIN KIRK NOT TO GRIEVE FOR HIS DEATH. BECAUSE SPOCK WAS GOING TO DIE AND THERE WAS NOTHING ANYONE COULD DO ABOUT IT. FRETTING ABOUT THE ENEVITABLE IS JUST WASTING ONE’S TIME AND ENERGY….. PLUS, SPOCK PROBABLY KNEW HE’D BE BACK IN THE NEXT SEQUEL

 

It’s worth noting that Seneca was likely not involved with the plot to kill Emperor Nero.
I suppose, now that I’ve thought about what Paul Mooney said about dentists and undertakers, is that Paul Mooney’s ambivalence towards the race of his dentist was in fact a stoic response to Stephen King’s (somewhat bizarre) question. Paul Mooney is right, at least stoically so, to say that it makes no difference what the race our dentist or undertaker is. Whatever factors determine a person’s qualifications to bury people or to fix teeth is beyond our control. A stoic would tell us that we shouldn’t get hung up over whether our dentist or undertaker is black, white, or Andorian. But rather we should focus on our own ability to discern a good dentist or undertaker from a bad one – since that is something we can control.

MAYBE IT DOES MATTER THAT MY DENTIST IS ANDORIAN. THEY’RE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

MAYBE IT DOES MATTER THAT MY DENTIST IS ANDORIAN. THEY’RE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

When Paul Mooney said, “If they [a dentist] can fix teeth cool, if they can’t that’s cool, too”, he wasn’t just talking about his indifference to a potential dentist’s skin color, but really, what Paul Mooney was laying down is a philosophy of life. That’s precisely what the stoics were up to when they sat around on the stoa and figured out that life is better when we devote our lives to reason and let what does not matter slide.

 

penguin slide

 
One need not be a Vulcan to figure that one out.

If you were going to ask a black dude it would have to be a black dude like this:
tuvok

 

‘Cause he’s a Vulcan.  And, well, you know…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.winwisdom.com/quotes/author/zeno-of-citium.aspx.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. 2003 [Originally published 1909]. Trans. George Long, M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Publishing, Inc. p. 44.

William O. Stephens. “Stoicism in the Stars: Yoda, the Emperor, and the Force”. Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine. 2005. Eds. Kevin S. Decker & Jason T. Eberl. Chicago: Open Court Press. p. 20-1.

Quote on Vulcan philosophy: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Vulcan_philosophy.

Info on Vulcans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan_ (Star_Trek).

Vulcan philosophy quotes: http://www.stogeek.com/wiki/Philosophy_and_Teachings_of_Surak.

Apatheia quote: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheia.

 

 

 

* In real life, former POW and 1992 Reform Party VP nominee, Admiral James Stockdale (1923-2005), used the stoic philosophy of Epictetus during his imprisonment and torture in Vietnam.
**A bit about stoic virtue: The stoics believed that happiness should be based on reason, not pleasure. A wise man does not devote his life to the pursuit of physical pleasure, but should prefer a life devoted to virtue and reason (like Aristotle, the stoics believed that virtue is important) because we are guaranteed happiness when we rely on our own virtue. And when we act virtuously, we always do the right thing. Zeno wrote, “It is in virtue that happiness consists, for virtue is the state of mind which tends to make the whole of life harmonious.” This is why the stoics thought they’d found the key to Happiness and a good life. No matter what happens around us, nothing that happens in the physical world can make us unhappy. So, the stoics say when an individual is virtuous, uses his reason, and is in harmony with nature, that individual is at peace. In other words, it’s all good.
*** You may have noticed that I have used the term “indifference” several times without defining what indifference means. The common definition of indifference is “a lack of interest or concern; unimportance”.

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The Mouse That Bored

Psst. Come here. I want to tell you something.

Ready for it?

Listen carefully.

Here it is:

I hate reading philosophy.

I HATE READING PHILOSOPHY.

There. I said it.

There’s a perfectly legit reason for it.

 

philosophy messes your mind up

 
Studying. Reading. Writing serious compositions about philosophy. I hate it.

It’s not because I don’t understand what I’m reading.

Except if I’m reading Bertrand Russell.

That mofo confuses me.

ME, READING RUSSELL

ME, READING RUSSELL

 

 

 

I hate reading philosophy because it’s boring.

B.O.R.I.N.G.

Philosophy is boring.

It’s tedious and dull.

And there’s rarely any pictures.
Let’s face it, philosophy is boring. Philosophers are boring. People who aren’t philosophers but like to talk philosophically are beyond boring.

 

 

zooey

 

 

Nietzsche’s mustache is about as exciting as philosophy gets.

 

NIETZSCHE ROCKED THAT MUSTACHE LIKE A TOTAL BOSS

NIETZSCHE ROCKED THAT MUSTACHE LIKE A TOTAL BOSS

 

 

All philosophy might as well be written in comic sans.

 

 

no comic sans

 

 
Quick quiz: Who would you rather invite to a party, Ke$ha or Alvin Plantinga?
HERE’S ALVIN PLANTINGA:

 

 

 

 

 

AND HERE’S KE$HA:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Now honestly, who would you rather party with?

Right.

 

 

When I was a philosophy student, I would sit in class and think about anything other than philosophy.

I’d think about my growling stomach… My itchy right foot… How many names when singing The Name Game rhyme with cuss words… The uneven tile on the floor… Imagining what color and style of underwear my professors wore… Deciphering the lyrics to R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”…

 

 

Why film adaptations of good Stephen King books rarely make good movies.

 

 

NOW THAT I’M THINKING ABOUT IT, THE MIST WAS KINDA GOOD.

NOW THAT I’M THINKING ABOUT IT, THE MIST WAS KINDA GOOD.

 

 

 

I’d do anything in class but read or think about philosophy.
I shouldn’t be saying this, but I managed to earn a degree in philosophy without ever actually reading a philosophy book. I’d rather watch philosophy on TV.

I honestly can’t comprehend a philosophical theory unless it relates to an episode of Star Trek.

Star Trek is awesome.

 

It’s interesting and exciting. There’s photon torpedoes, phasers, Vulcan neck pinches, android crew members, the Borg and Captain Kirk shouting, “KHHHAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!”

 

It’s exactly the opposite of philosophy.

 

 

THIS SINGLE CINEMATIC MOMENT WAS MORE INTERESTING THAN ALL OF MY YEARS AS A PHILOSOPHY STUDENT

THIS SINGLE CINEMATIC MOMENT WAS MORE INTERESTING THAN ALL OF MY YEARS AS A PHILOSOPHY STUDENT

 

 

Ok. Do me a favor. Read this:

 

We may say, for example, that some dogs are white and not thereby
commit ourselves to recognizing either doghood or whiteness as
entities. ‘Some dogs are white’ says some things that are dogs are
white; and, in order that this statement be true, the things over
which the bound variable ‘something’ ranges must include some
white dogs, but need not include doghood or whiteness. On the
other hand, when we say that some zoological species are cross-
fertile we are committing ourselves to recognizing as entities the
several species themselves, abstract though they are. We remain
so committed at least until we devise some way of so paraphrasing
the statement as to show that the seeming reference to species on
the part of our bound variable was an avoidable manner of
speaking.

 
Pretty boring, right?

I’m not going to tell you who wrote it other than to tell you it was written by a philosopher.

Ok, it was W.V.O. Quine. He wrote that.

 

Now read this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

 

Liked that, didn‘t you?

That’s because it’s Robert Frost. Frost was a poet.
The thing is, I managed to earn a philosophy degree without ever really reading a book.

Whoops. I shouldn’t have said that.

 

 

whoops

 

 

In case you haven’t figured it out or experienced it yourself, I didn’t read philosophy books because philosophy is boring!

 

To be honest, I can’t enjoy philosophy unless it relates to an episode of Star Trek.

 

 

I DON’T KNOW HOW THE GORN IS PHILOSOPHICAL BUT DAMMIT, I’M GOING TO WATCH STAR TREK UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW IT IS

I DON’T KNOW HOW THE GORN IS PHILOSOPHICAL BUT DAMMIT, I’M GOING TO WATCH STAR TREK UNTIL I FIGURE OUT HOW IT IS

 

 

Come on, admit it. You’d rather watch Star Trek than read ANYTHING philosophical.

 

Star Trek has EVERYTHING – there’s spaceships, space battles, photon torpedoes, phasers, the Vulcan neck pinch, the Borg, and Worf.

 

 

LT. WORF. BADASS LEVEL: KLINGON

LT. WORF. BADASS LEVEL: KLINGON

 

 

And if that’s not enough, there’s all those philosophical episodes:

The Measure of A Man
The Inner Light
Who Watches the Watchers?
In the Pale Moonlight
City On the Edge of Forever
All Good Things

 

That’s just a few.

 

With the notable exception of that cinematic eye violation known as Star Trek: Insurrection, the philosophical undertones of Star Trek enhance the show’s excitement – it makes the show interesting.

 

Precisely the opposite of what you get in most philosophy.

kirk and spock go platonic

 
Although you can intentionally mispronounce Immanuel Kant’s last name to sound like what Fifty Shades of Grey is all about, intentionally mis-doing anything else to Kant (or his name) won’t make reading Kant’s philosophy – or any other philosophy – un-boring.

 

Perhaps this means that philosophers should freshen things up a bit.

 

Maybe it’s time for philosophy to be a little less Plato’s Academy and go a little more Hollywood.

 

EVERYBODY WOULD READ DESCARTES IF DESCARTES LOOKED LIKE THIS

EVERYBODY WOULD READ DESCARTES IF DESCARTES LOOKED LIKE THIS

 

I would add the following suggestions:

 

  • A reality TV show staring J-Woww and Slavoj Zizek
  • Judith Butler would be as popular as Sandra Bullock if she showed a little side boob.
  • An UFC match between Alvin Plantinga and Rampage Jackson

 

NOT PICTURED: RAMPAGE JACKSON

NOT PICTURED: RAMPAGE JACKSON

 

 

  • Car chases
  • A newly-discovered Martin Heidegger-Hannah Arendt sex tape
  • A big-screen adaptation of Fear and Trembling staring Channing Tatum as Kierkegaard
  • A Miley Cyrus concept album based on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus
  • A prime-time special of philosophical quotes delivered by Honey Boo Boo

 

 

THIS OUGHTA PULL IN RATINGS

THIS OUGHTA PULL IN RATINGS

 

 

I assume, if philosophers expect to enhance their reputation and increase their popularity, that they’ll abandon their academic ivory towers and follow my advice.

 

Ok philosophers, now it’s your turn.

 

I’ll tell y’all how it all works out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
1) Willard Van Orman Quine. “On What There Is” [1948]. From A logical Point of View. 1953, 1980. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Quine’s essay can also be found online at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_What_There_Is.

2) Great American Poets: Robert Frost. 1986. Ed. Geoffrey Moore. NY: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. p34.

Cumberbatch? How ’Bout CumberHOT

“Chuck Klosterman wrote that science fiction is philosophy for stupid people. He’s right. But in a room full of philosophy lightweights, the guy who watches Star Trek is a fucking philosophy genius.”  The Mindless Philosopher

I am a fan of science fiction.

If that’s an indication that I’m stupid, I’d be the last person to figure that out.

Like many sci-fi fans, I eagerly awaited the theatrical reboot of the Star Trek franchise. When it was announced that J.J. Abrams would be helming the reboot I nearly soiled my drawers in anticipation.

TMI?

After all, I thought. A Star Trek reboot directed by the guy who did Lost and staring the guy who played Sylar on Heroes could not go wrong.

Apparently my assumption was incorrect.

If you asked the die-hard Trekker crowd, plenty did believe that there was something terribly wrong with a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot.

Worse than a mining disaster on Praxis wrong.

The “wrong” was that for the first time in Star Trek history, a Star Trek movie based on the original characters created by Gene Roddenberry would not feature the original actors.

This was and is (still) very upsetting to some Star Trek fans.

I don’t see how they could have been angry. William Shatner may be a thoroughly entertaining actor, but there is no way Shatner could pull off playing a young, Starfleet Academy-aged James Kirk.

Not to mention DeForest Kelley and James Doohan are dead.

That alone would complicate getting them to play their original roles.

However, I, unlike many Star Trek purists, enjoyed the 2009 reboot. But then, I liked Star Trek: Nemesis. So there you go.

So when the Star Trek prequel/sequel came out, I bought a fresh pack of Tena and bought a ticket to see the movie.

Ok, I admit it. I’m an action fan. I was raised on Star Wars. There I said it. I said Star Wars.

Those movies had Jedi, and Wookies, and lightsabers, planet battles, the Force and stuff.

This is Han Solo. He is a Corellian badass. Where he goes, action follows.

han solo

This is Surak. He is a Vulcan philosopher. He convinced Vulcans to ditch their emotions.

Surak

Notice the difference between the two?

I do.

I expect a certain amount of excitement in films, especially in science fiction. And honestly, the past few Star Trek films hadn’t been delivering much on the action front. Captain James T. Kirk used to fight the Gorn. The Star Trek: The Next Generation films just had bunch of Captain Jean-Luc Picard talking… and talking… and talking.

Kirk fought enemies like this:

Gorn

Picard fought enemies like this:

malcolm mc dowell

That’s right. Captain Picard fought an old man.

awesome kirk

Of course, the purists hated all the action.

What the purists wanted from the Star Trek reboot was the one thing that set the original Star Trek apart from the standard 1960s science fiction of its day: Star Trek, unlike its predecessors (and most of its descendents), was chock-full of philosophy. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was a thinking man’s science fiction.

I don’t recall thinking too much while watching the reboot.

That may be (in part) due to the fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a pretty straight forward (actually kind of cliché) sci-fi fare about time travel: an unintentional time rift sends bad guy into past intent on destroying the future. It’s hardly an original plot.

It’s not even an original plot for a Star Trek film.

The last time a time traveling bad guy was in a Star Trek movie, the bad guy looked like this:

borg queen 2

Time travel movies usually don’t require the viewer to do much heavy mental lifting, other than the occasional bitch at the newly rearranged plot line not keeping with established canon.

I’m guessing this is what happened when most die-hard Trekkers watched the Abrams’ reboot.

If that’s what they felt while watching the reboot, they were really missing out.

What they failed to realize is, if you could get past the lens flare, they would have noticed a little bit of philosophy going on.

Listen: If those angry Trekkers hadn’t thrown off their Star Trek philosopher’s hats in angry protest, they would have noticed that any time you discuss time travel you automatically bring in the idea of possible worlds.

And any time you bring up possible worlds, you inevitably address philosophical ideas like free will and determinism.

AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HEAVY DUTY PHILOSOPHY.

So let’s get down to the philosophy, shall we?

But first, some plot:

In the 2009 reboot, Ambassador Spock and the Romulan bad guy Nero are sucked through a wormhole after Spock attempts (and fails) to prevent the destruction of Romulus by a star gone supernova. When Nero arrives at the other end of the wormhole, he discovers he’s been transported 20-something years into the past. Nero (for reasons that are fairly mystifying and never adequately explained) immediately fires on the USS Kelvin, a Federation starship carrying the parents of the future Captain James T. Kirk.  During the attack, Kirk’s father, Commander George Kirk, is killed an event, as we are told later in the film, that did not happen in the original Star Trek timeline.

I mean, the timeline where Nero doesn’t go back in time through a wormhole created by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to thwart the destruction of Romulus and destroy the planet Vulcan by creating a black hole with red matter and whatever. You get the idea.

An elderly, from-the-future Ambassador Spock informs the young Kirk that in his timeline, Kirk’s father lived long enough to see his son graduate from Starfleet Academy.

Here are a few more things that didn’t happen in Ambassador Spock’s (original) timeline:

  • The planet Vulcan did not receive the Alderaan treatment (i.e. it wasn’t destroyed).
  • Lt. Uhura and Spock are not (and never were) romantically involved.
  • Spock’s mother was not killed during an attack on Vulcan.
  • Kirk did not serve on the USS Enterprise with Captain Christopher Pike.
  • Humans did not know what Romulans looked like until the TOS (the original series) episode “Balance of Terror”.

If we learn anything about the philosophy of time travel (yes, I nabbed that from Donnie Darko) from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is that events are not static. The past and future can be changed by a seemingly insignificant and/or random event as a Romulan war bird becoming unstuck in time.

That is to say, events, past and present, are not on an inevitably determined path; events can vary drastically from one timeline to the next. Events in one timeline do not necessarily happen in another timeline. Events are not determined. That explains why it would be totally useless for the Enterprise crew to speculate or base any predictions of events in their time line on information from Ambassador Spock’s timeline.

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

LUCKY FOR BIFF HE WASN’T IN A STAR TREK MOVIE

 


But, if determinism is defined as the theory that some or all events and human actions are ordained to happen; that every thing, event or action is the inevitable result of a prior chain of causes, the fact that Nero’s appearance has thrown events a wrench into the timeline suggests determinism is false.

That means all events in the universe are manifestations of free will.

So far, there’s no problem, right?

If you think that, you are as delusional as Chekov after a fall off the deck of the USS Enterprise.

You see, in Star Trek IV, Chekov and Uhura were on the U.S. Naval ship USS Enterprise to get oh, never mind.

Ok. A common complaint with Star Wars fans is about George Lucas’ apparent disregard for continuity. It’s quite a nuisance, but by no means is discontinuity just a Star Wars problem. Star Trek has its fair share of continuity “errors”.

Even philosophical continuity errors.

Remember what I just said about determinism?

That according to the philosophy of Star Trek time travel it’s false, right?

Well …..

In the 2012’s Star Trek Into Darkness (the sequel to the 2009 reboot), the crew of the Enterprise encounters new bad guy, the genetically-altered, super-human, Khan Noonien Singh, a character originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the TOS episode “Space Seed”.

This time, Khan (as he is called) is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.*

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

ONLY IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY CAN THE SAME CHARACTER GO FROM LOOKING LIKE RICARDO MONTALBAN TO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

 

In the movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks Ambassador (original timeline) Spock if he had ever dealt with a man named Khan Noonien Singh.

Because Khan has become a bit of a problem. A homicidal kind of problem.

You can see the determinism problem coming, right?

Just so you know, this is what the German philosopher (and determinist), Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), had to say about determinism and what people do:

… he is connected to universal nature, and submitted to the necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all beings she contains…Man’s life is a line that nature commands to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.

Holbach also says:

In short, the actions of man are never free; they are a necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas… by education and by daily experience… Man then, is not s free agent in any one instant of his life.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, reboot Spock declares Nero’s appearance in the reboot timeline so altered the course of history, that any event in the original timeline (Ambassador Spock’s timeline) is not applicable to the new timeline. Therefore, one cannot assume continuity between both timelines.

In case you missed it, the dialogue about Nero and predicting the future goes as follows:

Kirk:

You say he’s from the future, knows what’s gonna happen. Then the logical thing is to be unpredictable.

Spock:

You’re assuming Nero knows how events as predicted unfold. The contrary. Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, cumulating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.

Uhura:

An alternate reality.

Spock:

Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been if the continuum wasn’t disrupted, our destinies have changed.

Now, either Spock failed to watch the 2009 reboot, or even Spock does not believe that there is no continuity between both (or any possible) timelines.

Because he asks someone to make a prediction. Himself.

That’s right, in Star Trek Into Darkness, reboot Spock asks original timeline Spock for advice in dealing with Khan.

He asks the guy who said that we can’t use alternate timelines to predict events in other timelines.

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

WARNING: INCONSISTENCIES AHEAD

 

Despite his prior statements, (reboot) Spock assumes that Ambassador Spock has knowledge of and/or knows how to deal with Khan.

Lucky for (reboot) Spock, Ambassador Spock’s advice works.

Of course, we the viewers, are left to assume one thing: whether Khan is played by Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan Noonien Singh, in any timeline, is the exact same guy.

At least psychologically so.

So psychological determinism is ok.

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

AT LEAST SPOCK DIDN’T TELL HIMSELF GETTING RID OF KHAN INVOLVED AN ENGINE ROOM, DILITHIUM CRYSTALS, LOTS OF RADIATION, AND THE WORD “REMEMBER”

 


It’s not just Khan that is the same. There’s plenty of continuity between the two timelines.

Enough to tell yourself exactly what Khan will do.

We’re told that Nero’s appearance has thrown events into flux, however, given the predictability of Khan’s actions and psychology in both timelines, it seems that no matter what happens   whatever alternate course of action or possible outcome, some events necessarily happen in every timeline.


Here are a few examples:

  • Despite the fact that the death of Kirk’s father has turned him off from joining Starfleet, Kirk still joins Starfleet.
  • Kirk’s insatiable sexual appetite.
  • Kirk and Spock’s friendship (despite a very bumpy start).
  • Kirk Becomes captain of the Enterprise (assuming command from Captain Pike).
  • Captain Pike is injured and paralyzed.
  • Kirk cheats on the Kobayashi Maru test.
  • Kirk meets and begins a romantic relationship with Dr. Carol Marcus (we may be free to assume that Carol Marcus will eventually give birth to a son, David, who will, in turn, be murdered by Klingons).
  • Harry Mudd (and announcement about Mudd is made over the ship’s intercom in Star Trek Into Darkness)
  • Khan meeting Kirk and the Enterprise crew.
  • Khan’s crew and his willingness to kill to protect his crew.
  • Khan’s grudge against the Federation/Starfleet.
  • A “death” in the Enterprise engine room in an attempt to defeat Khan.
  • The “dead” person coming back to life.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk must join Starfleet, Kirk must cheat on the Kobayashi Maru, Kirk must meet Spock and they must become friends, Kirk must  become captain of the Enterprise, Kirk must meet Carol Marcus, the Enterprise must encounter Khan, the Enterprise must have a problem with the fuel cells, and someone must “die“ realigning the dilithium crystals.

The similar dialogue between Kirk and Spock’s “death” scenes in the Enterprise engine room in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and in Star Trek Into Darkness not only suggests that some events are necessarily determined to happen in every timeline, but what characters say is determined as well.

 

Spock’s “death”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

 

spock death the first time

 

Kirk’s “death”, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

kirk's death

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.

So… what are we to think about philosophy and the rebooting of Star Trek?

Well, for starters, the philosophical continuity sucks.

But more importantly, despite the high action, new actors, and lens flare (really, they need to cut that crap out), the new Star Trek fits in quite nicely with its so obvious you’d have to have the vision of a mole to miss it philosophical predecessors.

The philosophical lesson we learn from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, is that no matter what alternate reality they’re in, no matter what happens to Vulcan or what Khan looks like, the lives of the crew of the USS Enterprise are locked in an inexorable series of events.

No matter what they do, all roads will lead to the same point.

Star Trek is a determined universe.

It doesn’t matter how Kirk gets command of the Enterprise, he will always be captain of the Enterprise.

Kirk will always cheat on the Kobayashi Maru. Kirk and Spock will always be friends. Khan will always be defeated.

 

And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier will always suck.

 

 

 

*By the way, it is worth noting that neither Ricardo Montalban nor Benedict Cumberbatch is of Indian descent, as the name Khan Noonien Singh would indicate one’s likely national/ethnic origin to be. But hey, the French captain of the Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard is played by English actor Patrick Stewart who does not speak with a French accent despite the fact that Picard was born and raised IN FRANCE.

 

 

Sources:

Baron d’Holbach. “Are We Cogs In the Universe?”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p.681-2

What Does God Want With A Starship?

It’s generally accepted among Star Trek fans that Star Trek V is the worst of the film series.

It’s subtitled The Final Frontier.

 

I suppose it’s because it was supposed to close the franchise. But apparently it was so bad they had to make a Star Trek VI.


With lots of quotes from Shakespeare.

 

Really, there are Shakespeare quotes and references all over that movie.

 

I’m not excluding myself from the general consensus regarding the cinematic quality of Star Trek V, but I don’t think it’s really that bad of a film. It’s really not even the worst Star Trek film (I put my money on Star Trek: Insurrection).

The movie had a good idea, something happened in the execution.

Some people blame the movie’s badness on William Shatner’s direction. I don’t. There are worse actor-directed movies out there.

The Brown Bunny comes to mind.

 

Damn Vincent Gallo.

 

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

 

The movie’s subtitle, The Final Frontier, suggests a pretty deep idea. When you’ve explored everywhere where no man has gone before, what else is there? Is there anything else?

What is the final frontier?

 

THE ANSWER: GOD

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn’t the first film to ask the God question.

How God gives our lives meaning. How the power of God vanquishes Pazuzu. How God will switch places with an average guy to let him see what God’s life is like. How you shouldn’t open up boxes filled with the power of God especially if you’re a Nazi.

 

GOD HATES NAZIS

GOD HATES NAZIS

 

Sometimes God is sought out. Sometimes The Almighty kind of pops up.

Most of the time in the movies, people are just trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us and the universe. Sometimes the question is about God himself. And sometimes, somebody asks, “what does God want with a starship?

Ok. Now it’s time to explain the plot.

 

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

 

You see, the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Mr. Spock (that’s the pointy-eared, Vulcan dude with no emotions) has an older brother named Sybok.

Nobody knew of this guy until now.

The never-once-mentioned-before-even-in-episodes-that-take-place-on-Vulcan-like-“Amok Time” Sybok was banished from the planet Vulcan because he refused to get rid of his emotions (or something like that).

The movie was pretty bad. I didn’t pay exact attention to the never-existed-until-the-would-be-last-Star-Trek-film Sybok’s back story.

Come to think of it, I guess it worked out pretty good for Sybok to be banished since it probably saves his butt in the J.J. Abrams universe, too. Unless he was banished in time line Roddenberry after the time when Vulcan was destroyed in time line Abrams.

 

Ok. Now I’m off track.

 

Oh, yeah. Ok… so Sybok was banished from Vulcan because he refused to ditch his emotions and he had this crazy notion of this place called Sha Ka Ree.

According to whatever legend Sybok was in to, Sha Ka Ree is where God lives.

Could they rip off a word that sounds ANY closer to Shangri la?

Anyway…

 

Sybok, through some Vulcan mind trickery, manages to wrangle control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk (of course!) and heads straight towards the edge of the universe.

Because of all the possible places in the universe where God could be, that’s where God would be.

Didn’t you know that?

So…. long story short (too late), when Kirk, Spock, Sybok, and Dr. McCoy arrive at Sha Ka Ree they find that the “God” Sybok has been amped up over enough to heist a Federation starship is a disembodied, big-headed, blue-faced dude, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Laurence Oliver in the original Clash of the Titans.

 

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

 
Sybok discovers that “God” isn’t terribly interested in Sybok, God’s own status as the Almighty, or answering any of life’s big questions. Instead, “God” presents Sybok, et al. with a strange, if not ungodly request:

God wants the Enterprise.

Naturally, this is a problem…  For God.

 

You see, apparently God has never met Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

 

Captain Kirk, unwilling to give up his ship to anyone including God demands to know why an all-powerful God would want a starship.

 

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

Captain Kirk’s failure to immediately acquiesce to God’s demands angers the Almighty. God not only refuses to tell Kirk’s why he wants a starship, He punishes Kirk for his insolence by  promptly striking Kirk in the chest with a lightning bolt.

Wait a minute. Maybe they’d found Emperor Palpatine.

 

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

 

Here’s the thing, though. Sybok might as well have found a Sith lord.

‘Cause he sure didn’t find God.

 

He would have had better luck finding God if he’d climbed Mt. Olympus.

 

Sybok didn’t find God at the edge of the universe, but Kirk’s question, “what does God want with a starship?” is a question that man has asked about God for centuries. Namely, if God is an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, perfectly good being, why would God need anything from not-powerful people?

Why does God need our praise and worship? Why does He need blood sacrifices and monuments?

Why would God need $8 million from Oral Roberts under threat of taking Roberts “home” to Heaven if he failed to deliver the money?

We can’t do anything near what the power of God can do. Men cannot create planets or life from dust. We can’t will anything into existence. God can create anything.* God has the power to be in all places at one time.

Which is exactly why Captain Kirk asks the “God” of Sha Ka Ree why he needs a starship.

Of course, we know that Kirk isn’t looking from an answer from “God”. What Kirk is doing is challenging the claim that the blue-faced, Sith lightning bolt-throwing, creature of Sha Ka Ree is God at all. You see, Captain James Tiberius Kirk does not believe that God exists.

You don’t have to watch all five television incarnations and all 12 feature-length Star Trek films to figure out that Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train in space” is a godless universe. Captain Kirk’s universe operates more by the dictates of Darwin than by Deuteronomy.

Philosophically speaking, the Star Trek universe is grounded on the principles of humanism.

Humanism is the 14th-15th century philosophical movement that emphasized the capacity of human rationality and the inherent worth of individuals without reliance on Christian teachings.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a universe where testable science and reason is preferred to superstition and religious faith. Throughout the Star Trek franchise science triumphs over religion. In Roddenberry’s future, science answers all of life’s big questions. Hunger, war, sexism, racism, even the common cold, have been done away with through reason and science.

The Star Trek universe is a place where sectarian-driven conflicts have been replaced by a secular peace. Where star dates have replaced our traditional Christian-based B.C./A.D. calendar.

God is no longer necessary as either the cause of cure for human progress or suffering.

In the Star Trek (TOS) episode “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, the crew of the Enterprise dispatch with a “God” by refusing to believe in him. The god simply fades away. Just as God has faded away from Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Check out what Enterprise-D captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has to say about religion:

 

 

 

The fight against irrational religious belief and superstition plays a part in more than a few episodes of Star Trek:  “The Apple”, “Catspaw”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Chase”, and “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, to name a few.
The Star Trek preference of the secular over religion is best articulated by Bertrand Russell in his essay, “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Russell writes that religion:

… inflicts all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in he world… Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all of your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing fear of the mysteries, fear of defeat, fear of death.

 

Fear is exactly what the “God” of Sha Ka Ree wants Kirk, Sybok, etc. to feel.

 

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP


And this is how Kirk knows that “God” is a complete fraud.

 

He knows this god, let alone any god, isn’t a real deity.

As a secular humanist, Kirk doesn’t (won’t) grant the “God” of Sha Ka Ree an ounce of legitimacy; especially legitimacy to any creature that issues senseless demands enforced with fear and lightning bolts. So Kirk refuses to believe “God” is God.

Any real God wouldn’t punishment someone for asking a simple question.

Science and reason don’t punish people for being curious.

Obsolete gods do.

So, the “God” of Sha Ka Ree loses his power.

That’s not really all that bad though. God isn’t really what the movie was about, anyway.

 

logical spock

 

 

What Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is about is what every Star Trek show, novel, comic book, cartoon or movie is about: us. It’s not God or even the universe that is the final frontier. The final frontier is people. It’s man himself that is the universe’s greatest mystery. Sha Ka Ree did not reveal God to Sybok.

However, what Sha Ka Ree did reveal was Sybok.

Sybok was arrogant, sinister, and dangerous. His intent wasn’t to find God but to accumulate more power for himself; more like Jim Jones than John the Baptist.

Sybok may have thought, or rather, fooled himself into thinking that he was going to solve the mystery of God. But as things in the Star Trek universe go, Sybok was nothing more than a standard sci-fi villain.

Unfortunately, even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I know this statement is quite controversial. It seems that it’s not entirely true that God can create or do “anything”. God is unable to create any universe that he does not exist, grossly violate the laws of nature, interfere with human free will, or manifest contradictions (such as a round square) or create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bertrand Russell. “Why I’m Not A Christian”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Dennon. NY: Touchstone. p 596.

 

 

Captain Kirk Makes Scrambled Eggs! (On Star Trek, Nozick’s Experience Machine, and the Worst Star Trek Subplot EVER)

I was watching Star Trek: Generations awhile ago. It’s not a great movie. It pretty much follows the every-other-movie Star Trek rule. That is to say, it’s an odd-numbered Star Trek movie.

The odd-numbered are the ones that suck.

The every-odd-numbered Star Trek movie rule goes like this: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan  (number 2 in the film series) = great movie. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier  (number 5 in the film series) = steaming pile.

The problem with Star Trek: Generations has mainly to do with the plot. It just doesn’t make sense. I haven’t made a formal count, but I’d guess there’s about 89 equally baffling subplots going on in the movie. There are plots involving Data and his emotion chip, the ample-bosomed, Klingon Duras sisters and their plan to destroy the Enterprise, the usually-entertaining Malcolm Mc Dowell and his quest to get back to something called the Nexus, and a not-so-successful meeting of Enterprise captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.

There’s also some mumbo-jumbo about Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and her relationship with Malcolm Mc Dowell (his character, that is), an opening flashback scene that introduces us to Sulu’s daughter and Kirk’s replacement, the inept Captain Harriman, the crash and explosion of the Enterprise in which the entire Enterprise crew is killed, and some GAWD-AWFUL attempted humor in the holodeck that takes place on the deck of a pirate galleon.

Whoever thought it would be funny to see a Klingon walk the plank was wrong. It’s not.

Now, any honest Star Trek fan will tell you that they’ve not been entirely impressed with every TV show or movie plot line. As much as I was forced to hold back bile while watching the Enterprise crew’s pirate ship shenanigans, if I wanted to be honest, my vote for the worst of the subplots – the worst subplot in any Star Trek movie – has to be the Nexus.

The Nexus is the biggest WTF plot line in Star Trek history.

Although strangely enough, it’s one of the most philosophical.

If you’re not acquainted with the Nexus, the Nexus is a kind of alternate world where you can manifest your ideal reality. Once you’ve entered the Nexus, you can spend an eternity in your ideal world. For Captain Jean-Luc Picard, ideal reality looks like a Charles Dickens novel; equipped with English-accented children (never mind that Picard is supposed to be French) in proper period attire. According to Captain Kirk, ideal reality is riding horses, chopping wood, and making eggs for his unseen girlfriend.

 

captain kirk makes eggs

 

I mean, the audience doesn’t get to see Kirk’s girlfriend. But we’re told that she’s in the bedroom upstairs.

We’re told her name is Antonia.

Who TF is Antonia?

As a Star Trek fan, I gotta say that this Antonia thing is upsetting. Not as upsetting as the new Carol Marcus’ British accent, but upsetting. I mean, every Star Trek fan knows that in an ideal world, Kirk would chose to be with his old love Carol Marcus*.

Maybe even chose to be with Edith Keeler.

 

 

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK'S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS WHAT CAPTAIN KIRK’S IDEAL REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE

 

Or maybe, since Star Trek is supposed to be philosophical, Kirk or Picard might have chosen a world that included having a little chat with Robert Nozick. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I get the feeling that the film’s writers were trying to squeeze in some experience machine talk to the audience. The Nexus is Robert Nozick’s experience machine.

Robert Nozick’s thought experiment was an argument against hedonism.

Hedonism, according to the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), is the moral theory grounded on the principle that pleasure is the greatest good. Bentham wrote:

“Nature has placed mankind the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think… By utility is meant that property in any object, good or happiness… to prevent the happening of mischief, pain , evil, or unhappiness…”

Nozick argued that Bentham’s emphasis on pleasure as the greatest good presents us with a problem. Namely, that if we value pleasure for pleasure’s sake, any pleasurable experience will do; we won’t bother to ask if pleasure is what’s really good for us. That is to say, some pleasurable experiences do us more harm than good.

This is precisely what Nozick’s experience machine shows us.

Nozick describes the experience machine as follows:

“Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired… you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank with electrodes attached to your brain.”

If you’re feeling that this is the idea behind The Matrix and/or Total Recall, give yourself five bonus points.

You have seen this one before.

 

I NEVER THOUGHT I'D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I'D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D LIVE TO SEE THE DAY WHEN I’D SAY THE ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER VERSION IS BETTER.

 

Although Nozick knows that some people would not hesitate to climb into the experience machine, he tells us that the wrong choice would be to climb inside. You see, Nozick says that there is more to life than mere pleasure. We should value the quality of our life experiences, not just the quantity of the pleasurable ones. Nozick argues that only is life worth more than pleasure, Nozick also says that the artificial experiences we live in the experience machine lacks authenticity. Nozick says:

“We want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them… we learn that something matters to us in addition to experience.”

In the movie, Picard realizes that he can’t stay in the Nexus. He feels the urge to leave his ideal world, even though the Nexus’ “reality” is exactly the life that Picard wants. Picard knows that the Nexus isn’t real – that life inside the Nexus is, in reality, a denial of life. Picard eventually convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus (Kirk is also aware that life inside the Nexus isn’t “real”), and the two men rush to save the Enterprise from – well, you see, this is where the plot of the movie gets really convoluted.

 

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

WHO THOUGHT TWO OLD DUDES FIGHTING WOULD BE ENTERTAINING?

 

 

Anyway, long story short. Kirk dies.

But here’s the thing: even though Kirk dies, it was better that he left the Nexus. According to Nozick, Kirk’s life in the Nexus was kind of living death. Since Kirk wasn’t actually chopping wood, riding his horse or making eggs for his girlfriend, he wasn’t really experiencing anything. We’re tempted to say that Kirk’s authentic death outside of the Nexus was qualitatively better than any thing he had experienced inside his artificial reality.

I guess unless you’re Thomas Nagel. You’d probably think Kirk’s death was pretty messed up.

But then, Nagel said any death is pretty messed up.

Ok, we get it. Nozick wants us to value authenticity over pleasure and we shouldn’t want to hook up to the experience machine. Nozick’s argument works fine if all we want to do inside the experience machine is to avoid the real world or to fulfill our desire to get tag-teamed by Megan Fox and Mila Kunis.

Or if you’re Kirk, shagging a couple of Orion slave girls.

But, if the quality of our experiences matters in the real world, why wouldn’t the quality of our artificial experiences matter as well?

If we choose to take private philosophy lessons from Socrates or to sit on a meeting of the Vienna Circle or choose to spend our time in the experience machine in deep philosophical contemplation, would we say that we wasted our lives away doing nothing of real value? If the circumstances of our lives prevent us from doing what we want to do, why should we reject an offer to spend time in the experience machine?

Would Nozick say that a person who is physically incapacitated shouldn’t want to experience climbing a mountain or taking a long walk along a beach? Would it be wrong if a woman living in a nation that oppresses women uses an experience machine to have a kind of life she is not permitted to have at home?

Is there ever a circumstance when good, albeit simulated, experiences are preferable to one’s shitty, all-too real existence?

I don’t know what Nozick would say about that, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for jumping into the experience machine if it meant you didn’t have to watch Star Trek V.

 

 

 

 
* It would also seem correct that Kirk’s ideal world would have included, along with Carol Marcus, Kirk and Marcus’ son David. Kirk did not meet his son until David was an adult (in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Unfortunately, David Marcus was murdered by Klingons in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It seems quite reasonable that a man would want to spend an ideal eternity with his long-lost son.

 

 

 
Sources:

Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. 1974. NY: Basic Books.

Jeremy Bentham. “The Utilitarian Calculus”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. 5th edition. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. Belmont CA: Wadsworth. p. 143.

Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

John Hughes died a couple of weeks ago. Heart attack. That makes me feel old. That is, when one’s idols of their youth start to pop off from the things that killed our grandparents, that oly serves to remind us how old we’re all getting. That the chances of leaving that good-looking corpse gets slimmer and slimmer. I was thinking about how much (back in the 80s) John Hughes movies were, as they say nowadays, the shit. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, even Some Kind of Wonderful — all classics of 80s teen cinema (and I must say much better in quality than Losin’ It, The Last American Virgin or The Joy of Sex. Yes, there is a movie that shares its title with the Alex Comfort sex manual). I remember when these movies were the hottest thing worth watching, that everybody had their favorite movie from which to cull movie quotes a plenty; “what’s happenin’ hot stuff?”, “you got my doobage?”, “what about prom?!?” “roll ’em up!”…. it goes on, and on. I decided, really because I had nothing better to do, to watch a John Hughes movie. I picked the 1986 Hughes flick, Ferris Bueller’s Day off. That movie, of course contains the sage advice from Ferris, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. The idea I guess, is that I’m supposed to learn the value of carpe dieming from a character that is still in high school. Personally, when I think back to how I was in high school, I remember that I was undre the delusion that I was smarter than the average bear. Thank God that I didn’t follow my own advice! Anyway, I was watching Ferris and co., when it suddenly hit me. Maybe it’s looking through the cynical eyes of someone past puberty, but I realized how horrible Ferris really was. I realized what self-indulgent jerks so many of Hughes’ characters really are! Here’s a taste: Farmer Ted is a date-rapist (he got Jake Ryan’s girlfriend, with Jake’s encouragement, no less, when she was drunk), Andy (Pretty In Pink) was a bitch, who in no way deserved Ducky, and the Griswolds were racists! These people were supposed to be like typical Americans. Yeah, I guess if you live in a world where amazingly enough, everybody is white, and the only minorities you encounter come right out of black acting school .I think, in retrospect, that John Hughes’ American teenager was about as real as Shermer, Illinois. But back to Ferris. I think, of all of Hughes’ main characters (with the possible exception of Kevin McAllister,the kid from Home Alone, who seems to know to set booby traps for intruders better than a seasoned Navy Seal), that Ferris Bueller is Hughes’ biggest selfish ass. Despite the fact that all the “sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads” all adore him and think he’s a “righteous dude”, Ferris, for my two bits, is an asshole. The whole day is devoted to his dicking off. For starters. He doesn’t care if everyone else has to go to school or to work “on a day like this”. Oh, no. It’s all about the fact that Ferris can’t be bothered by responsibility. That’s what other people (like his sister Jeanie) do. He needs a day off! Ferris doesn’t care when his BF Cameron tells him that he’s sick. Ferris doesn’t care about the fact that Cameron’s (seeming abusive) father would certainly kill him if his prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California gets messed up ( and we know that it does). To have his day off, Ferris is wholeheartedly willing to lie to his parents, and to his principal. He pulls his girlfriend out of class (thus depriving her of a day of learning) by faking her grandmother’s death, humiliates a maitre d’ at the restaurant to prove his superiority, and eventually (in a all-eyes-on-me move) commandeers a German Day Parade float. The only time that Ferris shows any kind of remorse for what he does is when he feigns regret so that he can further exploit other people. Now, either Ferris manifests some sort of sociopathic personality disorder (mainly an extrene case of narcissistic personality) or, since I am a philosopher, and neither qualified nor willing to render a psychiatric diagnosis (especially for a character who does not exist), I’m more willing to say that Ferris is an egoist. Egoism, bare boned, is the idea that everyone ought to look after his own interests. This is because we are unable to know anyone else’s needs or motivations. We only really know what we need or what motivates us. Therefore, the egoist says, not only are we restricted to seeing the world from our own point of view, but that (because of this fact) we are morally obligated to act in a manner that benefits ourselves. Happiness is achieved when one acts according to his own rational interests. In short short, egoists practice Kirk’s inversion of Vulcan logic, in that an egoist, like Kirk, believes that the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. But enough Star Trek. The egoist is concerned about others in so far as his concern for others contributes to his own happiness. For example, I give to charity. Sure, I help the poor, but what I really want is pats on the back, maybe some civic award, a chance to meet the president, whatever. The point is,, is the fact that the less fortunate got some help was a bi-product of my wanting to be the center of attention. So when Ferris says to Cameron that the day was really for him, we know that Cameron’s good day was a fortunate consequence to Ferris’ egoist act. It seems that, since the day ended pretty good for everyone (well, Principal Rooney looked like he wasn’t going to enjoy that bus ride), what’s the harm in being selfish, so long as you don’t hurt anybody? The people at school adore Ferris. Their lives are made better by the fact that he exists ( remember, they take up a collection to help him recover from his illness). Cameron finally gets the courage to stand up to his father. That’s good, right? After all, being self-centered is a natural psychological disposition. Spend an afternoon with a chilod under 6 and it’s fairly easy to see that this is the case. Being self- centered, from time to time, does is good. It’s a survival machanism. So, if at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, everyone is happy (especially Ferris — and it is important that Ferris is happy), no harm no foul right? In a way, Ferris is a typical example of an egoist character. In many ways, he’s not unlike Howard Roark, the protagoinist of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. In her description of Roarke, Rand writes: “He is not militant or defiant about his utter selfishness… He has a quiet, irrevocable calm of an iron conviction. No dramatics, no hysteria, no sensitiveness about it – because there are no doubts… A quick, sharp mind, courageous and not afraid to be hurt, has long since grasped and understood completely that the world is not what he is and just exactly what the world is… He will be himself at any cost – the only thing he really wants of life. And, deep inside of him, he knows that he has the ability to win the right to be himself”. Not only is Ferris an egoist, apparently, he’s an Randian Objectivist. I don’t know if this is what John Hughes had in mind when he created Ferris Bueller. I suspect that he did not. But, Ferris is a character who we see does not back down — he lives his life on his own terms. This is why we like Ferris. This is why all the “sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts,” etal. adore him. We know that, deep down, we are Camerons, living a life that Thoreau said is lived in “quiet desperation”, needing our Ferris to come to tell us that there is a lfe out there that we are missing. Hughes said that Ferris isn’t “labored with all the difficulties that everyone else is”. We know that because Jeanine, Ferris’ sister, says that he “gets away” with everything. Ferris is a self-defined man who does not allow the obstacle of other people get in his way. Rand describes 3 fundamental values of man: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Co-star Ben Stein described Ferris as having an “inner mobility” and “inner sense of freedom and self-confidence”. Stein’s description also falls in line with Rand’s values. Ferris, is as Rand’s ethics describes, a man who lives for his own sake — is an end onto himself. The achievement of his happiness is his greates moral purpose in life. Ben Stein claims, however, that Ferris is not in it for himself. He is a great friend, Stein says, because he helps Cameron to liberate himself. I say this may be true, but as an egoist is sure to point out, Cameron’s liberation is but a happy accident. A smart egoist knows that he cannot and should not prance about waving his egoism in everyone’s faces (mostly for fear of being mistaken for an egotist, which is another individual altogether). Ferris, like many egoists, is very clever. Brian Medlin says that egoism has one, big problem — namely that it is self-defeating. The only way that one can be a successful egoist is if one is closeted about it. Doing so supposedly also undermines egoism, as a good moral theory is one that we should be able to make public. Medlin writes, ” what is he when he urges upon his audience that they should observe his own interests and those alone? Is he not acting contrary to the egoist principle? It cannot be to his advantage to convince them, for seizing always their own advantage they will impair his”. So, if Medlin is correct, Ferris could not ring up Cameron and say, ” hey Cam, as an egoist, I’m going to tke the day off. I’m going to spend the entire day devoted to pleasing me, and I’m going to exploit you and Sloane along the way. Wanna come along? By the way, bring your dad’s car”. This would not work, Medlin claims, because no one wants to live in a world where people only look after themselves. (And therefore, we toss out egoism). But, the key is is that exploiting others doesn’t always mean that they are harmed. Really. Especially if you keep it a secret that that is what you are doing. So when Ferris borrows Cameron’s pop’s car, it’s outwardly for Sloane. When Ferris humiliates the maitre d’, it’s because he’s putting a snooty butthole in his place. When Ferris lip-syncs to “Twist and Shout” on the float, he’s showing Cameron something good that day. The fact that Ferris was Ferris’ main motivation didn’t mean that others had to get hurt. Medlin and other haters tend to act as if being an egoist means that you’re somewhere near the Marquis de Sade in how you treat others. Not so. The trick is that you don’t go waving your egoist banner everywhere. If you have to tell other people that you’re a Kantian, so be it. Just as longs as everyone (especially you) is happy. If you are successful, you can get exactly what you want, while everyone else thinks you’re a righteous dude. All it takes it a little bit of obfuscation. And because no one admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy. Especially Ferris. BTW: anyone get the feeling that Cameron didn’t show the next day at school? or the next… or the next….