Thanksgiving is this Thursday here in the States, and while I partake in the annual fest of overeating to the point of gluttony-induced sleepiness/self-loathing and pretending to like my relatives, I’ll remind myself that it’s also the time of the year when we look at our lives and think of the things we are grateful for.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make a grateful for list, particularly when there are so many things out there to complain about
…and especially when your fourth favorite philosopher is Schopenhauer.
The German philosophers are such a dour bunch, aren’t they?
As just an average Joe, I’m thankful for my health and my friends and family. I’m thankful that my brain is functioning properly (knock on wood) and that, at the present moment, I have little reason to believe that I am under the influence of an evil demon or a brain in a vat.
I’m thankful that I added on a second major to study philosophy.
I give thanks that I was never assigned to read Heidegger.
Or Ayn Rand.
I’m thankful for Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the Categorical Imperative.
Who knew that would come in handy?
I’m thankful that I don’t have to read another analytic philosopher…unless I want to.
I’m thankful that nearly every dumb decision Rick Grimes has ever made just goes to show how stupid utilitarianism really is.
I’m thankful for that stupid “you have to have a high IQ to understand Rick and Morty” meme.
I’m thankful for Rick and Morty. Monty Python, Star Trek, reality t.v., and The WalkingDead.
I’m thankful for Daryl Dixon.
Oh god, there I go. I admit it. I AM GRATEFUL FOR DARYL DIXON.
I’m thankful my professors made me read Leo Strauss and Plato.
I’m thankful for The Philosopher’s Toolkit.
I’m thankful for Wikipedia.
I give thanks for Rolling Rock Beer.
I’m thankful that Logical Positivism shows that even smart people can come up with bad ideas.
I’m thankful for self-publishing.
And Slavoj Žižek memes.
As I shovel one last bite of turkey and stuffing into my Mr. Creosote-sized belly, I will give thanks for all the people who get Nietzsche so dreadfully wrong that their misadventures in nihilism will give me many years’ worth of material to write about.
I am grateful for all my cool philosophy classmates who became cool philosophical friends.
I’m grateful that people know we need philosophers, too.
Lastly, I’m grateful for you. Yep. YOU. All of you folks out there reading this little, dumb blog of mine. I’m grateful for all of you who take time out of your day to read the musings of this self-proclaimed philosopher and pop culture enthusiast.
Thank you all from the bottom of my mindlessly philosophical heart.
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.
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 SevenDwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.
Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?
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.
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”.
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.
Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
*TW: this post includes discussion of sexual assault
THERE’S A SCENE in the movie Spaceballs – it’s supposed to be a parody of the chestburster scene in the movie Alien – where the late John Hurt re-enacts the scene where his character, Kane shows us what happens when you get too close to something that looks like this
And then this happens
Seriously no Bueno.
In Alien, Kane dies. In Spaceballs, Kane’s misfortune ends with a punchline.
Because Spaceballs is a comedy.
If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. That Dark Helmet is pretty funny.
Gazing down at the newly born xenomorph emerging from his opened chest, John Hurt, as Kane, laments, “Oh no, not again.”
I’m kinda understanding how Kane felt right now.
Not because I have an alien neonate bursting from my chest.
It’s because I, too have recently said the phrase “oh no, not again”.
It wasn’t the punchline of a joke, though.
I said it because I, like Kane, was lamenting the repeat of something I’d been through before – discovering that yet another one of my faves is “problematic”.
“Problematic” is an understatement.
One of my faves is accused of committing multiple acts of sexual assault. On minors.
Now, I’ve written about problematic favorites before. Thrice, in fact.
If you’re a fan of enough famous people, you’ll find that there’s a certain percentage of them that are, for lack of a better phrase, bad people. As a Beatles fan, I am aware of accusations of John Lennon’s violent behavior, including spousal abuse.
As a fan of philosophy, I know that philosophy is filled with sexists, anti-Semites, racists, even renowned University of California, Berkley philosophy professors accused of sexual assault.
…and I’m not even talking about old white guys who lived hundreds of years ago.
Alright, I know that no human is perfect, even myself. Many of us has done something that, if we ran what we did through an ethical evaluation machine, our acts would label us “problematic”.
I’m not expecting moral perfection.
For me, being a philosopher isn’t about being perfect (No philosopher is. Not even Hegel).
Luckily studying and enjoying philosophy doesn’t require that.
I know that no person is perfect. And I know that brilliant people; people who do wonderful things, create amazing art, or develop the perfect ontology, can do the most heinous moral wrongs.
Schopenhauer pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.
Intellectually I realize (rationalize?) that it’s possible to separate a creator from their creation; that, despite what I know about John Lennon, Roman Polanski, or Colin McGinn, it’s possible to enjoy and appreciate what they have contributed to our culture and public discourse.
Heidegger was a Nazi, but I can’t deny his influence on the way we think.
As much as I am sometimes reluctant to admit that I can push aside what I know about the private acts of my favorite famous people, I ask if I should push the acts aside. I can’t but feel that there’s something wrong with saying John Lennon was a horrible person, but his horribleness doesn’t matter (or at least matters less) because he made some really good music.
That just doesn’t sound right.
I still feel that people should be held morally accountable for what they do. Even if they’re brilliant filmmakers, actors, musicians or philosophers.
As a philosopher, I fear a slide into a moral relativism based on the principle of “whatever you do is ok so long as I like what you do”.
That’s not good at all.
So, I ask again, what do I do?
What is the appropriate way to deal with problematic faves? Is it morally wrong to continue to enjoy the music of John Lennon or the films of Roman Polanski or Kevin Spacey, even if they’ve committed morally objectionable acts?
Are people inseparable from what they do? Are we obligated to turn our back on them? Should we throw away their albums? Burn their books? Boycott their films?
As I write about this subject for the third time, my answer is I still don’t know.
But I have the feeling that before I figure it out, I’ll be saying “Oh, no. Not again”.
WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT something long enough you realize that there’s always something to write about, and that you will never have enough time to write about all the things that are rattling around inside your mind.
After a while you inevitably accumulate an “I was gonna write about that” list.
And that list turns in to things started and stopped, deleted and rewritten.
The next book you’re “working on”
That blog post you’ve been plugging away at for days…weeks… months….
Another thing you realize when your write about stuff is that there’s a lot of stuff that other people want you to write about, too.
That becomes your “Things I might write about” list.
Might usually means never.
Unless, of course, you take requests.
Which is something I haven’t done.
You see, unlike other people who identify their vocation as “writer”; those people who deal in original thoughts, my writing necessarily depends on the work of others. I write about pop culture. Movies, t.v. shows, books, music, politics, current events – it’s all there for the writing. All of it.
…and that’s part of the problem.
I don’t keep up with the Kardashians
I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones
Or Stranger Things
I hear The Good Place is good, but I still haven’t seen it
I haven’t seen the last Thor flick
Or listened to Taylor Swift’s latest album
I don’t regret that last one, though.
Hey, haters gonna hate.
Although I think I’ve watched enough The Walking Dead to write a treatise on Rick Grimes thick enough to make Kant envious*.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, there are only so many hours that a person, even a pop culture junkie like myself, can devote to watching movies and t.v. shows, listening to music, and reading books.
Especially when you’re devoted to watching, reading, listening to, and thinking about things philosophically.
I’m so busy over-analyzing episodes of Star Trek, Breaking Bad, Rick and Morty, watching Fight Club for the one-hundred seventh time, purposefully avoiding Star Trek: Discovery, and digging into the hidden meaning in Beatles songs to deep enough give Charles Manson a run for his money, that everything else gets placed on the perpetual backburner of things I might write about.
Then there’s that real-world stuff I’m supposed to be doing – school, work, having anything resembling an actual social life…
In the end, figuring out the philosophical subtext of things takes bit out of you.
Even if you’re two seasons behind on American Horror Story.
I’m two seasons behind…
Now, I guess if I was (or is it were? I dunno. I’m a philosopher, not a grammar person) inclined to be a butthole about things I’d say to every person who said, “you should write about this” should write about that themselves.
But that would be, as Birdperson said, “a dick move”.
Besides, as a watcher of popular media who has done enough complaining about things to have heard my fill of fandom’s variation of the No True Scotsman Fallacy, the No True Fan, I’m not that much of an asshole to off-handedly dismiss a request or suggestion by declaring that someone simply “write it yourself”.
An amazing feat, considering I’m also a fan of Schopenhauer.
All said and done, I appreciate requests. Namely, a request means that someone is reading my blog.
but also, a request means that there’s at least one someone else out there who likes thinking of things philosophically.
And that can’t be all that bad a thing.
So, I guess it’s not such an awful thing to be the Wolfman Jack of philosophy.
I guess the request lines are now open.
So! Tell me what thing written about philosophically that you want to read about and I might write about it.
*I’m trying like hell to do just that: I’ve written at least ten (I don’t know, maybe more, maybe less) posts about The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, specific characters from both series, and zombies in general. I don’t exactly know what all this writing about the show is going to do for me, other than to say that I have absolutely nothing going on in my life on Sunday nights.
October is nearly over, and I not only wanted to write something for the month of October, but I also I wanted to write something about Halloween.
And since I’ve been doing so much thinking about things, I wanted to think about Halloween philosophically.
Obviously, that’s where I ran into a bit of a problem.
First off, without a shred of embarrassment, I’m gonna say it right now, Halloween is my favorite holiday.
More than Christmas. More than Valentine’s Day or the Fourth of July, my favorite day of the year is the lone day when assuming a different identity and panhandling is not only accepted but encouraged.
I enjoy dressing up in costumes.
I enjoy scaring small children.
I enjoy eating candy.
Diabetic coma be damned.
Now, there’s a field of philosophy that deals with fear − the philosophy of fear. But that has to do with stuff like the social contract and Hobbes – state of nature kind of stuff.
And there’s a philosophy of horror. But that has to do with how we emotionally respond to something that we know isn’t real, like a horror movie.
Philosophers call that “irrational” response is called the paradox of fiction.
Sooo… do philosophers have anything to say about Halloween?
I mean, come on. Philosophers write about everything!
However, if my brief Google search of the words “philosophy” and “Halloween” is any indication of what philosophers think about All Hallows Eve, I find, not a brief Kantian treatise on the proper sexy fireman costume, but to line of skin care products.
You can imagine my disappointment.
Well…there are plenty of books, movies, and t.v. shows that are (either) Halloween themed or popular this time of year that have philosophical under or overtones.
The Saw flicks.
The zombie films of George A. Romero.
Heck, I’ve even written about zombies…
Feminist philosophers talk about sexism in Halloween costumes.
*NOT PICTURED: SEXY SOCRATES HALLOWEEN COSTUME
And some philosophy-lovin’ folks out there have put together some pretty snazzy philosophy-themed, not sexist Halloween costumes.
But when I looked for quotes from the go-to, everybody-knows-their-names philosophers (Kant, Nietzsche, Hegel, you know the names) about Halloween itself, sadly I couldn’t find anything.
Although I found this one quote.
Baudrillard said this about Halloween:
So, my fellow philosophy-loving friends, have you found anything written by philosophers about Halloween?
I WOULDN’T SAY THAT I’m a classic film buff. I got nothing against movies filmed in black and white or against sometimes excruciatingly slow-paced films. I enjoy watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies) just as much as anybody else who can’t find anything else good to watch on TV on a Sunday afternoon. Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon a classic film I actually like.
Which is exactly what happened the first time I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.
If you ask any even slightly serious connoisseur of film, they’ll most likely tell you that British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (1899 -1980), is one of their favorite film directors. That wouldn’t be surprising, considering that Hitchcock directed some of the most influential films in cinema history.
Although Hitchcock is renowned for his psychological thrillers (Psycho, released in 1960 is probably Hitchcock’s best-known psychological film), Rope, released in 1948, is, by far, Hitchcock’s most philosophical film.
In addition to being Hitchcock’s most philosophical film, Rope also includes one of the greatest zingers about philosophy, ever.
Phillip: Rupert only publishes books he likes, usually philosophy. Janet: Oh. Small print, big words, no sales.
Rope, based on the British stage play, which was loosely inspired by the 1924 murder of Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, was called, by Hitchcock, a “gimmick”.
Hitchcock attempted to shoot the film as a filmed stage play, not-so-cleverly hiding film cuts by zooming in on the backs of the actors, a technique that was technically impossible in the day.
Although the film isn’t technically great (the film’s flaws are sometimes glaring), in 1948, the year of the film’s release, the homosexual subtext was more of a problem for studio executives than Hitchcock’s technical ambitions. The implied homosexual relationship between the film’s central leads, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, Played by John Dahl and Farley Granger (respectively), had to be removed to avoid violating Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production code.**
…despite the fact that the film’s two male leads, Farley Granger and John Dahl, and the screenwriter, Arthur Laurents, were all “it”, a word that Laurents said the studio used in place of the word “homosexual”.
If you look past the film’s flaws (especially a dreadfully miscast James Stewart as the murdering duo’s former schoolmaster), Rope isn’t remotely subtle with its philosophy.
The philosophy in Rope is club-you-over-the-head-with-a-frozen-leg-of-lamb level philosophy.
There’s a full-blown discussion of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch during a dinner scene.
Although other films have done philosophy better, Rope is an important philosophical film − if not for the reason that Hitchcock’s underrated masterpiece demonstrates what happens when Nietzsche goes wrong. Or rather, what happens when the wrong people read Nietzsche.
Not to give anything away, but somebody ends up dead.
It’s not too great an assumption to speculate that the homicidal pair in Rope are the kind of guys, if they lived now, would be the kind of guys who’ll watch Fight Club and fall under the delusion that they must start their own fight club, posting videos of their backyard fights on YouTube.
Totally violating the first rule of Fight Club, by the way.
And like Fight Club, the main characters of Rope are also examples of what happens when Nietzsche happens to morally ambiguous people.
So who is this Friedrich Nietzsche that the movies like to talk about?
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), was a German philosopher and social critic, most associated with Nihilism. Nihilism, according to Wikipedia “…is a philosophical doctrine that suggests the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life.
Nietzsche has been accused of advocating for and/or blamed for every bad idea from anti-Semitism to racism to National Socialism.
And like those who implicate Nietzsche in the rise of 20th century Nazism, the problem with Brandon and Phillip is that they got Nietzsche all wrong.
The problem with the film’s antagonists, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, is that they fancy themselves Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, (often translated as “Superman”, but also translated as “overseer” and “transhuman”).
They make a pretty big assumption, considering that the concept only briefly appears in Nietzsche’s Thus SpokeZarathustra, published in 1883.
That’s where Nietzsche introduces the Ubermensch.
In the prologue, Nietzsche writes: “The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth! I entreat you my brethren, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of supra-terrestrial hopes! …Behold, I teach you the Übermensch: he is this lightning, he is this madness! …Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this lightning is called Übermensch.”
I’m warning you all right now that in my effort to achieve some sort of brevity explaining Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, I will almost certainly butcher Nietzsche’s philosophy.
According to Nietzsche, modernity corrupts society. The old values that were the foundation of society pre-modernity (namely Christian values), no longer provide a meaning to life. The old values are no longer life affirming. The old, life denying values die. Without life affirming values, society needs a great man to emerge.
You know, to create a new morality and stuff.
Eventually, Nietzsche says, the Ubermensch arises. The Ubermensch is independent in his mind and spirit. He (it’s always a HE) overcomes the old values and creates new, life affirming values instead of following the old meaningless values.
Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan totally believe that this is them.
At this point I might add that the inclusion of the homosexual subtext of the film would have come in handy. Not only would including the homosexual subtext help to explain the murderers’ motivations, but, as Arthur Laurents states, the original stage play suggests that the two killers are romantically involved, and that at least one of the pair had a sexual relationship with the former headmaster.
Now you see why James Stewart was miscast.
Namely, as the Ubermensch, Brandon and Phillip believe they alone, like Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, decide morality. They alone decide who lives and who dies. In Brandon’s assessment, superior people like Brandon and Phillip possess the right to kill.
And because they are beyond the conventional rules of society, the pair decide to exercise their ubermenchness by killing their former classmate, David Kentley.
They murder Kentley because they are superior to him.David Kentley, and others like him, in the words of Brandon Shaw, are “inferior beings whose lives are unimportant anyway”.
Brandon says of David Kentley:
“The good Americans usually die on young on the battlefield, don’t they? Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. Of course, he, uh, was a Harvard undergraduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.”
During a conversation at a dinner party, ostensibly thrown to celebrate a piano recital to be performed by Phillip (but also as a sick joke to gloat over getting away with committing the perfect murder), Brandon explains, or rather, justifies, his philosophical superiority and why he possesses the right to murder. Brandon says,
“Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them”
Mind you, Brandon is explaining his ethic to the father of David Kentley, who is unaware, not only that his son was murdered by Brandon and Phillip, but also unaware of the fact that his son’s killers have hidden the body in a trunk upon which the dinner party, including David Kentley’s father and aunt, is served.
There’s a problem with all this, tho.
And not just because murder, no matter how superior you think you are, is illegal.
The problem is that Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan aren’t Ubermensch material.
In the film, Brandon notes that the best kind of men die on the battlefield, something that neither he nor Phillip has done.
They are not strong men.
Not just not strong physically, but they lack strength emotionally.
Phillip is a weak follower. He follows Brandon’s lead because, by his own admission, Phillip fears Brandon.
Nietzsche says that the Ubermensch is not driven by resentment of the success of others.
Quite frankly, the Ubermensch doesn’t care.
Brandon and Phillip are resentful of their former classmate. David is attractive and well-liked. He is intelligent, has good parents, and a beautiful fiancé.
A fiancé that Brandon once dated.
The murder was driven more by their jealousy of David Kentley and their need for the approval of their former schoolmaster than it represented the Ubermensch assuming his rightful place in society.
The Ubermensch don’t need approval from nobody.
What Brandon and Phillip fail to realize is that the Will to Power doesn’t mean to force one’s will on others.
When the former headmaster discovers what Brandon and Phillip have done, instead of being pleased by such a magnificent example of the Ubermensch in action, the former schoolmaster tells the pair that they are not superior beings or the masters of life and death; they had no right to murder David Kentley.
The former schoolmaster is horrified to discover that his former students have used his lessons to justify murder.
The schoolmaster sees firsthand what happens when Nietzsche happens to the wrong people.
He is appalled at what he sees.
…and so would Nietzsche.
**If you’ve never heard of the Motion Picture Production Code, the code, also known as the Hays Code, named after stick in the mud and notorious fuddy duddy Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America president, Will H. Hays, was the set of dos and don’ts imposed on motion picture studio productions (for the purposes of preserving morals) released in the United States between the years 1930 to 1968, when the code was replaced by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) ratings system.
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. Ding, ding, ding went the bell.
“The Trolley Song”, from Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
THE PHILOSOPHER Albert Camus famously said there is one philosophical question.
According to Camus, the one philosophical question is whether one should commit suicide.
I don’t know what Camus did to occupy his spare time, but I doubt that many philosophers think of things so drastically.
Certainly, there has to be one question that isn’t… that question.
For most philosophers, philosophical questions are mostly hypothetical.
So you’d only hypothetically be committing suicide.
Wait – was Camus speaking hypothetically?
Philosophers call their hypothetical questions thought experiments.
However, unlike real professions, philosophers don’t “experiment” in laboratories in white coats with test tubes and Bunsen burners. Philosophers experiment in their minds.
Philosophical thought experiments don’t require any specialized training or talent, other than the capacity to make up stuff.
So, what is a thought experiment?
“Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things. They are used for diverse reasons in a variety of areas, including economics, history, mathematics, philosophy, and the sciences, especially physics (SEP)
In Camus’ world, the ultimate philosophical question may be whether to commit suicide, but in the realm of thought experiments, there is only one philosophical problem: the trolley problem.
Credited to the British philosopher, Philippa Foot (1920 – 2010), the trolley problem is an ethical thought experiment.
Specifically, a utilitarian thought experiment.
The “experiment” goes as follows:
“The general aim is this: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: 1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. 2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person
Which one is the ethical choice?
At least this is the experiment according to Wikipedia.
The intention of the experiment is to test how and why we make ethical choices and how our method of choice can present us with additional moral dilemmas.
Although I suspect that a Randian ethical egoist would never consider the trolley problem moral dilemma inducing.
Unless you’ve been living under the only rock on the internet, even if you don’t know diddly poop about philosophy, you’ve undoubtedly seen the trolley problem.
It’s quite popular.
There are entire websites, Facebook pages, and memes devoted to the trolley problem.
Now, if you do live under a rock and you don’t do memes and you’re still convinced that you’ve never seen the trolley problem before, I’ll inform you that trolley problems are everywhere. You may have talked about or mulled over a trolley problem-like scenario without knowing it.
The list of trolley problem-like scenarios includes (but is certainly not limited to):
The Drowning Man (for some inexplicable reason, the drowning man is almost always Hitler)
The Fat Man
The Organ Transplant/Donor
…and the trolley problem’s considerably less attractive cousin, the “Sophie’s Choice”.
If you’re a Star Trek fan you’ve undoubtedly seen shades of the trolley problem in Starfleet’s Kobayashi Maru test.
One famous variation of the classic trolley problem presents us with the choice sending the trolley down one track, where (at least) five people, presumably strangers, will be killed by the train or to divert the oncoming trolley down another track, where our own child has chosen (God knows why) to hang out.
Waiting for trolleys, I guess.
The situation forces us to make the choice between quantity (saving five people) and quality (valuing the life of our child over the lives of others). Is our child worth more than five lives?
Yes, you say?
What if our child is Hitler?
No matter the situational variation, there is one question at the heart of the trolley problem’s moral dilemma: given two shitty choices, which one would you choose?
The trolley problem requires us to decide who lives and who dies (that’s the ethics part).
AAANNNDD since the trolley problem is a test of utilitarian ethics, our decision to pull the lever (or to not pull the lever) usually has something to do with the principle of utility – that is to say, who is the most valuable?
Or rather, who is the most expendable?
Wait – do I gotta write something about utility, now?
The principle of Utility is…well, the “founder” of utilitarianism (technically hedonism), the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832), says:
“By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves if every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of a party whose interest is in question…”
In short, according to the Principle of Utility, an action is right if the action produces happiness (for the greatest number of people) and an action is wrong if it causes people pain or unhappiness.
Ok… so you might be saying at this point that the trolley problem seems a little bit boring and dumb. How could this “problem” be THE philosophical problem. How is it that philosophers have devote so much time (decades, man. DECADES) to coming up with variations on such an uninteresting and easily answerable supposed moral dilemma.
And honestly, if you said that you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
But there’s a reason why the trolley problem is so popular. There’s a reason, even if you’ve never set foot in a philosophy class, why the trolley problem has invaded internet memes and our favorite TV shows.
It’s because the trolley problem, at its heart, is pretty f’ed up.
Contemplating the various scenarios, deciding who and how many people we place on the tracks, drowning in the lake, or in the lifeboat, allows even the meekest moral philosopher to go full-on Jigsaw, placing (hypothetical) people in increasingly elaborate and horrific ethical games where most of them will end up dead.
The trolley problem allows us to evaluate the way we make decisions that will affect other people. By deciding who lives and who dies in a thought experiment, we can speculate on the long-range consequences of our actions. We must weigh the consequences of ho we choose to save very carefully. Making the same choice of who to save under different circumstances may yield different consequences. Choosing to save the child might save the child who eventually grows up to cure cancer.
…or we might have saved the child who invented World War II.
In the real world, our choices may not be so extreme, but we do make choices that may bring happiness to many and unhappiness to one, or may save one at the expense of many others.
Whether it’s Congress deciding which social program to fund or Shane deciding to shoot Otis in the knee to save Carl
You didn’t think I wouldn’t sneak a The Walking Dead reference in here, did you?
We all, in some way, at some time, decide to pull the lever.