KIERKEGAARDING WITH THE KARDASHIANS

IF THERE’S ONE THING that most people can agree upon, its that we live in a culture of celebrity worship. Its not just that there’s a few tabloid rags at the check-out counter; there are entire networks devoted to exploring the lives and goings-on of the famous and almost famous.

Entire networks.

We weren’t always like this, they say…

And with a marketplace oversaturated with a celebrity idolatry, its easy to pick out, or rather, pick on, the famous folks that we choose to blame for our culture’s obsession with celebritydom.

Now, there’s plenty of famous folks to blame

We can blame Oprah. Or Snooki and reality TV. Or even blame TMZ.

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I FOUND THIS MEME. I DID NOT MAKE IT. A LOT OF PEOPLE HATE TMZ….. APPARENTLY.

But most say the blame for the decline of American civilization truly lies here, with this family

THE KARDASHIANS.

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They are undeniably the first family of reality television. And they’ve built a brand so popular and successful that those who are merely Kardashian-adjacent manage to snag more than their fair share of 15 minutes of fame.

A brand so popular and successful that their activities and scandals are even covered on the “legit” news.

I think we can all agree that it’s a fairly “in” thing to talk shit about the Kardashians. It’s easy to dismiss or to talk disparagingly about the family, either as individuals or collectively. And I’m not going to deny that I’ve participated in more than my fair share of Kardashian-bashing. To say that you not only do not watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians but also despise them is seen as a badge of honor and integrity.

Despising the Kardashians and all that they symbolize means that one is enlightened.

I no longer believe that this is the case.

I’ve discovered, while talking shit about people that you’ll never meet and can’t possibly hear you (at least I don’t think any of them can hear me), that doing so isn’t helpful.
At least not helpful if you want to do something more than talk shit.

Doing more is exactly what I intend to do.

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I’m not going to say that my opinion on celebrity culture has completely changed (for the record, I still think that TMZ is one of the worst things out there. And yes, I watch it regularly), but I’ve come to a new conclusion, at least so far as my feelings towards the Kardashians.

Listen:

It would be easy to say that nothing of value has come from this family. They’re celebrities, and celebrity matters only to those people who have nothing of value to say, anyway.

“Small minds discuss people” they say.

But, offhandedly dismissing the Kardashians would be rude and unphilosophical.

I hold to the idea that anything – everything is philosophical.

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Anything or any one has lessons to teach, and yes, even the Kardashians.

And you don’t even have to watch the show to learn a lesson, either.*
I’ve drawn up a list of the philosophical things I thought about while watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians:

  • The nature of fame and its effects on the individual and the society. What kind of people become famous. Are they the kind of people that we should look up to? Are famous people inherently better than others? Are they the kind of people that philosophers like Plato had in mind when he wrote of those who should be leaders of the polis?
  • Caitlyn Jenner and gender: What is gender and gender identity/gender expression? What makes us masculine a/or feminine? How do we navigate the intersection between biological gender, gender identity, and sexuality? We do feminist philosophers such as Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks, and Helen Longino have to say about the subject?
  • Kanye West and what makes a philosopher? Some (often derisively) name Kanye West as a modern philosopher. Is he a philosopher? What makes a philosopher? Is philosophy strictly limited to academia or can anyone become a “philosopher”?
  • The Kardashian/Jenner sisters are not only known for their celebrity but are also well-known for their looks and their association with beauty products. We can discuss the philosophical definition of beauty, and how the philosophical definition conforms (or does not conform) to our conversations about beauty and aesthetics.
  • Reality and reality TV. Is reality television reality or the appearance of the real? How does reality TV present the real world to the audience and are reality television producers morally obligated to inform the audience that reality TV isn‘t “real”? There’s plenty of material to cover here, including commentaries (from postmodernist philosophers such as) Jean Baudrillard, to the ontology of Platonic forms, Kant’s transcendental idealism, and Descartes’ evil demon.
  • Questions of value: What is valuable? How do we measure value – is it merely a matter of taste or can we quantify value philosophically? Is what is valuable good? What is the Good? Are some reality TV shows Good – better for us philosophically than others?
  • There’s always some sort of moral dilemma going on: So long as people act, there will be motivations and consequences of their actions, and those actions can be evaluated ethically.
  • Personal identity: Who we are. Who do we present ourselves and is that presentation authentic?

We can drift into some pretty heavy existential conversations, right there.

Everyone knows you cant discuss anything pop culture without somehow drawing in Nietzsche. Someone is bound to quote (or misquote) an aphorism or two.

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And lastly, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or any other television program, can aid in the philosophical study/analysis of pop culture in general.

Those are just a few thoughts I had while watching the show.

I’m not saying that watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a replacement for reading Kierkegaard or that you should quote Kim Kardashian in your next term paper.

… unless she says something really brilliant.

Then by all means, do.

Just as philosophers defend philosophy against those who decree philosophy dead and useless

Stephen Hawking I’m looking at you…

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Philosophers shouldn’t get into the habit of offhandedly dismissing something that we may think is useless – it just might be very useful.

So at least give the show a peek before you completely write it off.

And even if you hate it, you can probably find a philosophical explanation for why you hate it, too.

It’s one of E! Network’s most popular shows, which means it’s on a lot.

It’s probably on right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* ALTHOUGH WATCHING KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS ISN’T NECESSARY TO DISCUSS THEM, IT’S STRONGLY SUGGESTED THAT YOU CHECK OUT AT LEAST A COUPLE OF EPISODES. IF ANYONE SEES YOU AND DEMANDS TO KNOW WHY YOU’RE WATCHING THE SHOW, JUST TELL THEM YOU’RE WATCHING IT FOR “RESEARCH PURPOSES”.

DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

WELL FOLKS. IT’S OCTOBER and for those of us at The Mindless Philosopher being October means only one thing: the return of The Walking Dead.

In case it’s not (painfully) obvious from our previous posts, The Walking Dead is our favorite TV show.

Yep. TMP are philosophers. And our favorite television show isn’t Seinfeld.

Although you can argue that The Walking Dead isn’t really about anything, either.

Any fan of AMC’s highly-rated zombie somewhat soap opera knows that being a fan of The Walking Dead means that one’s favorite character can die at any moment. Season six saw the show kill off a few red shirts (Carter, David, Sturgess), say sayonara to a handful of characters we cared about (Denise, Deanna, Jessie, and Nicholas?), and pulled the fake-out with at least two characters. The season six finale “cliffhangered” the audience, teasing the death (via a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille) of a major character.

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

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And for the last six months, The Walking Dead fans, angry or otherwise, have been concerned with just one thing: WHO DID NEGAN KILL?

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And at THIS point I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT.

AND SO, last Sunday, The Walking Dead aired its season seven premiere episode.

After six months of waiting, we finally got to see who Negan killed.

True to form, the season seven premier pleased some. Angered many.

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I think from now on, I’m going to tell anyone who pisses me off to suck my nuts.

Hopefully not after I’ve been stuck on the noggin by a barbed wire-covered bat.

Now, being a fan of both The Walking Dead and philosophy, I got feels, not only because of the brutality of the act, but also because I was watching the episode through philosophy-tinted glasses.

If I wasn’t in the habit of underestimating the philosophical acumen of the writers of the show, I would have guessed that I was watching a thought experiment being played out on my TV screen.
To wit: an ethical thought experiment.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the episode yet, there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

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So… as we end season six, we see Rick Grimes and ten members of his group (whaddya know, almost all major characters!) on their knees and at the mercy of the new bad guy – the barbed wire-infused bat-wielding, leather jacket-wearing, an F-bomb every-other-word saying (but not on basic cable), Negan.

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OF COURSE IT HAD TO BE A GOOD-LOOKING PSYCHOPATH.

 

Rick and his crew have, to quote Rick from an alternate take from the season five finale, “fucked with the wrong people”, and Negan is aiming to exact some payback on the people responsible for the deaths of a number of his men.

Negan says he’s going to beat to death one of Rick’s crew with his bat, Lucille.

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NEGAN TELLS RICK, “YOU KILLED MY PEOPLE, A WHOLE DAMN LOT OF THEM. MORE THAN I’M COMFORTABLE WITH. AND FOR THAT, FOR THAT YOU’RE GONNA PAY. SO NOW… I’M GONNA BEAT THE HOLY HELL OUTTA ONE OF YOU.”

Any interference, Negan tells the group, will not be tolerated (he does, however allow them to breathe, blink, and cry). Negan tells Rick and his group, “I will shut that shit down, no exceptions.”

Long story short, Negan plays a game of “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe”, eventually landing on Abraham as “it” and proceeds to bludgeon Abe with Lucille, exclaiming how the ginger-haired former military man took the first blow “like a champ”.

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Reminder: tell anyone who pisses me off the suck my nuts.

Now, it’s right around this time when a simple cudgeling becomes an even more complicated moral dilemma.

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Fan favorite (and possibly un-killable) Daryl Dixon decides to ignore Negan’s non-interference admonition and attacks Negan.

Negan, having already been previously interrupted by Glenn (he allowed Glenn’s interference due to the emotional weight of the situation), makes good on his warning and shuts that shit down, killing another member of Rick’s group with the barbed wired-sleeved Lucille: Glenn.

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Ok, we all know Negan carried out the physical deed. And in any court of law Negan would undoubtedly be sent to prison for double murder.

But any philosopher would tell you that legal guilt and moral culpability aren’t always the same thing.

You see, there may be more than one person to blame in all of this.

I think we can agree that Abraham’s death is 100% morally on Negan.

Negan announced his intention to kill someone and he did it.

Well, unless you reason that it was done as some kind of an eye for an eye, retributive justice thing, which opens up a whole other can of what is justice worms.

But there was more than one person killed AFTER Negan had exacted his revenge.

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

It was Negan’s initial intention to do one and done. Getting even with Rick and his group required the death of just one person – after all, the point of killing one person (in a particularly gruesome manner) is meant to break the group, not necessarily to commit mass murder. Rick and his group had been previously informed about Negan’s one-kill tactic: introduce himself to a new group, kill one person in the group, and demand half of what the group produces. Assuming there’s no problem of induction, Rick and his group had no reason to assume that Negan would deviate from his established method of operation.

Negan killed Abraham and was done, but Daryl, driven by anger and stuff that only Daryl fully understands (probably something that also has to do with Daryl not bathing), sucker punches Negan and THAT act is in direct violation of Negan‘s rules of conduct for Rick and his group. As Negan specifically states that shit will be shut down, no exceptions.

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

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If you link the chain of events, it’s not so implausible to assume that Glenn’s death is a direct result of Daryl’s actions. Negan kills Glenn because Daryl violates the rules.

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TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, GLENN IS THE ONE GUY WHO, UNTIL A HANDFUL OF EPISODES AGO, HADN’T KILLED ANY LIVING PERSON. DARYL IS POSSIBLY PARTIALLY OR FULLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF THE LEAST MORALLY GUILTY CHARACTER IN THE SERIES… UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN GUILT BY ASSOCIATION.

 

Negan’s moral culpability is undeniable. But can we say that Daryl bears some or all moral blame for Glenn‘s death?

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Well, it depends on who you ask.

If we assume that Daryl is motivated by a moral principle that says that one’s greatest moral obligation is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, then we might say that Daryl is, at least in part, morally blameworthy for Glenn’s death.

How does that happen, you say?
Why , it’s just a matter of calculating the numbers.

Negan initially kills Abraham. It is obvious that Rick’s group (not to mention Abraham himself) is negatively affected by the brutal death. The group is collectively traumatized, in particular, Abraham’s ex-girlfriend Rosita and his almost-but-not-quite new girlfriend Sasha.

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Can we take a moment to talk about Sasha? This woman has nothing but bad luck in relationships on this show. First, Sasha begins a romantic relationship with Bob, but Bob is bitten by a zombie, kidnapped and has his leg eaten by a group of cannibals, and eventually dies from his wound (wounds?). Just when Sasha has recovered enough from PTSD to function somewhat normally in a romantic relationship, her blossoming relationship with Abraham is cut short by Negan and Lucille.

 

If killing one person inflicts a great amount of pain, then we can assume that killing two people inflicts more pain than killing just one. In this situation, we aren’t just calculating the pain felt by the group immediately following Glenn’s death, but also calculating the negative long-term consequences of Glenn’s death. Glenn’s wife, Maggie, is pregnant. We have to consider the fact that Glenn and Maggie’s child will be raised without a father.

That’s bad.

We should not forget that utilitarian-based ethics requites that Daryl also figure into our calculation.

We can assume the Daryl feels (at least somewhat) responsible for Glenn’s death. After all, Negan killed Glenn in response to Daryl’s actions.

And really, what was Daryl’s intended outcome, anyway? What did he hope to accomplish by attacking Negan? Negan had already killed Abraham. There was nothing Daryl could do to stop that. As Negan warned beforehand, the only outcome from a disruption would be the infliction of more pain on Rick’s group, which did, in fact, happen.

And if we’re assigning moral culpability based on consequences, according to this ethical position, Daryl Dixon is morally responsible for Glenn’s death.

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KIND OF MAKES YOU WISH DWIGHT KILLED DARYL, DOESN’T IT?

You see, when we assign moral blame according to consequences, it doesn’t matter what our intentions are. We can mean well, just like Daryl did when he lunged after Negan. But if our actions result in people getting hurt or killed, we’re morally culpable for what happens.

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We might consider the possibility that Daryl may have been motivated by the prisoner’s dilemma. Not knowing exactly Negan what intended to do, he has no reason to assume that Negan won’t kill others and therefore is motivated to attack Negan before Negan kills any more people.

Ok. Maybe Daryl isn’t thinking about consequences at all. Maybe he’s operating from a sense of duty to his group.

We know that Rick and his group think of each other as family. Families often have binding moral obligations to each other. Daryl sees that his the lives of his family have been threatened and he feels that it is his duty to protect them – as Negan says, no exceptions.

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We can assume that Daryl’s duty-bound obligation isn’t merely a suggestion or rule of thumb, but is a maxim that must be obeyed at all times by all members of the family. We can even put Daryl’s obligation in maxim form: In any situation wherein one’s family is in danger, one must act to protect them- no exceptions.

It is clear that Negan is a threat to the lives of Daryl’s family. Negan has already ruthlessly murdered one member of Rock’s group is still threatening to inflict harm on the remaining members. When one is morally obligated to protect others, one must fulfill one’s duty – even if others are hurt.

When one is bound by duty to others, consequences (even if someone is murdered by an axe-wielding maniac) do not matter.

If Daryl was motivated by a morally binding maxim, he was following a moral principle that he could not refuse to follow based on what might happen. In the end, Glenn’s death is an unfortunate consequence of Daryl’s actions.

So then, morally speaking, Daryl is in the moral clear.

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IT’S OK, FOLKS. WE DON’T HAVE TO HATE DARYL. WE CAN GO BACK TO OUR IRRATIONAL DARYL DIXON FANDOM.

So… to answer the question, who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death, the answer… well… we can clearly point to Negan. It is Negan who beats two men to death with Lucille. And it is Negan who decides to kill Glenn as a punishment for Daryl’s actions. However, we can’t neglect the role Daryl’s outburst plays in Glenn’s death. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Glenn may have lived if Daryl had just stayed on his ass like Negan has told him to.

Ultimately, the moral blame lies with someone I haven’t mentioned until now:

RICK GRIMES.

Dig this: Rick not only accepts the task of ridding the world of Negan and his men, he does so without any real reason for doing so.

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DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR THIS GUY. THIS IS ALL HIS FAULT.

Rick volunteers his people to fight someone else’s fight (Negan is initially the Hilltop’s problem) and arrogantly assumes that he and his group can quickly dispatch Negan and his crew without consequence.

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

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Rick’s fatal flaw is that he is too arrogant to realize that his actions are not only morally suspect, but are bound to reap a bunch of bad consequences.

Rick, based on what he hears of Negan from the people at the Hilltop,  immediately concludes that violence is the only feasible solution to the (someone else’s) Negan problem and refuses to consider other alternatives including negotiation or less violent means of dealing with Negan.

… and not for lack of Morgan trying to persuade Rick over to his “all life is precious” philosophy.

 

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REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

Rick’s group, as Negan observes, killed more of Negan’s people than Negan’s people had killed Rick’s group (Carol and Maggie were taken hostage but not killed). Rick directs his group to commit mass murder on Negan’s group (while many of them were asleep).Negan’s people are shot, incinerated, and stabbed in the head by Rick’s group (ok, Carol setting those dudes on fire may have been justified). It wouldn’t be irrational to assume that Negan was protecting his people from Rick’s group.

As the primary authority figure in his group, Rick knew that his people would follow his lead – unfortunately without question.
Rick may believe his actions are correct. They’re not.

Rick Grimes is the embodiment of bad motivations with bad consequences.

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WHY BOTHER WITH THE EENY MEENY MINY MOE STUFF? JUST LUCILLE ALL OF ‘EM.

 

When you really get down to it, Rick killed Glenn and Abraham.

 

And I have one thing to say to Rick Grimes about this:
SUCK MY NUTS.

 

My Pal Trigger

I’D LIKE TO THINK I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for most things.

That is to say, I like to fancy myself as someone who isn’t easily offended.

I’ve seen Faces of Death. I’ve watched Cannibal Holocaust.

2 Girls 1 Cup.

Googled “blue waffle”.

I’ve read William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, and the Marquis de Sade.

Watched Divine eat dog shit in Pink Flamingos and laughed.

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PROBABLY GONNA STICK TO STILLS ON THIS ONE

I can watch binge watch documentaries about spree killers and terrorists. I can waste an entire Saturday afternoon watching Forensic Files without being the least bit bothered about stories of kidnappings, rapes, murders, and all the horrible things people do to one another that sometimes makes me wish I’d been born a cat.

These things should offend me. But instead I was all like…

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Under any other set of circumstances, I would take some pride in my high tolerance for offensive things. There’s a tendency in people to assume that the things that don’t bother me do not bother other people. However, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the case.

Some people are really offended by the things that don’t offend me.

So much so that they need to be told that what they’re about to see may be upsetting.

So much so that they need a trigger warning.

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What’s a trigger warning? If you haven’t been on or near a college campus lately, a trigger warning is

a statement at the start of a piece of writing , video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).
– Google

A trigger warning is supposed to forewarn a person of upsetting content.

I get the point of trigger warnings.

Cautioning people about content that may be offensive is nothing new. Content advisories are all over popular media. We got parental advisory stickers on music and video games. MPAA ratings on films and ratings on TV shows.

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YOU CAN TOTALLY THANK PRINCE FOR THESE STICKERS

One of my favorite movies, ReAnimator, had a warning on its commercial. The commercial cautioned people who are squeamish to avoid watching the film.

As a fan of ReAnimator I would say that the warning is totally necessary.

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YEAH. I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY THEY’D WARN PEOPLE ABOUT THIS MOVIE

So, if the purpose of trigger warnings is utilitarian – we’re motivated by the want to do good – an inconvenience (of some) is outweighed by the overall good a trigger warning produces.

Personally, I appreciate the fact that we’re concerned for people who have sensitivities on certain topics. Giving someone a heads up probably is a good thing.

So why is everybody so upset about trigger warnings?

Unfortunately for the well-intended, looking out for the sensitivities of others hasn’t been received as warmly as their intentions. Trigger warnings, like their also well-intentioned cousin, safe spaces, have been described as political correctness gone amok.

Political correctness, or rather, how much political correctness sucks, leads folks like actor, Libertarian, and former mayor of Carmel, California, Clint Eastwood, to say this:

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As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and not all good intentions give good outcomes.

Some folks think that trigger warnings, despite the best of intentions, have done more harm than good.

Alright, we can agree that warnings may be useful, but does that mean they’re a good thing?

Does the fact that someone is sensitive to certain subjects necessitate that we (ought to) warn them that the content of the material is about that subject?

How obligated are we to mind that we don’t offend everybody? To what extent are we morally obligated to not offend?

You don’t have to politically incorrect to think that trigger warnings don’t belong in a college classroom or anywhere else.

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You could be a philosopher.

Here’s a thought experiment: We are a professor teaching a Women’s Studies class at a university.

Yes, we.

We also assume that we have at least one student who has experienced a trauma and will react in a particular way to certain material presented in our class. We, for the sake of not triggering a memory of a past trauma, flag possibly disturbing material with a trigger warning.

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WE CERTAINLY WOULDN’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN

So far so good, right?

Uh… well…
Well, here’s a possible problem with what we’ve done – we should ask, is our assumption a bit paternalistic? Are we assuming that we know what’s best? Is the trigger warning somehow depriving a person of the ability to make their own decisions over what kind of content offends them?

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Wait – before I go any further, let me define paternalism.

Paternalism is

the policy or practice on the part of people in positions of authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates’ supposed best interest.
– Google

And, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP)

The usual justification for paternalism refers to the interests of the person being interfered with. These interests are defined in terms of the things that make a person’s life go better; in particular their physical and psychological condition.

When we act paternalistically, even if our aim is to secure the interests of others, we are, by definition, interfering with another person’s ability to choose. Paternalism acts against a person’s free agency.

 

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You see, philosophers really dig the idea of autonomy. Free moral agents require autonomy. In order to act autonomously, our decisions must be our own. Our choices must be arrived at through our own rational thought processes, without interference from others. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant says autonomy must be absolute, even if our justification for interfering in someone else’s choices is for their own good (Kant was an deontologist, so consequences don’t matter).

A violation of autonomy, according to Kant, is no different than treating rational free agents as if they are mentally incompetent.

And according to Kant that’s not being very moral.

The ultimate consequence of not respecting autonomy, some argue, is this: Although a college campus may offer safe spaces from triggers on college campuses, utilizing trigger warnings are not preparing young people for the world off campus.

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You see, on college campuses, subject matter deemed triggering is often avoided out of fear of causing further trauma to sensitive individuals. The real world, according to trigger warning critics, is a harsh place and unpleasant situations and subject matter can’t be easily avoided.

According to the argument against trigger warnings, protecting people from everything that may offend them is shielding them from how things truly are. In turn, shielding people from life’s unpleasant realities makes people weaker. Warning people of any mention or instance of unpleasant subject matter (so as to avoid it) deprives people of the ability/responsibility to toughen up and imbues them with mistaken belief that the “real” world will accommodate their sensitivities.

A generation who is not fully equipped to deal with the real world cannot develop into or thrive as fully autonomous individuals.

As Professor of psychology and trigger warning expert, Metin Basoglu, observes, in the real world, there are “an infinite number of situations can act as triggers”.

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We also ask, how can a college professor properly teach a class if the content/subject matter of the class triggers students? If college professors make a habit of avoiding subject matter that upsets people, then why use material on those subjects at all? The ultimate consequence of trigger warnings may not be protecting people from trauma, but a chilling effect on the expression of ideas, creativity, even the exchange of information.

Our intention may be to protect someone suffering from a prior trauma, but slapping a trigger warning may lead some to skip an article, book or class altogether.

After all, an article or class may be upsetting but it may also be informative.
And without the right information, we can’t achieve knowledge.

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Trigger warnings may also remove context.

'I was quoted out of context!'
Listen: If a professor assigns a particular piece of work, it’s often because the work contributes to the purpose of the class.

Particular work is assigned because you’re supposed to learn something from it.

Anyone who has ever had to read Mark Twain knows that Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains (potentially triggering) racist language. However, avoiding the book because of it’s racist content doesn’t allow a reader to appreciate Twain’s use of racist language in context. The use of language as it was used in the American South of 19th century enables us to understand Huckleberry Finn’s character development. Should we continue to assign students to read potentially triggering material like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Last Exit To Brooklyn, and The Great Gatsby? Should we stop reading Shakespeare and Vonnegut? Or refrain from discussing topics such as rape, suicide, bullying, mental illness, racism, homophobia, misogyny on college campuses because those topics may upset some people?

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Is this where our good intentions will lead us?

Is this where we want our good intentions to lead us?

What about the trigger warning itself? Are some people so trigger-prone that a mere trigger warning will trigger them?

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So… in the end, what do we do? I honestly don’t know. My gut and feelings tells me that we should be mindful to the sensitivities of others.
And that’s not always a bad thing.

Especially if you’re an emotivist.

But as a philosopher, the whole topic gets me thinking about slippery slopes and being that guy everybody hates who says “trust me, it’s for the best”.

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THAT MOMENT YOU REALIZE THAT TRUSTING PEOPLE DOESN’T  ALWAYS TURN OUT LIKE YOU PLANNED

Maybe I’m not the right person to talk about this.

I just want everyone to stay off my lawn.

 

 

 

 
SOURCES:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11106670/Trigger-warnings-more-harm-than-good.html

http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/a46893/double-trouble-clint-and-scott-eastwood/
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paternalism/

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE

EVERY FOUR YEARS Americans go through what can only be described as a moderate case of national silliness. For those who prefer to use technical words to describe these things, the collective silliness is called election season.
This election season has been particularly silly.
And not just because of Donald Trump.
As American politics usually goes, by the time the Democrats and Republicans head to their Party (respective) national conventions, the silliness gives way to the serious business of each Party choosing its presidential candidate.
As I said, this is how it usually goes.
This year, Republican National Convention has guaranteed that the silliness will last until election day in November.

How so, you say?

A single word:

plagiarism.

Plagiarism, as defined by Google, is:

The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

Republican Party candidate Donald Trump’s wife (and potential First Lady) Melania was accused of plagiarizing a speech given by current First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

 

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THIS IS MELANIA TRUMP’S SPEECH FROM THE 2016 RNC…..  AND AT THE 2008 DNC, MICHELLE OBAMA SAID… WELL, WHADDYA KNOW!?!

Although all of this hullabaloo over Melania Trump’s alleged plagiarism seems like it’s just a bunch of journalists and hypocrites (wait, isn’t that the same thing?) causing drama over  political silliness,  plagiarism isn’t such a silly thing. In some circles, using another person’s words or work without proper citation is serious business. There’s an expectation, especially in academia, that one’s writing be original. Every college student knows you can get kicked out of school for plagiarizing someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. In professions such as journalism, plagiarism can cost you your job.

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JAYSON BLAIR LOST HIS GIG AT THE NEW YORK TIMES FOR PLAGIARIZING STORIES FROM OTHER NEWS OUTLETS

When I was in college, a couple of my professors were so cuckoo for plagiarism that one professor even required students to affirm that our term papers were our own original work.

On the cover sheet of every term paper we had to write this:

I understand the rules governing plagiarism and I certify that the work contained in this paper is my own, I have given appropriate citations for quotations and ideas that I have taken from other authors.

In the eyes of academics and many employers, passing off another’s work as one’s own is no different from theft.

They think that this

 

plagiarism-checker-tools

 

Is the same as doing this

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But for every armchair political pundit, professional journalist, and university professor who believes that a plagiarist is a thief of the lowest order, there is someone looking at all the Melania Trump plagiarism hubbub asking, what’s the big deal? Political speeches are saturated with copious amounts paraphrasing and outright plagiarism.

The correct question isn’t Did Melania Trump plagiarize Michelle Obama’s speech? but Name a politician who hasn’t been accused of or is actually guilty of plagiarism.

This politician was accused of plagiarism.

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FOR THE 29%OF YOU  AMERICANS WHO DON’T KNOW, THIS IS VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

 

So was he.

Official Portrait

THIS IS THE GUY EVERYONE THOUGHT MIGHT WIN AGAINST HILLARY CLINTON BEFORE WE ALL REALIZED THAT PEOPLE WOULD TAKE A TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL BID SERIOUSLY, AKA SENATOR RAND PAUL

 

And so was this guy.

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And this president.

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These guys have been accused of plagiarism.

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More than once.
At least seven times, to be exact.

And THIS is the problem with plagiarism. What exactly is plagiarism?

Yeah, there’s the textbook definition, but, you see, people are often inspired by, or borrow from, or even imitate the work of other writers and artists.

And that’s exactly it. Where do we draw the line between inspiration and stealing? Where does mere similarity end and plagiarism begin?

A clear line might have helped Robin Thicke.

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FYI: In 2013, the family of the late R&B singer Marvin Gaye sued contemporary R&B vocalist Robin Thicke for plagiarizing Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”. The Gaye family argued (successfully) that Thicke’s 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines” copied chords from “Got To Give It Up” and Thicke and fellow “Blurred Lines” songwriter, Pharrell Williams, were ordered to pay $7.4 million to the Gaye family.

Let’s be honest, these days, few ideas are completely original. So how original can one be when writing on a subject that has been written about before?

Despite our best efforts, sometimes two (or more) people will write exactly the same thing.

How many different ways can you originally say “Make America Great Again”?

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DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO DO IT. THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO SAY “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”

Even philosophers are not immune.

Modern philosophy is all based on someone else’s ideas.

I’ve written plenty of papers under the impression that I’d written some deeply brilliant philosophical sigight only to find that someone else had already written it.

The so-called Elvis of philosophy, Slavoj Zizek, was accused of plagiarism.

From the White Nationalist Journal The American Renaissance, no less.

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THIS PICTURE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS POST. I JUST THOUGHT THIS POST NEEDED A PIC OF A SHIRTLESS ZIZEK IN BED

Google search “philosophers on plagiarism” and you’ll find Did Nietzsche plagiarize Max Stirner?

For the record, Nietzsche said he was influenced by Schopenhauer.

So, we’re tempted to say that plagiarism is no big deal, right?

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Well, it kinda is and it kinda isn’t.
This is kinda why plagiarism is a big deal:

Plagiarism is defined as The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. In short, if you’re a plagiarist, you’re basically stealing someone else’s stuff.

Stealing stuff is usually considered morally wrong.

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Now, if you were a philosopher like Aristotle, this would be a serious moral transgression.

According to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, the things we do are the result of what kind of character we have. If a person does good things it’s likely that that is a good (i.e. morally virtuous) person. If you do something bad, like stealing, according to Aristotle’s ethics, you’re probably an absolute POS.*

In Aristotle’s treatise on morality, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says:

It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good.

Plagiarizing someone else’s material may seem like it’s no big deal – or it could be an indicator of one’s bad character.

And nobody wants to be around bad people.

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People who do bad things may seem like fun people, but in the end they’re not so fun to be with.

Especially when they steal your stuff.

It’s worth mentioning that plagiarism isn’t merely stealing. Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Passing off someone else’s work as your own is deceptive – and deception is a form of lying. So, if you’re doing the plagiarism thing, you’re not only a thief, you’re also a liar.

But wait a minute. If Melania Trump did indeed plagiarize her Republican National Convention speech, are we wiling to go so far to call her a person of bad character? Her plagiarism may not be an act of outright theft. Trump’s speechwriter claims that Melania Trump was “inspired” by Michelle Obama – and that may explain the close similarity between Obama’s 2008 speech and Trump’s Republican National Convention speech. Melania Trump’s intention wasn’t to rip off Michelle Obama, but to express sentiments that she also shared with the First Lady.

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FUNNY MEME, BUT A TAD BIT EXAGGERATED

So… when all is said and done is plagiarism a bad thing? Is plagiarism even a thing? I don’t know. Maybe.

It’s possible that we aren’t looking at the whole picture when it comes to plagiarism Perhaps we should consider what role influence, inspiration, homage, and when great minds think alike plays in creating a piece of work before we heap our righteous moral condemnation upon so-called plagiarists.

You know I’m saying this only because the chance that I’ll inevitably plagiarize someone is about 80 percent.

 

 

 

* POS: piece of shit.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.newsweek.com/did-marxist-philosophy-superstar-slavoj-zizek-plagiarize-white-nationalist-258433

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/19/politics/politicians-plagiarism/

http://fusion.net/story/3826/rand-paul-is-not-alone-5-more-politicians-accused-of-plagiarism/

http://www.musictimes.com/articles/6250/20140520/7-songs-other-than-stairway-to-heaven-that-led-zeppelin-stole.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/mar/10/blurred-lines-pharrell-robin-thicke-copied-marvin-gaye

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2919427

STRANDED

IT’S BEEN SOME time since the first half season of season two of Fear the Walking Dead ended.

I’ve had some time to sit back and think about what I saw.

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

And secondly, I’ve noticed that some of the characters on the show are like walking philosophy.

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

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NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

After watching Fear the Walking Dead for a season and a half, I think the most philosophically intriguing character on the show is the wealthy, debonair, and most importantly, mysterious captain of the Abigail, Victor Strand.

I gotta admit, when Strand was introduced, I was prepared to see the character die after a few episodes. You know, because, well, people like Strand have a habit of not fairing too well in the world of The Walking Dead.

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It seemed that Victor Strand was destined to become another victim of the being-a-black-guy-in-The-Walking-Dead thing, but he was an interesting character – by far more interesting than the characters we were supposed to be most concerned about.

The reason why I think Victor Strand is so interesting is because so many of the show’s philosophical dilemmas have to do with what Strand either does or says. Victor Strand is a one man philosophical conundrum generator.

I’ve spent a season and a half of Fear the Walking Dead trying to figure out exactly where Victor Strand stands philosophically. Is Strand a Randian ethical egoist? Is he a moral nihilist? An incredibly consistent utilitarian? An all of the above?

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More than a dozen episodes into the series and I still can’t figure it out.

When we’re introduced to Victor Strand in the season one episode “Cobalt”, we see Strand is one of many detainees imprisoned by the government.

We’re never told exactly why.

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We witness Strand goading a mentally fragile man to the point of a mental breakdown. And we learn that Strand is a man who is willing to exchange goods for favors from the National Guardsmen who are guarding the detainee camp.

Strand is introduced as a man who is cool, calculating, and not encumbered by empathy for others. Strand initially displays all the traits of a classic Ayn Rand protagonist. Strand is concerned with one thing: his own interests. Rand writes:

… he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

We can imagine a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged next to Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tsu’s Art of War on Strand’s bookshelf.

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MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

However, Strand quickly realizes that fellow detainee (and main character) Nick Clark is useful -insofar as Nick can serve as a means to Strand’s ends -namely, escaping from the detainment camp.

Using others to further your ends is not a very Randian thing to do.

Ayn Rand also writes:

Man -every man- is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself…

Although Victor Strand isn’t a very good Randian, he still abides by Rand’s principle of pursuing one’s happiness as one’s supreme moral principle. Strand does not allow the misfortunes of others interfere with his main task: surviving.

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Here are a few things that Strand says concerning his interests versus the needs of others:

 

[To Madison after she informs Strand that she sees some people at sea who need to be rescued]: I filled my mercy quota. Seven people saved to date.

Rules for Strand’s yacht, the Abigail: Please, let me explain the rules of the boat. Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it’s my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three, it’s my goddamn boat. If I weren’t for me, you’d all be burned. You’re welcome.

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THE RULES FOR THE ABIGAIL ARE LIKE THE RULES OF FIGHT CLUB. IN THE END NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO THEM

[Strand’s response after fellow survivors insist that the Abigail take on more passengers]: If I stop the boat, it’ll be to drop folks off, not take them on.

 

[Strand’s response when Madison insists that the Abigail take on an orphaned child]:
Children are the definition of dead weight.

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PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

Strand on the real danger in an undead apocalypse: You know what the real danger is on the ocean? People.

When other survivors hitch a lifeboat containing a young woman and her mortally wounded companion to the Abigail, Strand cuts them loose, reasoning that the survivors can’t risk their lives to save people who may be dangerous -especially a dying boy (who will become a zombie when he dies).

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SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

Everything Strand says strikes of Ayn Rand’s clearly  (at least Any Rand influenced) ethics. Strand clearly puts no man ahead of himself.

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

And yet, Strand has considered the interests of others, and even put his life on the line to save the lives of people in his group.

Strand not only helps Nick to escape the detainee camp, he also agrees to house Nick’s family and another family (the Salazar family) in his home and on the Abigail.

Although Strand lays down the rules for admission on the Abigail, we know he isn’t just looking after himself. Strand could easily pull up anchor and abandon the group when they leave the Abigail to explore dry land.

Yet he does not.

Strand risks his life to help Nick escape from the detainee camp and in the season two midseason finale, Strand, after he’s expelled from a temporary sanctuary, risks his life to save Nick’s mother Madison.

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ONE OF THOSE GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT FIRST KIND OF CONVERSATIONS

Wait a minute. Does this mean that Strand is a secret utilitarian? Is he masquerading as a Randian while clandestinely pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number?

Perhaps.

But could is it possible that Strand has given up on all ethics? Is it possible that Strand believes that in a world without civilization all things are permitted? Strand tells Nick that the only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness. Is Strand preaching moral nihilism?

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Is Strand telling Nick not just to stare into the abyss but to leap headlong into it? Is Strand telling Nick to become a monster? Is Stand saying that all of the characters should become monsters?

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NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

It’s worth noting that the first episode of season two is titled “Monster”. In the season two midseason finale, Nick Clark covers himself in zombie guts (a means of camouflage) and refuses to join his mother and Strand to safety. Nick chooses to join the horde of zombies that has overrun their sanctuary. Nick is last seen walking among the dead, one of the monsters.

Fear the Walking Dead is not a great show. Sometimes it’s not even a good TV show. But what the show lacks in quality it more than makes up for in philosophical interestingness. Victor Strand is just one of the philosophically compelling characters on the series. In a TV world dominated by reality TV it’s refreshing to find a TV show with characters that have us thinking about them and discussing a series days (sometimes months) after an episode has aired.

One can only hope that Fear the Walking Dead continues to be one of the most philosophical TV shows on television.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

That years from now, when we talk about Fear the Walking Dead, we think of the show as more like Better Call Saul than like Joanie Loves Chachi.

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I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

PHILOSOPHY F#%K YEAH!

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

A philosopher may even be inclined to think of logic.

Although I would never encourage anyone to do that.

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

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

Yep.

Philosophers think about politics.

A lot.

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

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

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Politicians consistently rank among the least trusted professions.

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

 

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

 

Reagan also said

 

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

 

The man was president and he said this.

The freaking head of GOVERNMENT.

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

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

Can you?

No?

Come on, take a wild guess.

Still no?

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

donald-trump

 

Instead of this

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

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

Take Plato.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edmund Burke is considered the father of Conservatism.

Political philosophy is all over everything.

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

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

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

Are you a capitalist?

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

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

You probably did because you read Jean Jacques Rousseau.

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

Some say Rousseau’s writings inspired the French Revolution.

Are you a Bernie Bro?

Thank Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

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I CAN WATCH THIS GIF ALL DAY

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

FERRIS BUELLER, YOU’RE MY HERO (Updated. Or something)

THERE’S A WELL-KNOWN saying that goes “you’re only as old as you feel”. Well, sometimes even when you feel quite youthful, something happens that makes you feel old.

Like when you remember one of your favorite movies when you were a kid was released 30 years ago.

Or when the person who wrote and directed a movie you loved as a kid dies.

On August 6, 2009, film writer-director and Generation X icon John Hughes died.

Heart attack.

There’s something really unnerving when the idols of one’s youth start popping off from the same diseases, ailments, and blocked arteries that killed your grandparents. The death of John Hughes only reminded me of how old I’m getting; that my chances of dying young and leaving a good looking corpse is quickly slipping away.

FILM 'INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE' BY  NEIL JORDAN

UNLESS MY NAME IS LESTAT, THAT AIN’T EVER GONNA HAPPEN

I was thinking about how much (way back in the 1980s) John Hughes’ movies were, as they say in the modern vernacular, the shit. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink were the cinematic soundtrack of my youth. Honestly, who can hear Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without defiantly thrusting your fist in the air like Judd Nelson? (Alright, no one ever does).

don't you forget about me

NEVER DID THIS ONCE

New York School of the Performing Arts kids like Doris Finsecker and Ralph Garci might have experienced self discovery while smoking weed and doing the time warp to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for the suburbia-adjacent kids like me, we saw our so-called lives played out in the teen angst drama of Some Kind of Wonderful.**

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TEN BONUS POINTS IF YOU KNOW WHERE BLACK ACTING SCHOOL CAME FROM

 

Not too long ago, partly because a) I had nothing better to do, b) I wanted to honor the memory of John Hughes, and c) I was desperately engaged in a vain attempt to capture my lost youth; I decided to watch a John Hughes movie. After some serious contemplation – and because it was the easiest John Hughes movie to grab off of my DVD shelf – I spent an afternoon watching John Hughes’ teen comedy magnum opus 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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Nearly every one of John Hughes’ movies is quotable but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the one where we learned the eternally quotable “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.

I’m not entirely sure if Ferris Bueller is actually the first person to say it, but I do remember that hearing that line was the first time I’d ever been floored by anyone, let alone a character in a movie, speaking philosophically.

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Imagine this: you’re an eleven year old kid, home alone on a Wednesday afternoon, watching cable TV, probably HBO.

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UNLESS YOU WERE HOME ALONE WATCHING THIS. YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT THIS IS

Ferris Bueller is dressed in a bathrobe and is actively breaking the fourth wall just to speak directly to you, the eleven year old kid sitting at home alone watching HBO.

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Nowadays, looking back, Ferris Bueller’s wisdom seems a bit trite (were we really supposed to learn the value of carpe dieming from a character who is still in high school?), but back then, just like Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller was my hero.

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My, how things have changed.
I thought when I sat down to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so many years after I had initially seen it as a kid, that I would re-experience the same sense of philosophical enlightenment that I had felt all those years ago when I was a lonely latchkey kid looking for someone to look up to.

Because one‘s parents are never the first choice.

Maybe it’s because I’m looking at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off through cynical adult eyes, but while I sat, watching the shenanigans of Ferris Bueller and Co., it suddenly hit me; I realized what a horrible person Ferris Bueller is.

Wait – my revelation didn’t stop there. I realized that almost every John Hughes character was an unforgivable jerk in some major way.

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YES. I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, KEVIN MCCALLISTER

Collectively speaking, most of John Hughes’ characters are self- indulgent assholes.
assholes everywhereI

 

Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples for you:

  • Farmer Ted (Sixteen Candles) is a date-rapist (he has sex with Jake Ryan’s drunken, passed out girfriend, with Jake’s encouragement no less. Watch the movie. It’s true).
  • Andie (Pretty in Pink) was kind of a bitch who not only wanted way out of her league (for even considering that she should go to the prom with high school hottie Blane Mc Donnagh), but Andie in no way deserved Duckie.
  • There is not one redeeming character in The Breakfast Club (we’re supposed to like Andy, this time played by Emilio Estevez, even though he committed a possible sexual assault/battery on a classmate by taping the guy‘s buttcheeks together).
  • And the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Vacation) are just plain racists.

 

Watch the hubcap stealing scene if you don’t believe me.

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BLACK MAN HOLDING BASKETBALL DISTRACTS CLUELESS WHITE GUY WHILE OTHER BLACK GUYS STEAL HUBCAPS? CHECK!

Now that I’m thinking about it, If characters like Ferris Bueller were supposed to be a portrait of the American teenager (if you live in a world where amazingly enough, everybody is white, upper middle class, and the only minorities you encounter come straight out of Black Acting School), I think in retrospect, that John Hughes’ American teenager was about as true to life as the fictional hamlet of Shermer, Illinois.

jay and silent bob

I know that I am treading on thin ice, here. For those of a certain age, the movies of John Hughes are like GOSPEL and Hughes’ characters are so freaking cool that they can do no wrong. But after several viewings of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I really began to think that of all John Hughes’ characters. Perhaps with the exception of Kevin McCallister, who possessed more knowledge about planting booby traps and countermeasures against home invaders than a seasoned Navy Seal, Ferris Bueller is Hughes’ most selfish character.
Really. The entire movie is about how Ferris Bueller spends an entire day scheming, exploiting, and outright lying to people to get what he wants. The fact that all the “sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads,” all adore Ferris, and think he’s a “righteous dude”, doesn’t mitigate the fact that Ferris is an
egoistical asshole.

Not convinced?

The proof is in the viewing: As the movie opens, we see Ferris (Matthew Broderick) faking that he’s sick. Of course we know that Ferris isn’t sick, but Ferris’ very concerned and clueless parents have no idea their is lying to them. They believe that there actually is something physically wrong with their son. After all, why else would their son be bent over moaning and wailing with sweaty palms if he wasn’t dreadfully ill?

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OF COURSE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THAT THESE OTHERWISE INTELLIGENT LOOKING PEOPLE ARE THAT STUPID

Tom and Katie Bueller believe Ferris is sick, and Ferris is glad that they do. Ferris is so glad that he’s duped his parents into believing that he is deathly ill that he doesn’t feel even the slightest tinge of guilt for deceiving his parents. In fact, Ferris Bueller doesn’t spend one moment of the movie regretting the fact that he weaves a web of deception around not only his own parents but around practically everyone he knows.

ferris bueller smiling

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF EMPATHY

Ferris doesn’t care when his (supposedly) BFF Cameron Frye tells Ferris that he’s (actually) sick and can’t accompany Ferris on his adventure. SFW, Ferris says. Instead of offering Cameron a decongestant or well wishes, Ferris tells his best friend that if he doesn’t get out of bed and hang out, that Cameron will have to find a new best friend.

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Ferris not only decides that he’s going to coerce others to join his plan, he also decides to “borrow” Cameron’s father’s prized sports car for the day’s activities. Ferris could not care less when Cameron tells him that his (likely physically abusive) father will kill him if his prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California gets “so much as a scratch on it.” Ferris ignores his (supposedly best) friend and steals the car anyway – even if the consequence of discovery means almost certain death for his best friend.

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YES, CAMERON. YOU CERTAINLY WILL BE

Unlike a good person, Ferris has no problem lying to his parents or to his principal, Mr. Rooney, or falsifying his school records. Nor does Ferris have any compunction over pulling his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, out of class.

By faking her grandmother’s death, no less.

Ferris gleefully mouths off to a snooty restaurant maitre d’ to prove his moral superiority to the guy and assumes the identity of someone he is not to humiliate the maitre d’ in front of the restaurant‘s patrons.

ferris bueller restaurant

 

Ferris doesn’t hesitate to commandeer a Von Steuben Day Parade float not only to garner more attention for FERRIS but also to publicly humiliate Cameron in front of the gathered crowd by declaring that his best friend is a grump who didn‘t think he would “see anything good today”.

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NOT ONLY DOES FERRIS DRESS DOWN HIS “BEST” FRIEND IN PUBLIC, HE SPECULATES ON CAMERON’S (LACK OF) SEXUAL EXPERIENCES , TALKS SHIT ABOUT THE STATE OF CAMERON’S HOME LIFE, AND COMPARES HIS FRIEND’S RECTUM TO THE GEOLOGIC DIAMOND-MAKING PROCESS. SOME BEST FRIEND, EH?

 

Ferris Bueller doesn’t care if everyone else has to go to school or to work “on a day like this”. Oh no! Ferris’ day off is all about the fact that Ferris can’t be bothered by responsibility. That’s what other people do. After all, with all that hard work being idolized by everyone at school, Ferris Bueller needs a day off!

ferris bueller day off

By the way, if you really pay attention to the movie, you’ll notice that he only time Ferris shows any sort of remorse for what he’s done is when he feigns an apology so he can further exploit other people.
Now, either Ferris Bueller either is suffering from some sort of sociopathy, which is a matter best handled by mental health professionals, but since I am a philosopher, and consequently, am in no way interested or qualified to render a psychiatric diagnosis, my philosophical diagnosis is that Ferris Bueller is nothing more than a standard ethical egoist.

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Ethical egoism is the ethical theory that holds an act is right if (and only if) an act produces happiness for a particular agent — you. Everyone ought to look after, as a follower of the goddess of egoism, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) would tell you, his own rational self interest. The philosopher Gregory Kavka (1947-1994) explained that an egoist (in particular a Rule Egoist) acts according to the following principle:

 

Each agent should attempt always to follow that set if general
rules of conduct whose acceptance (and sincere attempt to
follow) by him on all occasions would produce the best
(expected) outcomes by him.

In short, egoist ethics is the inverse of utilitarian-esque “Vulcan logic”. Instead of believing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, the egoist believes the needs of the one, the agent, outweigh the needs of the many.

But enough Star Trek.

 

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The ethical egoist’s reasoning is this: because we are unable to know anyone else’s needs or motivations and because we are restricted to seeing the world from only our own particular point of view, we only are morally obligated to act in a manner that benefits us. Egoism poster-girl, Ayn Rand, wrote, “This is why objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest – or of rational selfishness.” In a way, Ferris Bueller is not unlike Rand’s description of Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead (1943). In her description of Roark, Ayn Rand writes:

 

He is not even 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,
courageousness and not afraid to be hurt… He will be himself
at any cost — the only thing he really wants of life. And,
deep inside if him, he knows that he has the ability to
win the fight to be himself.

 

So apparently not only is Ferris Bueller an ethical egoist, more specifically, he’s a Randian objectivist.

 

**Objectivism is most closely associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand describes the objectivist ethic, based on rational self interest, as “The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man – i.e., that which is required for his survival as a rational being … Man – every man – is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose in life”. In short, a Randian objectivist’s primary moral objective is to act only in a manner that is most beneficial to him, which is exactly what an ethical egoist does.**

 

According to Rand the egoist is concerned about others in so far as his concern for others contributes to his own happiness. Sure, an egoist might give to charity, but he is not motivated by any sense of altruism. The egoist is motivated by a personal want (a good reputation and public accolades, for example) than by a want to selflessly give to people less fortunate than he is. So when Ferris tells Cameron that his day off really was for Cameron’s benefit, we know that Ferris is full of shit.

 

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PREACH, PRINCIPAL ROONEY

We know that Cameron’s good day was a only fortunate consequence to Ferris’ egoism. Ferris is so focused on his own day off that if either his best friend Cameron or his girlfriend Sloane has a good day it is an unintentional consequence of Ferris‘ selfishness. In truth, the day is all about as the water tower says, saving Ferris.

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As mere movie watchers unaware of the deeper philosophical significance of Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off, we only see Ferris as a go-getter, a mercurial rogue who lives life on his own terms. Ferris knows what he wants and doesn’t let obstacles get in his way. Ferris Bueller is the guy we, and Cameron Frye, always wanted to be.

I don’t know if John Hughes had Howard Roark, Ayn Rand, or ethical egoism in mind when he wrote and directed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’m assuming that he did not. John Hughes may or may not have had Rand in mind, but philosophically speaking, Ferris is imbued with what Rand describes as the three fundamental values of man: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Ferris Bueller is, as Ayn Rand’s ethics describes, a man who lives for his own sake.

As a man who lives for his own sake, a guy like a snooty maitre d’ or a power hungry Principal Rooney isn’t going to get into Ferris’ way. An egoist (like Ferris) does not allow anyone else’s needs trump his own needs and/or wants. That means if Ferris Bueller wants to have his way, Ferris gets his way; everyone else’s needs simply do not come first.

As we watch the film, we come to understand what Cameron Frye must have realized about Ferris – being with Ferris Bueller is easy if you understand this one thing: Ferris comes first.

This explains why Cameron’s father’s car goes from looking like this:

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To looking like this by the end of the movie:

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** It’s worth noting here that an individual who lives for one’s own sake might be interpreted be described by others as acting selfishly. To perceive an egoist’s actions as selfish is not a misinterpretation of an ethical egoist’s guiding moral philosophy. According to Ayn Rand, an ethics of selfishness isn’t a bad thing (in fact, Rand considers selfishness a virtue). An ethical egoist’s selfishness isn’t a moral or psychological defect. Unlike most people who are concerned with soul (and bank account) draining activities and ideals like altruism or a sense of selflessness in dealing with their fellow humans, an egoist knows what he wants and knows exactly what he needs to do to get it (serving others selflessly often interferes with our ability to serve our own interests). Ferris Bueller would inform you that his actions were not due to a lack of morals or because he is an asshole. Ferris would tell you that he is, in fact, quite a moral individual. The situation simply is this: he chooses to not be encumbered by fulfilling the interests of others. **

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off costar Ben Stein described Ferris as having an “inner mobility” and an “inner sense of freedom and self-confidence”, and John Hughes said that Ferris Bueller isn’t “labored with all the difficulties that everyone else is”. Given Ferris’ behavior during his day off, we’re safe to assume that the achievement of his own happiness is Ferris’ greatest purpose in life.

Straight outta Rand.

 

** This is why we not only like but want to be like Ferris Bueller and why all the sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, and dweebies adore him. The unfortunate reality for most of us is that although we want to be Ferris Bueller, we all know that deep down we all really are like Cameron Frye trapped in lives as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Of quiet desperation”. We need people like Ferris to show us that life is worth living. This is exactly what Ferris does for Cameron. This leads us to a question: since the day ended pretty well for everyone, what’s the harm in what Ferris did? What’s the harm of being selfish and using other people to get what you want if everyone has fun? **

Well, Ferris Bueller’s universally fun-filled day off aside, there’s a tremendous problem with ethical egoism. Namely, the problem with ethical egoism is the fact that egoism tends to be self defeating.

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BECOMING AN ETHICAL EGOIST MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS A CAT MAKING FRIENDS WITH MICE

Listen: the only way a person can really ever be a successful egoist is if a person remains closeted about it. The late Australian philosopher, Brian Medlin (1927-2004), says ethical egoism doesn’t work because people don’t want to live in a world where people only live for themselves. Medlin says:

 

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. Surely is he does believes
what he says, he should try to persuade them otherwise.

If everybody is an ethical egoist, says Medlin, our selfish pursuit of our own pleasure will inevitably conflict with someone else’s selfish pursuits. Although an ethical egoist can be quite comfortable calling himself an egoist, he is likely to be uncomfortable with other people knowing that he is an egotist. For example, Ferris couldn’t very well ring up Cameron and say, “hey, Cam. I’ve decided, being the ethical egoist that I am, to take the day off. And as an egoist, I’m going to spend the entire day pleasing me, and I’m going to exploit you, Sloane, and anyone else who I need to use along the way. Wanna come along? By the way, bring your dad’s car”.

This would not work. Cameron has his own selfish interests he may want to pursue, including not being exploited by his best friend.

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KNOWING CAMERON, FERRIS SAYING EXACTLY THAT PROBABLY WOULD WORK. HE’D FALL FOR IT HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

Obviously Ferris’ want to exploit Cameron and Cameron’s want to not be exploited by Ferris conflict. An egoist as smart as Ferris Bueller knows that he cannot and should not prance around waving his ethical egoism in everyone’s faces. And Ferris, like many egoists, is far too clever to let other people in on his game. Ferris says that he’s doing it all for Cameron, but really, Cameron’s happiness is a happy accident. An egoist knows that the key to getting what you want does not mean that someone always gets harmed, but it does mean that nobody else knows you’re an ethical egoist.

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Alright. Rebuttal time, you say. Ethical egoism naysayers like Brian Medlin and Jesus Christ are only partially right.

The egoism-is-self-defeating-argument may be a problem if an egoist is indeed strictly in it for himself. Doing so would indeed be self-defeating. However, being an egoist does not mean that you always have to seek your own happiness to the exclusion of the happiness of others. Ethical egoists often discover that pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people actually increases the egoist’s happiness as well.

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PRETTY SURE AYN RAND WORE THIS T-SHIRT, TOO

Ben Stein claims that Ferris helps Cameron to “liberate” himself. So when Ferris “borrows” Cameron’s father’s car, ignores Cameron’s illness, and talks to the camera about his friend’s non-existent sex life, it’s really to help Cameron to break free from his fear. When Ferris stands completely still and does nothing to stop Cameron while Cameron kicks the holy hell out his father’s car, it’s not because Ferris is looking after his own ass and wants to wipe his hands clean of the whole ordeal, it is because Ferris is being a great friend helping Cameron to gain independence from his father. When Ferris humiliates the maitre d’ at Chez Quis, it’s not because Ferris gets his rocks off humiliating people in public, it’s to put a snarky butthole in his place. When Ferris lip sync’s The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on the Von Steuben Day Parade float, it’s not to be the center of attention, he’s doing it to show Cameron something good that day.

The fact that Ferris’ happiness was Ferris’ main motivation for taking the day off didn’t necessarily mean that other people had to get hurt. It’s possible that everyone can think you’re a righteous dude and they can get what they want, too.

And because no one admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Especially Ferris.

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WHO AM I KIDDING, THIS GUY IS A TOTAL SOCIOPATH

In the end, my two cents worth says that Ferris Bueller indeed is a Randian egoist.
I will, however, concede that Medlin and the other haters tend to act as if being an egoist means that you’re required to go all Marquis de Sade in how you treat others. We know that’s not so.
The trick is that you simply don’t go waiving your egoist banner everywhere. If you have to tell people that you’re a Kantian, so be it. Just as long 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 is a little bit of obfuscation. And because no one ever admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Maybe except for Cameron.

Anyone else get the feeling that Cameron didn’t show up the next day at school?

Or the next…

… or the next?

 

 

 

 

** I have once again made reference to an original version of a film (and not its sequel). For those who are unfamiliar with the original film, the characters “Doris Finsecker” and “Ralph Garci” are characters from the film Fame, originally released in 1980.

*** For those who don’t know, SFW means “so fucking what?”

 
*THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ANOTHER FORM IN THE BOOK MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER: HOW PHILOSOPHY TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE AND ON THE (now defunct) BLOGGER BLOG “THE KANTIAN EGOIST” (POSTED AUGUST 25, 2009).

 

SOURCES:

Gregory Kavka. “A Reconciliation Project”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. pp. 358-9.

Ayn Rand quote: from “Introduction” from The Virtue of Selfishness:
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html

Ayn Rand quotes on the principles of objectivism are from Ayn Rand Institute website: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_essentials.

Leonard Peikoff. “Afterword”. 1992. In The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand. [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet. p. 698.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 1986. Writ. & Dir. John Hughes.

“Who Is Ferris Bueller?” copyright 2006. Paramount Home Video.

Brian Medlin. “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism” [orig. published 1957]: http://www.2fiu.edu/~Medlin’sUltimatePrinciplesandEthicalEgoism.html.