Night of the Living STANS

IF I’VE LEARNED anything from my years spent interacting with folks online, it’s this: all fandoms are awful.

I’m not joking. Most are pretty bad.

dotd

JUST SAY THE WORDS “RUNNING ZOMBIES” IN A ROOM FULL OF GEORGE A. ROMERO FANS AND WAIT…

Take a look around the interwebs and you’ll see there’s a good reason why they invented the phrase TOXIC FANDOM.

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NOT CALLING OUT RICK AND MORTY FANS EXCLUSIVELY (or this young man in the photo in particular), BUT THAT WHOLE MC DONALD’S MULAN DIPPING SAUCE THING WAS NOT THE FANDOM’S FINEST MOMENT…. Wubba Lubba Dub Dub

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all fandoms are bad (although I just did).
Communing with others who share mutual interests is a good thing. More than half of
my Facebook friends are people I’ve “met” in Star Trek fan groups.
Yes. I’m still on Facebook.
Actually, Star Trek fans are pretty toxic, too.
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JUST SAY THE NAME MICHAEL BURNHAM IN A STAR TREK FAN GROUP AND WAIT…

Trekkies, Little Monsters, Swifties, the KISS Army, the Beyhive, Beliebers — just a few
monikers of popular fandoms. 

 

Question: Are Game of Thrones fans called anything? What about The Walking Dead

fans? What are they called?

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THERE’S GOTTA BE A NAME FOR SOMEONE WHO DOES THIS TO THEIR CAT

Some fandoms’ fans are so devoted they’ve shot past being mere fans;

they’re STANS.

A“stan”, according to Urban Dictionary, is:

crazed and or obsessed fan. The term comes from the song Stan by eminem. The term Stan is used to describe a fan who goes to great lengths to obsess over a celebrity.
These people are fans:
stcostume7
THIS guy is a stan.
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I’m going to assume that most fans (and even most stans) are harmless, but there are
devoted fans out there.
Almost anything or anyone that’s popular has a fandom. Almost anything or anyone with
one notable exception: PHILOSOPHERS.
In all my years of mindless philosophizing  I have never once heard of or seen a
philosophy fandom.
I mean, Rule 34 of the internet says for every conceivable idea, there’s a porn of it.  I’m
pretty sure that there’s a fandom corollary — for every thing in pop culture, there’s a
fandom of it. Sounds like a reasonable to assume, right?
…and it’s not like philosophy has never been popular. I mean, Socrates had his fans
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ANY GROUP OF FOLLOWERS WHO’D SHOW UP TO WATCH A GUY KILL HIMSELF ARE A PRETTY DEVOTED BUNCH

Glaucon probably was a stan, tho.

 

I mean, think about it for a minute. Philosophy (well… Western philosophy, anyway) has

been around since at least the 6th century BCE, and is the mother of ALL disciplines, but

has there ever once been a PhilosophyCon? Do philosophy fans have clever fandom-

based nicknames? Socrateers, Aristotoholics, Hegelites…?

Is there philosophy cosplay?

Wait — there is philosophy cosplay. But it usually looks like this:

philosopher-cosplay

NOT KNOCKING THESE GUYS. THIS IS PRETTY GOOD PHILOSOPHY COSPLAY

What happens when you put a couple of devoted Kant fans in a room? Do they disagree?

Do Kantian disagreements ever turn violent? Probably not.

Oh wait, they have*

I guess at least Immanuel Kant has stans.

So… at least Immanuel Kant has a toxic fandom.

In Russia, anyway.

 

Ok…. Russian Kantian gun fighting stans aside, maybe the reason why philosophy

fandoms aren’t like Rick and Morty or Selena Gomez fans is because philosophy fans

aren’t like Rick and  Morty or Selena Gomez fans. Philosophy fans, kantian Russians

aside, aren’t very enthusiastic people. They may feel passionate about philosophy, but

they aren’t very passionate about philosophers. And even when they’re passionate about

philosophy,  philosophy fans are pretty subdued about it.

 

Russian Kant stans aside.

 

That Slavoj Žižek-Jordan Peterson debate was hyped to hell and back and it pretty much

just looked like this: 

zizek-peterson-800x480

TWO BROS JUST CHATTIN’

Ok… I’m pretty convinced Mark Hamill has been doing Žižek cosplay for a few years…
mark-hamill-slavoj-zizek-1444715
Well… there is ONE thing Rick and Morty and philosophy fans have in common: but to
understand you gotta have a high I.Q.

Sorry kid.

You see, Tay Sway can shake if off
shake-it-off-gif-taylor-swift-38590604-500-266
Most of the “popular” philosophers are…we… dead. Aristotle has been dead since 322
BCE!!!
He’s not shaking much of anything.
…and shaking is what gets you fans.
Not every philosopher has the natural charisma of cigarette smoking Albert Camus.
albertcamus

ALBERT CAMUS, THE ZAC EFRON OF PHILOSOPHY

So what should philosophers do  if we want fandoms?
tenor-1

THIS MIGHT HELP

For starters, philosophy seems to be doing a pretty good job sneaking philosophy into
pop culture with movies like The Matrix and tv shows like The Good Place.  Lots of people
out there play Bioshock.
That’s a video game.
… and with the new Bill and Ted flick in production, maybe we’ll see the return of
Socrates, to introduce a whole new generation of youths to the teachings of the ancient
gadfly of Athens.
wq7b1wo

ALL WE ARE IS DUST IN THE WIND, DUDE

After all, we got all those Rick and Morty fans out there with their high I.Q.s  (and all
those Star Trek fans who fancy themselves philosophical),  isn’t it time philosophers
cultivate their own potentially toxic fanbase?
Kantian Russian firearm enthusiasts aside.
I say, it’s time for philosophers to claim their place in the pantheon of (potentially toxic)
fandoms. It’s time to stop wasting time yelling “Pickle Rick!” in public places and put our
high I.Q.s to some good use! Why let those nerdy Trekkers claim all the philosophy??? It’s
time philosophers get shakin’! It’s time for Diogenes cosplayin’ and PhilosophyCon. It’s
time for a tv show about a band of gun-totin’, philosophy-quotin’, kickass lovers of
wisdom and a Chris Hardwick aftershow.
Did you know Chris Hardwick majored in philosophy in college?
He did, you know.
BENTHAMHEADS UNITE!!!!
It’s time to start dressing up our pets like our favorite French existentialist philosopher.
Why should The Walking Dead fans be the only fans who get to do this?
m2fnprp

SERIOUSLY, WHO DOES THIS TO THEIR PET????

All I Want For Christmas Is For Jimmy Stewart To Teach Me the Meaning of Life

It’s the end of the year. It’s the time we look forward to the year ahead and turn back to think of the year we’ve left behind. As we open up or Christmas presents, we celebrate the people who mean the most to us and pray (if you’re into that kind of thing) for peace and good will on Earth.

After over-stuffing ourselves on holiday ham and all the fixings, we might find ourselves, gazing at our distended bellies, falling victim to meat sweats and a bad case of the ‘itis, as we ask, “what have I done with my life?”

 

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I FEEL SO MUCH SELF HATRED RIGHT NOW.

And as we settle down for a long winter’s nap, gazing into the glowing light of a yuletide fire, we realize the funny way the Christmas season gets us thinking about things philosophically.

 

The Austrian philosopher, Kurt Baier (1917-2010) says scientific theories cannot make the universe “intelligible, comprehensible, meaningful to us.” Baier claims that science isn’t structured to answer the “why” and causal explanations for the existence of life and the universe cannot produce “real illumination”, and  if we look to science to tell us why we are here, the only explanation that science can give to explain our existence is that we are here solely for reproductive purposes.

 

disappointed-couple-in-bed

PICTURED: A MEANINGLESS LIFE

 

Baier says that in reality a scientific universe is harsh, cold, and indifferent to us.

 

THE UNIVERSE IS SPEAKING TO YOU

THE UNIVERSE IS SPEAKING TO YOU

 

So what does that have to do with Christmas?

 

Nothing, other than I have the feeling that this is exactly what George Bailey was feeling the night he decided to kill himself in the Frank Capra-directed holiday favorite It’s A Wonderful Life.

 

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These days, the only time most people watch It’s A Wonderful Life (originally released in December, 1946) is during the holiday season when the television networks temporarily preempt their regular programming to air Christmastime classics like, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and  A Charlie Brown Christmas (a very philosophical thought-provoking television program in its own right).

Although some may dismiss It’s A Wonderful Life as a film that embodies all that is cheesy and hopelessly cliché about Christmas, the Frank Capra perennial holiday programming favorite is, I think, the most philosophical movie ever made.

 

At least one of the most.

 

OK, SO HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS:

George Bailey (James Stewart) lives in small-town of Bedford Falls. As a young man, George dreams of leaving the small town for the big city. George wants to go to college. George tells his sweetheart, Mary Hatch (soon to become his wife, Mary Bailey, played by Donna Reed) his dreams for his future:

Mary: What’d you wish, George?
George: Well, not just one wish. A whole hatful, Mary. I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here and go to college and see what they know… And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

 

But, unfortunately for young George Bailey, life intervenes and George is called to manage the (failing) family business, Bailey Building and Loan. George gives up his dream of leaving Bedford Falls to tend to the family business.

Sure, George is married to a woman who loves him, has a couple of pretty good kids, a war hero brother, and the respect of the community, but when Bailey Building and Loan comes up $8000 short, George is suspected of stealing the money and faces arrest. To make matters worse for George Bailey, local corporate kingpin, Henry F. Potter wants to take over the Bailey family business and cut off bank loans to the town’s poor residents (George does not know that Potter not only found the missing $8000 but has pocketed the money).

 

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WHY DID MR. POTTER TOTALLY NOT GO TO PRISON FOR STEALING ALL THAT CASH?

 

With the possibility of a prison sentence looming over his head and an overwhelming feeling of failure and despair, George Bailey feels that the world would have been better if he was never born. George wants out of his unfulfilled, meaningless life.
George Bailey experiences what Thomas Nagel says is the realization of “the absurdity if our own situation derives not from a collision between our expectations and the world, but from a collision within ourselves.” When faced with the seeming reality of his own meaningless life and unrealized dreams of a better life outside Bedford Falls, George feels that his life is no longer worth living and like Dostoevsky’s Kirilov, George believes that the only way out of his life’s never-ending meaninglessness is to kill himself.

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We can imagine George Bailey, standing on the edge of a bridge, waiting for the right moment to throw himself over the side, hearing the words of Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”, in his head:

 

… …in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.

 

 

Camus writes, “There is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.” When life has ceased to have meaning the natural inclination is to end it.

This is exactly what we can assume George Bailey is feeling as he contemplates suicide.

After getting drunk at the local bar, George decides to throw himself off of a bridge.

its-a-wonderful-life

 

However, a moment  before George flings himself over the rail, an angel named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) intervenes in George’s suicide attempt.

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Clarence tells George that he is George’s guardian angel. Clarence wants to earn his wings and to do so, he has to prove to George Bailey that his life is not meaningless and that the world is better off with him in it.

For Camus, ending one’s life is not an option and it isn’t for Clarence Oddbody, either. So, to prove to George Bailey that his life is worth living, Clarence grants George’s wish, and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born.

 

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In a world without George Bailey Mary is a lonely spinster. George learns that not only is his younger brother Harry dead, but that the men on the troop transport that Harry saved during the war also perished – all because George was not there to save Harry when Harry fell through an ice-covered lake as a child.

Clarence shows George Bailey that without his presence, Bedford Falls (or as it is called in the George Bailey-less alternate reality “Pottersville”) is a den of sin filled with casinos, criminals, crazy people, dance halls, and dance hall floozies. Clarence tells George, “You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?” Clarence tells George sees that his life positively affects the lives of all he knows, including the town of Bedford Falls itself.

Clarence says,

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.
When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

 

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Dismayed by the sight of a world worse off without him, George Bailey realizes that his life isn’t as meaningless and insignificant as he had believed and begs Clarence to return things back to the way it was.

*Interesting philosophical tidbit: It’s a Wonderful Life suggests that not only is determinism true, but that our lives are determined by a divine plan. Clarence Oddbody, who thwarts George Bailey’s suicide by showing George what life would be like if he was never born, introduces himself to George as George’s guardian angel. That means George Bailey doesn’t kill himself due to divine intervention  George Bailey wanted to kill himself, but God had other plans -plans that have nothing to do with what George Bailey does or does not want to do.

 

George Bailey’s purpose in life wasn’t to build airfields or skyscrapers, but was right there in Bedford Falls. George learns that what makes life meaningful isn’t getting what we want or satisfying our desires, but what makes life wonderful is doing good for others and fulfilling one’s purpose in life. George Bailey’s life had meaning, even if he didn’t know what it was.

What-s-the-meaning-of-life-Sirius-I-don-t-know-But

 

Even though George Bailey wasn’t aware of it, he indeed had a wonderful life.

 

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In the closing scene of It’s A Wonderful Life, the townspeople of Bedford Falls, recognizing the fact that George Bailey is the town’s only hope of warding off Potter’s plans to turn Bedford Falls into a small town Sodom and Gomorrah, rallies behind George, giving him more than enough money to cover the lost money.

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The townspeople know, even if George Bailey does not, that he has played a meaningful role in their lives. As the residents of Bedford Falls sing a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”, a bell on the Bailey’s Christmas tree rings. George’s daughter Zuzu  famously tells her father (now, everybody say it together) “every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings”.

 

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We see that George Bailey means something to Clarence Oddbody as well – he’s helped Clarence to earn his wings. In an inscription in a book, Clarence leaves a final message for George Bailey; no man is a failure who has friends.

 

tom_sawyer

IF THERE IS ANY PHILOSOPHICAL SIGNIFICANCE TO TOM SAWYER, WE HAVE NO IDEA.

 

Whoa, hold the phone! What Clarence Oddbody tells George Bailey is worth repeating. Clarence tells George Bailey no man is a failure who has friends. This certainly sounds like a sentiment that we can all rally behind. If we’re to trust the words of Capra’s angel, it’s possible that Clarence Oddbody knows the true meaning of life. What this means folks – is perhaps we have we finally found what every great philosopher, thinker, theologian and layman has been looking for: Friendship is the meaning of life.

 

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THEY’LL BE THERE FOR YOU

Alright, I’ve never been shy about my dislike of Aristotle. And generally speaking, I still do. But listen; as much as I am reluctant to admit it, Aristotle gives us a reason to believe friendship is the meaning of life.

 

friendship is magic

FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC

Aristotle states that a Good (i.e. eudemonic) life is a meaningful life and that a requirement for living a meaningful life is friendship. Aristotle tells us that no one can be truly happy without friends. In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle writes:

But it seems strange, when one assigns all good things to the happy man, not to assign friends, who are thought the greatest of external goods… Therefore even the happy man lives with others; for he has the things that are by nature good. And plainly it is better to spend his days with friends and good men than with strangers or any chance persons. Therefore the happy man needs friends.

 

If you think about it, perhaps the reason why we pursue philosophy – the reason why we want to know about truth and reality, why we need to know how to distinguish true beliefs from false beliefs or why we want to know the ethical way to act because, as Aristotle tells us, not only so we can determine what friendship is, but also good and virtuous people attract the right kind of people; people of good moral character.

 

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ARISTOTLE WOULD PROBABLY SAY THAT THE BEST KIND OF FRIENDS DRESS LIKE THIS

 

We may claim that we are the products of our own invention, but as much as we define our lives, our lives are also shaped by the people around us.

Our friends are not just our companions; our friends give us examples to live by, they teach and inspire us, support and encourage our better natures, and share with us our values and the most meaningful moments in our lives. Our friends are our mirrors. Our friends reflect what kind of person we are and what kind of person we want to be.

Having a head full of Descartes, Kant, and Hume may be philosophically satisfying, but what’s the point of studying philosophy if we have no one to share our ideas and knowledge with?  Just remember as you’re swigging back a third mug of eggnog, a philosopher may attain enlightenment, but the individual who has soul enhancing, long-lasting friendships truly has a life worth living.

 

the-end

 

 

 

SOURCES:

It’s a Wonderful Life. 1946. Writ. Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Jo Swerling, & Frank Capra. Dir. Frank Capra.

Thomas Nagel. “Death”. Mortal Questions. 1979. NY: Cambridge University Press. p.17.

 Albert Camus. “The Myth of Sisyphus”. The Meaning of Life: A Reader. p.73.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. W.D. Ross. 1909. Clarendon Press. W.D. Ross’ translation is in the public domain and available online at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html.

I’m A Little Late To This Mad Men Thing

You’re born alone, and you’ll die alone, and the world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one. – Don Draper, Mad Men.

 

 

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I used to feel embarrassed to tell people that I watch television.

I’m not anymore.

I watch TV. A lot.

You see, when you hang around with philosophy types, the phrase you’ll most often hear is something like, “I don’t even own a TV” or “I only watch PBS”. Stuff like TV is a distraction or there’s better things to do with one’s brain.

Like reading Kant or Bertrand Russell.

Apparently philosophers aren’t too keen on the TV.

I guess that’s not a bad thing.

But I ain’t like that.

Let me say this clearly so that I‘m not misunderstood: I not only WATCH television, I ENJOY watching television.

I own a TV. Actually, more than one. I have cable. I watch Ridiculousness. I get bummed out when my favorite tattoo artist is eliminated on Ink Master. I take the judges’ critiques of my favorite drag queen personally when I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I make sure to never miss an episode of Master Chef, Project Runway, The Walking Dead, Bar Rescue and Chopped.

I watch Cinemax After Dark.

I DVR Taxicab Confessions.

 

And yes, I know Taxicab Confessions airs on HBO not Cinemax.

 

Or, as it’s also known – Skinemax.

 

 

 

 

Let me tell you something: even though I am an unrepentant TV watcher, I still feel a bit dirty after spending an afternoon binge watching Firefly.

 

For the twentieth weekend in a row.

 

I think it has something to do with the fact that my excessive TV watching has afforded me enough time to occasionally chit chat with philosophers.
The deficit of philosophical chat time means my philosophical skills aren’t quite up to par.

Actually, my skills kind of suck.

This has not done well for my self-esteem.

You see, even if you don’t feel bad enough about yourself you’ll invariably end up feeling like a total flunkie once you talk to a philosopher.

 

 

THIS IS HOW I FEEL TALKING TO PHILOSOPHERS

THIS IS HOW I FEEL TALKING TO PHILOSOPHERS

 

 

Every time I talk to a philosopher, I inevitably leave the conversation feeling bad. Even when I’m engaged in small talk with a philosopher, his “trivial” conversation almost always involves mind-numbing discussions of mind-body dualism or Hegel.

 

Philosophers really dig talking about Hegel.

 

This is how any conversation I have with a philosopher goes: I stand, eyes glazing over, while the (real) philosopher talks about something written by Frege or Leibniz- something that I have not a clue about. I stand there; looking at my feet, hoping that the philosopher will forget I’m there or move on to someone smarter else after I attempt to evade the subject by telling a joke. But it never works. My philosophical ignorance is revealed.

 

dunce cap

 

 

This is what most of my trivial conversations are about:

 

 

chuck norris

 

 

 

I’d much rather talk about June Thompson’s “forklift foot” or about the lady with the dead chickens on Hoarders.

 

You know what episode I’m talking about.

 

THIS SERIOUSLY HAPPENED ON AN EPISODE OF HOARDERS

THIS SERIOUSLY HAPPENED ON AN EPISODE OF HOARDERS

 

 

 

I can never admit to a philosopher that I spend more time in front of a TV set than I spend with my nose deep in the pages of a major philosophical treatise.

I could tell you everything there is to know about RuPaul’s guest spot on Walker Texas Ranger or name the number of times Sheldon Cooper has said the word “Bazinga” on Big Bang Theory, but I know virtually nothing about John Locke or his philosophy.

 

When it comes to philosophy my mind is a tabula rasa – a blank slate.
Which is kind of appropriate considering Locke’s philosophy.

 

It’s all because I spend most of my waking hours watching television instead of reading philosophy.

 

I can’t tell you who this is

 

 

philippa foot

 

 

But I can certainly tell you who this is

 

 

 IF YOU ALSO KNOW WHO THIS IS YOU’RE WATCHING WAY TOO MUCH LATE-NITE CABLE TELEVISION

IF YOU ALSO KNOW WHO THIS IS YOU’RE WATCHING WAY TOO MUCH LATE-NITE CABLE TELEVISION

 

 

Or what TV show made this guy famous

 

 

it's torgo

 

 

Well, somewhat famous.

 

By the way, that first picture is of the philosopher, Phillipa Foot.

I know that’s Phillipa Foot because Google told me that’s her.

 

 

it's on the internet it must be true

 

 

My unfortunate reality is that no matter how much philosophy I read every conversation I’ve ever had with a philosopher is always accompanied by an overwhelming sense of dumb.

A special kind of dumb.

 

 

THIS KIND OF DUMB

THIS KIND OF DUMB

 

 

I always feel like at the end of every philosophical conversation that there’s going to be a test.

A test I’m going to fail.

 

 

 

failure ahead

 

 

There’s something that these philosophers don’t know, though. They don’t watch TV so they have no idea. This is what they don‘t know: TV can teach you things. Lots of things.

 

Philosophical things.

 

It’s true.

 

I’ve written this before and I’ll say it ‘til the day I die – television is one of the best places to learn philosophy. You don’t have to watch the high-brow stuff, either. You don’t have to spend your evenings watching PBS or some British something-rather starring Dame Maggie Smith.

 

 

bitches love downton abbey

 

 

 

You can watch anything. Anything.

The ideas – the philosophy – it’s in there.

I really mean that. You can watch Hobbes’ state of nature play out in an episode of Survivor. You can find Schopenhauer in an episode of Modern Family. Descartes in an episode of Star Trek.

 

 

There’s Socrates in The Walking Dead.

 

 

I’m kidding about that finding Schopenhauer in Modern Family thing. I wouldn’t know if that’s true or not. I’ve never seen the show.

 

 

NO, I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY WATCHED MODERN FAMILY.

NO, I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY WATCHED MODERN FAMILY.

 

 

 

And, as I discovered, if you watch enough episodes, you’ll find that there’s plenty philosophy to be found in Mad Men.

 

mad men

 

 

 

Fans of the show already know that Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner, debuted in July 2007 on the basic cable network AMC (American Music Classics). The series, now going into its sixth and final season, averages 2.5 million viewers per episode.

 

That’s pretty good numbers for a basic cable TV show.

 

Until you consider AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead.

That show averages 13 million viewers an episode.

 

 

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE APPEAL OF AN ENGLISH ACTOR WITH A BARELY PASSABLE FAUX AMERICAN SOUTHERN ACCENT

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE APPEAL OF AN ENGLISH ACTOR WITH A BARELY PASSABLE FAUX AMERICAN SOUTHERN ACCENT

 

 

 

Ok. I admit it, I’m a little late to this Mad Men thing. I started watching the show mid-way during season four.

By then, Peggy had already had her baby.

Roger was on marriage number two.

The Lucky Strike guy had gotten Sal fired.

Don was already divorced from Betty and had his eye on Megan.

 

Who the hell is Anna Draper???

 

 

SERIOUSLY, WHO THE HELL IS ANNA DRAPER AND WHERE DID SHE COME FROM????

SERIOUSLY, WHO THE HELL IS ANNA DRAPER AND WHERE DID SHE COME FROM????

 
But it’s not because I hadn’t heard of the show.

I didn’t watch it on principle.

You see, Mad Men was on every TV critic’s top ten list.

It was the one show whose poop didn’t stink.

 

 

don draper says god bless you

 

 

So naturally, now that I’m a fan, I was obligated to do this:

 

 

 THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER AT STERLING COOPER

THE MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER AT STERLING COOPER

 

 

Naturally, the hater pop culture dismissing-philosopher inside me immediately disliked (without watching) the show and would not spend a moment of my time watching a show loved by the non-philosophically-inclined masses.

As it turns out I was wrong.

But then …..

 

freddy and the haters

 

 
Sometimes enjoying TV makes you change your mind about things.

 

From Sterling Cooper boss Bert Cooper’s love of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to Betty Draper’s philosophy of femininity, the entire show is soaking in philosophy.

 

 

OF COURSE MAD MEN IS ABOUT THIS,TOO (OR  SHOULD I SAY THESE TWO?) .

OF COURSE MAD MEN IS ABOUT THIS,TOO (OR SHOULD I SAY THESE TWO?) .

 

 

 

Fortunately for us, we’re not required to watch all seven seasons of Mad Men or contemplate the philosophical doings of the entire cast of characters to get a grasp of the philosophy in Mad Men. You really need only to look at the first season of the show and specifically at only one character: the power-drinking, cigarette smoking, philandering, identity-stealing, Army-deserting, bad dad, anti-hero, Don Draper.

 

 

 

 WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT ANYONE COULD MAKE ALCOHOLISM AND ADULTERY LOOK SO COOL?

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT ANYONE COULD MAKE ALCOHOLISM AND ADULTERY LOOK SO COOL?

 

 

I guess you could spend a little bit of time watching Peggy Olsen.

That whole hidden pregnancy thing was mildly interesting.

 

 

 SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS PETE CAMPBELL.

SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS PETE CAMPBELL.

 

 

In the season 1 (one) episode titled “Hobo Code”, Don Draper awakens his young son Bobby from a sound sleep and tells the boy to ask him anything. The boy asks his father why lightning bugs light up. Don tells his son that he doesn’t know.

Don doesn’t know the answer and does not pretend to know.

Don vows that he will never lie to his son.

We all know that’s a lie.

This is not Don Draper’s first lie. It won’t be Don Draper’s last.

 

 

don says lie to everyone about everything

 

 

At this point the audience realizes that Don Draper may be the worst man TV dad in television history.

 

History.

 

 

worst

 

 

 

You see, Don Draper’s entire existence is a lie.

 

 

 

 A LIE IS ALWAYS MORALLY PERMISSIBLE IF TOLD BY SOMEONE CONSUMING COPIOUS QUANTITES OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES… I THINK KANT WROTE THAT.

A LIE IS ALWAYS MORALLY PERMISSIBLE IF TOLD BY SOMEONE CONSUMING COPIOUS QUANTITIES OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES… I THINK KANT WROTE THAT.

 

Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper at all. Don Draper is really Dick Whitman, the self-described “whore child” who stole the identity of fellow soldier, Don Draper, by switching dog tags with Draper after (the real) Don Draper is mortally wounded in an explosion in Korea.

 

An explosion totally caused by Dick Whitman, by the way.

 

 

LOOK CLOSELY: ONE OF THESE GUYS IS ABOUT TO STOP BEING DON DRAPER

LOOK CLOSELY: ONE OF THESE GUYS IS ABOUT TO STOP BEING DON DRAPER

 

 

This is all morally reprehensible enough, but, as we all know, there’s a moral theory that will justify just about anything we do. Luckily for the man formerly known as Richard Whitman, the man currently known as Don Draper finds employment with an adherent of one such theory.

 

The man is Bert Cooper. The theory is OBJECTIVISM.

 

The creator of objectivism, like Don Draper, also changed her name.

Her parents knew her as Alisa Z. Rosenbaum.

The world knows her as Ayn Rand.

 

 

THIS IS AYN RAND

THIS IS AYN RAND

 

 

 

Ayn Rand is mentioned no fewer than three times in season one.

Draper’s boss, Ayn Rand-loving Bert Cooper, has a bookshelf in his office that looks like this:

 

 

bert cooper's book collection

 

 

THIS IS BERT COOPER TALKING ABOUT AYN RAND

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Cooper is informed of Draper’s deception, Bert Cooper’s reaction is not moral outrage that Draper is a deserter and identity thief, but “who cares?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(Ok, this may need explaining: Dick Whitman’s long-lost (or is it abandoned?) kid brother, Adam, discovers that Dick has been living in New York as Don Draper. Adam sends a package of old photographs to Dick/Don that is intercepted by Peter (“Humps”) Campbell, a particularly devious and overly ambitious fellow who works with Don and who very much wants Don’s job. Campbell decides that the best way to Draper’s job is through blackmail and so Campbell threatens to reveal Draper’s secret if Draper does not appoint him to head of accounts. When Peter tells Bert Cooper that Don Draper is not who he says that he is but is actually Dick Whitman, Cooper responds to Campbell’s revelation with “who cares?”)

 

 

 

 

What Pete Campbell doesn’t realize is that Bert Cooper’s failure to gin up a sense of moral disgust at Don Draper’s behavior has everything to do with his fondness for the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

 

 

pete the snitch

 

 

 

What Pete Campbell fails to realize is that he would have saved himself from embarrassment if he had just made himself aware of Rand’s philosophy, based on the virtue of selfishness.

This doesn’t turn out too well for Pete.

 

 

not great bob

 

 

 
You see, long before Dick Whitman had become Don Draper or had met Bert Cooper or heard of Ayn Rand, Dick Whitman/Don Draper was already a well-seasoned adherent of Rand’s virtue of selfishness. Dick Whitman didn’t consider what effect his actions in Korea would have on his brother Adam, or about the family of Don Draper or about Draper himself, with whom Dick swaps ID tags when Draper is mortally wounded.

 

 

 

who is dick whitman

 

 

Don Draper’s interest in maintaining his new identity (and his secret) means Don has to not care. Don can’t be concerned with the affairs of others (particularly those who potentially can reveal Don’s true identity) because to do so would interfere with his mission to live life as far away from the life of Dick Whitman as possible.

Don Draper, formerly known as Dick Whitman, acts according to his own self-interests.

Don Draper’s motivation is pure selfishness.

This is why Don offers his brother Adam five thousand dollars in exchange for Adam‘s silence and a promise to never return to New York City.

 

 

DON DRAPER IS ABOUT TO RUIN HIS BROTHER’S LIFE IN 5...4...3...2...1...

DON DRAPER IS ABOUT TO RUIN HIS BROTHER’S LIFE IN 5…4…3…2…1…

 

 

 

Don Draper isn’t morally invested in the effect of his adulterous affairs on his wife Betty or for Betty’s feelings (in general) when he talks to her therapist without her knowledge or consent.

 

Because he’s selfish.

…or it could be because Don is an alcoholic.

 

 

good don

 

 

When Dick/Don propositions his mistress to run away with him ( actually mistresses, Don carries on with with as many as two women in season one), he does not consider the effect that abandoning his family will have on his children.

In fact, Don doesn’t think about that until he is reminded that leaving would be devastating to the children.

 

By one of his mistresses, no less.

 

Hint: it’s because Don is selfish.

 

 

Without ever having read it, Don Draper personal morality runs pretty much according to the philosophy of this book:

 

 

atlas number 2

 

 

Whoops. I meant this book:

 

 

atlas shrugged cover art

 

And this is what happens after you’ve divorced someone who lives life according to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

 

 

betty draper eating 1

 

 

 

 

betty draper eating 2

 

 

 

 

betty draper eating 3

 

 

 

 

 

betty's i'm fat GIF

 

 

 

Don Draper’s utter lack of regard for the consequences of his actions on others (aka his selfishness) leads Bert Cooper to observe:

Bert Cooper (To Don):By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man, and in the end completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different – unsentimental about all the people who depend on our hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Cooper even recommends that Draper pick up a copy of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and tells Don that he must introduce him to his “friend” Miss Ayn Rand.

 

One can only imagine what Ayn Rand would with/to Don Draper.

 

 

 

 I CAN ONLY IMAGNE AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN DON DRAPER AND AYN RAND WOULD LOOK A LITTLE SOMETHING LIKE THIS

I CAN ONLY IMAGNE AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN DON DRAPER AND AYN RAND WOULD LOOK A LITTLE SOMETHING LIKE THIS

 

 
For those of you who have never heard of Ayn Rand or read any of Rand’s novels, Rand’s ethical philosophy, called Objectivism, is based on the principle of self interest; what Rand calls the “virtue of selfishness”.

 

 

use this for mad men post

 

 

 

If you’ve never heard of Rand or her work, all I can say is

 

 

 

lucky

 

 

 

But I digress…
Don Draper is an example of the kind of man that Rand describes as one who lives fir his own sake “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself”. This type of is a man completely devoted to the pursuit of his own happiness. Rand says of the Objectivist man:

 

 

 

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.*

 

 

In other words….

 

 

atlas shrugged 1

 

 

 

Don Draper is the kind of self-made Randian type (like Rand’s Howard Roark and John Galt) that owes nothing to anyone and does things on his own terms. He isn’t (terribly) concerned with what he has to do to get ahead.

 

 

 

feel bad for you

 

 

 

 

don doesn't think about you

 

 

 

Like the true Randian Objectivist, Don Draper’ pursuit of personal happiness is the reason why we alternately admire and hate him. It is the reason why Don’s fellow ad men envy his life and want to follow in his footsteps.

It’s the reason why women find him irresistible.

It’s also the reason why:

 

 

 

Don Draper Has Issues

 

 

 
Don Draper is a man cut from the Randian mold, but there’s something that makes Don not quite the Objectivist that Bert Cooper thinks that he is.

 

Don Draper (seemingly) pulls the very existentialist move of self invention.

 

 

 

don draper says what

 

 

Existentialism assumes that there is a real you despite the role society imposes on us. We alone choose who we are and what role we want to fulfill. Dick Whitman sheds the confining identity that he was doomed to lead – he runs away from who he was possibly doomed to become – a poor farm boy, raised in a whorehouse – and transforms himself into Don Draper.

 

Following existentialist philosophy allows poor farm boy Dick Whitman transforms himself from this:

 

 

DICK WHITMAN: WHORE CHILD

DICK WHITMAN: WHORE CHILD

 

 

 

Into this:

 

 

DON DRAPER: WHOREMONGER

DON DRAPER: WHOREMONGER

 

 

HOWEVER….

Unlike the true existentialist, Dick Whitman doesn’t become who he is, rather, he assumes the identity of someone else. The move doesn’t make the former Dick Whitman any more authentic than he was. If anything, Don Draper is another mask, just another layer Dick Whitman puts on to hide himself. Don repeatedly evades questions about his past because he does not want who he truly is to be revealed.

 

According to existentialists, failure to be who we truly are means we live our lives inauthenticly.

 

An inauthentic life, says the existentialist, is a life without meaning.

 

 

PETER CAMPBELL’S LIFE IS COMPLETELY DEVOID OF MEANING

PETER CAMPBELL’S LIFE IS COMPLETELY DEVOID OF MEANING

 

 

 

Fortunately for Don Draper, Rand’s highest moral goal isn’t authenticity; it is fulfilling one’s own self interest.

 

 

images don draper problem solving

 

 

And as Bert Cooper observed, Don Draper does this in spades.

 

 

bert cooper

 

 

Sure, Don Draper occasionally says something vaguely existentialist like this:

 

 

 

don says the universe is indifferent

 

 

 

And he hung out with some beatniks who probably read Camus and Sartre.

 

 

Don and the Beatniks

 

 

 

But after awhile one eventually figures out that it’s highly unlikely that Don Draper is an existentialist.

At least not in the strict sense of the word.

Which is to say that he really isn’t an existentialist at all.

 

 

POOR TED.

POOR TED.

 

 

But to suggest that one can easily figure out Don Draper because he is the kind of man Ayn Rand talks about in Atlas Shrugged  or that he’s a French-style existentialist is to ignore a basic truth about human nature.

 

The truth is this: Like many people in the real world, the characters of Mad Men are a mix of ideologies. They, like people in the real world, are not philosophically just one thing.

 

More often than not, Don Draper is just like everyone else – that is to say, Don Draper, ideologically speaking, is a mix of everything and of nothing in particular.

 

One might say the Don Draper is a “pastiche” of identities and ideologies.

 

That’s a very postmodern thing to be.*

 

 

It’s not surprising that Don Draper is a bit on the postmodern side. Don works in advertising, an occupation where selling the image is the most important commodity.

 

 

download (9)

 

 

In advertising, it doesn’t matter what the product actually is, what’s important is how the ad makes you feel. Advertising sells an idea – or rather, the feeling associated with an idea. Don Draper says:

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing, it’s ok. You are ok.

 

 

don draper on ideas

 

 

The postmodernist idea is that we shop for identities.

And not necessarily authentic ones.

 

 

Becoming who we are is not unlike trying on different hats. During a life time we may try on many hats. Different kinds of hats may look good on us. The hat we wear at any given time may reflect who we are

Or say nothing about us at all.

 

 

WHAT DOES THIS HAT SAY ABOUT DON DRAPER? ANYTHING? NOTHING? THAT NOT EVERYONE CAN PULL OFF A FEDORA?

WHAT DOES THIS HAT SAY ABOUT DON DRAPER? ANYTHING? NOTHING? THAT NOT EVERYONE CAN PULL OFF A FEDORA?

 

 

For the postmodernist, changing one’s hat is like reinventing ourselves. We do it not to get at who we really are, but to play a role or to manifest a particular style.

Or to wear something that matches our outfit.

The image is what matters.

 

 

images happiness

 

 

According to postmodernism, there is no real. Nothing or no one is (or can be) authentic. We’re not concerned with finding who anyone truly is. We’re not concerned because there  is no real you that we must find to live existentially real lives. Who we are is nothing more than a veneer; the image we portray to others. As crafted as the image we see in advertising.

 

 

 

THIS IS THE IMAGE DON DRAPER CHOOSES TO PRESENT TO THE WORLD

THIS IS THE IMAGE DON DRAPER CHOOSES TO PRESENT TO THE WORLD

 

 

Dick Whitman is a genuine fake Don Draper.

 

 

 

is don a real person

 

 

Don Draper’s identity is the embodiment of postmodern advertising. The primary concern in advertising is not authenticity. Life is a fashion statement. And Don Draper doesn’t seem terribly concerned with being authentic, either.

 

 

hello, worst calling

 

 
What Dick Whitman does best is sell the idea of Don Draper.

 

The idea of the attractive image of an American success story.

 

 

 

NOW DOESN’T THIS LOOK SUCCESSFUL TO YOU?

NOW DOESN’T THIS LOOK SUCCESSFUL TO YOU?

 

 

When it comes down to it, I know assume think the reason why television audiences like TV shows like Mad Men and are attracted to characters like Don Draper has to do with the fact that we are intrigued by the mix of ideologies. As we watch the chaotic philosophical lives of unreal people, we can not only vicariously experience their philosophical struggles but (hopefully) gain insight and understand our own real world philosophical conundrums.

 

 

pete's impotent rage

 

 

We tune in to Mad Men to watch the characters as they struggle with ethical dilemmas and exhibit the moral contradictions that, if we did the same thing in the real world, would alienate us from our friends, co-workers, and family.

 

We see, while watching the unreal lives of those who inhabit the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Price (Cutler, Chaough….whoever) that these characters, though fictional, are like us in the real world – we are all a mix of different, often conflicting, ideologies.

 

The philosophical principles by which we live our lives and our moral choices are often inconsistent; sometimes even incoherent.

 

The fact that these characters are able to do thins that we can not do and get away with doing it is why we praise Don Draper’s Randian self-centered rugged individualism

 

 

images don of thrones

 

 

and condemn him for his inability to keep his zipper closed around any woman within his immediate vicinity (except for Peggy Olsen).

 

 

images (45)

 

 

What’s up with the Don-not-doing-Peggy thing?

 

 

HOWEVER, PEGGY OLSON DID (VOLUNTARILY) HAVE SEX WITH PETE CAMPBELL.

HOWEVER, PEGGY OLSON DID (VOLUNTARILY) HAVE SEX WITH PETE CAMPBELL.

 

 

We see Don’s existentialist tendencies yet we also see that Don is a product of society where authenticity is as real as the happy, smiling family in a Coca-Cola ad.

 

 

 

betty draper cola ad

 

 

I’m sure the second half of the final season will give me more to think about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll have to wait until Spring 2015 to see how Don Draper’s philosophical struggle ultimately plays out.

Bummer.

 

 

don draper can't be more awesome than himself

 

 
Unfortunately, with Mad Men drawing to a close I’ll have to move on to other philosophical thought-inspiring television. Luckily, I’ve just been turned on to another TV show that I hear is not only philosophical, but is also pretty popular.

I think it’s called Breaking Bad.

It’s all about a high school chemistry teacher who gets into selling meth.

I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I’ve heard, I’m sure it’s gonna be philosophically compelling

Hey, maybe you should watch it, too!

 

 

 

 
* Ayn Rand is most often associated with Libertarianism. Don is mum about his political preferences, besides remarking that he preferred Nixon over Kennedy (Nixon was a man who built himself from the ground up, as opposed to JFK who was born with a silver spoon). Draper’s politics tend to be apolitical. We can assume, given Don’s actions, that it is highly unlikely that he is a liberal Democrat.
* It is worth noting that the term “postmodernism” applies to a broad range of subjects, including art, architecture, literature, and philosophy. (For more info on postmodernism in philosophy check out the SEP entry on Postmodernism:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
SOURCES:

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

Descartes Would Have Done the Maury Povich Show (Metaphysics vs. METAPHYSICS)

I finally figured out something.

After many years of soul searching and asking other people, I finally figured out why philosophy isn’t popular. Why no one ever mentions the name Immanuel Kant or says the words “virtue ethics”, even when the conversation is about deontology or virtue ethics.

Or why contemporary philosophers like Peter Singer and Slavoj Žižek are relegated to occasional appearances on NPR.

Or why Cornel West is identified as a social critic and not a philosopher. And why, when anyone discusses matters of religion, they turn to guys like Rick Warren and not to philosophers like Peter van Inwagen.

There’s a reason why the only metaphysics ever spoken about is ghost hunting and talking to the dead.

That kind of metaphysics gets its own TV show.

 

 

paranormal TV show

 

 

What I discovered is this: nobody talks to philosophers or talks philosophy because nobody likes philosophy.

It’s all pie-in-the-sky navel gazing and talking about nothing.

 

 

IF YOU SAY YOU'RE INTO PHILOSOPHY CHANCES ARE PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SKIN CARE PRODUCTS.

IF YOU SAY YOU’RE INTO PHILOSOPHY CHANCES ARE PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT SKIN CARE PRODUCTS.

 

 

More people follow the life philosophy and ethics of Donald Trump than they follow the life philosophy and ethics of Aristotle.

That’s why this metaphysician

 

james van praagh

 

 

Sells more books than this metaphysician

 

peter van inwagen

 

 

If you told the average person you’re into metaphysics, it’s more likely that they’d think you’re into Sylvia Browne or that you’ve mastered The Secret. There’s a real problem for your field of interest when you mention the word “philosophy” and people think you’re talking about the Laws of Attraction.

If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the reason why small “m” metaphysics is more popular than capital “M” metaphysics (that is, philosophical metaphysics) has to do with the fact that when you practice small m metaphysics, you’re supposed to get things.

Practitioners of The Secret call these things “abundance”.

Mike Dooley, who is featured in The Secret, says “Thoughts become things”. According to Dooley, it’s not just that what we think influences how we perceive reality, what we think actually affects the world around us. That is to say, our thoughts can become real things in the real world. We can actualize our desires for a good job, a good home, stable, and substantive relationships with our significant others. And, we can manifest abundance.

That means lots of money.

You see, if you practice small “m” metaphysics, it can make you very rich.

I wouldn’t claim that Rhonda Byrne is infinitely more knowledgeable than Socrates or Immanuel Kant, or that James van Praagh’s Talking to Heaven is a better philosophical guide than Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. it’s just that subscribing to one philosophy is potentially more financial rewarding than the other.

It’s as simple as that.

Think of it: small “m” metaphysics tells us that we can attract things like money and happiness simply by thinking about it. On the other hand, Aristotle’s brand of happiness, eudemonia, or “flourishing”, doesn’t even require that a person be emotionally happy.

According to Aristotle, even a dead man can be happy.

In fact, according to John Stuart Mill, we should prefer to be a dissatisfied Socrates than want to be a satisfied pig.

If how our lives end is any indication of how fulfilling one’s life is (financially or otherwise), one can make an argument that being a philosopher positively sucks.

  • Socrates was condemned to death and forced to drink hemlock.
  • Isocrates starved to death.
  • Hypatia was killed by a mob of Christians.
  • Seneca was ordered to cut his own throat.
  • Descartes died from the common cold.
  • Richard Montague was beaten to death.
  • Jacques Derrida died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Leibniz died of arthritis and gout (I had no idea either one of those conditions was fatal)
  • Camus died in a car accident.
  • Foucault died from complications from AIDS.

…. It’s been rumored that Nietzsche died of syphilis.

I’d bet that none of those philosophers were blessed with “abundance”, either.

Deepak Chopra is worth an estimated 80 million dollars.

And, unlike Descartes, Deepak Chopra was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

 

 

 
Sources:
http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/deepak-chopra-net-worth

Any Major Dude Will Tell You Socrates Digs Your Taste In Music

The great Ludwig Van Beethoven said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

I’m guessing most people would applaud this notion.

Beethoven wasn’t a philosopher. He was a musician.

His opinion was biased.

Lots of people’s opinions are. Even a philosopher’s opinions are.

If you haven’t noticed, philosophers have lots of opinions about lots of things life, death, morality, good, evil, God all the “important” stuff. Name any issue and a philosopher has got something to say about it. Anything.

I guess it would surprise absolutely no one that philosophers have something to say about the not-so-important stuff, too. Like movies and sports; even music. This is what a couple of philosophers had to say about music:

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

The French writer and philosopher Voltaire wrote “Anything too stupid to be said is sung.”

Their opinions were biased, too.

Both men are absolutely right.

As a matter of fact, so is Beethoven.

A few weeks ago, I watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. There’s a character in the movie named Chop Top. Chop Top is Leatherface’s brother.

Leatherface is the guy with the chainsaw.

Chop Top was in Vietnam when the first movie happened.

That’s why you didn’t see him until the second movie.

Chop Top tells a late-night radio disc jockey, right before he attempts to bludgeon her with a hammer, “music is my life.”

I think he was paraphrasing Nietzsche.

This is Chop Top. It's pretty obvious from looking at him that music is his life.

This is Chop Top. It’s pretty obvious from looking at him that music is his life.

 

As thinks turn out, philosophers tend to think that music is our life, too.

A long time ago, way before Nietzsche said it, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said that music is important to our lives. Socrates’ reason had something to do with the idea that music possesses a unique quality to influence the way that we think and act. Socrates argues music can stimulate the wrong kind of emotions in some people. If we listen to the wrong music, Socrates says, the wrong kind of music teaches us to prefer a life of frivolity instead of appreciating the serious philosophical pursuit of wisdom. We can become intemperate, cowardly, learn bad habits like drinking, and develop a taste for merriment.

The PMRC weren’t the first people to believe music can make you do bad things. That Kind of thinking goes back quite a long way. Socrates wrote:

“rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themselves into the inmost part of the soul… they make a man graceful if he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite.”

The purpose for music, Socrates says, is to encourage the development of a good soul. According to Socrates, “…good speech, good harmony… and good rhythm accompany a good disposition.” The right kind of music, Socrates says, enables a man to develop the “right kind of dislikes” and an appreciation for the fine things. Through listening to the right kind of music a man becomes a gentleman …a philosopher.

Socrates declares that all bad music should be banned. The only music people should be allowed to listen to is music that encourages good emotions and virtuous behavior; music that teaches people to be courageous and temperate; to develop a warlike disposition and to encourage people love the gods and act for the good of the state.

This is why Socrates says music is important.

If one’s behavior is any indication of what kind of music one listens to, it’s clear that Chop Top was listening to the wrong kind of music.

Probably music like this:

 

Socrates probably would not approve of the song “Me So Horny”…. I think.

Now, I know that there are things (like music) that not only influence who we are, but may be indicative of the kind of person we are. In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell writes that we can tell a lot about a person from a “blink” or first impression. We don’t even have to meet an individual to tell what a person is like. All we have to do to figure out a person, says Gladwell, is to take a glance at what’s on their walls, their bookshelf or in their music collection.

Take a look at my bookshelf.

This is what my bookshelf looks like:

bookshelf 2

 

 

I have a lot of philosophy books on my bookshelf.

At first glance, you might assume that I like to read philosophy books and thinking about things philosophically. If you made that assumption you’d be right.

Socrates would be pleased.

Although an assumption about an individual’s disposition based on one’s reading material may seem like a sure shot, using one’s musical preferences as an indication of one’s personality may not be as cut and dry. Unless you’re an Emo or a metalhead it may be difficult to tell how the music one listens to influences us. There are plenty of closeted Metallica and My Chemical Romance fans; people whose musical tastes and disposition appear to be incongruent. Still, we’d be wrong to say that music bears no affect on who we are and what we do. After all, the way a song or musical artist makes us feel is what draws us to listen to a particular song or artist.

Now, knowing what philosophers have to say about the effect of music on the kind of person we are, what exactly does the kind of music we listen to have to say about us philosophically? If Socrates is correct, and music does have the power to shape one’s character, can a person’s philosophical outlook be identified by simply glancing at what kind of music a person listens to?

If we glanced at a person’s music collection could we differentiate a Socrates from a Chop Top?

More importantly, what does the music I listen to have to say about my philosophical disposition?

Can you tell just by looking at my music collection?

First off, I would say that, if you met me face to face and I had to define my personal philosophical beliefs, I would define them as follows: I would say that I’m an existentialist. I would describe my ethics as ethical egoist with a slight tinge of Kantian ethics (I call it Kantian Egoism). I would add that am an empiricist (which means I’m also a materialist). And  as for what I think about God, well, let’s say that my religious disposition as apatheist.

Having said all that, this is my music library:

 

this is my music collection

 

I know it’s a little bit difficult to see it from here, but there’s quite a bit of Steely Dan loaded up in there.

Yeah I said it. I admit, without any fear of seeming pretentious, I am a fan of The Dan.

Ok, I know. When (or rather if) one thinks of Steely Dan and you’re not a fan of William Burroughs, one will almost assuredly and immediately conjure up visions of over-educated, faded hipster, college-types (who spent too much time in college or at least too much time chasing co-eds) who quote Sartre, paraphrase Nietzsche, drink brands of hard liquor no one has ever heard of, and carry around a dog-eared copy of Camus’ The Stranger in the pocket of a well-worn, cigarette or marijuana (or both) aroma-soaked, vintage leather jacket.

Thinking about it, that’s not a wholly incorrect stereotype of the average Steely Dan fan.

What else would one expect of a fan of a band named after a dildo?

 

This is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They are collectively known as Steely Dan.

This is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They are collectively known as Steely Dan.

 

If you know a fan of The Dan, you’re probably already well aware that Steely Dan’s fans have a habit of pontificating.

About everything.

There is a legit reason why Steely Dan is often associated with overthinking. And no, it really has nothing to do with pretentiousness. It’s because Steely Dan songs are philosophical.

To the point: Steely Dan songs are very existentialist.

Don’t roll your eyes. And stop laughing. They are. Really.

For those of you who have no idea what an existentialist is, an existentialist is a person who adheres to the philosophical theory of Existentialism. Existentialism is:

… the name given to the branch of philosophy which is concerned with the meaning of human existence its aims, its significance and overall purpose and the freedom and creative response to life made by individuals.

If you listen to a Steely Dan album or two (really, you should listen to all of them), it becomes pretty clear that Steely Dan songs like “Hey, Nineteen”, “Deacon Blues”, and “Home At Last” include lyrics about common existentialist themes such as life, relationships, sex, self-reflection, drugs, getting old, and death.

Actually, “Home At Last” is supposed to be about Homer’s The Odyssey.

The Odyssey.

See, I told you there was some thinking in there.

In the song “Deacon Blues” from the Steely Dan album Aja (1977), Donald Fagen sings:

I’ll learn to work the saxophone

I play just what I feel

Drink Scotch whiskey all night long

And die behind the wheel

They got a name for the winners in the world

I want a name when I lose

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide

Call me Deacon Blues

Besides discovering one’s life achievements pale by comparison to the famed University of Alabama football team (nicknamed the Crimson Tide), “Deacon Blues”, with its lyrics about finding and defining one’s self, embodies the existentialist principle “Existence precedes essence”. According to existentialist philosophy our selves are not determined by God, nature, society, or our parents; we choose who we want to be (i.e. we determine who we are our essence). We are born as physical entities (i.e. exist) then we define what meaning our purpose our lives will have. The French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), says:

Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.

 

Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) says:

The protagonist is not a musician. He just sort of imagines that would be one of the mythic forms of loserdom to which he might aspire and um, you know, whose to say that he’s not right in a thing like that?

Indeed, if we look at the lyrics of “Deacon Blues”, we should think of the existentialist idea that we make choices in our lives, and that we are accountable for the consequences of  our actions.

Who we are, our identity, is the product of our own creation .

The song says Call me Deacon Blues.

I’m sure that many music experts will say that “Deacon Blues” isn’t about existentialism at all, but when I hear the song I think of Sartre’s declaration that “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Especially when I hear the line “This brother is free. I’ll be what I want to be”. 

Aja-(album)-wallpaper

Listen to this album immediately. Track 3.

The thing is I wasn’t always a fan of Steely Dan. When I was in high school, I was a pretty mopey kid.

Actually, I was downright pessimistic.

Fatalistic, actually.

I could have been the subject of an Emily Dickenson poem.

Back when I was in high school (This was the early 1990s, mind you. Ugh! That makes me feel positively geriatric!), if you moped about and wore black as much as I did, it was pretty obvious what kind of music you were likely to listen to.

Goth music.

goth chick with instructions

This is not me. I never wore pigtails.

 

To be honest, I still wear black these days… because it’s slimming.

Back then, the particular subgenre of goth music every kid who moped around like me listened to could be identified by its raven-haired lead singer. Some kids listened to The Cure. They looked like a Robert Smith.

 

robertsmithnoirpage

This is Robert Smith

 

This is what The Cure’s fans look like:

 

This guy actually doesn't look all that unhappy.... maybe he's really emo.

This guy actually doesn’t look all that unhappy…. maybe he’s really emo.

 

Other kids listened to Siouxie and the Banshees. Some kids listened to Ministry, The Cramps, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire or Alien Sex Fiend. Some kids went old school and listened to eighties old-school synthpop artists like Soft Cell and Gary Numan.

My raven-haired lead-singered band of choice was nine inch nails.

Or NIN, if you like.

Ok, I know. First Steely Dan, now nine inch nails (and yes, I’m using the appropriate small-case letters). I know what you’re thinking. Stop thinking that. My musical preferences do not suggest that I’m a pretentious person.

However, the fact that I write a blog does.

But I digress.

This is Trent Reznor. He is collectively known as nine inch nails.

This is Trent Reznor. He is collectively known as nine inch nails.

 

If anyone was around and watching MTV in the mid-nineties, you couldn’t watch MTV for more than a half hour without seeing some angst-ridden, heroin chic-looking, alternative band front man whining his way through 4 minutes and 38 seconds of music video.

That would explain why nine inch nails was in fairly heavy rotation.

Wait, I know. Nine inch nails isn’t goth.

And I know it’s not industrial, either.

Philosophers know these things.

A quasi-industrial, somewhat goth rock band (or is it artist because it’s just one guy?) like nine inch nails may be difficult to categorize musically but it’s easier than a goth girl at Lollapalooza 1991 to figure which philosophical school of thought nine inch nails belongs to.

Everybody say it together. 1…2…3…

NIHLILISM!

Nihilism, according to Webster’s New College Dictionary, Nihilism (from the Latin nihil: nothing) is:

The belief that all existence is senseless and that there is no possibility of an objective basis of truth

 

Nihilism is most associated with this guy

 

This is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

This is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

 

AND HE SAID:

Nihilism is Nihilism: any aim is lacking, any answer to the question “why” is lacking. What does nihilism mean?—that the supreme values devaluate themselves.

 

Nihilism’s themes of self-destruction, self-loathing, loss of values, hopelessness and despair is pretty much the theme of every nine inch nails song.

Seriously, name any song. Nietzsche’s philosophy is there.

“terrible lie”? Yup. Nietzsche. “hurt”? Title pretty much says it all. “happiness in slavery”? Check. “wish”? Yeah. “somewhat damaged”? Uh-huh. “everyday is exactly the same”? Yeah, Nietzsche is there, too.

Well, there is that one song about double rainbows, kittens, and blooming flowers.

I’m kidding. No there isn’t.

For a minute you felt like googling to see if there is, didn’t you?

Trent Reznor even quotes Nietzsche’s infamous (and often misused) quote “God is dead” in the song “heresy” on the 1994 album the downward spiral. Reznor sings (or is it yells?):

“God is dead and no one cares. If there is a hell, I’ll see you there.”

Not quite exactly what Nietzsche said, but you get the idea.*

 

I spent too many teenage nights listening to this album. Alone… in the dark.

I spent too many teenage hours listening to this album. Alone… in the dark.

 

Albert Camus (1913-60) said “Nihilism is not only despair and negation, but above all the desire to despair and to negate.”

Check out these lyrics to the song “piggy” (from the downward spiral):

Nothing can stop me now

I don‘t care anymore.

Nothing can stop me now

I just don’t care.

 

Does that sound like a sentiment that is not only despair and negation but also the desire to despair and negate to you?

Does to me.

Ok, that sounds pretentious.

You know something? Even though Nietzsche is most associated with nihilism he is often considered an existentialist philosopher.

Wow. I guess that confirms what I told you at the beginning of this blog about being an existentialist.

But I guess I really didn’t need to look at my current favorite band or the bands I liked in high school to know that. I could have started with the first band I ever declared was my favorite: The Beatles.

Not only were The Beatles the first boy band (They were! Don’t deny it), John Lennon and Paul McCartney remain one of music’s most successful and influential songwriting duos of all time. But, more importantly yes, you guessed it

Lennon and McCartney might not have realized it, but they were laying down some pretty heavy philosophy.

… Along with a lot of LSD.

I guess philosophy comes easy when you’re tripping balls.

 

This is John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. They are collectively known as The Beatles.

This is John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. They are collectively known as The Beatles.

 

In a decade that brought us “Wooly Bully”, “Gitarzan”, and the still-indecipherable “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen, The Beatles’ lyrics not only included themes of about love, peace, not fussing and fighting (and the occasional hidden drug reference), but also existentialism, Eastern philosophy and mysticism. The Beatles, though not as philosophically adept as Kant or Heidegger, not only established the boy band phenomena, they were one of the first pop bands to write lyrics that were not only enjoyable but intended to make the listener think.

Some folks out there think The Beatles are philosophical enough to warrant this book:

 

The-Beatles-The-Beatles-And-P-398487

 

And this book was written by professional philosophers.

Professional philosophers.

Look, if you don’t believe The Beatles are at all philosophical, check out these lyrics:

 

The love you take is equal to the love you make.

 

Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.

 

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da life goes on brah.

La la how the life goes on.

 

There’s nothing you can made that can’t be made.

No one you can save who can’t be saved.

There’s nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.

It’s easy.

 

If that’s not philosophical enough, get ready for some heavy philosophy:

When you’ve seen beyond yourself
Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.

Didn’t know The Beatles got that heavy, did you?

You feel enlightened?

Ok, never mind. Do you feel like dropping acid?

Go ahead. Tell everybody you’re searching for philosophical enlightenment.

That one worked for Timothy Leary.

Oh but before you do, take a glance at your music collection.

Ask yourself this one question:

Would Socrates approve?

 

 

 

NOTE:

There is an entire sub-field of philosophy called the philosophy of music. If you’re interested about the exciting world of the philosophy of music, you can read this article:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/

In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell describes an experiment wherein a group of people were asked to assess the personality of individuals (they hadn’t met) after briefly looking at the individual’s living space. Objects we surround ourselves with often indicates what kind of person owns those objects. Gladwell argues that we can accurately assess personal traits of individuals through snap judgments based on what we see in a person’s living space.

The later (Beatles) songs written by George Harrison were largely influenced by Eastern philosophy, which generally includes philosophical and religious systems from India and the Far East, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain, and Confucianism.

Read the Bhagavad-Gita and then listen to anything George Harrison wrote. Check here for a few quotes to get you started on the comparison:

http://thinkexist.com/quotes/bhagavad_gita/

* In The Gay Science (Section 125, The Madman), Nietzsche writes:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

 

 

SOURCES:

1. Plato. Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom.  401d-e, 401e – 402a

2. Mel Thompson. Teach Yourself: Philosophy. 1995, 2003. Contemporary Books. 184.

3. “Deacon Blues”.  Lyrics and music by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Copyright 1977 ABC/Dunhill Music, Inc.

4. Classic Albums (DVD). Steely Dan: Aja. 1999. Eagle Rock Entertainment.

5. “piggy”. Lyrics and music by Trent Reznor. Copyright 1994. leaving hope/TVT music, inc.

6. “All You Need Is Love”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright 1967. Northern Songs Limited.

7. “Within You, Without You”. Lyrics and music by George Harrison. Copyright 1967. Northern Songs Limited.

8. “The End”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright. 1969. Northern Songs Limited.

9. “Ob La Di, Ob La Da”. Lyrics and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright. 1968. Northern Songs Limited.

 

What’s the Philosophically Correct Thing for A Philosopher to Say About Jesus On His Birthday?

 

byzantine jesus It’s Christmas Eve and approximately 2.1 billion of the inhabitants of the planet earth will be celebrating the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not one of them.

Still, I think I should probably say something about philosophy and Christmas.

A few years ago, President George W. Bush said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus. Some reporter asked who his favorite philosopher is and he answered the question. I’m not a fan of the former president but I appreciated that he answered the question honestly.

I remember there was some to-do about what the president said.

Stuff like he shouldn’t have named a religious figure

And that Jesus wasn’t a philosopher.

Sure Jesus was.

How is “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” not philosophical?

You see, even though I’m an atheist (actually I’m an apatheist, but who’s being technical?) I’m not one of those atheist types who gets all furious-faced and bent out of shape any time someone mentions Jesus Christ, Christianity, or Christmas. I’m not offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas”. I’m not all that bothered by Nativity displays in public places. And I think it’s entirely appropriate to mention that Jesus is the “reason for the season”.

That’s because he is, you know.

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

It’s no secret that philosophers are notoriously atheistic. There are plenty of non-believing-in-the-existence-of-an-all-powerful-creator philosophers to choose from. A.J. Ayer, Colin McGinn, Julian Baginni, Rudolf Carnap, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Michael Martin, John Searle, Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, J.L. Mackie, Bernard Williams, David Chalmers, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, Baron d’Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Kai Nielsen, James Rachels, George Santayana – Just to name a few.

All philosophers. All atheists.

The belief about philosophers and God goes that philosophers are all about reason and logical arguments, and that most philosophers believe that believing in a great, big God up in the sky that no one actually sees or hears isn’t exactly reasonable or logical.

Even when we name philosophers who do believe in God no one really ever mentions
Jesus.

All Descartes wanted to do is prove that God exists. I don’t recall him saying anything about Jesus – at least not anything about his philosophy.

I actually think Jesus is a philosopher. And a pretty good one at that.

Need I remind you, I don’t believe in God and I’m willing to admit this.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I think this is actually a picture of Barry Gibb. Maybe Harrison Ford with a beard.

I know that some believers out there might take the fact that I’ve considered Jesus a philosopher at all as a sign that my sensus divinitatis is working, which, of course, means that Plantinga is right.

That is exactly what I don’t want to admit during the holidays.

But I really do think that Jesus is a pretty good philosopher.

Now wait, my atheist friends – I’m not talking about Christianity. I’m not advocating following the word of Jesus as a religion or even that anyone should praise, worship, or follow the words of Jesus at all (although if you want to, the Bible makes it pretty easy to do, since everything he said is written in red).

So what makes Jesus a philosopher, you ask?

I know this may be weird for all of you atheist philosophers out there, but if we think of what philosophers do; that philosophers think, write, and, well, philosophize about matters concerning ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology, there’s no reason (other than personal bias) to exclude Jesus from the ranks of philosophers.

And don’t say Jesus isn’t a philosopher because he didn’t write anything down.

Neither did Socrates.

If you’re still not convinced, let me give you a sample of what I’m talking about:

Jesus the ethicist:

A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say (Luke 6:45)

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:27-28)

Jesus the metaphysician:

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

God is a spirit… (John 4:24)

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 16:6)

Jesus the epistemologist:

Your father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

It’s fairly obvious that Jesus was (or is it is?) a philosopher. But here’s the cool thing: if you follow Jesus, you will be rewarded with an eternity in Heaven.

Can Saul Kripke promise you that?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think?

Jesus looks a little like Kris Kristopherson in this picture, don’t you think? …Or Alan Rickman…

Getting into Heaven is awesome enough to persuade anyone (unless you’re Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett) to give a philosophical read of Jesus a try. But when you read the philosophy of Jesus it’s really no wonder that Jesus’ philosophy, even 2500 years after his birth, is more popular than any other philosopher.

That’s probably because unlike most professional philosophers, when you read Jesus’ philosophy you can actually understand it. And it’s a cinch to follow.

That’s two things no one will never say about Immanuel Kant.

It’s no surprise that this philosopher…
sunday school jesus

is more popular than this philosopher

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

And that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?

 

I think only me and President Bush would agree to that.

So, from this hell-bound atheist to my fellow philosophers and citizens of planet earth, I wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

ENJOY A LITTLE CHRISTMAS MUSIC

 

NOTE:
My list of atheist philosophers may include an agnostic or two. As I recall Sir Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, not an atheist.