Red Solo Machete

*Note: this post was originally written October, 2014.

 
Well, philosophy fans, it’s fall.

You know what that means.

That’s right. Fall means it’s the season for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the smell of crisp autumn air, and the green leaves of summer turning into rustic scenes of brilliant shades of gold, crimson, and brown.

 

 

 

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

 

Unless you live in Australia.

Because it’s spring down there now, isn’t it?

If it is, do they still have pumpkin spice lattes in November?

 

 

 TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

 

 

I think we’ll all admit that nature’s splendor is great and all, but the beginning of the autumn season can only mean one thing to the horror television fan: the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

You know, the zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 
No, not that zombie show.
This zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one with the ratings that regularly beats Sunday Night Football.*
Fans of the show know there’s plenty of things to talk about on The Walking Dead – the TV show versus the graphic novels, the show’s black guy rule, how much Andrea sucks, how much Beth sucks, the hotness of Norman Reedus….

Plenty.

 

Andrea

 

 

With the half season over, it’s time for the regular-viewer’s eyes to turn to things other than hating on Beth Greene and zombie head shot counts (AKA: nitpicking the hell out of the show).

 

 

 

beth haters

 

 

For those fans who are philosophically inclined also like to talk about one topic for

discussion in particular –

 

Guessed it yet?

 

Hint: this blog is about philosophy.

 

 

thinking guy

 

 

You may no know it, but some The Walking Dead fans (ok, maybe just me) like to talk about how the show is all about philosophy.

Really, it is.

 

 

this is going to be fun

 

 
If you have a preference for thinking about television philosophically, I should say that it’s worth mentioning that it’s awfully fun to talk about The Walking Dead and morality.
Well, fun if you’re a philosopher.

 

 

…. And you watch a lot of TV.

 

tyler watches TV

 

 

 

There’s plenty of moral dilemmas to be found in a typical episode/season of The Walking Dead, but the one moral dilemma that seems to rear its undead more often than others is the problem of moral ambiguity.

 

 

the good the bad the morally ambiguous

 

 

Moral ambiguity, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is:

[the] lack of clarity in ethical decision making. that is, when an issue, situation, or questions has moral dimensions or implications, but the decidedly “moral” action to take is unclear, either due to conflicting principles, ethical systems, or situational perspectives.

 

 

images scumbag steve uses UD

 

 

That is to say, moral ambiguity is lack of moral clarity; the line between good and bad actions is blurred.

 

my favorite color is moral ambiguity

 

 

Speaking of blurred lines….

 

MUSIC BREAK!

 

 

 

 

 

Although, given my tastes, moral ambiguity in the zombie apocalypse would sound a little more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing is, the problem of moral ambiguity isn’t exclusively a The Walking Dead problem. Moral ambiguity seems to have infected other AMC shows as well – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt and Catch Fire and Hell On Wheels are all afflicted with morally ambiguous characters and situations.

This guy may be the worst of them all.

 

 

 

worst

 

 

The problem, if you will, with moral ambiguity isn’t just a problem for AMC . It’s prevalent in more than quite a few movies and television shows.

 

 

moral ambiguity character chart

 

 

Wait – everyone here knows when I say AMC I mean the television network American Movie Classics, right?

Just saying that so we’re clear.

‘Cause clarity is important when you’re talking philosophically.

 

 

clear_as_crystal

 

 

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: what’s the harm in a little moral ambiguity? After all, life isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be – and sometimes, despite our own moral convictions, a situation calls for us to get our hands a little dirty. To violate our moral principles; to play on both sides of the moral fence.

In a land overrun by undead, morality (and especially moral consistency) takes second place to the act of surviving. We can excuse Rick Grimes when he violates his rule “you don’t kill the living” and we can sympathize with the murderous cannibals at Terminus because these characters do whatever is necessary to do to survive.

 

It seems inevitable that the will to survive leads to some moral ambiguity.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to eat a another man’s leg to save our own lives.

Wait, just me?

 

oh.

 

 

 

bob-b-que

 

 

At first glance, a non-distinct moral style is more than justified in a zombie apocalypse. After all, when it comes to survival, are you really going to worry about moral consistency?

Yeah, me neither.

But we’re all philosophers here. And you know what philosophers don’t like? Non distinct things. And you know what non distinct things are? Ambiguous. Philosophers hate ambiguity.

And there’s an obvious problem that arises when we fail to clearly define the line between right and wrong. Namely, not clearly defining what is morally right and what is morally wrong makes it difficult to perform morally correct acts.

That is, when our morals are not clear we may fail to do the right thing.

 

 

do the right thing

 

 

Worse yet, if our morals are ambiguous, how can we judge which acts are good or bad?

And worse than that – if right and wrong are not clearly defined how is a TV watcher to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

The ability to do so may be very important if you find yourself surrounded by a horde of the undead.

Believe it or not, doing so relies on having a clear sense of morality.

 

 

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

 

 

You see, moral ambiguity may be no big deal to television writers or to fictional fellows like Don Draper, Walter White or Shane Walsh, but in the real world, the consequences of moral ambiguity probably won’t make you anyone’s favorite antihero. In the real world, moral ambiguity can lead to such awful things like moral relativism or (gasp!)

 

moral nihilism.

Yeah. You end up morals like this guy:

 

 

old fred

 

 

 

Or (worst case scenario) a total breakdown or rejection of all morality.
Actually, that kind of stuff happens in the fake world, too.

 

 

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

 

 

You see, when a TV show begins to blur the line between good and bad it can become difficult to sustain one’s like for a character – especially if one’s fondness for a particular character is predicated on the belief that the character is good. For instance, Rick Grimes’ shifting morality and his willingness to violate his own moral principles (i.e., “we do not kill the living”) makes it increasingly difficult to discern which side of the moral fence Rick Grimes resides on: is he a good man who does bad things or a bad man who occasionally does good things?

The problem is, we can’t tell. Rick’s morality isn’t static. We can’t pinpoint exactly where Rick Grimes’ morality (or any of the other characters in The Walking Dead) falls on the morality scale. It’s ambiguous. The characters of The Walking Dead aren’t guided by a ethical code as much as they are dictated by expediency.

That often makes the characters act inconsistently.

And inconsistency causes trouble.

Moral trouble.

Moral ambiguity trouble.

 

 

 

shit happens GIF

 

 

Ok. Let me give a long winded example: As many fans of the show know, Rick kicked Carol out of the group for killing two people, Karen and David; deaths that Carol claimed were necessary to save the rest of the group. Carol believes that although she intentionally killed two people, her actions are morally correct and tells Rick that (morally speaking) her actions are no different than when Rick killed his best friend Shane.

By the way, if you don’t know who Shane is or was, go back to The Walking Dead seasons 1 & 2.

Anyway, Rick is outraged at Carol for killing two people that Rick argues could have recovered from their illness.

An illness that, by the way, when it kills you, you end up looking like this:

 

 

EWWWWW

EWWWWW

 

 

So naturally, Carol thought the solution for that was doing this:

 

 

karen and david burned

PRETTY DANGED EFFICIENT OF CAROL, IF YOU ASK ME

 

 

 

 

Rick’s moral outrage (because Rick suddenly has a clear sense of morality) seems to be rooted in his season 1 declaration “we do not kill the living”. Rick declares that no living person is to be killed even if that person poses a potential risk to the group.

 

 

 REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

 

 

 

Of course Rick’s moral outrage would have made sense if we were still in season 1.

That was back when Rick had a clear and distinct moral view.

 

 

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

 

 

But something has happened to Rick that the fact that Rick takes offense to Carol’s actions should strike us a little odd. The thing is this: by the time Carol kills Karen and David, Rick’s morals are no longer distinct as we would (or the writers would ) like (us) to believe.

In fact, by season 4, Rick has developed a nasty habit of killing living people.

 

This is a pretty easy thing to if your morals are ambiguous.

 

Because TV. That’s why.

 

 

 

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP....POOR RANDALL

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP….POOR RANDALL

 

 

Seriously, the reason why Rick Grimes is so willing to kill the living is because Rick’s ethics are no longer grounded in the distinction between the moral rules dictating what is morally good and what is morally bad. Ok, remember when Rick told the racist (and soon-to-be mono-handed) redneck Merle Dixon that distinctions among races no longer exist; there are no more black and white people; only the living and the dead?

 

Well, like race, in a world populated by the living dead, morals are no longer distinct. Good guys like Rick do bad things and bad guys like The Governor do good things. So much so that it’s hard to tell who is good and who is evil.

 

 

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE  A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

 

 

We are supposed to be morally offended at Claimer Joe’s ethic of teaching a liar a lesson “all the way”, but we commend Joe for doing the right thing and defending Daryl against Claimer Len’s false accusations. That makes Joe a good guy, right? But then, when Joe and the Claimers threaten to kill Rick and rape Carl and Michonne, Joe is a bad guy again.

Kind of confusing if you let it get to you.

Here’s the thing, though: we’re supposed to think that Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors are good people (certainly better than the cannibals at Terminus or at Phillip Blake’s (aka the Governor) who ruthlessly turns his weapon on his own people), but how can we think that Rick or his actions are good when we see Rick and his group massacre (a bad thing) the survivors of Terminus? Or when Rick’s loosely-rooted morality enables him to kill the living like this:

 

 

rick kills shane

 

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick shooting dave

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead tony

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick slicing tomas

 

 

And like this

 

 

 

rick kills guy in bathroom

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick kills joe

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead gareth

 

 

And finally, in the season 5 mid-season finale, like this

 

 

rick kills ofc. bob

 

 

 

Mind you, Rick kills the cannibal (by necessity) Gareth even as Gareth begs for his life.

 

Now, some folks may have no problem with Rick Grimes’ actions. They still believe that he’s a good guy. But think about it: can we to simply shrug off Rick’s actions because we think he’s doing what is best for his group; because his actions are in service to the greater good?

Because all those other bad guys – they’re trying to serve the greater good, too.

Even Officer Dawn Lerner says so.

 

 

dawn GIF

 

 

This got me thinking; Is Rick really more morally certain (i.e. morally right) than the Governor? More certain than the cannibals at Terminus? Than Joe and the Claimers? Or more morally certain than Eugene Porter who lied to save his own life?

Can we tell?

 

mullet of lies

 

 

Ok, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got this all You’re thinking the problem on The Walking Dead isn’t moral ambiguity. Well, for starters, you’re probably right.

The appearance of moral ambiguity on The Walking Dead may not be that Rick Grimes has succumbed to Walter White syndrome; it may be nothing more than the product of sloppy writing.

Gee, I hope not.

 

 

knocks_breaking_bad

 

 

After all, Rick Grimes isn’t very much like Don Draper or Walter White. However, any fan of the show is bound to notice that there has been a noticeable moral shift in Rick Grimes. Rick’s moral certainty seems less assured now than it did at the beginning of the series. It’s clear that Rick is more than willing to cross the moral line, even in situations when it seems that Rick is clearly doing the wrong thing.

It is exactly in the space between moral certainty and moral nihilism that we see Rick Grimes headed towards. It’s why we find – ok, why some of us find – Rick Grimes such a compelling television character.

 

 

 

 

Someone explain to me how killing one of the “good” cops benefits the situation, again?

 

 

 

In the end, whether Rick’s moral shift is television’s finest example of rule utilitarianism or some other ethical theory (or bad writing), the manifestation of moral flexibility (or moral degradation) to the point of moral ambiguity is worth thinking about – not just in the fictional world of a zombie apocalypse, but in the real world where we often feel that we can no longer easily navigate what is morally right versus what is the morally wrong thing to do.

But I’m sure that by the next half season Rick will be fully morally functional and none of this will make any sense whatsoever.

 

…. If it doesn’t make sense already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
* http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/11/12/why-the-nfl-is-losing-the-sunday-night-primetime-tv-battle-to-the-walking-dead/

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=moral%20ambiguity

 

 

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.

 

 

images (74)

 

 

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.

Current Events

Five minutes into the conversation and I was already regretting saying anything in the first place.

 

I’d made the mistake of telling a lady I’d just met that I was a political science major in college. Apparently she was one of those types who liked to discuss politics.

And when I say “discuss”, I mean someone preaches at you for the next thirty-three minutes.

There really are perks to being a wallflower.

 

Listen: I don’t mind discussing politics. I like to, actually. That’s kind of the reason why I majored in political science. I wanted to know how government works. To be formally educated on the form and function of our representative republic.

Unfortunately, the only lesson I can say that I’ve had so far, is that when you meet anyone wants to discuss politics one needs to tread lightly. I now realize that there’s a difference between an exchange of political ideas and a full-scale inquisition of all of my political opinions.

That’s what I’d been experiencing for a full five minutes.

 

A full-on Spanish-style inquisition.

 

the spanish inquisition

 

 

She demanded to know my opinion on Syria. Afghanistan. Edward Snowden.

Voter ID laws, abortion, 9/11 Truth, Obamacare, and Ted Cruz.

The corporate media. Fox News. And gun control.

Fracking.

 

Illegal NSA surveillance. Same-sex marriage. Drones. The Zimmerman verdict. Wikileaks and Bradley Manning.

 

Chris Christie.

 

What I thought about the Tea Party, Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Hillary Clinton hasn’t even announced her candidacy yet.

 

OH YEAH. SHE’S RUNNIN’ FOR PRESIDENT, ALRIGHT

OH YEAH. SHE’S RUNNIN’ FOR PRESIDENT, ALRIGHT

 

 

Getting waterboarded had to be easier than this conversation.

 

Five minutes into a lecture about dissolving the Federal Reserve, and all I could think of was how much this didactically-oriented (and annoying) lady looked like a young Walter Becker.

 

I felt the urge to sing “Reeling In the Years”.

 

THIS IS WALTER BECKER. NOW, IMAGINE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE WALTER BECKER LECTURING A FELLOW PROGRESSIVE ABOUT THE EVILS OF CAPITALISM, WHILE WEARING A DEMOCRACY NOW! T-SHIRT… WITH BOOBS.

THIS IS WALTER BECKER. NOW, IMAGINE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE WALTER BECKER LECTURING A FELLOW PROGRESSIVE ABOUT THE EVILS OF CAPITALISM, WHILE WEARING A DEMOCRACY NOW! T-SHIRT… WITH BOOBS.

 

 

Sometimes I want to discuss politics, but I don’t want to discuss politics.

 

I definitely don’t want any conversation to feel like I’m being interrogated at Gitmo.

 

Sometimes I really don’t feel like discussing anything politically important.

I’d rather talk about Justin Bieber’s retirement, Miley Cyrus’ latest media-grabbing antics or if Kim K really plucked her infant daughter’s eyebrows.

 

MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN DISCUSSING THE SEQUESTER

MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN DISCUSSING THE SEQUESTER

 

Sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about anything philosophically significant.

Sometimes I really don’t feel like dealing with reality.

Sometimes I want to hold on to my Panglossian view of the world. But my view keeps getting interrupted by current events. Reality can be annoying like that.

It’s hard to face reality every morning when this kind of headline is the first thing you see on the internet:

 

 

Capture fukushima

 

Looking at the headline I can conclude one of two things: I’ve been totally irradiated by fallout from Fukushima or Armageddon is going to start soon.

I’m pretty sure that both involve Godzilla rising up from the Pacific Ocean.

 

That’s just the start of the horribleness. If you think about it, there’s plenty of things going on in the real world that makes you not want to face the real world.

 

th (4)

 

That can be difficult if you’ve assumed the life of a philosopher. Philosophy is supposed to be about thinking about reality and stuff. There’s a whole field of philosophy devoted to doing just that.

 

It’s called metaphysics.

 

 

I SWEAR THIS IS NOT WHAT I'M DOING. BUT IF IT APPEARS THAT I AM, I'M JUST DEEP IN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

I SWEAR THIS IS NOT WHAT I’M DOING. BUT IF IT APPEARS THAT I AM, I’M JUST DEEP IN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

 

But really, there are times that thinking about truth and what’s real and all that is just plain exhausting. I’d much rather think about the discontinuities in the Star Wars movies, comic books, and TV shows. I’d rather write The Walking Dead fanfic about romantic liaisons between Rick Grimes and his former friend and partner, Shane Walsh.

 

THEY SHARED A LOVE THAT DARED NOT SPEAK IT'S NAME... AT LEAST IN THE STORIES I WROTE.

THEY SHARED A LOVE THAT DARED NOT SPEAK IT’S NAME… AT LEAST IN THE STORIES I WROTE.

 

I so prefer an unreality reality that I’m totally obsessed with Don Draper but I have almost no interest at all in Jon Hamm.

I prefer this:

 
suit & tie

 

To this:

 

I SWEAR THIS GUY DOES NOTHING FOR ME

I SWEAR THIS GUY DOES NOTHING FOR ME

I’m way past elementary school but I still enjoy daydreaming.

 

Sometimes I would prefer to spend my day floating inside Robert Nozick’s experience machine than deal with what’s actually going on.

 

YEA! SENSORY DEPRIVATION!

YEA! SENSORY DEPRIVATION!

 

I mean, I know reality is a “big deal” and the point of Nozick’s thought experiment was to point out exactly why we shouldn’t want to spend our time in an artificial reality. But really, how much reality do we have to deal with?

Is it ever ok to just tune out? Ever?

The real world is often much too bothersome to deal with.

There aren’t enough philosophers to deal with the overwhelming dumbness.

It’s scary sometimes.

And besides, Kant says we’ll never truly know ding an sich, anyway.

 

neil de grasse tyson doesn't give a shit

AND BY NOBODY I REALLY MEAN “I”

 

 

Ok, I know. The answer is no. As a philosopher and as a human being, I should want to be intellectually, emotionally, and philosophically engaged with the world. The philosopher Robert Nozick (1938-2002) said that we should prefer real world experiences because our lives are made richer by the experience of actual (as opposed to electronically simulated) living. And to examine one’s life, as Socrates suggests, requires that one face all aspects of life, both pleasant and unpleasant.

 

DAMN YOU, ROBERT NOZICK!!!

DAMN YOU, ROBERT NOZICK!!!

 

I understand that the purpose of Nozick’s experience machine is to convince us that we should not want to escape reality. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Completely escaping reality is not what I had in mind. Reality sometimes is a fun thing. There’s Disneyland, the smell of Tide detergent on freshly-washed sheets, hot chicken pot pies, getting kicked in the face in the pit at a Pantera concert. All of these things should be experienced first hand. And really, if escape is the plan, there are easier ways to do that. I could drop acid every waking moment of my life.

And those moments would look like THIS:

 

psychedelic image

 

My question is that as a philosopher, am I required to pay attention to everything. Would I (or anyone else) be neglecting my (our) philosophical duty if I (we) decided that there are some subjects that I’m (we’re) not going to think about? If I do does it make me a bad person? Am I wrong if I decide to think about these fictional people:

 

downton abbey

 

 

Instead of this guy:

 

edward snowden

 

 

Which reminds me. The new season of Downton Abbey is on.

Gotta go.

 

 

 

 

(Although my tone is somewhat light-hearted, this was and continues to be a real dilemma for me. I think others may understand when I say that thinking about too many things often leads to a philosophical fatigue or intellectual malaise, where one may be tempted to not think or care about anything beyond trivial matters. I think the origin of my dilemma resides in the fact that a lack of knowledge or interest in worldly matters is a sign of malignant narcissism or stupidity. I insist that in my case that neither is so. I had mistakenly operated under the impression that either my attention has to focus on “important” issues or on the trivial, and had neglected to consider the possibility that one can do both. I found this quote by Nietzsche useful: “To live alone one must be a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.”)

 
SOURCES:

The Portable Nietzsche. 1982 [1954]. Ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann. NY: Viking Penguin Inc. p 467.

Chick Writin’

It’s generally thought that philosophy is a man’s game.

Without even really thinking about it, I can name at least a couple dozen male philosophers. At least a couple dozen.

Every philosophy student learns the names by heart: Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Mill, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein …

 

They’re the pillars of philosophy.

 

I can name more. I bet you can, too.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the ladies.

I mean, I know there are women philosophers. I’ve read a few. Simone de Beauvoir. Judith Butler. Ayn Rand. Hannah Arendt. Helene Cixous. Christine Korsgaard. Susan Wolf.

My list pretty much dries up there.

I’ll be damned if I can name a dozen let alone a couple dozen professional lady philosophers.

 

 

Who is this lady????

Who is this lady????

 

 

And I don’t think I’ve ever identified one by just her last name.

Everybody says they’ve read Nietzsche. When was the last time you heard anyone say they just finished reading Butler?

 

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

If you don’t know which Butler to whom I refer, I mean this Butler: Judith Butler. She’s a philosopher.

 

 

The general assumption was (and still is) that men are better at thinking than women.

You know, thinking stuff like math, logic map reading, AND philosophy.

I write about philosophy.

I guess in the broadest sense of the word that makes me a philosopher.

However, I am of the female persuasion and I write about philosophy.

 

Uh-oh. Problem.

 

The thing is, is that I don’t really think of myself as a female philosopher. When I engage in a philosophical discussion, if the opportunity conceal my gender arises, I’ll do it. Even my Facebook profile pic is a picture of a man.

This is my current Facebook profile pic.

 
don draper for profile pic

 

 

It’s not only a picture of a man, Don Draper; it’s a picture of a man from a decade when women were definitely treated like second class citizens.

 

Now, I suppose I can say my reluctance to reveal my gender has to has to do with some sort of socially-conditioned, unconscious desire to abide by the white, heterosexual, Christian male patriarchy. But to say that would be a little too obvious.

And really, I don’t think it’s that at all.

The reason why, I think, has something to do with not wanting to be just a female philosopher – that being a female philosopher means that the only philosophical writing I do is chick writing.

 

herstory

 

 

You see, when you tell everyone that you’re a woman and you like to write, it’s almost inevitable that someone will assume that all you write about is your kids, fashion, the men you’re dating, and your period.

Just occasionally pausing to write about the oppressive capitalist white male patriarchy or how lesbians are still under represented and maligned in society, political institutions, and in the media.

Well for starters, I don’t have kids. I haven’t bought a new article of clothing in over two years, and my current dating situation could be best described as Tatooine-esque.

 

The fact that I just used a Star Wars reference might be a reason why it’s so.

 

Or worse yet, being a chick writer or writing about chick issues immediately associates one with militant man-hating.

Philosophy professor Michael Levin wrote in his book, Feminism and Freedom, that feminism is an “antidemocratic, if not totalitarian ideology.”

 

feminist with scissors

 

 

Just for the record I don’t hate men.

But for the ones I do hate, my hatred is well deserved.

 

 

mink

 

Wait. I got off track.

 

I suppose Aristotle was right.

He said that women are more quarrelsome than men.

Aristotle wrote that women favor emotion over intellect. This is the reason why, Aristotle says, women are irrational. Irrationality has no place in philosophy.

 

 

feminist hammer

 

 

Still, feminist philosophy, or philosophy by or about women in general, bears the stigma of being not-quite-legitimate philosophy.
Feminist philosophy tends to focus on the interpersonal – how the individual, in particular, how women (as women) relate to and in society. Whereas male philosophers tend to emphasize the pursuit of knowledge and absolute, objective truth, female philosophers tend to examine the role of women and aspects of femininity in societal institutions (politics, economics, religion), and the relationships between cultural concepts such as womanhood, class, sexuality, sexual preference and identity, and race.
And then there’s this:

 
this is what femimism looks like

 

 

When you’re a feminist, people make cruel memes about you.

 

Unfortunately the view isn’t  that much different in philosophy.

 

That can make a lady philosopher steer clear of writing about any issue that stinks of feminism. Even if what you’re writing is philosophical.

And it really doesn’t help much when a few of those great male minds of philosophy rattle off statements like:

 

It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may construe through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment. The best a woman can hope for is to become a man.

 

Encouraging, right?

 

If Plato thinks I’m a soulless idiot why would I ever imagine that I could possibly have a career in philosophy?

And besides, as we all know all the important philosophers are men.

 

 

on feminism

 

 

The thing is, is that I really don’t have any problem with feminists, feminism, or female philosophers. Goodness knows that there’s more to philosophy than Socrates and Kierkegaard. I think what I’m trying to avoid writing not-really-philosophy philosophy. Even though women have contributed many brilliant ideas, theories, and schools of thought to philosophy, there’s still this thing I can’t get over – the thought that my gender necessarily obligates me to write about – my gender.

Even serious women philosophers, like Ayn Rand, are depicted like this:

 

 

sexy ayn!

 

 

Or worse yet, what they write is dismissed as just chick stuff.

Man-hating chick stuff.

 

 

i need feminism

 

 

Listen, I know I’m being a little short-sighted on the prevalence and influence of women philosophers. I well aware of the fact that women philosophers write about more than sexuality and gender issues and that women have contributed more than their feminine charm and good looks to the body philosophic. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the Nazis. And Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy, like it or not, is still influential.

Rand’s followers have ranged from CEOs of major corporations to former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, to the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.

By the way, are you aware that Ryan now says that his rumored fondness for Rand’s philosophy is an urban myth?

 

 

paul ryan

 

Still, I went through the whole earning a philosophy degree process, and during the entire time I read only one female philosopher who didn’t write about lady stuff. AND during the entire time I was a philosophy student, there was only one class offered on feminist philosophy.

 

keep patriarchy

 

 

Perhaps that’s the problem, eh?

Betty Friedan wrote that she wanted women to “master the secrets of the atoms, or the stars”, and wanted women to pioneer “a new concept in government or society”.

I’m pretty sure what she wanted applies to philosophy, too.

Philosophy will continue be a man’s game so long as folks like me keep referring to themselves (myself) as “folks like me”.

I shouldn’t be so worried about being a chick writer or writing about chick stuff. Certainly philosophy has plenty to do with rational arguments and logic, but it also has to do with things like reality. And my reality is seen through my lady eyes.

 

 

 

ryan gosling hey girl meme

 

 

Whether I like it or even want to admit it, everything I write is chick writin’.
Now I don’t feel so bad writing about my period.

 

 

You can expect that post in exactly 28 days.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Plato. Timaeus. (90e). Available at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1572

Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

On the Unlikely But Probable Existence of Gettier Truths

Generally speaking, it’s good not to lie to people.

Most people aren’t very good at it and if you make a habit out of lying to people you’re likely to end up getting caught in a web of your own lies. Your lies, as the Blue Fairy would say, become as plain as the nose on your face.

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

Lying isn’t just wrong according to the Bible (which is bad enough as it is) but if you’re a fan of Immanuel Kant the act of lying is a big no-no.

To quote Kant from his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, “lying is no bueno.”

Of course, as with anything else we’re not supposed to do, like premarital sex, serial arson, or liking Nickleback on Facebook, an admonition to not do something has never stopped anyone from doing anything in the real or make-believe world. And rrally, if you watch enough TV you might think that lying is the necessary evil glue that binds fictional universes together.

…or at least habitual lying makes Don Draper sexy.

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

In fact, when a fictional character lies it often reveals a greater truth. Even if the liar has no idea that’s what they just did.

If you make it your mission to become an observer of fictional liars and fictitious lies, you’ll soon discover that after binge watching three seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, basic cable’s ratings powerhouse, the show (ostensibly) about zombies, is a veritable Whack-A-Mole Ô of primetime lying. After spending approximately one and a half days of my life watching zombie chow-downs and survivor shenanigans, I compiled this short list of lies (in no particular order):

  • Lori lies to Shane about who is the father of her baby.
  • Morgan lies to himself into thinking that he will be able to shoot his reanimated wife.
  • Shane lies to everybody about what really happened to Otis.
  • Guillermo lies to Rick about his “ferocious” dogs.
  • Shane is lying to himself about his “love” for Lori (it’s so obvious).
  • Daryl lies to that vato dude about what happened to the guy who pissed him off (Nobody pissed him off. It was actually Merle’s severed hand).
  • The governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what really happened to the National Guardsmen.
  • Shane lies to Lori about Rick’s “death” (Wait. That may have not been a lie as much as it was wishful thinking. Or a mistake. Whatever).
  • Randall lies about merely watching the two girls getting gang-raped in front of their father (we all know that Randall is a shifty slime ball who probably fully participated in the girls’ rape).
  • Randall lies to Carl that he is a good guy.
  • Jim lies to Jacqui when she discovers that he’s been bitten by a walker.
  • The Governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what kind of person he really is.
  • Glenn lies to Merle about who is at the prison.
  • The Governor lies about what happened to the helicopter pilot.
  • Maggie (initially) lies to Glenn about her attraction to him.
  • Shane lies to Dale when Dale catches Shane pointing his gut at Rick.
  • Axel lies about why he is in prison.
  • The Governor lies to Andrea about his true intentions after his “truce” with Rick.
  • Tomas lies to Rick when he “accidentally” takes a swipe at Rick’s head (Tomas tells Rick “shit happens”. Rick agrees with Tomas and then cleaves him in the head with a machete).
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing about Andrea’s trip the prison.
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing who burned the walkers in the pit.
  • Andrea lies to Michonne when she denies that she chose sex with the Governor over their friendship.
  • Rick fails to inform the group that they are all infected with the zombie virus (this is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless).
  • Shane lies to Rick about “banging” a high school P.E. coach (we all know Shane was lying).
  • Shane lies to Rick about playing nice-nice after their fight  (after they failed to successfully abandon Randall).
  • Shane lies to Rick so he can lure Rick into the woods so he can kill him.
  • Shane lies to Carol about his sympathies for Carol after Sophia’s funeral.
  • Shane lies to Randall to lure him into the woods so he can kill him.

My God, Shane does a lot of lying.

Shane is not as big a liar as Don Draper. But then, what fictional character is?

For those who are inclined to view their television through an ethical lens, Shane Walsh demonstrates why Kant tells us that lying is wrong. Namely, that lying violates the Categorical Imperative. Kant tells us that before we perform any act, that:

I only ask myself: Can I will that my maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to myself, or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible enactment of universal law, and reason extorts me from an immediate respect for such legislation.

Kant also says that we cannot treat others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

… every rational being exists as a end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In his actions, whether they are directed towards himself or toward other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end… Man, however, is not a thing, and thus not something to be used merely as a means; he must always be regarded as an end in himself.

You see, Kant tells us that lying (Kant calls “false promises”) is morally wrong because no matter how well-intended our intentions may be, telling lies inevitably leads to some greater moral evil. Kant writes:

Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? And I could say to myself that everyone may make a false promise… Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense… Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

In short, Kant says if everybody lies, then no one would believe anyone.

And for all his lies, this is how Shane ends up:

shane walsh as a zombie

Kant would call that retributive justice.

Shane Walsh is an example of what happens when someone lies. Despite the fact the Shane believed his intentions were good, the consequences of Shane’s lies proved that even the best intentioned lie can have disastrous effects. People can get hurt.

And if you are Randall or Otis, people get killed.

… well actually, if you’re Otis, Shane will shoot you in the kneecap, leave you to the zombies, and then lie to everyone about how you really died.

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES... NO, WAIT -- IT'S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE'S GUN

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES… NO, WAIT — IT’S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE’S GUN

A funny thing about lies.

Even though Kant tells us that all lies are inevitably bad, sometimes when someone lies something weird happens: in the middle of the lie is the truth.

Not just a kind of truth, but THE TRUTH.

The kind of truth-telling lie that reveals how sinister someone truly is.

In the season three (episode three) “Arrow On the Doorpost”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey) meet to discuss terms for a treaty following an attack on The Governor’s stronghold in Woodbury.

Wait, this is out of context:

You see, this dude, Merle Dixon, kidnapped two of Rick’s friends, Glenn and Maggie, and so Rick and a few of his people went to Woodbury to rescue them and well, let’s say things went badly enough to require a cease fire between the two survivalist factions.

Ok. So, the meeting between Rick and The Governor pretty much goes nowhere (although Rick agrees to one condition for a peaceful settlement: he agrees hand over one of his men (actually it was a woman) in exchange for peace). But when each man returns to his camp, The Governor and Rick do the exact same thing: they lie.

The Governor tells Andrea wait

Ok, Andrea used to be in Rick’s group, but she was separated from the group when Hershel’s farm (I’m not explaining, just follow along) is overrun by the living dead. Andrea is rescued by Michonne, the nearly-mute, katana-wielding, dreadlocked, badass, who, while she was in Woodbury, got suspicious of The Governor’s motives and skipped town.

Oh yeah, when she returned to Woodbury, she stuck her katana through the skull of  Penny, The Governor’s zombified daughter.

… and she also stabbed out The Governor’s eye.

Folks, if you aren’t watching this TV show, you should be.

Get the plot so far?

Ok. So, The Governor tells Andrea that he and Rick have agreed to let bygones be bygones and as long as Rick’s people stay on their side, things between both groups will be hunky dory. But, when out of earshot of Andrea, The Governor tells his men his real plan that he intends to kill Rick, Michonne, and everyone else in Rick’s group.

We expect The Governor to lie because he’s a bad guy. He does not let the audience down.

But, when Rick returns to his group he tells his fellow survivors that The Governor intends to kill everyone in Rick’s group.

The Governor did not tell Rick this.

But by lying, Rick reveals The Governor’s true intentions.

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

Rick does lie, but in a strange way, Rick tells something like a Gettier truth: he’s right about The Governor.

But only accidentally so.*

 

This all makes me wonder: was Rick aware that he was telling his group the truth?

Or was it Rick’s intention to get his people gunned-up to kill The Governor no matter what settlement the two men had reached regarding the attack on Woodbury? Although it would tickle my philosophical soul pink to see it, I’m thinking that a deep, philosophical analysis of Rick Grimes’ motivations isn’t going to be had anytime soon.

Well, not since Andrea died, anyway.

I get the feeling she was the only character who had any idea who Edmund Gettier was.

Oops. Spoiler alert.

 

 

 

* For more information on misapplying the concept of Gettier problems, see my previous post “99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One”.

 

 

Sources: Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Second edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 19, 45-6

Living the Good Life: On the Pursuit of Happiness, Fame, Fortune, and the Philosophical Necessity of Twerking

Miley Cyrus.

There. I said it.

Nowadays, if someone even whispers the word “twerking”, she’s the first (and often only) name that comes to mind.

miley

I guess it’s up to you whether you want to tack a “fortunately” or “unfortunately” on that fact. For the record, when I think about twerking I think about this:

I’m not going to say anything about whether it is a good career move to officially shed one’s child star image by shaking one’s rear end in public places, but what I will say is that I can’t watch more than five minutes of TMZ Live without hearing the words “Miley”, and “Cyrus”, and “twerking”.

I’ve heard the word Syria on TV fewer times than I’ve heard the word “twerking” all month.

I gotta say that as much as I enjoy watching people twerk, I’m not a Miley Cyrus fan.

Luckily, for everything one can grow to dislike as much as one hates paper cuts or tequila-induced hangovers, there’s a philosophical something hidden in it somewhere.

They say that all of Miley Cyrus’ twerking antics isn’t about being inappropriate, but is about her want to reclaim the childhood that she lost while she was the star of the Disney series Hannah Montana®. It seems that Miley Cyrus has decided, now that she has the opportunity, to act the manner she wasn’t permitted to act when she was at the age when young people typically behave in a manner that we would call “acting out”.

In Miley Cyrus’ case, her “acting out” includes smoking weed and hanging out with “Molly”.

 

GOTTA THANK EBAUM'S WORLD FOR THIS.

GOTTA THANK EBAUM’S WORLD FOR THIS.

 

It seems that what’s really at the heart of Miley Cyrus’ behavior is that Miley, like so many of us, is trying to live the good life – the kind of life that makes one happy.

And when you talk about stuff like the good life and happiness, you’re talking philosophy.

Philosophers, from Socrates to Mill, have written about what kind of life constitutes the good life. Socrates wrote (actually, Plato wrote) that the good life is a life of philosophical contemplation. For Aristotle, the good life meant that one lives virtuously. John Stuart Mill says that once we’ve acquired a preference for higher pleasures (instead of lower pleasures) we are well on our way to living not only a good life, but a happy life. Mill writes that lower pleasures (e.g. sexual promiscuity, intemperance, gluttonous consumption of food and twerking) are merely physically satisfying and can’t make us happy. Indulging in mere physical pleasures, Mill writes:

“a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do no regard anything as happiness which does not include their contemplation.”

Mill says that we should want to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig.
Unfortunately, though Socrates tells us that the best life is a life spent in philosophical contemplation, that’s not what society tells us is the good life. Two thousand years ago you could hire a philosopher (or a sophist, if you went that way) to teach you how to think. These days, the media not only tells us what the cultural zeitgeist is, the media tells us what to think about it.

The media tells us not only what’s important, what we should care about, but more importantly, what makes a good life. If you pay attention to the media long enough, you’ll soon be convinced that nothing matters more than being young, rich, famous, and beautiful.

And if you watch TMZ you’ll spend your day wondering what Lindsay Lohan is doing right now.

lindsay lohan tmz

What the media tells us is no matter how good we think our lives are, there are people out there (i.e. famous people) whose lives are marvelously better than ours. Not only are their lives better than ours, we should want to live the lives they lead. Their lives are the good life. After all, what could be more essential to living the good life than smoking salvia or twerking?

What can be more essential to living the good life than being famous?

So, when we watch the real-life downward-spiraling life of a Hollywood starlet or watch a fictional character whose life is nothing but a meaningless, black void, as long as they are either rich, famous, of good-looking, we can believe that their lives, despite all appearances, is good. Sure, a guy like Don Draper is a morally bankrupt, miserable, S.O.B., who lies not only to himself but to everyone else, but the fact that Don is moderately well-off and looks swell in a Brooks Brothers suit tells us that we need not worry about his philosophical well-being.

A guy like Don Draper is certain to live a good life and be happy.

I guess it has to do with pulling off a debonair look while smoking a cigarette.

don draper smoking

PRETTY SEXY, EH?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily condemning Miley Cyrus, TMZ  or any other celebrity.

Well, maybe I am condemning TMZ.

Any philosopher, well, most, will tell you that the right amount of physical pleasure is a good thing. A proper philosophical soul knows how to satisfy our higher and lower pleasures. And really, when’s the last time you heard of a philosopher drowning in his own vomit?

Our problem is that when we look at the media, they tell us that a good – THE good life is a life devoted to lower pleasures. According to our culture, the life of celebrity is the quickest way to living a lower pleasure-filled life. He might not have known it when he said it, but Andy Warhol hit the nail when he said that everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.

As long as there’s reality television, everybody’s got a chance of getting famous on TV.

No doubt that being rich and famous is a good gig, but there are far too many examples of how fame and fortune has good reversing effect on people’s lives.

I mean, have you ever heard of the 27 club?

It’s not entirely wrong to appreciate the fact that the contemplative lifestyle requires longevity. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Gram Parsons, and Amy Winehouse all lived the culturally-approved good life, but they all died before their 28th birthday.
Aristotle lived to be 62.
Leibniz lived to 70.
Sartre died at 76.
Ayn Rand unfortunately lived to the ripe old age of 77.
Immanuel Kant lived to 80.
Heidegger died at 87.
Bertrand Russell nearly made it to the century mark. He died at age 97.

Noam Chomsky is 85 years old and counting…

Listen: A philosopher may be a dissatisfied Socrates, but living past the age of twenty seven might give us enough time to realize that satisfied piggery isn’t the best life to lead. Having fun is alright. We have an inalienable right to be happy (The Declaration of Independence says so), but we also should want to do more than have a good time or feel that knowing intimate details about the Kimye baby is more important than knowing details about the Chelsea Manning case. We should know that twerking or even reclaiming one’s lost childhood isn’t a bad thing, so long as we realize that some of the things we believe will make us happy or make our lives “good” are merely distractions; things that keep us from pursuing the kind of life that will make us truly happy – the philosophical life.

… But then again, it’s hard to argue that partying with Molly won’t make your life good, too.

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. pp. 12.