The Way Things Are

SOMETIMES IT’S EASY to dismiss a kids’ movie. After all, films featuring cute animated talking animals voiced by not-exactly-kid-friendly actors are easy to not take too seriously.

Existential dread isn’t exactly the kind of subject matter suited for a film geared towards the pre-school set.

But every once in awhile a kids movie goes and gets all philosophical on everybody.

Something you wouldn’t expect in a movie about a talking pig.

Aristotle wrote that all beings act according to their nature.

Aristotle calls it our characteristic function.

Aristotle says human characteristic function is the use of reason in accordance with virtue

What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function assigned to him by nature? Nay, surely as his several members, eye and hand and foot, plainly have each his own function, so we must suppose that man has some function over and above all these

(Man’s function then being, as we say, a kind of life — that is to say, exercise of his faculties and action of various kinds with reason — the good man’s function is to do this well and beautifully [or nobly]. But the function of anything is done well when it is done in accordance with the proper excellence of that thing.) Nicomachean Ethics, I 7.

Dogs, cats, bumblebees, frogs – According to Aristotle, nature not only designs a purpose for all beings, but also it is unnatural to deviate from that being’s designated purpose.

a_friend_in_need

NOT ONLY IS THIS AN INCREDIBLY TACKY PAINTING, IT IS ALSO UNNATURAL.

A fish’s characteristic function is to swim in water.

A bee’s characteristic function is to pollinate flowers.

A cat’s characteristic function is to be an asshole.

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THE LABEL ON THE BOX SAYS IT ALL

Aristotle states that thing’s characteristic activity (whoops, function), can be performed well or performed poorly.

Not only does a species have an characteristic function, but individuals do as well.

In humans, we can determine one’s characteristic function by observing one’s natural inclination, that is, your characteristic function is what you’re good at:

Mariah Carey’s characteristic function is to sing.

Rembrandt’s was to paint.

Mine is philosophy because frankly, I’m not good at doing anything else.

philosopher-21845648

PRETTY MUCH HOW I ROLL THESE DAYS

Aristotle attempts to define the Good in terms of characteristic function.

And by the capital “G” Good, Aristotle means Eudaimonia.

Loosely translated, eudemonia means “flourishing”.

61892239
Wait – I think I’m straying off topic. I was talking about characteristic function.

If you want to read all about eudemonia read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. You don’t even have to pay for it. It’s all over the internet in print and audiobook. FOR FREE.

Now, I’d like to think that I’m too old for kids’ movies, but truth be told, I’m not. I’d rather watch Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island over The Seventh Seal any day of the week.

For the record, I think Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island is a very philosophical movie.

The reason why, I think, I’d rather watch a kids’ movie is because unlike movies made for adults, where philosophical subtext is often handled with the subtlety of a pillaging berserker wielding a cudgel, kid-oriented entertainment can’t really overwhelm its target audience with deeper meaning.

Because they’re kids.

And most kids don’t know Hegel.

At least l hope most kids don’t know Hegel.

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THIS KID’S LIFE IS RUINED

But kids do know about talking pigs.

This talking pig in particular.

The movie Babe, directed by Chris Noonan, based on the book The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith, and adapted for the screen by George Miller (yes, the guy who wrote Mad Max!) is the story of a pig… named Babe.

babe_poster_intro

BABE

Orphaned as a piglet, adopted by Farmer Hoggett, and raised by Hoggett’s sheep herding dogs, Babe is condemned to the short (and inevitably tragic) life of a pig: to one day become the farmer’s next meal.

Babe, however, wants more for his life than to become Christmas dinner.

Babe wants to herd sheep.

Naturally, Babe’s efforts to redefine his role on the farm meets with opposition from the other farm animals (including his adopted canine family), and Farmer Hoggett, who does not believe that a pig is capable of herding sheep.

The farmer’s cat explains to the would-be sheep pig nature’s rules of life on the farm – that each farm animal has a purpose – and that pigs have no purpose.

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The cat says this because cats are assholes.

cat-sticking-butt-in-the-air-istock-000046350348

A CAT WILL ALWAYS SHOW YOU EXACTLY WHAT HE IS

It’s their characteristic function.
The small pig is not deterred by the cat or anyone else on the farm. He ignores the naysayers and strives to prove that a pig can indeed herd sheep. Babe follows his heart even though everyone around him, including Farmer Hoggett, doubts that he can defy the laws of nature.

Now, if we were following Aristotle, we might have been on the side of the cat; pigs serve no purpose other than to get fat and feed the farmer and his family.

600px-babe_01

FARMER HOGGETT, ON HIS WAY TO MAKING BABE CHRISTMAS DINNER

Luckily for the piglet (and the audience), Babe isn’t Aristotilean; he refuses to allow nature or the expectations of others to define his place in the world.

That’s downright existential.

Existential.

The late 19th – 20th century philosophy of Existentialism, most notably associated with French philosophers Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, and the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (and also associated with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who is credited with being the first Existentialist philosopher).

According to the dictionary,

“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’re in the mood to think philosophically, Babe can be a philosophical gateway to thinking about more than a couple of philosophical topics (brush up on your Peter Singer ‘cause you gonna be discussing animal rights). It’s pretty much undeniable that the philosophical undertone of the film’s major theme is essentially existentialist. Babe rejects the idea of purpose assigned by biology and society. He defines his own purpose.

His purpose is to herd sheep.

And more importantly, he’s good at it.

babe-t

BABE, SHOWING THE DUMB SHEEP WHO’S BOSS

The existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote

Life has no meaning a priori… it is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that we choose.

Babe finds meaning in herding sheep. It’s almost like sheep herding is his characteristic function.

Take that Aristotle!

1kzw44

 

If Babe was a practicing existentialist, he would say that existence preceded his essence.

Sartre says,

What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.

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.

Babe did have a purpose. One that he determined for himself. Babe proves that he is capable of doing something other than his biological destiny.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not quite.

School Crossing Guard

PHILOSOPHERS ARE LIKE STEPHEN KING NOVELS OR A RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK GRIMES. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A HAPPY ENDING

Of course, with all things philosophical, there’s a glitch.

Possible glitch.

Existentialists hold that our true essence isn’t assigned to us by society or by our biology and we assign meaning to ourselves – we create our own meaning, purpose, and values in life. This means we are completely responsible for who we become.

Completely responsible.

Sartre writes,

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.

See how Sartre says we’re “condemned to be free”? We’re condemned, Sartre says, because without God or biology to determine the meaning of our lives, we are solely responsible for creating meaning. This can be rather disorienting.

 

Or nauseating….

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OR NAUSEATING… GET IT?

Lucky for us, we’re watching a kid’s movie. Babe is spared the agony of experiencing the existential dread of complete freedom. Babe‘s mind is as unencumbered as a pig satisfied.

He is completely happy and at ease once he becomes what he wants to be.

A pig-dog.

thatll-do-pig

 

SO… we’re full of tears of happiness, cheers, and assumptions of lives lived happily ever after by the time the barn mice tell us we’re reached “The End”.

And we’ve just been given our first big lesson in existentialism.

There was, however, the inevitable follow up, Babe: Pig in the City.

 

 

I’m just going to leave it at that**.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

** Babe: Pig in the City was criticized at the time of it’s initial release for being a darker, less family-friendly film. the film currently holds a 62% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is darker than its predecessor, however, it’s arguable that the film, directed by George Miller, is also a more philosophically developed film. The late film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both praised the film, with Siskel naming the movie one of the best films of 1998.

 
SOURCES:

http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/arisne1.htm

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters. 2004 [1893].New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Mel Thompson. Teach Yourself: Philosophy. 2003. Chicago, IL. Contemporary Books. 184.

Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism.

Sartre. Being and Nothingness. (1943).

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.

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.

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.