I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About John Lennon Lately… and Too Much About Death

I’M PRETTY QUICK to admit that John Lennon is not my favorite member of The Beatles. He’s not even my second favorite (Ringo) or even the The Beatle I say when I’m feeling particularly assholish.

That’s Pete Best, by the way.

If you’re wondering, it’s George. George Harrison is my favorite Beatle.

LOOK AT THIS BRO. HOW CAN HE NOT BE YOUR FAVORITE BEATLE?

Honestly, John Lennon isn’t even in my top 5.

And there were four The Beatles.

But, given that I, at one time, existed at the same time as John Lennon, and I am a The Beatles fan, I do think, from time to time, the perennial Beatles fan what if — what if John Lennon hadn’t been murdered on December 8, 1980?

That kind of question is called a hypothetical. You know who LOVES hypothetical questions — philosophers.

Philosophers call their hypothetical questions thought experiments.

A WELL-KNOWN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, THE TROLLEY PROBLEM

Like a lot of people, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to think about hypothetical situations. Since I (and everybody else) wasn’t going anywhere, I had to imagine situations and places i would go — if I could go out. You kinda have to when you can’t leave your house.

If I’d say there’s a silver lining to any of this, life during lockdown has been a godsend for my imagination.

Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? Covid-19 hasn’t changed a damn thing about my social life. I never go outside. And I’ve always avoided people.

Although Covid hasn’t altered my Schopenhauerian tendencies, it has affected me in one significant way.. Namely, life during quarantine has me thinking a lot more about death.

The past year has put me in a thinking about death kind of mood.

Covid has also got me digging through my old record collection. I’ve been listening to The Beatles quite a bit; John Lennon in particular.

My not-favorite Beatle.

Listening to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, and thinking how “Run For Your Life” is possibly the most red flaggy song of all time (Jesus, how did they not see that song was problematic?), my mind, unoccupied with actual thoughts generated by actual socializing, naturally drifted to the question,

what if John Lennon wasn’t murdered?

Never said I wasn’t a morbid bastard.

As I’m a philosopher. I tell myself A) I can’t just toss out some simple, over-asked hypothetical question, and B) That’s a genuine THOUGHT EXPERIMENT.

So naturally I had to dig a little deeper.

And then the question hit me: WHY was I asking what if John Lennon hadn’t died in 1980? My (first) answer was this: the reason why I (and every other The Beatles fan) asks “what if?” is because we believe John Lennon shouldn’t have died in 1980.

John Lennon’s death was, for lack of a better word, bad.

And if you’re gonna say death is bad and not also say the name Thomas Nagel, I’d suspect you weren’t a real philosopher.

Yep. I’m going Nagelian on this one.

John Lennon’s death (he was only 40) deprived him of what could have (and arguably what should have) been.

There would be albums of songs that would never be recorded. Lennon would never again have the opportunity to perform live. Fans would never see a full The Beatles reunion. With his death, Lennon’s sons were deprived of their father; Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, deprived of her husband. More importantly, John Lennon himself was deprived of the ability to engage in a long, active, (hopefully fufilling) life.

Any person’s death, not just John Lennon, is bad because death, as Nagel writes,”is an evil because it brings to an end all the goods that life contains”.

MAYBE IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T MURDERED HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED PAUL McCARTNEY FROM RECORDING “SAY SAY SAY”. NOT HATIN’, BUT THAT SONG IS WORSE THAN “EBONY AND IVORY

Now, if I actually left my apartment and had any kind of a social life, I’d end things right there, satisfied with my slightly Nagelian thoughts on a decades-dead rock legend.

But I’m a lover of wisdom. We’re never satisfied.

Not when it comes to a damned thought experiment, anyway.

So I kept thinking.

So…

The German not-actually-nihilist-but-existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously thought up a little mind blower of his own: Eternal Recurrence.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883), Nietzsche introduces the thought experiment. He writes:

“What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence—and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself.”

The underlying question the demon is asking is a question of the quality of life. If you say yes to the demon’s proposal to repeat your life forever, you’ve probably lived a good life. However, if your answer is no, you better go do something with your life. It sucks.

Ok, we got some Nagel. We got a little Nietzsche — but what does this have to do with John Lennon?

I’m getting to that.

Alright. Let’s imagine some scientist (or demon. Wait — is there a difference?) invents a machine that can transport us back in time to Liverpool in 1962, right before The Beatles made it big in England. After some sight-seeing, the science-demon stakes out a spot to meet a pre-fame John Lennon.

The science-demon meets John, and because it’s a science-demon, it’s able to talk to John for a few minutes, long enough to, in a most serious philosophical tone, offer a proposal: what if I told you you will be in the most influential rock & roll band in music history, be more famous than you can possibly imagine, become fabulously wealthy, and more popular than Jesus, BUT 18 years from now you’ll be murdered by someone who wants to kill you precisely because you’re rich, famous, and more popular than Jesus?

It tells young John Lennon if he agrees to be a famous star of the screen, he absolutely will be murdered in 1980 — there’s nothing he can do to prevent it. Of course, if John, not wanting to die young, gives up a career in music, he’ll (likely) live a longer, but perfectly ordinary, life.

The question that John Lennon has to ponder is which life is the better life — that is, which life is worth repeating for an eternity?

Would John Lennon choose the presumably good life — the life of a rich and famous (and rich) rock star, doomed to die at 40

THEY DON’T CALL IT THE GOOD LIFE FOR NOTHING

Or, would he have chosen an ordinary, not-rich and famous (presumably longer) life?

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A WHAT IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T FAMOUS FLICK, CHECK OUT SNODGRASS (2013)

That’s the question Nietzsche says we (all) must ask about our own lives.

Would you go back, Jack and do it again?

Of course we’ll never know what Lennon’s answer would be, but I have the feeling whatever he chose I’d still end up hearing “Say Say Say”.

Seriously, I like Paul McCartney. I like Michael Jackson. But that song sucks.

SOURCES:

Thomas Nagel. Mortal Questions. New York: Cambridge U. Press. 1979.

THE ETHICS OF DEAD PIGEONS

THERE ARE FEW things, I imagine, as positively dumb as a 24-hour Facebook ban.

I mean, you can pretty much get slapped with a can’t post, can’t comment for just about any stupid thing, and it’s not like I posted bare ass or unclothed man peen.

I actually did that. I posted a link with a barely visible thumbnail pic of John Lennon’s naked weenie.

Wait. I mean the thumbnail pic itself was barely visible, not…his… uh…

By the way, I wrote about that 24-hour ban, too.

I thought (mistakenly) that I was being careful about what I was posting and commenting, but as one’s best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned, I found myself once again violating Facebook’s confusion-inducing COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Seriously, does anyone really know what TF Facebook’s “community standards” are?

IT’S NEVER FUN WHEN YOU SEE ONE OF THESE IN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

And, like I said in a previous post, Facebook’s community standards are a well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at moral policing.

I KNOW THIS COMMENT LOOKS BAD, BUT THERE’S A LITTLE MORE TO THE STORY

I mean, certainly Facebook’s intentions are good. Suggesting that we kill people and leave the corpses for others to see is a problematic statement. It’s reasonable to think that a social media site that ignores a comment like that would be failing in its moral duty to its users.

…assuming we think a social networking site has any moral obligations to its users.

But here’s the thing. J wasn’t talking about harming people. I was talking about birds.

I wanted to kill

dirty.

disgusting.

nasty.

birds.

Pigeons, specifically.

Parrots and parakeets are fine, but pigeons can straight-up go F themselves.

This is the meme I violated community standards commenting on:

You see — dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this — sometimes morality isn’t so cut and dry. Sometimes morality needs a little bit of context.

Now, for the record, I’m a fan of deontology. This guy’s deontological ethics, to be exact.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

And, because I’m an ethical kantian, I’m not concerned with the consequences of our actions. What matters to me when evaluating an act is the motivation behind an act.

For Kant, the proper ethical motivation is not consequences — we act from duty.

BY THE WAY, HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN IN THIS PORTRAIT IDENTIFIED AS IMMANUEL KANT? WELL, IT’S NOT. IT’S ACTUALLY FRIEDRICH HEINRICH JACOBI. IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY JACOBI’S PORTRAIT IS PREFERABLE TO KANT.

This is why, according to Kant, we must tell the ax murderer the location of his hiding intended victim. Our ethical duty (or obligation) is to not lie…

Ok, I’m gonna interrupt my post right here to say that Kant explains why we are more morally obligated to not lie to the ax murderer than to not facilitate a murder (and other imperatives)in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. If you haven’t already read it I suggest thumbing through it at least once.

And here’s where I think the problem is.

Facebook seems to be guided by a utilitarian ethical principle. That is, they feel that it is their moral obligation to provide a safe space for social interaction for the greatest number of people. Providing that safe space can, from time to time, result in a bit of over-policing and the occasional (and unnecessary) 24-hour bans. However, as long as the company’s intention is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, they can provide at least some justification for an hyper-reactive algorithm. My comment simply pinged the algorithm.

My comment, regardless of the intended target, was a threat, and threats pose a danger to he greater Facebook community.

Now, I know that being a utilitarian isn’t only about meaning well; you’ve got to produce results. Utilitarianism is all about consequences. Facebook wants to create a safe space for social interaction (for the greatest number of people), but are they?

I honesty have no idea if they are or not.

According to utilitarianism, we are obligated to consider the effect of (consequences) of our actions on, well, pretty much everybody. “Everybody” may or may not include non-human animals, like pigeons. If “everybody” extends to non-human animals, my kill ’em and let God sort ’em out-inspred comment may have violated Facebook’s community standards and the 24-hour ban was justified. However, as an ethical kantian, I’m not required to extend my moral obligations to animals lacking the capacity for autonomous decision making and rational thought.

Therefore, a mere threat against pigeons is neither a moral outrage nor is it worthy of a 24-hour ban.

After all, I didn’t threaten a person.

DAMN, I HATE THESE THINGS

Although… I’m not sure leaving the corpses to warn other pigeons is morally kantian, either.

Well… in the end did I deserve a 24-hour Facebook ban? I dunno. Probably. I did make a threat, and even though it was directed at a bunch of lousy pigeons in a meme, I — ugh — violated community standards.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that, as a member of a community, I have moral obligations to others, including (and perhaps most importantly) to help nurture an environment where participants feel (yes, feel) safe. And really, I shouldn’t be calling for the mass slaughter of pigeons, anyway.

What I should be worried about is Facebook finally catching all that German poop porn that I posted nine years ago.

That stuff is gonna get me permanently banned.

(Don’t) Mark it FAB

IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW already, Paul McCartney wrote a children’s book.

It’s called Hey Grandude.

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THIS IS THE BOOK. 

The title is a play on “Hey, Jude”.

You know that song, right? It’s a pretty famous song… By the Beatles…that band from the sixties….

I’m not going to read McCartney’s book (because I’m not six years old, but especially because I don’t want to), but seeing Sir Paul on late-night TV plugging his new venture into literature has got me thinking about and listening to The Beatles.

You know the Beatles, right? That band…from the sixties…..

I’ve been listening to their album Abbey Road in particular.

Beatles-Abby-Road

The 50th anniversary edition of Abbey Road is out this year.

It’s remixed by Giles Martin.

Giles Martin is the son of the late George Martin.

You know who George Martin is, right? George Martin was the record producer for the Beatles…that band from the sixties…

The remix is pretty good.

You should all listen to it.

Anyway, I was listening to Abbey Road, enjoying the fantastic remixes of the first couple of tracks, when  the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” came on.

It’s not a song a lot of people like.

The story goes even John Lennon hated it. Really hated it.

He called it Paul’s “granny music”.

Maybe the song sucked because Faul actually wrote it.

Paul is dead, folks.

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EYES CLOSED, BAREFOOT, OUT OF STEP… YEP. PAUL IS DEAD, FOLKS.

28 IF….

Anyway…

John Lennon called “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (along with a few more songs) Paul’s “granny music”.

Not trying to be a dick or anything, but John Lennon was kind of a hater.

It’s also kind of an odd thing for Lennon to say, considering that the song is about a serial killer.

I don’t know what kind of grandma John Lennon had, but I can absolutely declare with utmost certainty that my own memaw would not be entertained by a song about a guy going Jeff Dahmer on people.

Within a span of three and a half  minutes, Maxwell Edison (majoring in medicine) bludgeons three people to death — including murdering a judge during his trial in the judge’s own courtroom.

….just like Jeffrey Grant did.

I freaking hate Jeffrey Grant.

God, there I go again.

So…..

Despite the fact that many people (especially John Lennon) despise “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, Paul McCartney insisted that “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a good song.

I think he still does.

You gotta smoke a lot of weed to think that.

Or you think it is because you’re actually FAUL.

Now, the Beatlemaniac in me wants to believe Paul’s claim that Maxwell’s etc. etc. is a good song.

But, as a person who knows a shit song when I hear one, I’m inclined to say John Lennon was right about “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.

The song is shite.

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But the philosopher that dwells within me can’t stop thinking philosophically when I hear the word “good”. You see, whenever I hear the word “good” I start thinking about philosophy stuff like, ethics and ideal forms and utilitarian calculuses and all that jazz.

When I hear the word “good”, the philosopher in me wants to know if “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” isn’t just a good song, but a GOOD song.

Because we already know it isn’t a good song.

… sometimes, good songs aren’t GOOD songs and some GOOD songs aren’t good songs.

You see, whenever a philosopher says a word like “good” they usually don’t just mean a simple statement of one’s taste like, it’s got a good beat amd you can dance to it. It’s the natural inclination of the philosophers to complicate things by getting all Platonic about what’s good.

You read that right. I said Platonic.

Yes. I’m gonna be talking about Plato.

Well, actually Socrates.

But it’s really Plato.

He just wants us to think he’s writing about Socrates.

Because he writes as Socrates.

Well, actually as other people writing about Socrates.

Because Plato is Socrates.

Anyway

And if you’re gonna do some talking about Socrates, you know you’re gonna do some talking about Plato’s Republic.

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In particular, Book III…and also in  Book V.

Just in case you felt like reading along.

Socrates tells us that — wait. I gotta clearify a term, here.

When we use the term “music”, we’re generally referring to songs — lyrics set to instrumentation. This is the kind of music I’m referring to when I talk about a song like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. However, Socrates uses “music” to describe the arts, including poetry. The purpose of music, according to Socrates, isn’t merely recreational. Music isn’t meant to just entertain or to provide the s soundtrack for a work-out or a romantic encounter.

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IF YOU’RE GONNA BE HAVING SEXUAL RELATIONS, YOU BETTER PLAY SOME MILITARY MARCHES… seriously, that’s the right kind of music Socrates says we should listen to    

Socrates says music is important because it is an essential element in the (philosophically correct) development of the citizen. Socrates describes music as “a moral law” and that music is “the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.” Socrates also says this about music:

Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful.

So…what Socrates means, is music is important because it is a tool of civilization. We must be mindful, Socrates says, of what kind of music we listen to. We must listen to the right kind of music. Listening to the right kind of music produces the right effects.

The right effect is we’re closer to TRUTH.

In case you didn’t know, TRUTH is a GOOD thing.

…or at the very least, listening to the right kind of music will re-enforce the natural hierarchy and guarantee that the people will obey the ruling class without question.

Because noble lies.

Anyway, like Socrates, Aristotle says the type of music we listen to is important. Aristotle says music has the power to stir “ignoble passions”. Repeated exposure to passion-inflaming music (according to Aristotle) influences our disposition.

That is to say, listening to music that stirs the “ignoble passions” makes us ignobelly  passionate people.

According to Aristotle, people governed by their passions can’t be GOOD people.

And a city full if people who aren’t GOOD can’t successfully maintain a city conducive to philosophical living.

So what does this have to do with The Beatles and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”?

Well, let’s first look at the song’s subject matter: serial murder.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a song about a man who gleefully and unrepentantly murders three people, culminating in Maxwell murdering a judge while he’s presiding over Maxwell Edison’s murder trial.

You see, for dudes like Socrates and Aristotle, the guys in charge — the people that run things — are put there by NATURE.

They’re born that way

giphy

Flip side, the folks who aren’t naturally predisposed to rule (i.e. you and me), are supposed to follow the leaders.

Because we’re too dumb to rule ourselves.

Kings and presidents are kings and presidents because they possess the innate qualities required to be presidents and kings — namely, kings and presidents possess a higher degree of wisdom (and philosophical insight) than you and me.

Socrates would call the wise, philosopher leader-type the Philosopher-King.

Socrates says that obedience to our rulers is not only vital to the survival of society, but to defy their rule is UNATURAL.

SO! Long story short (too late) a society’s leaders primary function is to make and protect the law. If we assume that the administrative state is a product of the natural order, we might also assume that average-guy Maxwell Edison’s murder of a law-giving magistrate’s is a flagrant act of anti-philosopher-king violence.

That ain’t natural.

Mother Nature’s Son my ass.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that Maxwell’s murderous rampage is driven by his “ignoble passions”.

Actually, McCartney never tells us the reason why Maxwell Edison commits triple homicide.

Shits and giggles, I guess.

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No matter the reason, Maxwell Edison (majoring in medicine) isn’t just a bad guy, he’s dangerous to society.

The song already tells us of Maxwell Edison’s corrupting influence on society, demonstrated by Maxwell’s acolytes, Rose and Valerie, who scream from the courtroom gallery that “Maxwell must go free”.

LISTEN: We don’t have to read Plato to know that the murder-prone are a threat to society.

I mean, they kill people.

It also goes without saying that it’s not wise to venerate homicidal people.

Songs that are not only popular but also celebrate the unsanctioned killing of people may be the kind of music that stirs the “ignoble passions” in others and lead people to —

Oh god, I sound like the PMRC.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” isn’t just a bad song, it’s not a GOOD song, either.

Songs about guys like this are precisely the kind if songs Socrates says we shouldn’t teach or sing.

giphy (1)

“MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER”: MADE WORSE BY THE FACT THAT STEVE MARTIN PERFORMED THE SONG IN THE MOVIE SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

Socrates would not mark this song “fab”.

*Socrates says there is a right kind of music. If you want to know what kind of music Socrates says is the correct kind of music, read Book III of Plato’s Republic*

But for Socrates, protecting society from bad music isn’t merely slapping a parental advisory sticker on an album cover. Not-GOOD music corrupts the soul (people with corrupt souls cannot maintain a functioning society). We must be vigilant in protecting society (especially the youth) from soul-destroying music, like Paul McCartney’s so-called “granny music”.

If Socrates had his way, the Beatles would have never recorded “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in the first place.

That might be a good thing.

Especially if you are — you were — John Lennon.

 

 

SOURCES:

Plato. Republic. 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF A POSTING PIC (OF A DEAD MAN’S NAKED WIENER)

I GOT BANNED ON FACEBOOK. 

I suspect that everyone who is still on Facebook has been at least once.

But, with all the crap floating around on Facebook, it’s still pretty shocking to see one of these pop up in my notifications.

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Community standards?!?!? Facebook has community standards???

To be honest, it was only a 24-hour ban, but having a whole twenty-four hour period not being able to like, post, or comment made me think about a few things:

Namely, that interacting with actual people is overrated.

Secondly, I thought about why I was banned. Why Facebook would ban me for violating Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

What is a COMMUNITY STANDARD anyway????

I’ll get back to that question later.

The reason for my ban, it seems, was this: I violated Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS because I posted a picture.

A. picture. Of a naked person. Actually, of naked people.

Two people. Two famous naked people.

This picture:

two virgins

Didn’t have the black bars, tho…

For those who don’t know what that photo is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t), the community standard-violating photo is from the album cover of Two Virgins,  recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1968.

The sixties may have been the decade of free love, but in 1968 the album cover caused quite a stir.

It still would. And does.

Posting the cover on Facebook earns you one of these:

IMG_20181117_013207

And a 24-hour ban.

In 1968, critics called the album cover vulgar. Copies of Two Virgins were confiscated on the grounds that an image of full-frontal male and female nudity is obscene.

Lennon’s record label, EMI, didn’t like the cover, either. The album was released, wrapped in a plain paper bag.

If you buy the album Two Virgins, it looks like this:

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Definitely no naked wiener in sight.

When Two Virgins was released fifty years ago, Lennon and Ono defended the nude album cover, explaining that the image of the nude pair is art (whoops. It’s ART). They argued there is nothing salacious or vulgar about the cover. According to John and Yoko,

Art = not obscenity.

The intent of the album art was to depict Lennon and Ono as two innocents — virgins — “lost in a world gone mad”. Lennon explained:

[the album cover] “just seemed natural for us. We’re all naked really.”

Now, naked dong may be innocent art according to John Lennon, but according to Facebook, you can’t post peen on Facebook for this reason: dick pics are bad.

Art or no art, unclothed genitals are obscene.

Pictures, album cover or otherwise, of naked naughty bits are obscene because pee pee and hoo hoo are harmful to the COMMUNITY.

I realize I’m being rather childish, here. I’ve referred to the genitalia as “dong”, “peen”, pee pee”, “wiener”, and “hoo hoo”, instead of using the actual medical terminology. I also realize using childish words in place of the biologically correct nomenclature is ridiculous — nearly as ridiculous as censoring any part of human body.

So, what about those COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

First, when we talk about the “COMMUNITY” we’re talking about the general public.

So…community standards are:

Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct, possibly going beyond legal minimum requirements in relation to either limits on acceptable conduct itself or the manner in which the community will enforce acceptable conduct. (Wikipedia)

The purpose for setting standards of conduct for the community is ultimately in the interest of the common good.

Or so they say…

You see, it is in the community’s interest to censor images like the cover of Two Virgins because images of exposed private areas are pornographic.

If you don’t know, the definition of pornography is:

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2: material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. (Merriam-Webster)

The purpose of pornography is to arouse one’s prurient interest.**

Prurient interest is:

a term that is used for a morbid interest in sex, nudity and obscene or pornographic matters.

In June 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Miller v California created the Miller Test.

The Miller Test established the criteria for obscenity (and pornography). If a work is pornographic, we must determine:

  1. whether the average person, applying contemporary “community standards“, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

  2. whether the work depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, as specifically defined by applicable state law.

  3. whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literaryartisticpolitical, or scientific value.[14]

So… If (particular or on some cases, peculiar) images of the sexual organs have no purpose other than to excite us sexually, we can classify the image as obscene or pornographic.

And, as the Miller Test tells us, if a work is pornographic, it has no redeeming social value.

Things without redeeming social value are bad.

Pornography is bad because it puts bad (prurient) thoughts on our heads.

Bad thoughts make for bad people.

Bad people are bad leaders.

And bad leaders are detrimental to the common good.

In Republic, Socrates argues that a good society depends on the morality of its citizens. If the people are exposed to things that are bad, they will become bad people. Therefore, says Socrates, we must be certain that the people, especially children, are exposed only to things that will make them good people.

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THIS IS TRUE. ESPECIALLY MODERN ART

This is especially true, Socrates says, of the arts. Socrates has no problem with censoring art that he (or society) considers to be bad.

Especially if your names are Hesiod or Homer………

homer-sucks

We know that artists can have a powerful influence on society. As a member of The Beatles and the author of songs (like) “All You Need Is Love”, “Imagine”, and “Give Peace A Chance”, John Lennon was called the “voice of his generation”. In 1966, Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment sparked public outrage.

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OBVIOUSLY FANS OF SOCRATES

The Beatles — Lennon in particular — challenged the conventional social norms and morality of the older generation. John Lennon, like Socrates centuries before him, was the gadfly who rattled authority enough to make his way onto President Richard Nixon’s shit list.

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Nixon felt, because of Lennon’s influence on popular culture, that the former Beatle’s politics threatened the social order.

Or at least Lennon threatened Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign…

Nixon wanted Lennon deported.

Now, if we’re thinking like Socrates, artists like John Lennon, the kind of artists who publicly display their boy parts, defy the city’s gods, and undermine the authority of the city’s leaders (aka, corrupt the young), are the type of people who should be censored.

After all, we must think of the children.

But wait a minute, you say. This is supposed to be all about the Two Virgins album cover, not about President Nixon’s personal vendetta against the politics of John Lennon.

If you said that, you’d be right.

So let’s get back to that, shall we?

Lennon and Ono maintained that their album cover was art, not pornographic. Unlike pornography, which has no redeeming value, the intent of the image was to convey the idea of innocence, not to arouse prurient interest.

The image on the album cover doesn’t meet our traditional notions of pornographic portraiture — there are no erections, no penetration, no sexuality graphic poses… The couple is merely standing still, posed no different than any clothed couple would pose while having their photograph taken.

We can say that the album cover was wrapped in plain brown paper to protect the children, but really, what kid in 1968 stormed their local record store to buy a copy of Two Virgins?

The message that the couple wanted us to hear is that the image of the two nude figures ought to be seen, and that we are all (metaphorically naked) innocents thrown into an often hostile that we cannot understand.

To censor the image would be to deprive people of the TRUTH.

And, as any philosopher will tell you, truth is a stepping stone on the path to wisdom.

In fact, it’s quite philosophical to argue that censorship actually damages society.

When works are censored according to what others deem obscene or offensive, the act of legislating (on the behalf of others) infringes on autonomy.

Depriving people of the ability to use their own rational judgement to decide what they do and do not want to see, deprives them of the capacity of the self-legislation required to make moral decisions.

Rational, autonomous decision making is essential for moral accountability, says Immanuel Kant.

BTW: IMMANUEL KANT IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING.

SO…

In the end, I decided not to challenge my 24-hour Facebook ban. I know I could have laid down a smooth Kantian argument about rationality and the deleterious effect of moral paternalism, but I didn’t. I figured that the time it would take to challenge a Facebook ban would cost me seconds of my life I would not get back.

I mean, come on. It’s Facebook.

Still, when I think about the reason for the ban — that I had violated “community standards” — I’m still left wondering, what is really so bad about a man’s naked penis or a woman’s nipples? Does pubic hair have the power to destroy society?

Is there an inherent soul-corrupting quality located inside human genitals?

If so, does science know about this???

 

 

 

 

 

** This isn’t the purpose of pornography according to me. It is, however, the purpose of pornography according to the U.S. Supreme Court and moralizers everywhere.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https: //en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_standards

https://thelawdictionary.org/prurient-interest/

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/413/15.html

Oh, No. Not Again.

*TW: this post includes discussion of sexual assault

 

THERE’S A SCENE in the movie Spaceballs – it’s supposed to be a parody of the chestburster scene in the movie Alien – where the late John Hurt re-enacts the scene where his character, Kane shows us what happens when you get too close to something that looks like this

alien-egg-opened

This happens

alienfacehuggerattached

And then this happens

content_alien_chestburster1280

Seriously no Bueno.

In Alien, Kane dies. In Spaceballs, Kane’s misfortune ends with a punchline.

Because Spaceballs is a comedy.

If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. That Dark Helmet is pretty funny.

tumblr_n4g4it2oa11rp0vkjo1_500

Gazing down at the newly born xenomorph emerging from his opened chest, John Hurt, as Kane, laments, “Oh no, not again.”

Cue rimshot.

tenor

I’m kinda understanding how Kane felt right now.

Not because I have an alien neonate bursting from my chest.

It’s because I, too have recently said the phrase “oh no, not again”.

It wasn’t the punchline of a joke, though.

I said it because I, like Kane, was lamenting the repeat of something I’d been through before – discovering that yet another one of my faves is “problematic”.

hlsuopc

“Problematic” is an understatement.

One of my faves is accused of committing multiple acts of sexual assault. On minors.

Now, I’ve written about problematic favorites before. Thrice, in fact.

If you’re a fan of enough famous people, you’ll find that there’s a certain percentage of them that are, for lack of a better phrase, bad people. As a Beatles fan, I am aware of accusations of John Lennon’s violent behavior, including spousal abuse.
That’s…. problematic.

 

94e77f3e0f18ac6f99a8b01b9a088e01dcebdb9a00a3e84bb973a8183dd1a027

YEAH… KINDA WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW

 

As a fan of philosophy, I know that philosophy is filled with sexists, anti-Semites, racists, even renowned University of California, Berkley philosophy professors accused of sexual assault.

…and I’m not even talking about old white guys who lived hundreds of years ago.

 

john-searle-168

I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, JOHN SEARLE

 

Alright, I know that no human is perfect, even myself. Many of us has done something that, if we ran what we did through an ethical evaluation machine, our acts would label us “problematic”.

I’m not expecting moral perfection.

For me, being a philosopher isn’t about being perfect (No philosopher is. Not even Hegel).

Luckily studying and enjoying philosophy doesn’t require that.

I know that no person is perfect. And I know that brilliant people; people who do wonderful things, create amazing art, or develop the perfect ontology, can do the most heinous moral wrongs.

Schopenhauer pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

 

schopenhauer

IF I HAD TO TAKE A GUESS AND NAME A PHILOSOPHER WHO LOOKS MOST LIKELY TO THROW A WOMAN DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS, I’D CHOOSE SCHOPENHAUER

 

Intellectually I realize (rationalize?) that it’s possible to separate a creator from their creation; that, despite what I know about John Lennon, Roman Polanski, or Colin McGinn, it’s possible to enjoy and appreciate what they have contributed to our culture and public discourse.

Heidegger was a Nazi, but I can’t deny his influence on the way we think.

As much as I am sometimes reluctant to admit that I can push aside what I know about the private acts of my favorite famous people, I ask if I should push the acts aside. I can’t but feel that there’s something wrong with saying John Lennon was a horrible person, but his horribleness doesn’t matter (or at least matters less) because he made some really good music.

That just doesn’t sound right.

 

I still feel that people should be held morally accountable for what they do. Even if they’re brilliant filmmakers, actors, musicians or philosophers.

As a philosopher, I fear a slide into a moral relativism based on the principle of “whatever you do is ok so long as I like what you do”.

That’s not good at all.

giphy

So, I ask again, what do I do?

What is the appropriate way to deal with problematic faves? Is it morally wrong to continue to enjoy the music of John Lennon or the films of Roman Polanski or Kevin Spacey, even if they’ve committed morally objectionable acts?

Are people inseparable from what they do? Are we obligated to turn our back on them? Should we throw away their albums? Burn their books? Boycott their films?

As I write about this subject for the third time, my answer is I still don’t know.

But I have the feeling that before I figure it out, I’ll be saying “Oh, no. Not again”.

No Bad Deed Goes Punished

There are many amateur, semi-pro, and professional sports to be watched and played throughout the year, but if I had to lay down some cash to pay to watch one in an actual stadium, I’d spend my really-should-not-be-used-for-recreational-purposes cash to catch a game of professional football.

Wait – let me define my sport here. I meant to say American football.

 

The other kind of football is nice and all, but if I had to plunk down some money I’d pick this:

 

 

 

Over this:

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s face it, American-style football is just danged entertaining.

That’s what keeps people watching.

Well, maybe this has a little bit to do with what keeps people watching…

 

cheerleaders

 

No. Not that.

 

This:

 

 

 

 

 

Superbowl ads.

Whoops. I mean THE BIG GAME ads.

People, in America and abroad, watch football. Well, unless it’s Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead is on.

That show gets better ratings with the 18-49 year old demographic.

Yes, folks. That’s right.

The ratings for this:

 

 

the walking dead cast

 

 

Beats the ratings for this:

 

football game

 

 

But I digress….

 

If you think about it, there’s a legit reason why American football (hereafter referred to as “football”) is so popular. After all, there just aren’t that many sports with a jingle as catchy as Hank Williams, jr’s “Are You Ready For Some Football?” or where one can base his or her fan loyalty based on the attractiveness/offensiveness of the team mascot and/or the color of the team jersey.

This explains why I hate the Cleveland Browns.

That uniform is fugly.

 

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

 

Now, you may be aware of recent criticism (rightfully so) of League apathy towards serious brain injury suffered by current and former players.

 

NFL-Concussions

 

 

 

brain scans

 

 

 

missed game chart

 
But what you may be even more aware of is the recent spate of legal troubles involving a few high-profile NFL players. In particular, legal troubles involving the illegal use of one’s hands against another human being.

 

To put it another way, a few have been busted for physically abusing someone.

 

Many of us are aware of Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson’s no contest plea on a misdemeanor child abuse charge for whipping his 4 year-old son with a switch.

 

 IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

 

 

I’m more than certain that anyone with a TV or an internet connection has either heard of or seen this video:

 

 

http://www.tmz.com/videos/0_ekaflcqq

 

 

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for multiple murders.

 

 

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

 

Of course we all remember this guy:

 

THEY DIDN'T FIT

THEY DIDN’T FIT

 

 

Tales of abuse (and even worse) by rich and famous are, by no means, new. Before Chris Brown, fans of John Lennon, Miles Davis, and Ike Turner heard stories of (alleged and actual) domestic abuse. And on the professional sports side, well-known athletes like MMA fighters War Machine and Tito Ortiz, Mike Tyson, Hope Solo, and Rae Carruth have all been accused, charged, and/or convicted of committing acts of violence towards their mates.

 

Rumors (unsubstantiated) that Joe DiMaggio beat Marilyn Monroe have been around for decades.

 

 

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

 

 
Most of the fervor over celebrity abusers is based, in part, on the seemingly light sentences given to (celebrities and) professional athletes for their crimes.

Some think game suspensions aren’t enough punishment.

Let’s not forget that Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games.

 

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

 

 

What we want isn’t merely punishment – we want a just punishment. We want a punishment fitting of the crime.

… And when we say fitting of the crime, we want murderers and abusers no matter who they are to be punished. We want a person to receive the punishment the deserve regardless of their occupation, social status or the amount of money in their bank account.

Or what team they play for.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that moral rights and wrongs are not subject to opinion. The standard of a right and wrong act is not determined by popular opinion. Kant states that rightness and wrongness are eternal; universal and applicable to all people at all times.

Although Kant argues in favor of stern punishments, Kant states that punishments should also be proportional to the crime.

 

Kant writes:

Punishment… must always be inflicted on him only because he has committed a crime…but what kind and what amount of punishment is it that public justice makes its principle and measure? None other than the principle of equality… accordingly, whatever undeserved evil you inflict on another… you inflict on yourself….But only the law of retribution jus falionis – it being understood… can specify definitively the quality and quantity of punishment (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:331-332)

So, according to Kant, we should not only be willing to punish abusers, but also be willing to treat Ray Rice with the same level of punishment (and presumably the same level of moral disdain) that we treat someone who isn’t famous or a female athlete . We can’t allow favoritism or double standards.

 

Especially if we want moral consistency.

 

…. And we should want moral consistency.

 

double standards

 

 

Ok, for the record, I think Kant is right. People who abuse people, no matter what they do for a living, should be punished. And we should be morally offended when people commit violent acts against other people and animals. But I can’t deny (despite my moral outrage) that I still enjoy this:

 

 

 

 

And this:

 

 

 

 

I still watch The Naked Gun movies and enjoy OJ Simpson’s performance as “Nordberg”.

 

Try as I might to hate every scene OJ Simpson is in, I still find this scene funny.

 

 

 

 

That Nordberg is a pretty funny guy.
And while we’re on that subject, someone riddle me this: how did Nordberg go from looking like this guy:

 

 

peter lupus

 

To looking like this guy:

 

 

the naked gun nordberg

 

 

Someone should call Robert Stack to get on this….

 
Now, when we think about famous actors, musicians or athletes, there’s the tendency to say that their private life is separate from their public life. What a person does behind closed doors should be distinct from what they do publicly – that what a man or woman does in their private lives shouldn’t affect how we think about what they do professionally. They say –
It shouldn’t matter what kind of guy John Lennon was, he was a great musician.

Ray Rice and his fiancée are married now.

Mike Tyson is now the star of a cartoon series

 

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

 

 

Everyone has their demons, we say.

 

Although punishment or proper punishment is a big issue in discussing domestic abuse, it’s not the only issue that should be discussed when dealing with domestic violence and famous people. Anyone who has thought about the role that actors, musicians and professional athletes play in our culture has probably wondered not only if we can separate a person’s private acts from their public persona, but also should we separate a person’s private and public lives?

 

The question we should ask is why do we look up to these people in the first place?

 

You see, some people think we should be consistent in how we act in public and in private.

 

We shouldn’t just admire a person just because they’re attractive or popular or a world-class athlete.

 

It’s about what kind of people we look up to.

 

We should want to look up to people because they’re the right kind of people to look up to.

 

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

 

 

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle writes that the only people worth looking up to are virtuous.

 

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES - SURPRISE, SURPSISE - MORAL VIRTUE

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES – SURPRISE, SURPSISE – MORAL VIRTUE

 

 

Wait – let me back up for a minute. I have to explain something.

 

According to Aristotle, virtues like courage, temperance, and truthfulness are inborn traits. Virtues are acquired through habit. That is, we acquire virtue by behaving virtuously. That behavior, in turn, becomes habit. One must possess all the virtues (unity of virtues) to be (morally) virtuous.

Aristotle describes moral virtue as:

 

A settled disposition if the mind determining the choice of
actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the
observance of the mean relative us, this being determined by
principle that is, as the prudent man would determine it.

 

Therefore, once our behaviors become habit, our virtuous soul is manifested in how we act.

 

 

spit it out

 
What I’m trying to say is Aristotle said if you act a certain way for a long time eventually that’s the way you will always act.

 

 

download (2)

 

 

Aristotle wrote:

 

The virtues, then, come neither by nature nor against nature, but nature gives us the capacity for acquiring them, and this is developed by training….. But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.

 

Here’s a list of Aristotle’s virtues, by the way….

 

Capture virtues

 

man, that’s small….

 

Aristotle wrote that a full realization of one’s virtuousness cannot be possible if our virtuous acts are limited to the public realm. To be truly virtuous, Aristotle argues, we are (also) required to act virtuously in our private life. Private behavior influences public behavior and vice versa. And – since Aristotle states that we realize the full meaning of our existence by functioning within the public sphere, and since virtue is acquired by the repetition of virtuous deeds, and to develop a habit requires consistent behavior in public and in private, the two spheres are necessarily connected; one must be virtuous in public but also in private.

 

 

And since the community is essential for human flourishing, our acts are ultimately connected the public (common) good.

 

A man who cheats on his wife or beats a woman in private cannot be trusted in his public acts. Someone who commits acts of domestic violence isn’t a good person. He (or she) isn’t virtuous. The kind of person who physically assaults another person lacks the kind of moral character of someone we should look up to. Therefore he is unworthy of our praise and should not be held as an example to follow.

 

Aristotle says:

Indeed, if he were not good, he could not be worthy of
honor; for honor is the prize of virtue, and is rendered to the
good as their due.

 

 

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

 

 

So what are to make of all this, then?
The moral of the story is that the problem with abuse in entertainment and professional sports isn’t just a question of how do we punish those who abuse their wives, girlfriends, strippers, occasionally a fan, or anyone else who ends up on the bad end of a famous person’s fist. We should first be careful who we venerate. What kind of people we hold as an example to follow. That’s what Aristotle tells us all about moral virtue. It isn’t enough that a person sings great songs or who holds the record for most career touchdowns.

 

 I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

 

 

We shouldn’t be concerned with how much a person makes, how many yards run, or how many hit songs they wrote. No one doubts that John Lennon was a great songwriter or that Ray Rice is (was) an exceptional football player. But we should, especially if we are to hold those in high regard, want who we look up to to be good men (people) as well.

 

What should matter to us is kind of character a person has. Is the person we admire a good person? Not just good in the sense that they are polite or file their taxes on time, but capital G-O-O-D in the sense that they embody the kind of qualities that we think makes someone a good person – a morally virtuous person. The kind of person who, just by watching them, makes us want to follow their example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*for more information on head injuries in the NFL read:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/concussion-watch/76-of-79-deceased-nfl-players-found-to-have-brain-disease/

and: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/sports/football/actuarial-reports-in-nfl-concussion-deal-are-released.html?_r=0

 

Sources:
http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_the_characteristic_of_the_magnanimous_man_/147142.html.
http://deadline.com/2014/11/walking-dead-ratings-top-sunday-night-football-third-week-season-5-1201286783/

https://www.cwu.edu/~warren/Unit1/aristotles_virtues_and_vices.htm

 

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans. F.H. Peters. M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. xvii, 81.

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 6:331-332

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.

 

 

 

The Day I Didn’t Exist

I know there will come a day when I will die.

I am mortal. And, like Socrates, I will die.

It’s going to happen to everybody.

Along with taxes and the Kardashians’ domination of popular culture, there’s no avoiding the end.

It’s inevitable.

I don’t need a syllogism to inform me of my eventual end. Anyone with a grandma or a goldfish knows all mortal beings will die.

You know, I don’t think people are even afraid of death. Or even of dying. I think what scares people most about death is the idea that they no longer exist. The idea that the world will be deprived of our presence. Permanently.

That we won’t be here forever.

I CAN’T IMAGINE LIFETIME CONTINUING TO AIR PROJECT RUNWAY AFTER I’M DEAD.

I CAN’T IMAGINE LIFETIME CONTINUING TO AIR PROJECT RUNWAY AFTER I’M DEAD.

But You don’t need to actually die to know what that feels like. To know what the world feels like without you in it.

That feeling is just a computer glitch away.

I couldn’t log onto Facebook.

It wasn’t just me. No one could.

Just “error” messages.
I couldn’t update my status, post or “like” anything. I couldn’t like this funny meme:

kevin hart meme pic

These days, to exist in any full sense of the word, EVERYONE knows one must have an online presence. To know anything about or to interact in any meaningful way with the world, one must be on the internet.

I post, therefore I am.

The French philosopher Rene Descartes wanted to determine how can he be sure that he exists. Descartes concludes, since he is able to question his own existence, that he is, at the very least, a thinking being. A being that thinks, Descartes declares, exists. Descartes writes:

And as I observed that in the words I think, hence I am, there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to think it is necessary to exist…

If existence in the modern world is (necessarily) dependent on one’s ability to post one’s Facebook status, then I, at least for a day, did not exist.

It’s not just John Lennon who knows what it’s like to be dead.

 

Well, actually, neither do I. I spent the day checking my gmail.

 

…. and then there’s always tumblr.

 

 

 

 

 

Source:
Rene Descartes. Discourse On Method. 2004 [1641]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. p. 25.

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.

 

Contemplation, Philosopher Style

Aristotle wrote that the contemplative life is the best life so I thought I would do a little philosophy today.

That means I have to think. About something.

The problem is I think I’ve run out of things to think about. I needed some help/ so I asked a couple of people what philosophers think about. I didn’t ask too many people. I got discouraged.

They told me that philosophers think about nothing important. I was told that philosophers think about this:

belly button without the cat

And this:

 

big toe

 

Well…. I guess I’ll start there. With the navel gazing and the big toe. I guess once I get started some things to think about will pop up. Besides, I haven’t seriously contemplated my big toe in awhile.

Now that I’ve started thinking about my body parts, I wonder what deep, philosophical thing John Lennon was trying to think of when he made a nine minute film contemplating his own penis?

Must have been something really deep.

Perhaps it was Sartre’s bad faith? Or Gödel’s Incompleteness? Or even Marx’s materialist dialectic?

I guess we’ll never know.

No, I’m not posting that film.

But I will post this: