WHY I COULD NEVER CUT IT AS A VULCAN

AS MUCH I ENJOY philosophy, there is one thing in philosophy that I truly hate: Logic.

I’m not talking about the kind of logic someone is talking about when they say that eating a hot dog without ketchup is the only logical way to eat a hot dog or when we say washing your hands after using the restroom is “logical”.

One “logical” act is just a matter of taste and the other is what any human being even the least bit concerned with being sanitary would do.

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WELL… AT LEAST SHE’S WASHING SOMETHING

There are plenty of things we say are “logic” or “logical” that aren’t logic or logical at all.

I’m talking about the kind of logic that philosophers do. Philosophical logic.

I hate THAT logic.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that logic is the bane of my existence. I’m not good at logic.

At all.

I flunked logic.

But they still gave me a degree in philosophy.

Remember kids: bullshit is better than logic.

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Despite my utter failure at all things logic, I still look for ways to use philosophy in my daily life while avoiding logic.
Which is a fairly easy thing to do on the internet, actually.

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However, instead of bringing me relief, my avoidance of logic has become somewhat of a problem for me.

You see, here in the U.S. philosophy is all about analytic philosophy.

The philosophy with all that LOGIC.

Our heroes are dudes like Frege, Carnap, Quine, and Russell.

Russell wanted to make philosophy more like math.

Something else I hate.

I. HATE. MATH.

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So you understand why sucking at logic can make things difficult when you’ve decided to take up writing philosophy as your somewhat full-time vocation.

Still… as much as I despise logic, I am more than well aware that logic is a necessary part of philosophy.

Logic is used to construct arguments.

Not the kind of arguments you have with bae.

angry-couple-arguing

Actually, I kinda suck at the other kind of arguments, too.

Oh no, couldn’t be arguments like that.

Nope. Philosophy is all about arguments that look like this:

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IN SOME PLACES, MAKING PEOPLE WORK DERIVATIONS LIKE THIS IS CONSIDERED TORTURE

So, lucky me. I went to college here in the U.S. where it‘s all about the Analytics and logic, and my reward for loving wisdom SO much was having to go to an ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY focused college and having to take logic classes.

Yeah. That’s pretty much what happened.

Yea…..

Philosophical logic is:

Logic (from the Greek “logos”, which has a variety of meanings including the word, thought, idea, argument, account, reason or principle) is the study of reasoning, or the study of the principles and criteria of valid inference and demonstration, it attempts to distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning.

Now, as a fan of philosophy it is almost required by law that I also like Star Trek.

Star Trek, Monty Python, and Woody Allen movies. Every philosopher is required to not merely like these things, but live by them. Required.

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WHAT 4 OUT OF 12 PHILOSOPHERS INNER PHILOSOPHER LOOKS LIKE

Doesn’t matter which incarnation of Star Trek: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine – even Enterprise.

Well, maybe not Enterprise.

oh-cool-star

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Any philosophical question can be answered by watching an episode of Star Trek.

That’s why I was initially so disappointed that one of the series’ most beloved characters, the Vulcan First Officer of the USS Enterprise (in the original series), Mr. Spock, was a devotee of logic.

Vulcans are all about logic.

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The Matron of Vulcan Philosophy, T’Plana-Hath, says:

Logic is the cement of our civilization with which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide.

Vulcan society is so devoted to logic that they purge themselves of emotions through a process called Kohlinar.

I swear that’s as far as I’m going to go with the Star Trek lingo.

Vulcans believe that they must purge their emotions so that their emotions don’t interfere with their ability to reason. The reason why is a complex story.

I’ll just say that it has to do with Vulcans being extremely violent and some guy named Surak.

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THIS IS SURAK. DON’T LET THE SMUG SMILE FOOL YOU. VULCANS DON’T HAVE EMOTIONS

Actually, Vulcans don’t so much purge their emotions as they learn to control them. Just in case anybody wants to call me on that.

Like I said, I suck at logic. And the thought that a TV show I was required to watch for my philosopher street cred included a character that was going to be a Carnap in space, made me want to ditch any philosopher cred I’d be awarded if I watched. I knew that every time I watched the show it would be a humiliation. I feared tuning in every week to watch some dude that I would find utterly incomprehensible. I’d have to face the fact that I had no place in philosophy. I knew that Mr. Spock would be just like my logic professor – he would speak in a language I couldn’t understand, even though he’d be delivering the dialogue in English.

Kind of like what happens when I read Bertrand Russell.

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Living as a Wookie would do me just fine, I told myself. I can get angry enough to rip a droid’s arm out of its socket.

But watching Star Trek, I feared, I’d have to face the chilling realization that I could never cut it as a Vulcan.

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So, despite my initial logic-induced trepidation, I watched the show.

I’m kinda glad that I did.

Because exactly what I feared would happen didn’t happen.

Listen: Vulcans claim that they’re all about living the logical life. The catch is, though, is that they weren’t really doing logic at all. At least not in the philosophical sense.

spock

Doing logic – actual philosophical logic – made me realize that Vulcans, at least
according to the Vulcan logic that Spock explained to Captain Kirk, isn’t… well… it ain’t logic. Spock’s famous admonition to Kirk, The Needs of the MANY outweigh the Needs of the FEW or the ONE, is positively utilitarian.

Anyone who has sat through a bull session of discussing ethical thought experiments knows utilitarian ethics can get us to some very unreasonable, dare we say, illogical outcomes.

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NOBODY NEEDS TO SAY THE WORDS “TROLLEY” OR “PROBLEM” TO KNOW THERE ARE PROBLEMS WITH UTILITARIANISM

 

There’s no doubt Vulcans are intellectual. Mr. Spock hands-down is the smartest member of the Enterprise crew.

And not just because he was accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy and Starfleet Academy.

But it seems that the high-minded Vulcan logic that Spock (and every other Vulcan) adheres to should be described as “this makes sense” or call it what it is, some utilitarian ethics with a dash of everybody kind of thinks this way.

Spock often mentions his inability to lie – IS LYING INHERENTLY ILLOGICAL?

Vulcans boast (and they do boast) that the cornerstone of their logic-based lifestyle freedom from emotions and the irrational nature of emotions leads species (including humans) into behaving illogically.

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According to Vulcan logic, emotion and rationality are presented as mutually exclusive; either you’re logical and emotionless or emotional and illogical.

First, Vulcans often are emotional. During the course of the original series and the six TOS (the original series) films, Spock occasionally displays emotion.

And don’t just blame that on the fact that Spock is half human.

Other Vulcans, including Spock’s betrothed, T’Pring, Spock’s half-brother Sybok, and the Vulcan on Voyager who had a bad case of Pon Farr were all emotional.

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GET THIS VULCAN A WOMAN, STAT!

And then there’s this thing: Irrational (or if you’re a Vulcan, illogical) behavior is based on how you act according to the information you’re working with, not necessarily upon your emotional state.

Contrary to what Vulcans believe, emotions are necessary for decision making.

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In neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s study of a patient “Elliot” (who lost part of his frontal cortex during tumor surgery) Damasio discovered that his patient’s intellect remained intact, however, Elliot had lost the capacity to experience emotion. Elliot was, Damasio described, “disengaged” from the world. The inability of Elliot’s brain to connect reason and emotion interfered with his capacity for decision making.

Damasio observed that patients like Elliot, people who had damage to their frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls emotions, were unable to make even simple decisions.

Imagine having to choose between two relatively equal choices: On one plate you are offered a grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread. On the other plate you are offered a grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with a slice of heirloom tomato. You like grilled chicken sandwiches with and without a slice of heirloom tomato. How do you choose which sandwich to eat? If you have emotions, you may choose by simply deciding that you don’t “feel” like eating a sandwich without a slice of tomato. But without the capacity to feel, you may be unable to decide which sandwich to eat.

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BOTH SANDWICHES LOOK SO TASTY. HOW CAN YOU DECIDE WHICH ONE TO EAT? WELL, FIRST — ASK YOURSELF, DO YOU HAVE EMOTIONS?

In an article in the Arizona State Law Journal, legal scholars Susan Barades and Jessica Salerno wrote:

Emotion helps us screen, organize and prioritize the information that bombards us… It influences what information we find salient, relevant, convincing or memorable.

I suppose it would be worth noting that I am a very emotional person.

And if I’m gonna toot my own horn here, I’m pretty good at making decisions.

Well, nine out of ten decisions.
I guess in the end, it’s ok if I’m not logically correct -according to Vulcans or to real philosophers. Sure, if I ever contact the Long Island Medium to channel the spirits of Godel or Quine, I might want to brush up on my derivations, but if and until then, I’ll still suck at logic, continue to enjoy watching Star Trek, and H.A.T.E. all arguments comprised of a set of premises supporting a logically inferred conclusion.
Besides… Vulcans aren’t really logical, anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_logic.html

phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/09/18/emotion-is-not-the-enemy-of-reason/

memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Logic

Ask A Vulcan Black Dude

You know something, if a lifetime spent as a pop culture connoisseur has taught me anything, I have learned this one thing: it’s amazing what one sees watching late night television.

A few years ago, comedian Dave Chappelle’s comedy show, the Chappelle’s Show, aired a segment called “Ask a Black Dude”. The general idea of the sketch was that average people would ask a black dude (comedian Paul Mooney) questions about black people. One person asked the black dude why black people like to smoke marijuana so much. Another guy asked can black guys jump high? Really, there wasn’t anything worth noting about the questions asked to the black dude, until one question, posed by horror writer Stephen King, was not only quite startling, but also opened the door for a moment of philosophical contemplation. The question Stephen King asked the black dude was this: do black people prefer to be buried by black undertakers and prefer to go to black dentists?

I’m not making this up. Watch Chappelle’s Show, season 1, episode 7.

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/g25b0b/chappelle-s-show-ask-a-black-dude—dentists—uncensored

 

Now, I’m not a person who is easily startled, but Stephen King’s question was without doubt the most WTF-inducing query ever asked on basic cable television. Although one could spend hours probing the possible philosophical subtext of Stephen King’s easily-construed-as-quasi-racist question, however, Stephen King’s question wasn’t as philosophically interesting as Paul Mooney’s response. Paul Mooney’s answer was this: “What’s the difference when you’re dead? They don’t care who buries you… if they can fix the teeth, cool. If they can’t, that’s cool, too.”

Whoa, did you get that?

If you didn’t, put on your philosopher’s thinking caps and read it again.

If someone asked me to describe Paul Mooney’s response to Stephen King’s question on only one word the word I would say is “indifference”. That is, Paul Mooney appears to be indifferent to the race of his dentist so long as his dentist is skilled enough to fix one’s teeth. For those of you who are familiar with philosopher’s jargon, the word “indifference” should be setting off fireworks in your heads right now. And as I watched the Chappelle’s Show sketch, I thought there’s one type of philosopher for whom indifference is a way of life.

So naturally, my immediate question was Is Paul Mooney a stoic philosopher?

The answer to my question is “possibly”.

Generally when we think of stoics, the first image that often comes to mind is the popular iconic image of the stoic as the strong, silent type; the unflappable hero with the Easter Island statue façade. We’re all familiar with this type of guy: he (and it almost always is a he) is a movie gunslinger like John Wayne, Gary Cooper in High Noon, or Clint Eastwood’s famous “man with no name”.

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF EASTER ISLAND HEADS

 

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF GARY COOPER

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF GARY COOPER

In literature, the stoic is embodied by characters like Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Shakespeare’s Brutus in Julius Caesar, or hard-boiled detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

 

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF HUMPHREY BOGART AS SAM SPADE

THE UNEMOTIONAL, STEEL-JAWED STOICISM OF HUMPHREY BOGART AS SAM SPADE

 

On stage, you’ll find stoical characters like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. And if you’ve watched enough TV, you’re more than well acquainted with Star Trek’s resident stoic, the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Vulcan First Officer, Mr. Spock, played by the late Leonard Nimoy.

 

n' prosper

Although it is quite possible to learn the basics of stoicism from watching an all-day marathon of Star Trek, but as I was reminded by a Facebook friend, one should never watch Star Trek as a substitute for reading the real thing.

Thank you, Jean-Louis.

 

AS THE EXPRESSION ON THIS CAT’S FACE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES, WATCHING STAR TREK IS NEARLY AS FUN AS ACTUALLY READING STOIC PHILOSOPHY

AS THE EXPRESSION ON THIS CAT’S FACE CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES, WATCHING STAR TREK IS NEARLY AS FUN AS ACTUALLY READING STOIC PHILOSOPHY

How about a little about what stoicism really is:

Ask a philosopher, and he’ll tell you that stoicism originated in ancient Greece about 300 B.C.E. courtesy of the philosopher Zeno of Citium (Fun Fact: Stoicism derives its name from the Greek word stoa meaning “porch” where Zeno taught in ancient Greece).

 

 THIS IS ZENO OF CITUIM (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ZENO OF ELEA)

THIS IS ZENO OF CITUIM (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ZENO OF ELEA)

 

Zeno’s question, like all other philosophers, was how do we live a good life? The stoics believed that there is an order to the universe and that our lives are better when we act in harmony with nature. Zeno wrote,

All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.

Here’s the thing: the stoics not only believed that our lives are better when we act according to Nature, but that our lives are, in actuality, controlled by an indifferent universe.

 

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN INDIFFERENT UNIVERSE

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN INDIFFERENT UNIVERSE

What this means is that we can’t control what happens to us. The stoic says that the unpleasant reality about life is that sometimes good things happen to us (and that’s great), but sometimes bad things happen and that is, as the say, the way the cookie crumbles. In the end, we have as much control over what happens to us as we would if we were to stand on a shoreline and attempt to control the waves in the sea.

Did you know stoicism has its own emblem?

 

THIS IS THE EMBLEM FOR STOICISM... PRETTY NEAT, HUH?

THIS IS THE EMBLEM FOR STOICISM… PRETTY NEAT, HUH?

 

The stoics believed we can’t control what happens to us in the physical world, but we can control what happens internally – how we think and react towards what happens to us. The stoics believed that stoicism helps us to deal with the things we can’t control.

In a nutshell, stoicism is what we might call a philosophical coping mechanism.**

Stoics claim that the greatest impediment to living a good life is that we tend to get all wrapped up in all sorts of emotions that make us angry and very unhappy. Epictetus said,

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things
which are beyond the power of our will.

According to the stoic, we have more important obligations and duties to attend to than fret over things that we cannot control or ultimately do not matter. Instead of living a life of emotional turmoil, troubling ourselves with our inability to cope with life’s situations, we’re to be indifferent and unbiased; to learn to cope with whatever comes. Once we learn to rid ourselves of our inappropriate emotional responses we can be happy. The Roman emperor and stoic, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.), wrote in Meditations,

 

When thou has been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed in a manner, quickly return to thyself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts; for thou wilt have more mastery over the harmony by continually recurring to it.

If you want a contemporary example of a mastery of stoicism, one need only to watch Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Tyler Durden does not care if Jack’s apartment is blown up, or if he hurts the feelings of Jack’s would-be girlfriend, Marla Singer, or if civilization is destroyed for the sake of Project Mayhem. The reason why Tyler Durden acts the way that he does is because these things, in the grand scale of things, do not matter. Jack describes Tyler Durden as someone who “lets those things that do not matter truly slide.”

 

You-Do-Not-Talk-About-Fight-Club
Oops. Sorry Sir.

The stoics believed practicing stoicism leads to a virtuous character. According to the stoics, the man who has developed a virtuous character and mastered the ability to control his emotions and be free of his passions is a stoic sage.

 

…p.s. If you’re thinking that the main goal of stoicism sounds a lot like Aristotle’s idea of eudemonia, you’ve earned ten extra points. Good job!

 

good job

 

Remember how I mentioned watching Star Trek awhile back?

 

 

Although there are many famous fictional stoics to choose from (ok, there are a few) , undoubtedly the first name that comes to mind is Mr. Spock. It goes without saying that Mr. Spock is popular culture’s most famous fictional stoic.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the origins of Mr. Spock’s emotionless demeanor, here’s a quick lesson in the origin of Vulcan stoicism:

Long before the Vulcans adopted the tradition of ritualistically purging their emotions ( a process called “Kolinahr”), Vulcans were once emotional as humans (and their cousins the Romulans), however, unlike humans, who can occasionally exert control over emotions, ancient Vulcans were ruled by their emotions. Vulcans were quick to anger, paranoid, and violent. The Vulcan race was on the brink of self-destruction until the great Vulcan philosopher Surak observed that Vulcans were sure to destroy themselves if they maintained an emotion-dominated existence.

Surak’s philosophy urged Vulcans to purge themselves of their emotions and devote their lives to logic. Like the stoics of ancient Greece, Surak convinced the inhabitants of the planet Vulcan that life is best lived when one’s actions are ruled by reason or logic.

 

If you’re curious to know what kind of philosophizing Surak did, an example of the philosophical teachings of Surak, is something like this: “Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear”. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock warns the Enterprise’s resident hot headed sawbones and occasional adversary, Dr. “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), “You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.” That sounds a little like stoicism, doesn’t it?

If you’re curious to know what kind of philosophizing Surak did, an example of the philosophical teachings of Surak, is something like this: “Cast out fear. There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear”. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock warns the Enterprise’s resident hot headed sawbones and occasional adversary, Dr. “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), “You must learn to govern your passions; they will be your undoing.” That sounds a little like stoicism, doesn’t it?

 

Vulcan stoicism adheres to the philosophy that once a Vulcan has purged his or her emotions and lives according to logic, a Vulcan possesses clear judgment and behaves correctly. The Vulcan statement on Logic is: “Logic is the cement of our civilization with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide.” Vulcans believe,

The highest objective of a traditional Vulcan life is to either control or suppress all emotion, thus rendering a purely logical being.

 

It sounds like Surak’s Vulcan stoicism has hit the stoic philosophy of Zeno on the head.
Vulcans accurately capture Zeno’s sentiment that using one’s reason is preferable to relying on one’s emotions, and that uncontrolled emotions can be very destructive not only to individuals, but to society as well. It’s not surprising, then, that for many fans of pop culture, the answer to the question Where would I find a stoic character on TV? , the answer is “Go watch Mr. Spock”.

 

spock approves

 

Ok, now we have our example of a stoic, let’s all take a break, grab some popcorn, and watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek, shall we?
eating MJ's popcorn

 

Hold on a moment; let’s not jump the gun too fast, there. We shouldn’t declare the Vulcans stoics just yet. A stoic and a Vulcan might agree that emotions are our problem but Surak and Zeno would disagree on one major philosophical point: namely, the stoics did not argue that the emotions needed to be extinguished, as Surak’s Vulcan philosophy dictates, but that we should accept what happens to us without letting our emotions control us and interfere with our ability to reason.

For the stoic, the solution to the matter is not the denial of emotions but indifference to circumstances we cannot control. The fact that a Vulcan lacks emotions does not make Mr. Spock a stoic.
Although being emotionless makes a Vulcan a bit of a weirdo.

 

SPOCK IS TOTALLY WEIRD, MAN

SPOCK IS TOTALLY WEIRD, MAN

 FUN FACT: Another famous sci-fi stoic is the Star Wars saga’s Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda is a prime example of a stoic sage: Yoda has emotions but is not ruled by them. He possesses wisdom and virtue. Yoda also warns young Anakin Skywalker (In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace) to keep control over his emotions. Yoda’s oft quoted admonition to young Skywalker is a prime example of Yoda‘s stoic philosophy, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.”

 

YEAH. I WENT THERE

YEAH. I WENT THERE

 

We’ve already established that the stoic says that the purpose of his philosophy is to help him to deal with the things that he can’t control and that life is better when we live in harmony with the universe. Furthermore, the stoic tells us if we let our emotions control what we do we are disturbing that balance and cannot be at peace. But if the Vulcans are getting stoicism all wrong, just how is a stoic supposed act?

 

fake stoic

 

We shouldn’t think that the fact that the stoic lives according to the will of the cosmos necessarily means that a stoic does nothing when something bad happens. It’s just when something bad does happen, a stoic does not allow his emotions dictate his actions. A stoic acts when he can act. Yielding our fates to the will of the heavens does not negate our responsibility to act when the situation requires our involvement. Ultimately, the goal for a stoic is peace, happiness, and acting in harmony with nature. That means if getting involved is required, that’s ok. But if our action is not required, that’s ok, too.

 

SPOCK COULD HAVE ACCEPTED THIS PUNK’S LOUD MUSIC AND DONE NOTHING TO STOP IT JUST AS EASILY AS HE COULD DO SOMETHING TO BRING PEACE AND QUIET TO THE BUS AND ITS PASSENGERS

SPOCK COULD HAVE ACCEPTED THIS PUNK’S LOUD MUSIC AND DONE NOTHING TO STOP IT JUST AS EASILY AS HE COULD DO SOMETHING TO BRING PEACE AND QUIET TO THE BUS AND ITS PASSENGERS

 

Although Spock may not be a “real” stoic, it still sounds like stoicism ain’t so bad, right?

But, before you start your Kolinahr training, there are just a couple of small caveats to mention…

 

EVEN SPOCK DIDN’T FINISH HIS KOLINAHAR TRAINING

EVEN SPOCK DIDN’T FINISH HIS KOLINAHAR TRAINING

 

Although one can claim that stoicism sets us onto the path of life-long, philosophical happiness via the path of indifference, it’s almost guaranteed that if one goes around telling everybody not to worry about things and to just accept whatever happens, one is bound to be accused, not only of preaching a kind of out-of-touch version of Pollyanna-ism, but of preaching that the best kind of happiness is a state of apathy.

 

 THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN APATHETIC PHILOSOPHY

THE HUMAN REPRESENTATION OF AN APATHETIC PHILOSOPHY

 

This accusation isn’t too far-fetched. Stoicism does seem to suggest that a stoic is at peace because he simply could not care less about what happens to either himself or to anyone else.

Famous stoics, even TV stoics like Mr. Spock, don’t do much to debunk the belief that stoics are cold, callous, and unsympathetic. Given the fact that stoics believe that our lives are controlled by the cosmic forces of fate, it’s easy to criticize the stoic’s “whatever happens, happens” attitude for coming off as emotionally apathetic and more than somewhat fatalistic.

And fans of fatalism are absolutely no fun to be around.

 

debbie downer GIF

 

We may be inclined to give a stoically-inclined friend a pass on his stoic attitude if he’s a fan of The Big Lebowski, and committed to simply “abide” like The Dude, but the fact that one sees more than a hint of fatalism in stoic philosophy suggests that there may be a big something wrong with stoicism – it’s almost impossible to be an actual stoic.

Friedrich Nietzsche called stoicism a “fraud of words!”.

A word about apathy: You don’t have to be a fan or a friend of a fan of The Big Lebowski to come to the conclusion that practitioners of stoic lifestyle can come off as a little apathetic. Dr. “Bones” Mc Coy isn’t the only person who has ever accused a stoic of being an unfeeling hobgoblin. Certainly Jeff Lebowski and Mr. Spock do come off as if they really don’t care (Spock’s feelings towards his crewmates and Lebowski’s about his life in general). But before we officially tag all stoics as apathetic, it would do us some good to understand what apathy is — you see, apathy has both a philosophical and colloquial meaning. Our modern usage of the word “apathy” means an individual who is disengaged from the world and does not care about anything. To be apathetic is to be inactive, unresponsive, a philosophical nihilist. Stoic apathy (apatheia) which was practiced by the ancient stoics is defined as freedom from the passions. Apatheia is tranquility, peace of mind; eudemonia. A man who practices apatheia is indifferent to life’s circumstances, not apathetic. The difference between a stoic and man who is apathetic is a stoic changes what he can change and accepts what he cannot; a man who is apathetic doesn’t do a thing about anything.

Think about it; a stoic has to maintain his indifference-based stoicism in the face of a very emotional world.

Even Mr. Spock got emotional from time to time.

 

spock amok time GIF

 

When the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca was implicated in a plot to kill the Emperor Nero, Seneca was ordered to execute himself by slitting his own wrists. Facing a death sentence is hard enough, but having to perform one’s own execution might prove difficult. Most people, if ordered to commit suicide, would feel emotionally compelled to disobey the Emperor’s command. A stoic like Seneca, on the other hand, has to ignore the innate desire for self preservation, since, according to stoic philosophy, whether one lives or dies is unimportant.

You know what happened? Seneca actually slit his own wrists.

 

Honestly, you’ve got to be one hardcore mofo to maintain that kind of lifestyle.

 

Historical tidbit: Seneca did not die by slitting his wrists. Because the philosopher was old and in poor health, he failed to bleed out as expected. Seneca attempted to poison himself, but that failed as well. Finally, Seneca’s servants were ordered to fix him a warm salt bath (in hopes that the warm water would stimulate blood flow). The stoic philosopher was overcome by the bath’s fumes and asphyxiated. Seneca most likely complied with the order not just because he had to, but because his stoic beliefs Seneca held no philosophical (or psychological) qualms against committing suicide.

Historical tidbit: Seneca did not die by slitting his wrists. Because the philosopher was old and in poor health, he failed to bleed out as expected. Seneca attempted to poison himself, but that failed as well. Finally, Seneca’s servants were ordered to fix him a warm salt bath (in hopes that the warm water would stimulate blood flow). The stoic philosopher was overcome by the bath’s fumes and asphyxiated. Seneca most likely complied with the order not just because he had to, but because his stoic beliefs Seneca held no philosophical (or psychological) qualms against committing suicide.

 

Because it doesn’t matter to a stoic whether he lives or dies or for what reason he lives or dies, one can imagine Seneca telling his Roman accusers, “If I have to kill myself, that’s fine. If I live a long life and die later, cool. Either way works for me.” I suspect that since Seneca knew that there was nothing he could do to save himself, he must have told himself why not just go with the flow; as Bobby Mc Ferrin sang, “don‘t worry, be happy”. After all, we can’t prevent ourselves from dying. If our fate is decided by nature and a part of nature is to die, to go against nature will only make us unhappy. A stoic would tell us that if we must to choose between a death that we cannot prevent and a lifetime of unhappiness, the logical choice is to choose to be not-unhappy.

 

IN STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, A DYING SPOCK TELLS CAPTAIN KIRK NOT TO GRIEVE FOR HIS DEATH. BECAUSE SPOCK WAS GOING TO DIE AND THERE WAS NOTHING ANYONE COULD DO ABOUT IT. FRETTING ABOUT THE ENEVITABLE IS JUST WASTING ONE’S TIME AND ENERGY….. PLUS, SPOCK PROBABLY KNEW HE’D BE BACK IN THE NEXT SEQUEL

IN STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, A DYING SPOCK TELLS CAPTAIN KIRK NOT TO GRIEVE FOR HIS DEATH. BECAUSE SPOCK WAS GOING TO DIE AND THERE WAS NOTHING ANYONE COULD DO ABOUT IT. FRETTING ABOUT THE ENEVITABLE IS JUST WASTING ONE’S TIME AND ENERGY….. PLUS, SPOCK PROBABLY KNEW HE’D BE BACK IN THE NEXT SEQUEL

 

It’s worth noting that Seneca was likely not involved with the plot to kill Emperor Nero.
I suppose, now that I’ve thought about what Paul Mooney said about dentists and undertakers, is that Paul Mooney’s ambivalence towards the race of his dentist was in fact a stoic response to Stephen King’s (somewhat bizarre) question. Paul Mooney is right, at least stoically so, to say that it makes no difference what the race our dentist or undertaker is. Whatever factors determine a person’s qualifications to bury people or to fix teeth is beyond our control. A stoic would tell us that we shouldn’t get hung up over whether our dentist or undertaker is black, white, or Andorian. But rather we should focus on our own ability to discern a good dentist or undertaker from a bad one – since that is something we can control.

MAYBE IT DOES MATTER THAT MY DENTIST IS ANDORIAN. THEY’RE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

MAYBE IT DOES MATTER THAT MY DENTIST IS ANDORIAN. THEY’RE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

When Paul Mooney said, “If they [a dentist] can fix teeth cool, if they can’t that’s cool, too”, he wasn’t just talking about his indifference to a potential dentist’s skin color, but really, what Paul Mooney was laying down is a philosophy of life. That’s precisely what the stoics were up to when they sat around on the stoa and figured out that life is better when we devote our lives to reason and let what does not matter slide.

 

penguin slide

 
One need not be a Vulcan to figure that one out.

If you were going to ask a black dude it would have to be a black dude like this:
tuvok

 

‘Cause he’s a Vulcan.  And, well, you know…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.winwisdom.com/quotes/author/zeno-of-citium.aspx.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. 2003 [Originally published 1909]. Trans. George Long, M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Publishing, Inc. p. 44.

William O. Stephens. “Stoicism in the Stars: Yoda, the Emperor, and the Force”. Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine. 2005. Eds. Kevin S. Decker & Jason T. Eberl. Chicago: Open Court Press. p. 20-1.

Quote on Vulcan philosophy: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Vulcan_philosophy.

Info on Vulcans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan_ (Star_Trek).

Vulcan philosophy quotes: http://www.stogeek.com/wiki/Philosophy_and_Teachings_of_Surak.

Apatheia quote: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheia.

 

 

 

* In real life, former POW and 1992 Reform Party VP nominee, Admiral James Stockdale (1923-2005), used the stoic philosophy of Epictetus during his imprisonment and torture in Vietnam.
**A bit about stoic virtue: The stoics believed that happiness should be based on reason, not pleasure. A wise man does not devote his life to the pursuit of physical pleasure, but should prefer a life devoted to virtue and reason (like Aristotle, the stoics believed that virtue is important) because we are guaranteed happiness when we rely on our own virtue. And when we act virtuously, we always do the right thing. Zeno wrote, “It is in virtue that happiness consists, for virtue is the state of mind which tends to make the whole of life harmonious.” This is why the stoics thought they’d found the key to Happiness and a good life. No matter what happens around us, nothing that happens in the physical world can make us unhappy. So, the stoics say when an individual is virtuous, uses his reason, and is in harmony with nature, that individual is at peace. In other words, it’s all good.
*** You may have noticed that I have used the term “indifference” several times without defining what indifference means. The common definition of indifference is “a lack of interest or concern; unimportance”.

What Does God Want With A Starship?

It’s generally accepted among Star Trek fans that Star Trek V is the worst of the film series.

It’s subtitled The Final Frontier.

 

I suppose it’s because it was supposed to close the franchise. But apparently it was so bad they had to make a Star Trek VI.


With lots of quotes from Shakespeare.

 

Really, there are Shakespeare quotes and references all over that movie.

 

I’m not excluding myself from the general consensus regarding the cinematic quality of Star Trek V, but I don’t think it’s really that bad of a film. It’s really not even the worst Star Trek film (I put my money on Star Trek: Insurrection).

The movie had a good idea, something happened in the execution.

Some people blame the movie’s badness on William Shatner’s direction. I don’t. There are worse actor-directed movies out there.

The Brown Bunny comes to mind.

 

Damn Vincent Gallo.

 

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

NOT EVEN AN UNSIMULATED HEAD SCENE COULD HAVE SAVE THIS MOVIE FROM BEING A PIECE OF CRAP

 

The movie’s subtitle, The Final Frontier, suggests a pretty deep idea. When you’ve explored everywhere where no man has gone before, what else is there? Is there anything else?

What is the final frontier?

 

THE ANSWER: GOD

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier isn’t the first film to ask the God question.

How God gives our lives meaning. How the power of God vanquishes Pazuzu. How God will switch places with an average guy to let him see what God’s life is like. How you shouldn’t open up boxes filled with the power of God especially if you’re a Nazi.

 

GOD HATES NAZIS

GOD HATES NAZIS

 

Sometimes God is sought out. Sometimes The Almighty kind of pops up.

Most of the time in the movies, people are just trying to figure out what God’s plan is for us and the universe. Sometimes the question is about God himself. And sometimes, somebody asks, “what does God want with a starship?

Ok. Now it’s time to explain the plot.

 

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

SOMEBODY SHOULD ASK GOD WHY STARSHIPS DON’T HAVE SEAT BELTS

 

You see, the USS Enterprise’s first officer, Mr. Spock (that’s the pointy-eared, Vulcan dude with no emotions) has an older brother named Sybok.

Nobody knew of this guy until now.

The never-once-mentioned-before-even-in-episodes-that-take-place-on-Vulcan-like-“Amok Time” Sybok was banished from the planet Vulcan because he refused to get rid of his emotions (or something like that).

The movie was pretty bad. I didn’t pay exact attention to the never-existed-until-the-would-be-last-Star-Trek-film Sybok’s back story.

Come to think of it, I guess it worked out pretty good for Sybok to be banished since it probably saves his butt in the J.J. Abrams universe, too. Unless he was banished in time line Roddenberry after the time when Vulcan was destroyed in time line Abrams.

 

Ok. Now I’m off track.

 

Oh, yeah. Ok… so Sybok was banished from Vulcan because he refused to ditch his emotions and he had this crazy notion of this place called Sha Ka Ree.

According to whatever legend Sybok was in to, Sha Ka Ree is where God lives.

Could they rip off a word that sounds ANY closer to Shangri la?

Anyway…

 

Sybok, through some Vulcan mind trickery, manages to wrangle control of the Enterprise from Captain Kirk (of course!) and heads straight towards the edge of the universe.

Because of all the possible places in the universe where God could be, that’s where God would be.

Didn’t you know that?

So…. long story short (too late), when Kirk, Spock, Sybok, and Dr. McCoy arrive at Sha Ka Ree they find that the “God” Sybok has been amped up over enough to heist a Federation starship is a disembodied, big-headed, blue-faced dude, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Laurence Oliver in the original Clash of the Titans.

 

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

GUESS WHICH CHARACTER GOD IS GOING TO DESTROY FIRST. HINT: HE’S NEVER BEEN SEEN IN A STAR TREK MOVIE UNTIL NOW

 
Sybok discovers that “God” isn’t terribly interested in Sybok, God’s own status as the Almighty, or answering any of life’s big questions. Instead, “God” presents Sybok, et al. with a strange, if not ungodly request:

God wants the Enterprise.

Naturally, this is a problem…  For God.

 

You see, apparently God has never met Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

 

Captain Kirk, unwilling to give up his ship to anyone including God demands to know why an all-powerful God would want a starship.

 

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

why DOES Sir Laurence Oliver want a starship?

Captain Kirk’s failure to immediately acquiesce to God’s demands angers the Almighty. God not only refuses to tell Kirk’s why he wants a starship, He punishes Kirk for his insolence by  promptly striking Kirk in the chest with a lightning bolt.

Wait a minute. Maybe they’d found Emperor Palpatine.

 

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

DISEMBODIED HEAD? CHECK. BIG BLUE FACE? CHECK. SHOOTS LIGHTNING? CHECK.

 

Here’s the thing, though. Sybok might as well have found a Sith lord.

‘Cause he sure didn’t find God.

 

He would have had better luck finding God if he’d climbed Mt. Olympus.

 

Sybok didn’t find God at the edge of the universe, but Kirk’s question, “what does God want with a starship?” is a question that man has asked about God for centuries. Namely, if God is an all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, perfectly good being, why would God need anything from not-powerful people?

Why does God need our praise and worship? Why does He need blood sacrifices and monuments?

Why would God need $8 million from Oral Roberts under threat of taking Roberts “home” to Heaven if he failed to deliver the money?

We can’t do anything near what the power of God can do. Men cannot create planets or life from dust. We can’t will anything into existence. God can create anything.* God has the power to be in all places at one time.

Which is exactly why Captain Kirk asks the “God” of Sha Ka Ree why he needs a starship.

Of course, we know that Kirk isn’t looking from an answer from “God”. What Kirk is doing is challenging the claim that the blue-faced, Sith lightning bolt-throwing, creature of Sha Ka Ree is God at all. You see, Captain James Tiberius Kirk does not believe that God exists.

You don’t have to watch all five television incarnations and all 12 feature-length Star Trek films to figure out that Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train in space” is a godless universe. Captain Kirk’s universe operates more by the dictates of Darwin than by Deuteronomy.

Philosophically speaking, the Star Trek universe is grounded on the principles of humanism.

Humanism is the 14th-15th century philosophical movement that emphasized the capacity of human rationality and the inherent worth of individuals without reliance on Christian teachings.

Roddenberry’s vision of the future is a universe where testable science and reason is preferred to superstition and religious faith. Throughout the Star Trek franchise science triumphs over religion. In Roddenberry’s future, science answers all of life’s big questions. Hunger, war, sexism, racism, even the common cold, have been done away with through reason and science.

The Star Trek universe is a place where sectarian-driven conflicts have been replaced by a secular peace. Where star dates have replaced our traditional Christian-based B.C./A.D. calendar.

God is no longer necessary as either the cause of cure for human progress or suffering.

In the Star Trek (TOS) episode “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, the crew of the Enterprise dispatch with a “God” by refusing to believe in him. The god simply fades away. Just as God has faded away from Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Check out what Enterprise-D captain, Jean-Luc Picard, has to say about religion:

 

 

 

The fight against irrational religious belief and superstition plays a part in more than a few episodes of Star Trek:  “The Apple”, “Catspaw”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The Paradise Syndrome”, “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Chase”, and “Who Mourns For Adonias?”, to name a few.
The Star Trek preference of the secular over religion is best articulated by Bertrand Russell in his essay, “Why I Am Not A Christian”. Russell writes that religion:

… inflicts all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in he world… Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all of your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing fear of the mysteries, fear of defeat, fear of death.

 

Fear is exactly what the “God” of Sha Ka Ree wants Kirk, Sybok, etc. to feel.

 

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP

HELLO. THIS IS GOD. I WANT YOU TO GIVE ME YOUR STARSHIP


And this is how Kirk knows that “God” is a complete fraud.

 

He knows this god, let alone any god, isn’t a real deity.

As a secular humanist, Kirk doesn’t (won’t) grant the “God” of Sha Ka Ree an ounce of legitimacy; especially legitimacy to any creature that issues senseless demands enforced with fear and lightning bolts. So Kirk refuses to believe “God” is God.

Any real God wouldn’t punishment someone for asking a simple question.

Science and reason don’t punish people for being curious.

Obsolete gods do.

So, the “God” of Sha Ka Ree loses his power.

That’s not really all that bad though. God isn’t really what the movie was about, anyway.

 

logical spock

 

 

What Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is about is what every Star Trek show, novel, comic book, cartoon or movie is about: us. It’s not God or even the universe that is the final frontier. The final frontier is people. It’s man himself that is the universe’s greatest mystery. Sha Ka Ree did not reveal God to Sybok.

However, what Sha Ka Ree did reveal was Sybok.

Sybok was arrogant, sinister, and dangerous. His intent wasn’t to find God but to accumulate more power for himself; more like Jim Jones than John the Baptist.

Sybok may have thought, or rather, fooled himself into thinking that he was going to solve the mystery of God. But as things in the Star Trek universe go, Sybok was nothing more than a standard sci-fi villain.

Unfortunately, even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I know this statement is quite controversial. It seems that it’s not entirely true that God can create or do “anything”. God is unable to create any universe that he does not exist, grossly violate the laws of nature, interfere with human free will, or manifest contradictions (such as a round square) or create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Bertrand Russell. “Why I’m Not A Christian”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Dennon. NY: Touchstone. p 596.