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

Miley Cyrus.

There. I said it.

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

miley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOTTA THANK EBAUM'S WORLD FOR THIS.

GOTTA THANK EBAUM’S WORLD FOR THIS.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lindsay lohan tmz

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

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

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

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

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

don draper smoking

PRETTY SEXY, EH?

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

Well, maybe I am condemning TMZ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noam Chomsky is 85 years old and counting…

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

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

Sources:

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

The LAST Philosopher on Earth

Sometimes celebrities say things.

About things that are entirely not about show business.

Occasionally they think they say something smart. Sometimes they don’t. I don’t bother to check anymore. I pretty much react the same way every everyone else does whenever a celebrity says something.

Roll eyes.

Shut up and play yer guitar.

Sometimes I hear so much of what celebrities have to say about things not at all about show business that I sometimes feel like I’m the last real philosopher on earth.

Stephen Baldwin is on Piers Morgan talking about God.

50 Cent is on Oprah talking about the meaning of life.

Angelina Jolie tells me what a good person is.

If it wasn’t for Madonna I wouldn’t know how to vote.

Celebrities are the modern philosophers.

Here’s some celebrity wisdom:

“The only rule is don‘t be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.”  Paris Hilton

“The greater your capacity to love, the greater your capacity to feel the pain.” Jennifer Aniston

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” Eminem

“Sexiness is a state of mind – a comfortable state of being. It’s about loving yourself in your most unlovable moments.” Halle Berry

“We’re all damaged in our own way. Nobody’s perfect. I think we are all somewhat screwy, every single one of us.” Johnny Depp

How many people know this quote

All_You_need_is_love_RGB_small_1

 

More than they know this quote:

PRsll Kant quote

 

 

I didn’t even have to show you a picture of the Beatles for you to know where the first quote came from.

You’re probably hearing the song in your head right now.

This is exactly my point. We know that the Beatles tell us all we need is love but we don’t know that Bertrand Russell said this:

There will still be things that machines cannot do. They will not produce great art of great literature or great philosophy; they will not be able to discover the secret springs of happiness in the human heart; they will know nothing of love and friendship.

Or that Thomas Hobbes said this,

Love is a person’s idea about his/her needs in other person what you are attracted to.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-famous people. And I don’t mind that famous people have opinions or feel the need to share them with the public. Like I said, sometimes celebrities have something smart or wise to say.

It’s hit and miss just like with all of us.

There’s something wrong with a society that believes that being famous means entitles a person to deference that their opinions matter more than anyone else’s. That fame is an automatic qualified to speak about anything badge. I’m not so sure I should be taking sage advice from a person who got famous with a sex tape or whose opinions are deemed worthy of being preached  heard simply because that person is famous.

It’s easy to give a celebrity platform to speak on a TV show or in a magazine than to put some philosopher, thinker, social critic (or scientist or educator for that matter) on a TV show simply because we know who celebrities are. We recognize them without having to be told who they are. Everybody in the world knows who Lady Gaga is.* But how many people know the name Helene Cixous? Or Gregory Kavka? We know no one is going to tune in to see a Slavoj Žižek cultural analysis or watch Noam Chomsky’s criticism of American foreign policy on The Dr. Phil Show, but we’ll tune in to watch Matt Damon tell Charlie Rose why he’s disappointed with the Obama Administration.

At least people won’t be tuning in in the kind of numbers that networks want, anyway.

I’m sure Matt Damon is a smart guy, but was there not ONE political philosopher who’s available to talk about politics?

I mean, I’m a philosopher and I wouldn’t even watch Peter Singer chatting it up on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show.

I might DVR it, though.

 

…. yeah, while the DVR is recording I might try some yoga. I think I’ve become a little cynical.

 

 

NOTE:

* I know that not everyone is the world knows who Lady Gaga is.

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

 

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

I am not one of them.

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

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

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

Stuff like he shouldn’t have named a religious figure

And that Jesus wasn’t a philosopher.

Sure Jesus was.

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

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

That’s because he is, you know.

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

Despite my beliefs this is not how I spend Christmas

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

All philosophers. All atheists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what makes Jesus a philosopher, you ask?

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

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

Neither did Socrates.

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

Jesus the ethicist:

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

Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)

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

Jesus the metaphysician:

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

God is a spirit… (John 4:24)

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

Jesus the epistemologist:

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

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

Can Saul Kripke promise you that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

is more popular than this philosopher

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

and this philosopher writes about Jesus.

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

 

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

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

ENJOY A LITTLE CHRISTMAS MUSIC

 

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

Why the death of Gore Vidal is worse than you think

When people ask me what I do I often pause before I speak. I know that everyone thinks, but I always feel strange telling people that I’m a professional thinker. I find it hard to admit that I am a philosopher. Sometimes I think that people would rather hear that I’m on parole for armed robbery, sell kidnapped house pets to laboratories for medical research or run a Right-wing, anti-government militia group rather than to hear that I’ve made a career out of thinking.

Although given obvious factors it might be a little difficult convincing people that I’m a member of a Right-wing militia.

But now, I’m declaring this loudly and proudly: I like to think for a living. I am a philosopher.

Dare I call myself an intellectual.

I’m not trying to brag on myself or anything. I’m really not all that smart. I say this because we lost a brilliantly philosophical mind this year when Gore Vidal died.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

* If you haven’t read any of Gore Vidal’s stuff, I suggest that you stop reading this blog post right now and hustle your butt to a bookstore… or your could hustle your fingers to Amazon (or Wikipedia)… or better yet, just go to YouTube and type “Gore Vidal” in the search bar.

Don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post, though.

I suppose everyone has their first time stories about everything (get your mind out of the gutter!), and I certainly remember the first time I realized that there were people out there who liked to think.

Here’s what happened:

My radio had lost the signal from the local urban/hip-hop station I usually listened to every morning, and so I had to search the dial for something to listen to while I brushed my teeth (you see, there’s a Spanish radio station that has a signal that obliterates every other radio signal within a 1000 mile radius). It was the first time I had journeyed to the far left of the radio dial. That morning I stumbled on to Amy Goodman interviewing Gore Vidal on her radio show Democracy Now!.  This discovery was pretty amazing to me. I was convinced that the only people who got on TV or the radio had to be on MTV or on the cover of People magazine or good-looking — they certainly weren’t old or thought deep thinkers like Gore Vidal. And none of the people on MTV seemed to have a clue who Gore Vidal was.

Maybe Chris Hardwick did. He studied philosophy at UCLA.

You don’t have to think too hard to know that there’s something wrong with this. There was a time, long ago, in a galaxy far, far, away when people (called public intellectuals) did appear on daytime television.

This is a picture of the philosopher/logician Bertrand Russell being interviewed on British television in 1959

 

This is a picture of Barbara Walters interviewing the Kardashians in 2012. Need I remind you that Barbara Walters is an award winning journalist.

 

With a mainstream media that would rather cover celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Dina Lohan than to interview public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Peter van Inwagen, to say that the quality of participants the public discourse has declined is a bit of an understatement. Here is television host Bill Maher on why Americans are stupid:

The public complains that the American people are “stupid” and “uninformed”, yet we state that this is so knowing full well that an informed public requires an informed leadership.

Listen: Our Founding Father and 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, knew that a successfully democratic government requires an informed public. Jefferson wrote, “. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…” and “that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment. ” Of course, in Jefferson’s time the town crier shouted the day’s news in the streets — but the fact that no one physically stands in the public square does not mean that the public square is vacant, nor does it mean that the public does not need to be informed.

We tend to think that we have a choice between two extremes: brains or looks.* Ask anyone which they prefer. If you’re not anywhere near a philosophy class, the answer you’re sure to get is that people, on whole, prefer looks. In our celebrity-driven age, the choice is amplified: being smart is well and good, but what you really want is to be super hot. We aren’t shown people who are famous for being smart (or worse yet, intellectual). What we are shown is people who are famous for being famous or famous for their external qualities alone.

Valuing a person merely for one’s looks may be beneficial to the individual who is being valued for their looks, but it does nothing for the public as a whole. Being aware that Halle Berry is “super hot” does not enhance my capacity for rational thought. Nor does the fact that Channing Tatum has washboard abs make it any easier to understand modus ponens. The fact that intellectuals like Gore Vidal, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn are dying off after spending many years not on network television makes the fact that professional thinkers are no longer welcome invited even worse — once our aging public intellectuals are dead they will be replaced by Snooki, the Richards sisters from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and girls from The Bad Girls’ Club.

I’m going to guess right now that unless the topic of conversation is getting drunk or fighting, the level of intellectual thought won’t be very high.

I mean, really. For Pete’s sakes people, Noam Chomsky is 83 years old for goodness sakes! He hasn’t much time left!

Get that man on Watch What Happens Live right now!

 

* Ok, I’m not suggesting that a person cannot be both hot and intelligent. These qualities are not mutually exclusive. What I am saying, however, is that as a culture, we tend to value one quality over the other; which explains why a fellow like Bertrand Russell would not be chosen as one of Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People, and why the Kardashian family was.