I (don’t) spy with my little eye

I’M NOT ONE FOR taking long road trips, but I’ve been in a few cars and I know the kind of games people play when they’re on a long-distance trip.

Along with the classic (and often painful) driving game “slug bug”

 

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THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN A TIRE BLOW-OUT IS SEEING ONE OF THESE ON THE HIGHWAY

 

back seat passengers and drivers also play the guessing game “I spy with my little eye”.

If you’ve never played the game before, “I spy with my little eye” goes like this:

The “spy” says “I spy with my little eye”, and the other passengers have to guess what the “spy” is looking at.

FOR EXAMPLE: I spy with my little eye, something that looks like… Logan?

 

logan-battle-1

PHOTOSHOPPED? YES. BUT STRANGELY FUNNY

 

I’m not in a car right now, but I’m still looking around, spying with my little eye.

And I can tell you what I’m not seeing a lot of around here: philosophers.

I don’t see them anywhere.

 

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NOPE. NO PHILOSOPHERS HIDING UNDER THERE (mental note: philosophers are not monsters under my bed)

 

Now, before you tell me that Slavoj Žižek and Peter Singer are popular and are all over the inernet, or that Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are two of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, I’m gonna say this: can you name all the Kardashian/Jenner sisters?

Be honest, you can name all five of them, right?

Easy peasy, right?

 

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COME ON, YOU KNOW YOU CAN NAME ALL FIVE (AND THEIR MOM, KRIS)

 

Now, name five living popular philosophers.

Next to impossible, isn’t it?

Now ask someone who knows nothing about philosophy to name one living philosopher.

Now ask them to name the Kardashian/Jenner sisters.

Easy peasy, right?

Suddenly Žižek ain’t so popular, is he?

Seriously tho, where are the public intellectuals?

Why don’t I see them on t.v.?

And why aren’t philosophers leading the charge???

The question is rhetorical. I actually know why.

Listen: having gone through the trials and tribulations of getting a philosophy degree, I’ve come to understand a few things. To wit: American culture absolutely HATES intellectuals.

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The reason why we hate intellectuals is because when we think of intellectuals, we envision a smarty pants; the know-it-all, talks a bunch but doesn’t actually do anything, who lords his university degree over his perceived intellectual inferiors like a better-than-you, my-knowledge-is-ordained-by-god (with a small “g” because god with the big “G” doesn’t exist) cudgel.

We’ve all met that guy. We can admit he’s awful.

*Alright, I noticed that I’ve been using the words “he”, and “him”, and “that guy” to describe arrogant intellectuals. I know I should be using gendered pronouns equally (or just removing gender altogether), but let’s be honest here, have you encountered an arrogant intellectual who wasn’t a him?

Here’s another thing: when we talk about philosophers in the public sphere, it’s important that we understand that there are (at least) two different definitions of what a philosopher is: the academic philosopher and the pop philosopher.

Academic philosophers and pop philosophers are not the same thing.

Academic philosophy, to its own peril, looks down of anything that stinks of popularity.

lysol

This is a problem for academia in general.

I recall a conversation I had years ago with a former professor after I wrote my book.

Did I mention that I wrote a book?

Anyway, during the conversation with my former professor, I learned the harsh truth of writing about philosophy. You see, philosophy is an a-c-a-d-e-m-i-c topic − and writing about academic topics requires an advanced degree. I ain’t got an advanced degree.
Therefore, my book isn’t legit philosophy.

That kinda sucks.

My book is well researched. I have citations. At least some of my thoughts are original.
But in the end, I wasted devoted a year and a half of my life researching and writing a book that I would have had more success at philosophy doing Friedrich Nietzsche cosplay.

 

mustache

AND YOU THOUGHT I WAS JOKING ABOUT NIETZSCHE COSPLAY

 

Alas, without an advanced degree, I will never be a professional philosopher.

Professional (academic) philosophical writing is relegated to the realm of peer-reviewed journals, and the price of admission into that world is a PhD.

For a group of people who deal with how people think, this is a pretty stupid thing to do.

Shouldn’t the love of wisdom be for everybody?

In his essay Philosophy for Laymen, Bertrand Russell wrote:

even in the time that can easily be spared without injury to the learning of technical skills, philosophy can give certain things that will greatly increase the student’s value as a human being and as a citizen.

Russell believed that philosophy should be accessible, if only to help people to make their lives better.

Russell died in 1970.

In Russell’s absence, philosophy has taken a turn toward the (even more) technical, and unfortunately, the philosophical nomenclature isn’t easily understandable to those who aren’t academically trained.

That’s not by accident.

Some philosophers, like the late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (1899-1973), intentionally wrote in obscure and difficult-to-understand language to make their philosophy indecipherable to the average reader. For some philosophers, doing philosophy is a member’s only enterprise.

 

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DON’T WORRY, HOMER. YOU AIN’T SUPPOSED TO GET IT

 

In Strauss’ case, the members of his philosopher’s only club were his fellow University of Chicago-trained neo-conservatives.

In short, laymen philosophers need not apply.

The unfortunate, but intended result is, modern philosophers dwell nearly exclusively in the halls of academia. Academic philosophers don’t (or perhaps refuse to) engage with the public. Non-academic folks can’t understand academic philosophy (because they don’t have the technical training), so professional philosophers don’t bother teaching philosophy to people outside of the university.

The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle established the first professional philosopher-making factories, the Academy and the Lyceum (respectively), to produce academic philosophers and that’s exactly where modern-day philosophers intend to keep philosophers and philosophy!

Any philosophy written or discussed outside of the academy or by unsanctioned persons is “pop philosophy”.

Pop philosophy is trivial; pablum for philistines. pandering to the lowest common denominator.

You ever have a “philosophical” conversation about an episode of Star Trek?

Yep. Pop philosophy.

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BTW: lowest common denominator = you and me.

Academia, on the other hand, is the REAL THING.

Spend any time with an academic philosopher and you’ll realize academia’s contempt for pop philosophy.

If you want to be a legit philosopher, you gotta get published in a peer-reviewed academic philosophy journal. Publishing is not just a goal, it’s the goal. One is a real philosopher if and only if a group of experts (aka, other academic philosophers) certify that you’re also an expert.

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Philosophy has become the Cult of the Credential.

Unfortunately, with the absence of academic philosophers in the public discourse, we’ve seen the emergence of bro philosophers.

Bro philosophers, mind you. Not PhilosophyBro.

Public intellectual/philosophical conversation is dominated by so-called regular Joes who champion the intellect of the average man. Bro philosophy prides itself on its rejection of the advanced degrees and academic standards “required” for critical thought*. It rails against the arrogance and political correctness of academia.

 

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PICTURED: BRO PHILOSOPHER IN TRAINING

 

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, I encourage regular Joes and Janes doing philosophy.

That’s what this blog and my book are all about.

Did I mention that I wrote a book?

But why aren’t philosophers doing this? Why are philosophers not jumping in and doing philosophy with the bros?

Why is it that there is not one academic philosopher as popular as Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris?

Perhaps money, a life goal in the non-academic world, isn’t an acceptable goal for the professional, academic philosopher?

Maybe it really is all about the wisdom?

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The wise academic philosopher, Daniel Dennett, is estimated to be worth about 700,000 bucks.

The popular philosopher, Jordan Peterson is worth $16 million.

FUN FACT: If you’re curious, Peter Singer is worth an estimated $2 million.

A decent amount of dough for an academic philosopher, but still considerably less than Peterson.

Although I think it’s safe to assume that academic philosophers, like anyone else who enjoys having a roof over their head, food in the fridge, and electricity, appreciate a nice paycheck at the end of the week, I also suspect that the lack of academic philosophers in the public sphere is really rooted in the academic philosopher’s avoidance of the perception as pop philosophers, not a rejection of fortune.

Unfortunately, because academic philosophers reject the currency of pop philosophy (namely pop culture), philosophers don’t keep track of pop trends. That makes it difficult to drop justified true belief bombs on the Dr. Phil show — especially when you have no idea who Dr. Phil is.

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I remember when I was a student. I did not have the most culturally astute philosophy professors.

Of course, I’m not saying that every philosophy professor should have a favorite member of One Direction

If your favorite member isn’t Zayn you’re not even worth talking to.

 

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SERIOUSLY, IF ZAYN MALIK IS NOT YOUR FAVE, DON’T EVEN BOTHER TALKING TO ME

 

but an awareness of what’s going on outside of the university may help with things.

Things like communicating with people…who don’t know or care who Wittgenstein is.

Or, if only to prove that philosophy is still relevant to popular culture.

(so that your philosophy department isn’t shut down).

The lack of academic philosophers in the public sphere has left an opening for others, sometimes less qualified, to slip through.

Philosophy bros.

 

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PHILOSOPHY BROS

 

You see, there’s nothing wrong with laymen getting involved with philosophy. A slave can be just as wise as a devotee of Socrates. However, there’s a risk we take when we the make average Joe and Jane popular philosophers – sometimes average folks have no idea what in THE FUCK they’re talking about.

 

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EXACTY, DR. PHIL. EXACTLY

 

And as any of us who has ever sat in a classroom with a fellow philosophy student who has no CLUE what they were talking about can tell you, people who don’t think right about things can end up doing more harm than good.

 

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NOT GONNA SAY AYN RAND….AHHHGGGGHHH!!!!! I SAID IT

 

Although philosophy should be for everyone, it’s also useful to get advice from the experts
…at least sometimes.

Academic philosophers know the formal rules of philosophy. Because they’re trained in the academy, academic philosophers are familiar with the theories and how to think about the theories critically, and more importantly — how to think about and apply the theories correctly.

And yes, academic philosophers know the correct philosophical nomenclature to use.

That comes in handy when using words like “valid”, “argument”, “logically follows”, or “intuition”.

If you’re talking to a academic philosopher, these words might not mean what you think they mean.

inconceivable

If I want to discuss refrigerator repair, I’ll go to a refrigerator repairman. If I want to know about the correct application of utilitarian ethics in a trolley problem scenario, I’ll look to someone who studied utilitarian ethics.

Just like churches realized that they needed to appeal to the masses to retain power popularity, academic philosophy needs to get hip with the times. Academia needs to ditch the ivory tower and jump into the pop cultural cesspool that is Dr. Phil, Star Trek, and YouTube clickbait thumbnail reaction vids.

Philosophers have a responsibility to teach the people.

And the people watch The Big Bang Theory**.

I think Žižek would be great on that show.

 

 

*it might be worth noting that Plato and Aristotle didn’t have college degrees. But then, it’s also worth noting that at that time there were no academic degrees.
** The Big Bang Theory (CBS) is the highest rated network English-speaking tv show in the U.S.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://networthtimes.com/richest-actors/daniel-c-dennett-net-worth/
https://networthpost.com/net-worth/jordan-peterson-net-worth/
https://networthpost.com/net-worth/peter-singer-net-worth/
https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-lay-philosophy.html

On Overthinking While Watching Fox News

I don’t know if I’m a feminist.

I hear a lot of women these days say that they’re not. Some people say that’s because most young women these days don’t know what a feminist is.

I like to think I do.

Even though I believe that women are intellectually, emotionally, and often physically equal to men and that women shouldn’t be judged strictly on their perceived aesthetic worth; even though Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexuality”, I still hesitate to say that I‘m a feminist.

The philosopher Georg Hegel argued that women’s minds are not equipped to handle the “higher sciences” or philosophy, and wrote, “The difference between man and woman is as between animal and plant.”

I certainly do not agree with that.

I think I agree with the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said “It takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.

Maybe my hesitation has something to do with the fact that when someone says the word feminist, one’s mind immediately conjures up an image like this:

I’d like to think that most intellectually or philosophically inclined people (or at least people who think every once in awhile) are beyond thinking that women are only valuable as long as they look good and don’t speak. With all that higher thinking, you’d think that people who think would appreciate a person for their minds more than for their bodies.

I’d like to think smart people would be sapiosexuals.

Unfortunately, in the real world this is not the case.

This is Ken Jennings. He won 74 consecutive games on Jeopardy! If sapiosexuals ran the world this man would be People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Definition alert: Urban Dictionary defines sapiosexuality as: To become attracted to or sexually aroused by intelligence and its use.

Even among so-called “enlightened” types there is still the urge to conform to a societal approved standard of beauty. Spend a few hours watching cable news (this is what smart people watch instead of The Bad Girls’ Club) and you’ll see what I’m talking (or rather writing) about. Just look at the women moderating the intellectual debate. Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly, Courtney Friel, and Heather Childers weren’t hired because they look smart or even for their ability to engage in intellectual discourse they were hired because they’re blond babes who just happen to deliver your daily dose of things (i.e. news) you’re supposed to think about. Sure, these women can tell us all about the War on Terror, the debt ceiling, transvaginal probes or the latest suicide bombing in Afghanistan, but it’s easier to devote time to serious contemplation when the topics of intellectual discourse comes from someone who is valued purely for her aesthetic worth.

It’s not just that the anchors are basified; the so-called smart guests are also held to the same standard. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen Judith Butler discuss feminism (or any other philosophical topic, for that matter) on a talk show. Not only is there is a lack of unconventionally attractive feminine intellectuals, there’s no lack of name-calling, even among so-called smart people. And attacks on public intellectuals, particularly if the person is female, inevitably devolve to critiques on physical appearance. Feminists and other female intellectuals are often depicted as raging, loud-mouthed, shrewish, man-hating, “feminazis”, and that the only purpose of feminism, as Right-wing pundit Rush Limbaugh says, “was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” (here’s the link. Check it out for yourself: http://mediamatters.org/video/2005/08/16/the-truth-according-to-limbaugh-feminism-establ/133652) Even on the Left, you know, those folks who claim they’re smarter and more intellectually inclined than their Right-wing counterparts, non-fans of Fox News regular Ann Coulter, although she is not an unattractive woman, often deride Coulter, not only for her opinions, but for having a (perceived) masculine appearance. She’s often accused of being transgendered. Some of Ann’s non-fans call her “Man” Coulter.

I think you can see what all the fuss is about.

There is even a Facebook page called “Ann Coulter’s Adam’s Apple”.

Ok, I know. You’re saying Ann Coulter is not a public intellectual. Sorry to bust your bubble, you filthy liberal. The days of Bertrand Russell appearing on the Mike Douglas Show or Buckminster Fuller chatting it up with Dick Cavett are over. These days, Ms. Coulter is about as public intellectual as you can get or rather, will get.

And, let’s be honest, Rachel Maddow also has a pretty noticeable Adam’s apple.

Now, really. Is Rachel Maddow’s Adam’s apple that much smaller than Ann Coulter’s?

Of course, a woman’s aesthetic worth goes both ways: if a woman is valuable only for her physical appearance, even if she’s on Fox News, she’s not taken seriously. If she isn’t good looking she isn’t asked to talk at all.

Unless she’s on PBS. That’s where the really smart people go.

This explains why people laughed when Kim Kardashian was depicted reading a quantum physics book in a California tourism ad.

Pretty funny picture, huh?

I guess there’s a reason why I watching Fox News got me thinking about looks and stuff… and it’s not because I’m one of those dreadful feminazis Rush Limbaugh enjoys railing about on his radio show. It’s because as a philosopher, I want and I think we all deserve substance over style. If a woman’s opinion isn’t valued because she does or does not conform to a particular aesthetic standard, regardless of which side of the political aisle a woman sits, we’re doing ourselves an intellectual and (ultimately) a philosophical disservice.

When we don’t hear from those who have knowledge and wisdom to share with us, we don’t learn anything.

That might just be what feminism is all about.

Oh, look! The soapbox I’ve been standing on says “feminist” on the side.

I guess this feminist will step down now.

SOURCES:

1.  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sapiosexual

2. http://mediamatters.org/video/2005/08/16/the-truth-according-to-limbaugh-feminism-establ/133652

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.