On the One Benefit of Never Having Learned How to Play A Musical Instrument

Music is the answer to the mystery of life.
– Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Lately, I’ve gotten into this thing of watching documentaries.

I’m not saying this to sound smart or anything. I’m certainly not bragging about it.

Truth be told, I’m not too keen on indie cinema or documentaries. Any documentary I’ve ever watched I saw on cable television.

So I’m really not as much of a fan of documentaries as I am a fan of cable TV.

Thank goodness for Time Warner Cable.

I hate to have to admit that.

should not have told you that

I know that when a person says that they like documentaries, the immediate mental picture that comes to mind is of some pompous ass who only drinks fair-trade coffee, can determine the quality of wine from its smell, and tells people that they watch documentaries only so they can pontificate about how the only important cinema is based on true life.

I assure you I am not one of those people.

Well, I don’t watch the documentaries that air on the Sundance Channel. I watch the ones that air on HBO. The ones that come on late at night.

The ones that have Taxicab Confessions or Real Sex in the title.

I especially enjoy the documentaries they play on VH-1.

Because I find VH-1’s Behind the Music on Lynyrd Skynyrd more compelling than March of the Penguins.

That one VH-1 aired about Soul Train changed my life.

How can you not watch this and be changed for life?

Did I just admit that?

did i just say that GIF

Being a sucker for anything on VH-1 with the word “documentary” in the description, I decided to watch The Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City.



In the documentary, musicians like Grohl, Lee Ving, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Mick Fleetwood, and Trent Reznor talk about their passion for music.

There’s no denying that music plays a fairly important part in most of our lives, not just the lives of musicians. Many of us have arm chaired judged contestants on American Idol.



And even more of us are guilty of singing more-than-slightly-off-key renditions of popular songs in the shower.

a pocket full of sunshine

Although most of what philosophers write about music concerns itself with the ontology of music*, drawing the distinctions between art and music, the classification of high and low forms of music, and the role that music plays in the philosophical development of the individual, even philosophers appreciate a tune or two.

Nietzsche famously said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Philosophers, like the professional musicians in Dave Grohl’s documentary, also appreciate music as art.

And philosophy, like music, can be an art.

This looks like a fine place to drop a “That Look On Your Face When” meme.

that look

I know this all seems rather unbelievable.

Not because there are no artists anymore.

But because no one is into philosophy.

You see, even though the media doesn’t make much ado about modern-day painters, poets, or sculptors, being an artist is a fairly legit occupation. Even if they don’t talk about you on TMZ, a person can still find a successful career writing poems, painting or sculpting. We still read the works of Shakespeare, marvel at the paintings of Rembrandt and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Students still study Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

It’s a safe bet that if you walked around the streets of any major city you would find at least one person who can name a modern-day painter or poet.

Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said about philosophy.

Sure, a few folks know about Aristotle and Socrates but how many people can name a philosopher who was born after the Titanic sank?

I know you philosophy majors can. You don’t count.

I blame TV and the movies.

When the television and the motion picture camera were invented philosophy went the way of the dodo.

philosophy's tombstone

What I mean, is that there are still writers and other artists. There are still romantic figures in the arts – modern-day Lord Byrons and Voltaires carry on the days of the troubadours. But they’re mostly in the arts that are meant to entertain. Our romantic artists are all actors or musicians. No one is ever celebrated for the art of creating a beautiful philosophical theory.
You can say your brain is an instrument, but who are we trying to kid?

Nobody ever sold out Madison Square Garden playing their brain.



And since I never learned how to play an instrument I’ve had plenty of time to think about these things….

I suppose that’s one benefit of never having learned how to play a musical instrument.

The problem isn’t just that philosophers aren’t very popular these days, thinking about things in general has gotten a bad rap.

There is something wrong with our ideology.

There’s something wrong with the basic principles upon which our culture is based.

You see, a growing number of Americans aren’t into reading anything. According to a Pew Center poll nearly a quarter of Americans did not read a single book in 2014.



It seems that the space where we communicate is getting smaller and smaller. So small in fact that we aren’t really required to read at all. Twitter limits us to 140 characters. Websites like Snapchat are purely visual.

There is no need to write anything.

And it’s not just that there are no words, but that the image we post disappears in a matter of minutes.

Think about it – what we communicate literally disappears.

poof 1

Even the visual image doesn’t last for very long.

I don’t know if it’s because we want to save trees or because the Illuminati has dumbed down the herd so they can imprison us in re-education death FEMA camps, but I contend that when people don’t read – when people stop studying the written word, there’s a problem.

Sure, you can learn from visuals. We’re all been able to put together a bookshelf by just looking at the diagram. But when a significant number of people (and growing) stop reading and society increasingly communicates via the visual image and the visual is temporary, how can we expect to sustain a culture that wants to read, analyze, and develop the kind of passion for the written word that some have for music?



You see, to truly develop the intellect, you need to read; to meditate on what you‘ve just read. If we don’t appreciate the written word, we lose the capacity to communicate complex ideas (like philosophy, for instance). Like the great works of literature, complex ideas can’t be communicated in just 140 characters. Complex ideas can’t be limited to just visuals. Much less one that self destructs in 90 seconds.
Look, I’m not calling for everyone to throw out their guitars and ditch their Twitter accounts because we should all study philosophy. Yeah, I write and blog about philosophy. But it’s not even deep philosophy. I write about how philosophical concepts relate to the things we see on TV, in movie theaters, read in books, hear in songs and see in our popular culture in general.
I know what I do is not as marketable as a fashion blog or a mommy blog. Or blogging recipes or posting pictures of my cat. I know anything I will ever post on the internet will never have as many views as Tyler Oakley. A philosopher will never be asked to host a late night talk show.

That’s because philosophers are lousy at stand-up.**



But dammit, this what I write. This is my passion. I think that reading and thinking about philosophy should be everyone else’s passion, too.

At least somewhat as much as some people love music.

Now that I think about it, Rush is pretty much that band, isn’t it?



So the question is, how do you get people to want to think about stuff like philosophy? How do you convince people that a career in philosophy can be just as rewarding as a career in the music industry?



Listen: some people worked long and hard to figure out how to get people to stop thinking. There must be some way to do the inverse. Plunking down books in front of people and making them read doesn’t work anymore. There’s nothing to be gained by being all smart and philosophical about everything.

Keep in mind when I say “nothing to be gained” I mean doing philosophy doesn’t make you a lot of money.



The average philosophy professor earns about $65,000/year.

Unless you work for California State University system (you’ll only make a measly $48,000/year).



Dave Grohl is worth $260 million.

dave grohl smiling


What’s worse is that we’ve been trained to think that only ugly and/or un-famous people think.

People who are decidedly un-rock star.


Seriously. Think about it for a minute. Studying and thinking about serious stuff is for ugly people. This is why, no matter what contributions this man has made to modern thought –



We wouldn’t buy him for one second doing something like this:

david lee roth GIF

That’s why folks like Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow are on MSNBC and not on Fashion Police.

Why you’ll never see Kate Upton at an APA convention.

Not to say that Rachel Maddow is unattractive. I don’t think she is.
And not to say that Kate Upton would never give a keynote speech to the American Philosophical Association.

But you get my point.

There has to be a way to convince people that thinking, dare we even say philosophizing about things is not only not just for the unattractive, but for everyone. That all of our lives will be a little better if we start critically thinking about things.

That being a philosopher is as sexy as being a musician.

sexy philosopher

Here’s something I think Dave Grohl and Socrates would agree on: There’s something about music that can make us think, that can motivate us in ways that other forms of art cannot. That’s why Kant made a distinction between high and low forms of music.

popstars y u no read kant

It’s why Socrates tells us that we must be careful of what kind of music we listen to.

good music vs. bad music

Of course, there is a dark side to encouraging all this philosophical thinking; to making philosophy sexier.
Our problem is this: If we want to encourage thinking about philosophy the same way we think about our favorite rock musician, philosophical thinking inevitably will be sexualized, thus counteracting the point of encouraging people to value our capacity to reason over mere physical attributes.

pig thoughts

Not to mention the incredible difficulty of convincing the intellectual elite that gaining sway over public perception and opinion means they’ll have to ditch their academic ivory towers for the low and gritty world of common public discourse.



The thing is, philosophy really is like music.

It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it
dancing philosophers

But seriously, tho.
Contemplating life’s “big questions” touches us deep in our souls in the same way we are moved by a good song by our favorite band. Philosophers and rock stars are equally known for coming off as arrogant.

One can easily imagine Hegel, who said philosophy “must not lower itself to the people” jumping into the crowd to quell one of the rowdy rabble like this:

I suppose people will eventually get to a point when they’ll collectively rise up and after so many years of intellectual abuse, change the way we think about things.

And that, my friends, is the one benefit of never having learned how to play a musical instrument.

It’s knowing that one day doing this

philosophy lecture

Will get you just as famous as doing this

dave grohl guitar

….. and your name won’t have to be Slavoj Zizek, either.

Alas, it remains a great deal more difficult to covey the passion or sex appeal of thinking critically.



A working knowledge of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is still a lot less sexy than playing a guitar and bedding groupies.

Wait – do philosophers have groupies?

Guitar solo!
* If you want to read one of those articles on the ontology of music read: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/

** a notable exception to the philosophers are lousy at stand-up rule may be Ricky Gervais, who has a degree in philosophy from University College London.




If you’re happy and you know it rattle your chains

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

I won’t explain it here. I don’t want it to get weird.

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

I watch MSNBC. I even watch on weekends. I suspect that whoever is in charge of weekend programming thinks no one is watching because they air the same shows practically every weekend. They show that Dominick Dunne show about people killing each other. A lot. I think I’ve seen the same one about the poor dude who marries the rich lady from Texas and then poisons her with arsenic-laced pills about a dozen times already.

Besides, Dominick Dunne has been dead for how many years now?

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it's time MSNBC change it's weekend line-up

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it’s time MSNBC change it’s weekend line-up


Anyway, in addition to showing the same episodes of that Dominick Dunne show (Really, MSNBC. Airing that show is getting a little creepy) the weekend programming staff seems to be fascinated by shows about sex slaves.

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

Next to illegal drugs and guns, human trafficking (especially for the purpose of prostitution) is big (illegal) international business. It’s estimated nearly 800,000 people, especially women and children, are globally trafficked a year.

I'm not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

I’m not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.


You Know, if you think about it, it’s not entirely shocking that modern slavery still exists given the fact that slaves and slavery (of some form or another) have been around since the birth of human civilization.

Slavery is not only a historical fact; it’s been tolerated (historically) in many cultures. Slaves traditionally were conquered people or people who owed money and were sold into slavery to work off debts. Ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and pre-Columbian Americans held slaves. Slavery is even mentioned in the Bible. Despite its prohibitions against such immoral acts such as witchcraft, mixing fabrics, eating shellfish, and making fun of bald men, the Bible does not prohibit slavery. Christian civilizations sometimes lessened slavery and occasionally slaves were liberated,  but neither Christian nor Islam (Mohammed urged that slaves should be treated well) did not end the practice of enslaving people.

By the way, the Bible does tell us how we should treat slaves (Leviticus 25:35-55).

Seriously though, according to the Bible making fun of a bald man may be a bad idea.

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.





Bears, man. Bears.


And now for the philosophy.

Like many folks in the ancient world, the Greek philosopher Aristotle does not object to slavery. Aristotle argues that just as nature produces philosophers (the highest men), nature also produces natural slaves. Some are designated from birth to rule while others are destined to be ruled. Aristotle states that in the household (which is the foundation of society) slavery is not only expedient, it’s right. The slave is (and should be) naturally inferior to the master. Slaves should not be Greeks but inferior people but barbarians, (who are natural slaves). In Politics, Aristotle writes:

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say:

“It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians”;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

The slave, says Aristotle, is a “living tool” and the master cannot be friends with his slaves (that’s because slaves are not full people like their masters). Aristotle states that slaves should not be educated as a superior person is educated (because they can‘t be, anyway). Slaves should be taught useful arts like cooking, cleaning, and how to care for livestock.

Although the ancient Greek philosophers inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it’s clear that there is no “all men are created equal” according to Aristotle.

(At this point it’s important to note that even though slavery has existed since people figured out that you can force other people to do hard work for you if you beat them, the criteria for who was fit (in Aristotle’s case naturally fit) for slavery is not racial in the same sense that we view race. The racial qualification for servitude (i.e. being African) wasn’t established until the mid-1400s when the enslavement of Africans was justified on the basis that Africans were an inferior race only fit for servitude).

With the pre-Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, and self-determination spread across Europe and the American colonies, some saw enslavement of Africans as contrary to those ideals and by the mid-1800s objections to slavery on the grounds that enslaving one’s fellow humans is morally wrong (namely because lifelong servitude causes suffering) grounded the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists saw slavery as a sham, a denial of human rights; and to force others to forfeit their God-given liberty is contrary to the American belief in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Slaves were miserable. They weren’t happy and presumably would be happier if they weren’t slaves.

That’s a fairly easy assumption to make about people who lived like this:

slaves in chains


The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed how the institution of slavery contradicted the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wrote:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham… your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy

A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages


Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”


The funny thing about slavery (if it’s even possible for anything to be funny about slavery) is that the America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom were certainly slave owners, believed that slavery was wrong. The late historian Howard Zinn writes that in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that King George III of England suppressed “every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain the execrable commerce”.

However, Zinn adds, Jefferson’s condemnation of the king was excised from the final draft of the Declaration by the Continental Congress.

The funny thing about the funny thing about slavery is although Jefferson believed that slavery is evil he still owned slaves. Jefferson, like his fellow Founders, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, believed slavery was an evil institution that was antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

Besides the fact that no one who has the opportunity to say no wants to pick cotton by hand.

I know I’m going to do a bit of stretching here. But play along with me.

We trace our ideals of freedom and liberty (at least as a politically guaranteed right) to the philosophy of John Locke (who, by the way, was heavily invested in the slave trade), but we also trace our idea of democracy to ancient Athens, a society that believed that not only is slavery morally permitted but a part of the natural order. Our idea of democracy isn’t just Lockean but also the ancient Platonic/Aristotelian view of the purpose and function of proper government.

I’m getting to my point. Bear with me. It’s gonna take a sec.

Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates) believed that the aim of government is the good of the whole. And Happiness (capital H) is a part of that good. The good, according to Aristotle, consists in acting virtuously, but also (as Socrates also believed) in performing according to one’s assigned role in society. The good of the community is inextricably tied to everyone doing what he (or she) is supposed to do. Society cannot function if people do not perform according to their characteristic function this is the only way a society can be harmonious. Aristotle writes:

But perhaps the reader thinks that though no one will dispute the statement that happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.

This will best be gained, I think, by asking. What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function or business to do, lies in that function, so man’s good would seem to lie in his function., if he has one.


So, when everyone is acting according to his/her characteristic function, we are not only acting for the good of the community, we are also Happy. We are unhappy when we don’t perform according to the role assigned to us by nature.

Aristotle says “thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”

Ok, Aristotle wants everybody to be happy. And we know that being a slave obviously makes one unhappy, so there’s no way we can justify having slaves, right?

Well, not entirely.

You see, when Aristotle wrote about happiness, he wasn’t exclusively writing about how we feel. He was writing about how we are that is, what kind of people we are. If we are virtuous, we are happy no matter what role we occupy in life. Aristotle calls this kind of Happiness eudemonia.

Aristotle writes that the good things that make us happy (wealth, pleasure, health, etc.) are second to a higher good. According to Aristotle, eudemonia consists in development of a virtuous soul.

And as we all know, Aristotle says when we act according to our characteristic function we are participating in virtuous activity.

This all has me wondering…

If it was believed that Africans were naturally fit for slavery is it possible that, despite the fact that slavery is brutal and is a denial of human freedom, that Jefferson believed that his slaves were happy?

At least in the philosophical sense?




If anyone objects to my argument, remember this is just a philosophical exercise (or thought experiment, if you will), not an actual treatise on slavery, its philosophical merits (if any), or Thomas Jefferson’s actual view on the emotional/philosophical state of his slaves. I’m more than certain that my ancestors would have thrown over philosophical happiness for freedom.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.” (pg. 233)  According to Aristotle, since a slave is not a full human being, a slave cannot be happy.

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!


1. Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1999. 1980. NY: Perennial Classics. 72, 182-3.

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 2004 [1893] . NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 10-11, 232, 233.

3. Aristotle. “Politics”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Pocket Aristotle. 1958, 1942. Ed. Justin D. Kaplan. NY: Pocket Books. 279.


On Justifying Anger as a Way of Life (Philosophically)

I think I watch too much cable network news.

It’s not just because I have a thing for Rachel Maddow.

I read somewhere that people who watch a lot of cable news tend to see the world as much more dangerous and threatening than it really is. I also read that regular cable news viewers tend to be fairly angry people.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ll confess I’m a fairly angry person.

That just might be a case of the chicken and the egg.

I mean, I might be an angry person without Fox News.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Most days I feel like this guy. Even when I‘m not watching TV.

Aside from the hypertension and occasional tension headache, being an angry person isn’t as bad as some tell me that it should be. In fact, I’d say so far as being a philosopher goes, being an angry person is a positive boon.

Schopenhauer seems like a pretty angry person.

Hegel probably wasn’t a ball of glad tidings, either.

And Nietzsche if he wasn’t an angry guy did a pretty good job of writing like one.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Yeah. This definitely looks like a guy who suffers from a persistent choleric disposition.

Being angry often gets a bad rap. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (3-65 CE) called anger “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”. We’re often told that anger isn’t a good thing. Anger is unproductive, even dangerous. Anger is frequently associated with irrationality and an inability to maintain self-control (and if you’re an irate driver who throws some lady’s bichon frisee into oncoming traffic, anger is the cause of “road rage”). We’re told that to feel anger is irrational and leads to rash actions and bad behavior.

And if you ask Master Yoda, hate and suffering.

So much of philosophy favors the intellect over emotions. There’s a good reason why this is so. Namely, when we feel intense emotions like anger, we tend to suspend our logical decision making. It’s not that philosophers think emotions are wrong or that we shouldn’t feel them (even Master Yoda doesn’t say that), philosophers believe that we should trust our rational judgment. When we trust our rational decision-making processes, philosophers say, we are more likely to act in a way that is productive and beneficial to everybody.

I think everyone will agree that using logic and reason is a good thing. But, sometimes rational judgments fail to give us the oomph we need to get something done. We can lay out all the rational arguments in the world but logic often leaves us without motivation.

If history is any kind of teacher, we know that two emotions get people going: fear and anger. Fear often works out pretty swell, but sometimes fear has unintended consequences.

Fear can be paralyzing.

Fearful people retreat.

Fearful people sometimes pick flight instead of fight.

Sometimes being angry is a good thing.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote anger is “inherent in our very frame and constitution.”

Being angry is just as natural as dandelions and Shetland ponies.

There’s plenty to get angry about: the media, politicians, TV political pundits, people who pollute the environment, corporate CEOs who give themselves pay raises while their companies go out of business (yes, Hostess, I‘m talking about you), conservatives, liberals, reality television., terrorists, broken shoe laces, anyone who drives a Toyota Prius, people who are famous because they’re famous…

So don’t feel bad for wanting to bludgeon that guy driving the silver Toyota Prius who cut you off on the freeway this morning. You were only fulfilling your inherent nature.

No, wait put down the baseball bat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everybody should be angry at everything, or that uncontrolled and indiscriminate anger is a good thing. I’m not advocating rage. Rage is destructive.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

No one wants you to get so angry that you end up here.

I am suggesting, however, that Seneca is incorrect. Anger is neither “hideous” nor “frenzied”, nor is angry people insane or consumed by a blinding emotion.

It’s possible to be reasonably angry.

Anger, if properly exercised, can be a constructive motivator to action.

Anger not only gets people riled up

anger motivates people to do things.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that anger isn’t a bad thing. According to Aristotle, anger is the mean between two extremes.



(for info on Aristote’s Golden Mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy))

If one lacks anger, he is apathetic. If an individual is too angry, one is filled with rage. Not enough anger, you’re “The Dude”; too much you’re the Incredible Hulk. The key to being properly angry Aristotle says is knowing when and why to get angry. Aristotle writes:

He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time…

Aristotle is no stoic. He doesn’t believe that angry people are crazy. Aristotle says, “Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish.”

Well, then. If Aristotle is right, there are a lot of no-too-foolish people out there.

Our problem isn’t that we’re angry; it’s that we haven’t channeled our anger into the desire to change things for the better; to master anger getting angry at the things we should be angry about; to get angry at the right things for the right reason to master the art of Aristotelian anger.

If you’re wondering what Aristotelian anger looks like, here’s something to get you started:


But hey, if I’m wrong. Don’t get angry at me.



Seneca thought angry people are insane. As a stoic philosopher, Seneca believed that any worry, fear, or anger we feel over situations beyond our control (e.g. someone else’s driving) is ultimately unproductive and disruptive to our philosophical well being. Stoics believed that life’s troubles (in particular) should be met with calmed indifference. Given this point of view, anyone who is angered over a seemingly trivial matter would seem out of one’s mind.

At this time, I am developing a theory of Angryism. Angryism is a theory based on the belief not only that most people spend a significant amount of time being angry, but that anger can be a proper basis of behavior.


1. David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2000, 2005 [1739]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bk. 3. Pt. 3. Sec. 7

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, MA. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 86-7.


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.


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

Thinkin’ about thinkin’

I’ve been watching too much TV. For someone of my age and level of education, I shouldn’t spend any time, let alone spend an entire day watching 27 DVR’d episodes of Tosh.0. I shouldn’t derive any pleasure whatsoever watching a little girl play with a dead squirrel, the cinnamon challenge or a kid splitting his taint with his skateboard. I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this. I tell myself I’ve been spending so much time on my back watching television – on my sofa, on my bed, even laying prone on my living room floor; that I’m in danger of becoming one of those people that sits so long in one place that I fuse to a piece of furniture and a rescue crew has to extract me from my house using a chainsaw and a forklift.

I’m a philosopher, I tell myself. I’m better than this.

But every night when I watch TV, I’m even more convinced that thinking philosophically isn’t as FUN as my college professors said it would be. Everybody on TV seems to be much happier once they stop doing all that terrible and emotionally upsetting philosophically-oriented thinking. This isn’t just my opinion. Modern science tells us that thinking is a prime cause of stress, and stress, as we all know leads to disease and early death. I’m no medical doctor but I think it’s safe to assume if thinking in general makes one’s life stressful, then thinking philosophically must be a highway straight to joining the choir invisible. Even if Socrates said that the point of philosophy (i.e. thinking) is to prepare us for death, I can say with confidence that I’m not planning on dying any time soon.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that the double rainbows guy didn’t read Plato, Nietzsche or Sartre to ask “What does this mean?” … All that guy did was look at a couple of rainbows.

After approximately fifteen minutes of contemplation, I decided to give up philosophical thinking. Watching reality television is better than contemplating reality. I concluded if I’m going to think about something other than philosophy, I’d think about the least philosophical things imaginable. This is what I thought about:

I’m pretty sure at one point in my life I’ve eaten dog.

Which is better: bikini or hipsters?

My inexplicable attraction to Rachel Maddow.

Painting my toenails pink.

Memory foam pillows aren’t better.

Kris Kardashian’s haircut

Dotting my “i”s with hearts when I write longhand.

Now, I could tell everyone and insist that a new philosophy-free lifestyle is intellectually and emotionally satisfying, but I’d be lying. Any philosophy professor philosopher will tell you, philosophy isn’t merely something that one does to impress other people or a bad habit that can be started or ended on a whim. Thinking philosophically is an innate part of who we are (Aristotle might call this one’s “telos”). I could avoid thinking philosophically no more than Plato would say a dog can stop participating in dogness or Holbach believed that we can violate the general causal principle (yes, I just dropped a couple of 50¢philosophy terms).

So what do I think about thinking philosophically now? Well… I realized that thinking about not thinking (philosophically) made me think that thinking is not overrated. There’s nothing wrong with watching too much TV or philosophically inappropriate with watching 13 ½ hours of Tosh.0.  I’m certain, despite my brief dalliance with not thinking, that I’ll be up to my usual navel gazing philosophical contemplation in no time. Now that I’m thinking about it, not thinking takes a fair amount of thinking, doesn’t it?

So if you don’t mind, I’m going back to do some “thinking” on my living room sofa.