(Don’t) Mark it FAB

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

It’s called Hey Grandude.

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THIS IS THE BOOK. 

The title is a play on “Hey, Jude”.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s remixed by Giles Martin.

Giles Martin is the son of the late George Martin.

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

The remix is pretty good.

You should all listen to it.

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

It’s not a song a lot of people like.

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

He called it Paul’s “granny music”.

Maybe the song sucked because Faul actually wrote it.

Paul is dead, folks.

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

28 IF….

Anyway…

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

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

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

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

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

….just like Jeffrey Grant did.

I freaking hate Jeffrey Grant.

God, there I go again.

So…..

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

I think he still does.

You gotta smoke a lot of weed to think that.

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

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

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

The song is shite.

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

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

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

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

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

You read that right. I said Platonic.

Yes. I’m gonna be talking about Plato.

Well, actually Socrates.

But it’s really Plato.

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

Because he writes as Socrates.

Well, actually as other people writing about Socrates.

Because Plato is Socrates.

Anyway

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

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

Just in case you felt like reading along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The right effect is we’re closer to TRUTH.

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

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

Because noble lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re born that way

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

Because we’re too dumb to rule ourselves.

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

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

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

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

That ain’t natural.

Mother Nature’s Son my ass.

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

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

Shits and giggles, I guess.

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

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

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

I mean, they kill people.

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

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

Oh god, I sound like the PMRC.

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

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

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

Socrates would not mark this song “fab”.

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

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

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

That might be a good thing.

Especially if you are — you were — John Lennon.

 

 

SOURCES:

Plato. Republic. 

ON BUNNIES, BAMBI, AND THE ETHICS OF NOT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL

EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.

Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF SICK S.O.B. PUTS SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN A KIDS MOVIE???

 

Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

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Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?

First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.

Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.

If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.

 

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YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT LIKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT INCLUDING THIS… IT’S THE LAW

 

Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.

Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.

To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato

If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?

Should we just omit the truth?

There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception

Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.

If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?

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Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.

After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.

And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.

The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”

Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.

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It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.

The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.

The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.

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The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.

There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.

So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?

Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.

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But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?

Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Disney)

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission

You Can’t Handle The (Post) Truth

WHEN YOU’RE A POLITICAL GEEK like I kind-of am, watching Sunday morning newstalk shows becomes something of a routine. The shows usually feature a regular who’s who of political pundits, experts, and media personalities.

A couple of Sundays ago, after some copious amount of channel surfing (I’m always torn between watching MSNBC or Fox News) I settled on watching Meet the Press, hosted by Chuck Todd.

 

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The subject of most of the show was the Republican presidential nomination race, in particular, candidate and guest, Donald Trump. After the interview concluded, the morning’s panel discussed the controversial real estate magnate-turned presidential hopeful, – especially allegations that Donald Trump has a curious relationship with the truth.

That is to say, some accuse Donald Trump of making statements that are factually inaccurate.
Other people just flat-out say that Donald Trump is a liar.

 

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Trump’s (alleged) lies include (but are not limited to): witnessing cheering Arabs/Muslims in New Jersey on 9/11, a retweet of bogus crime stats on black on white crime, and statements on Syrian refugees.

 

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SPOT THE LIE IN THIS TWEET

 

The Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco does not exist.

 

Chuck Todd and his panel observed that Donald trump seems to suffered no negative consequence for making things up. If anything, Trump’s popularity has held steady and even increased with every accusation that he’s stated a factual inaccuracy.

 

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The peculiarity of the enduring popularity of the Trump campaign, despite being called a liar, lead Meet the Press host Chuck Todd to ask: Are we living in a post truth society?
Now, the term “post-truth” is a term has been floating around for at least a decade.

 

“Post-Truth” is often used in reference to politics.

 

what if i told you

 

Which is entirely appropriate if discussing the Trump presidential campaign.

 

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In Ralph Keyes book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception In Contemporary Life (2004), Keyes describes the post-truth era as:

In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit.

 

Keyes also says in a post-truth era:

 

… a liar is “ethically challenged” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable.”

A quick survey of the modern American political landscape, and Keyes would seem to be spot-on in his observation, even in the more than a decade since he wrote The Post-Truth Era.

But as much as it is important to as if we live in a post-truth era, it is equally important to ask if we do live in a post-truth era, how did we get to a point where the truth is politically irrelevant?

 

Well, we can go the psychological route.

 

We might simply declare that politicians and political candidates who have a curious relationship with the truth are pathologically predisposed to being factually inaccurate.

 

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That would do us just fine. (For more info on the pathology of political candidates, see: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/the-startling-accuracy-of-referring-to-politicians-as-psychopaths/260517/  )

Ok. We all can agree that politicians lie. And that some politicians seem to have an easier time with non-truth telling than others. But why is it that lying -er, factual inaccuracy telling is so prevalent in society today?

We can blame cognitive dissonance.

Or say that we all have a bad case of confirmation bias.

 

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What if the reason isn’t psychological or political –

But philosophical?

 

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Since so much political post-truthing appeals to our emotions, we may ask, have the emotivists won?

 

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When we say that your truth is as valid as any other version of truth, are we declaring Ethical Relativism the cultural winner?
Has postmodernism, that rejects the notion of the existence of objective truth, taken hold of our politics?

 

Postmodernism, closely associated with French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, has notably permeated popular culture, but also, perhaps to the detriment of, politics. Postmodernism does not subscribe to the idea of universal truths. Truth, like reality, is subjective. You make your own truth.

 

That certainly sounds like someone we’ve all heard of, doesn’t it?

 

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You may noticed if we do a little philosophical zig instead of a psychological zag, we may find that the roots of the post-truth era may stretch as far back as the birth of philosophical thought.
Perhaps the reason why Donald Trump seems so loosely tied to the telling of truths rests in the possibility that a Trump presidency will be carried out in the mold of the Philosopher-King of Plato’s Republic.

Something that will certainly please Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

 

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It’s entirely possible that Trump is merely utilizing Platonic Noble Lies, which if you look at the recent history of the Republican Party, is a pretty Republican thing to do.

The only problem is that Trump may be noble lying a little early.
In Plato’s Republic Noble lies are myths told by the leaders to the citizens of the city to maintain social order.

According to Plato (or rather, Plato as Socrates) Noble Lies are necessary.

In Republic (414b-415d) says:

 

“Could we,” I said, “somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need of which we were just now speaking, some on noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of society?”

 
Following the philosophy of Plato, the German-American philosopher and father of the Neoconservative movement, Leo Strauss (1899-1973), maintained that, in the interest of carrying out government affairs, politicians can’t be completely truthful. Government needs to lie.

 

Notes James Horrox in his essay “Leo Strauss and the Cult of the Noble Lie”:

 

Deception for Strauss is therefore not just an avoidable bi-product of politics, but a central and necessary part of it, a condition of “perpetual deception” between the rulers and the ruled being the sine qua non of a stable society. Strauss suggests that “noble lies” therefore have a key role to play in uniting and guiding the mass of the population … As another Strauss analyst summarizes, he advocates a society in which “the people are told what they need to know and no more.”

According to the Straussian view of politics, a government that is deceptive and manipulates the people isn’t just necessary; it’s good.

That’s because the average person is too stupid to be trusted to run his own government.

Now, does that sound like someone we know?

 

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So, is Chuck Todd right? Is Donald Trump a post-truth candidate?

It would certainly seem so.

 

It’s worth reminding that the idea of a politician, president, or philosopher-king being averse to the truth is neither new, nor is it always discouraged or taken as a sign of the collapse of society. As Plato has shown us, it was the opposite. A government that lies is a sign of a efficiently functioning government.

 

 

Then again, Donald Trump may be, as Jeet Heer suggests in The New Republic, dealing in bullshit.

 

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But then, that’s another topic for another article.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.ralphkeyes.com/the-post-truth-era/

https://newrepublic.com/article/124803/donald-trump-not-liar

http://www.dominican.edu/academics/osher/plone-cleanup-olli/archives/prior-sessions/spring/case-against-democracy-3

 

 

 

Why Sophism?

If you ask anyone who pays attention to such things, what a sophist is,  they’ll tell you that a sophist is someone who uses misleading and fallacious arguments to persuade and deceive people. But that’s not always what sophism meant.

According to the ancients, sophism, or rather sophists, were men who were trained in the art of philosophy and rhetoric who were paid to teach young men the art of arguing sophistically.

It seems that the practice of taking money to teach people to be better thinkers upset philosophers like Plato and Xenophon.

Because they gave their knowledge away for free.

In Plato’s Republic, the sophist Thrasymachus is the bad guy.

The philosopher, who is the lover of wisdom, is the good guy.

and he always gets the girl in the end.

Nowadays, there aren’t very many folks out there standing in the public square sharing free philosopher lessons for anyone who is interested. At least not where I live, anyway. If you want to learn to think philosophically these days, you have to get yourself enrolled at a university.

Where they make you pay to learn to think philosophically.

So, if I had to pay someone to learn to think philosophically, does that mean that I am a sophist?

…. Or at least my professors were, right?

Oh well. while I figure out my new philosophical dilemma, enjoy this. it’s Monty Python.

 

Every Four Years Someone Is Lying to You

Every four years Americans have the opportunity to elect their new leader. These days electing a new president or re-electing the incumbent president is no big deal. But if you think about how much of history was dominated by monarchs and self-appointed rulers, you’d think that Americans should take the opportunity dare I say right to choose their leaders a little more seriously. However, despite our right to choose less than half of all eligible voters voted in the presidential election.

Thank God for pluralism or we’d never elect a president.

The funny thing about Americans and elections is that despite the fact that the numbers of regular voters seems to indicate a general lack of interest in the political process, people often complain about the quality of the candidates running for office. Americans often say that they don’t vote because there’s no one worth voting for. One reason why many Americans say no one is worth voting for is because politicians are  professional liars who will say anything to anyone to get elected.

It seems that when it comes to politicians, the American public wants a leader capable of telling the truth.

It also seems that a truth-telling politician is a bit of a contradiction. Or at least a creature as rare as a diamond or mythical like a unicorn.

The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt writes that a functional society must have “a robust appreciation of the endlessly protean utility of the truth.”   If you think about it, an honest politician shouldn’t be regarded as an oxymoron. The truth is a necessary element for cultivating the kind of informed public that Thomas Jefferson says is necessary for maintaining a democracy. And on whole, the American public says we want a politician who won’t drown us in platitudes, repeat the same party-approved talking points or God forbid, lie right to our faces. In film and television, movies like Dave, The American President, The West Wing, The Distinguished Gentleman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Bulworth demonstrate our desire for  a leader who tells the truth; someone the public can trust will tell them what the deal really is.
We say we want to elect someone like this:

That’s what we say we want. But is a truth-telling politician really what we want?

…. Or what we deserve?

If history (or philosophy) tells us anything, the answer to both questions is no.

Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (one-third of Publius, authors of The Federalist Papers), wrote that “Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justness of their views…” require the power of secrecy to fulfill their duties while in office. The power of secrecy entails the power to withhold information from the public. The English political philosopher John Locke (whose political philosophy influenced the Founders) argued that executive  (presidential) discretionary powers exist without the approval of the legislative or the people, and that the executive for the sake of the public good may take action that runs counter to the will of the people.

Now, think about it. If the power of the government (the executive branch, anyway) includes the power to do what the public doesn’t want you to do, it might be fair to assume that some lying would be required on the part of the politician. Wait before you object, let me tell you this: Plato says not only is it fair to assume a politician is lying to the public, for the politician, lying to the people is essential.

In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that in order to ensure the loyalty of the people to the city, the people must be told a “needful falsehood” (or Noble Lie), a myth that ties the people to their home nation.* Socrates says:

Could we… somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being… some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?

The purpose of lying to the people, Socrates reasons, is to ensure harmony within the state. And as we all know, Plato says that without harmony, we cannot become philosopher-kings.*

You might be tempted to reject Plato’s we-need-to-think-philosophically-stuff and say that Plato’s lying-as-public-policy argument should remain in the ancient philosopher’s dustbin. Here’s the thing: the argument for lying to the public isn’t just an ancient philosopher’s idea. The late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973), argued that the intent of lie is not outright deception or done with malevolent intent, but that lies are told for the purpose of instilling the people with good morals and fostering personal and civil enlightenment. If we think about lies done for the purpose of making society better, we might be inclined to want a politician who is inclined to lie to the people.

Maybe.

At least we can tell ourselves when a politician lies he’s really looking out for our philosophical well-being.

 

NOTES:

* If you’re familiar with the practice of political lies and politicians lying, you might be thinking what is the difference between Plato and Machiavelli. It may be important to distinguish Plato’s Noble Lies from Machiavellian lies, which are told with the intention of seizing or maintaining tyrannical power or for nefarious purposes.

* Ok, I’ll be honest here. Plato endorsed Noble Lies because he believed that some people (aka philosopher-kings) are smarter and more qualified to lead than Average Joe and Jane like you and me. The Noble Lie, Socrates says, is meant not only to convince the rabble that whatever class and/or occupation we have in life is dictated by the gods, but are also told with the belief that some people are not mentally adept enough to make their own political decisions.

* It is important to mention that not all of the Founding Fathers believed that it is essential to lie to the people. Thomas Jefferson believed that the truth should be plain for all of the people to see.

SOURCES:

Harry  G. Frankfurt. 2006. On Truth.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 15

Plato. 1968. The Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. Book III. 414 b-c

Publius. The Federalist Papers. 1961. Ed. Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics. 422.

Doubletapping Socrates: On How The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes IS the Philosopher-King

Halloween was a few days ago.

I had completely intended to write up few spooky-themed posts, but as nature has a way of making its own horror show, my plan was thwarted by an unusually strong bout of food poisoning.

I’m fine now.

But, had I been able to write before Halloween (instead of spending a week hovering over a… well, you know), this is what I would have posted:

For those who are unfamiliar with this image or the AMC Network television show The Walking Dead, this slightly rugged, gun-pointing fellow is Rick Grimes. Rick Grimes is a  sheriff’s deputy who awakes from a coma to find the world overrun by hordes (in the show they’re called “herds’) of flesh-eating zombies.

Rick played by the British actor Andrew Lincoln.

I mention this only because the show takes place in Georgia and Rick Grimes isn’t English.

I must say he fakes the accent rather well.

Anyway, the reason why Rick is such a big deal (besides the fact that he carries a gun) is because Rick is what we call a H-E-R-O. The famous writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell describes what a hero does as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

We like Rick because he is a hero. Rick is not only smart and capable, he is also loyal, not only to his wife Lori and son (the ever-annoying Carl), but to the other survivors who are looking to Rick’s abilities and leadership to guide them through the zombie apocalypse. Rick steps up to the plate when no one else is either willing or capable of doing so. It’s No doubt that, when zombie movie enthusiasts pick their fantasy zombie killing team, Rick Grimes is at the top of the list.

It’s a good enough reason to appreciate Rick Grimes for his action hero qualities, but there’s another reason why we should like Rick — moreover, there’s a reason why the philosophically inclined should like Rick Grimes — Rick Grimes is positively philosophic.

….at least that’s what I think after reading Plato’s Republic.

Most political philosophers will tell you that Plato’s Republic is the greatest and most influential political work ever written. Written around 380 BCE, Plato’s political treatise asks (and answers) the question “what is justice?”, but more importantly, Plato (through the character of Socrates) asks how does the state achieve justice?  Through the characters, Plato examines different ways of answering the question (what is justice). Through Socrates, Plato argues that the just state is one where the people value and are guided by reason and virtue. Socrates argues that when a person is acting in a virtuous manner, society (as a whole) benefits. Acting virtuously enhances the soul — and a good soul, according to Socrates, is the soul of a philosopher.* Socrates argues that we must be taught to obey the laws and to do good. When we are introduced to the character Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, we see that Rick is a police officer, the guardians and enforcers of the law (it is worth noting that, in Plato’s Republic, the just city also includes a class of guardians who are charged with keeping order in the city).

In fact, Rick’s coma-inducing injury (he’s shot) happens while Rick is attempting to apprehend suspects following a police chase.

Even after Rick awakens to find the world full of walking dead people (aka “walkers”, “geeks”, and “biters”), he does not abandon his sense of upholding the law. When Rick goes back to the police station to retrieve firearms, he puts on a clean police uniform, badge, and hat. We see that although though the world has gone to seed and lawlessness, Rick believes that the fact that civilization has disappeared does not give people the right to act uncivilized. He repeatedly cautions others to keep their heads and not to let their emotions dictate their actions. When the potentially threatening (and definitely shady) Randall must be dealt with, Rick tries to reason his way to the best solution for dealing with Randall, even though Rick’s best friend, former partner, and nemesis Shane Walsh wants to take Randall out back and snap the poor, doomed boy’s neck.

Speaking of Shane Walsh….

Just as ever hero has his nemesis, Rick Grimes has his. Rick’s is his former partner and wife Lori’s I-thought-my-husband-was-dead-so-I-started-banging-the-nearest-guy-with-dropped-trousers lover, the late and then late again, Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal). Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that action heroes are the only people out there with arch nemesis but that assumption is incorrect. Like Rick Grimes, Socrates also has an adversary. Socrates’ nemesis is named Thrasymachus.

This is what Thrasymachus looked like:

Socrates and Rick Grimes have the souls of philosophers. They believe that reason, controlled emotions, and a sense of justice should guide our actions. According to the philosopher, right and wrong are not matters of opinion or taste, but perpetual and universal standards to which everyone should be held.

This is the way that philosophers should think.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ theory of justice is challenged by the sophist Thrasymachus (see above). As a sophist, Thrasymachus believes that rhetoric and persuasion (not well-reasoned logical arguments) are the prefered method of argumentation. Thrasymachus, whose name (in Greek) means “rash fighter” is depicted as intemperate and arrogant. He lacks virtue and believes that might makes right. Thrasymachus attempts to win his argument with Socrates by force rather than by logic. Thrasymachus is willing to do anything, including personal attacks on Socrates, to win the argument. In a verbal confrontation with Socrates, when Thrasymachus feels that he cannot defeat the philosopher’s logic, he aims his attack not at Socrates’ argument, but at Socrates himself:

Thrasymachus: “Tell me Socrates, have you a nurse?”

Socrates: “Why do you ask such a question, I said, when you ought rather be answering?”

Thrasymachus: “Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose.”

In many ways Shane is like Thrasymachus. Shane is often guided more by his emotions than by reason. He believes (and more importantly acts like) might makes right. Shane never fails to remind Rick that his thinking man’s demeanor is unfit for a world filled with zombies and that Shane’s re-kill first, ask questions later philosophy is. Unlike Thrasymachus, who kept his attack of Socrates at the verbal level, the conflict between Rick Grimes’ Socratic and Shane’s Thrasymachean dispositions finally result in a physical confrontation between the two men.

Here are a few of Shane’s (other) Thrasymachean qualities:

  • When fellow survivor Carol Pelletier’s husband, Ed Pelletier, slaps his wife, Shane promptly beats Ed senseless (while telling Ed that he is going to beat him to death, no less).
  • When Lori tells Shane that their relationship is permanently over, Shane attempts to force himself on her.
  • While in the woods looking for “walkers” Shane aims his gun at Rick (however, it’s not clear whether Shane intended to shoot Rick or not).
  • Shane repeatedly engages in ad hominem (personal) attacks on Rick and his leadership style (but often has to admit that Rick makes the right decision).
  • Shane believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he is the one to protect Rick’s wife and son (and unborn baby that may or may not be his).
  • When Randall is captured and brought back to the survivors’ farm, unlike Rick, who wants to reason his way to a proper punishment, Shane immediately concludes that the right and only choice is to kill Randall. Shane is so convinced that he’s right that when the group leaves Randall without supervision, Shane takes Randall out into the woods and kills him.
  • And, in an attempt to wrest the leadership of the group from Rick, Shane tricks Rick into looking for an escaped Randall with the intention of killing Rick. He fails to do so.

Shane’s failed attempt at unseating the philosophical Rick Grimes results in the Thrasymachean Shane Walsh winding up like this:

I’m pretty sure Shane has seen better days

…and Rick still gets the chick.

 

Oh wait, she just died.

 

* Socrates’ thinking on the soul of the philosopher (aka Socratic virtue) goes a little like this: through reason and controlling our emotions we attain wisdom –> wise people possess virtuous qualities such as courageousness and temperance –> when we are temperate we attain internal/intellectual harmony –> things that are in harmony function according to purpose (i.e. as they should) –> when things function as they should this leads to a good soul –> philosophers (esp. philosopher-kings) possess good souls.