MAKE AFFIRMING (the consequent) GREAT AGAIN!

OF THE MANY subjects that I like to talk about but rarely write about, at the top of my list is a little subject called “current events”.

In particular, politics.

Although I enjoy thumbing through a treatise of classical political philosophy or even engaging in the occasional mostly political debate, the act of actually writing about something political kinda makes me cringe.

Mostly because a trip through any comment section about politics is cringe inducing.

toon-comment-section-31515176The internet has made political debate an often cringeworthy endeavor, but the cringe + politics combo isn’t new.

Cringy political talk (often in the form of shit talking and/or trolling) is as old as people with differing opinions saying their opinions out loud.

Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were masters at 18th century shit talking. Jefferson wrote about Hamilton:

I was duped … by the Secretary of the treasury, and made a fool for forwarding his schemes, not then sufficiently understood by me; and of all the errors of my political life, this has occasioned the deepest regret.

That’s pretty much the equivalent of Jefferson calling Hamilton a fucktard.*

20071025_alexanderhamiltonstanding-380x500

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: FOUNDING FATHER, THE GUY ON THE TEN DOLLAR BILL, AND NOTORIOUS FUCKTARD

We’ve all seem that word on Facebook.

…some of us have been called that word on Facebook.

Lucky us, eh?

The entire dialogue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in Book I of Plato’s Republic is one of the cringiest political debates in philosophy.

Especially the part when Thrasymachus asks Socrates if he had a wet nurse.

That’s what we call owning the libs.

9iL2.gif

THRASYMACHUS OWNING SOCRATES, 380 BCE (colorized)

Sometimes — more than sometimes — the internet kinda makes me wish politics never existed.

But, that’s the funny thing about politics. Politics can’t not exist.

I had a political science professor who used to tell his classes, “you can leave politics alone, but politics won’t leave you alone.” What he meant is, even if we personally don’t vote, participate in or keep informed about political affairs, politicians still make laws that effect us.

Try as we might to not get involved, politics is unavoidable.

And no, unfollowing our tinfoil hat-wearing, conspiracy nutjob uncle on Facebook won’t help.

tumblr_loq5o7rd4n1qzl8s1o1_400

Even if politics is unavoidable, exactly why should we get involved?

Well… the answer to that question, my friends, has something to do with a certain 4th century Greek philosopher.

A fellow named Aristotle.

…And they didn’t call him “The Philosopher” for nothing.

Aristotle says, people, it seems, are designed for politics.

In Book I of Politics Aristotle wrote:

That man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear. For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain, and man alone among the animals has speech….speech serves to reveal the advantageous and the harmful and hence also the just and unjust. For it is peculiar to man as compared to the other animals that he alone has a perception of good and bad and just and unjust and other things of this sort; and partnership in these things is what makes a household and a city.

Wait a minute. I forgot to do something.

13579566

As an old English professor of mine repeatedly said, if you introduce a bit of jargon, a writer should define what the but of jargon is. And since I’m writing, and I introduced a bit of jargon, I should explain what that bit of jargon is.

I’ve been using the word “politics” as if we all agree on a universal definition of the word. I’ve spent enough time on the internet and listened to enough talk radio to know that the word “politics” carries different connotations for different people.

So, with that in mind, when I say “politics”, I mean:

 The activities, actions, and policies that are used to gain and hold power in a government or to influence a government. (Merriam-Webster)

There. Alright. Back to what I was talking about.

If I was actually talking about anything.

According to Aristotle, the role of politics in the city (or, polis — the Greek word from which the word “politics” is derived) is for the proper training of citizens. Proper training, Aristotle says, is to raise virtuous people.

p.s. you might want to check out the prequel to Politics, Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle explains virtue and what it means to be (philosophically) virtuous…and some other stuff.

You see, according to Aristotle, man, like other animals, gather in groups (or herds). However, unlike other animals, man (and he does mean MAN) possesses the capacity for rational thought. Man, by way of his intellect, is able to discern good from bad, just from unjust. This ability enables man to form social units (families) and the social bonds (of families) required to establish cities.

Because the goal of politics, Aristotle says, is the HIGHEST GOOD (i.e. virtue) of the state, citizens must take an active part in city affairs.

That is to say, according to Aristotle, political participation is mandatory — if we want to be Good (virtuous) people. 

And you should want to be a virtuous person.

Whoa. Wait. I’ve done it again.

go-back-trump1

I’ve used a word without defining it. Virtue, as defined by Aristotle, is:

a disposition to behave in the right manner and as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess, which are vices. We learn moral virtue primarily through habit and practice rather than through reasoning and instruction.

Aristotle argues a virtuous citizenry is essential to a successful state.

And only through political participation can we become virtuous.

(Because virtue isn’t merely a state of being, it’s a way of life)

You may not like politics, but you can’t achieve eudaimonia without it.

You can’t.

Can’t.

tenor-1

So…… I guess what I’m saying is, even though the internet has amplified the shitstorm that is politics, we have a philosophical obligation to engage in the political, no matter how soul-destroying we feel it may be.

The strange not-quite irony about politics is that politics isn’t destructive to our souls at all. In fact, we become better people — the city becomes a better city — a VIRTUOUS city when we get involved.

And who can resist that eudaimonia, right?

Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, you may have noticed that nowhere in this blog post have I mentioned anything about affirming the antecedent. I wasn’t going to….I just thought it would make a clever title.

 

 

 

* I’m pretty sure Jefferson wasn’t the only Founder who felt that way about Hamilton. I’d bet cash that the first time someone said the word “fucktard” was referring to Alexander Hamilton.

I’d also bet cash that person was Thomas Jefferson….or Aaron Burr.

1149524_1

SOURCES:

https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alexander_Hamilton

Aristotle. Politics.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics

https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/aristotle/section8/

 

 

 

 

The Trouble With Melanin

“At the heart of racism is the religious assertion that God made a creative mistake when he brought some people into being” – Friedrich Otto Hertz
HAVE YOU EVER had one of those moments?

One of Those kind of moments.

Maybe you had one in a department store. Or in an elevator. On a sidewalk.

Or in a restaurant.

Or if you’re the President of the United States….
One of those kind of moments when you have to stop and ask yourself

was that racist

It’s pretty easy to spot a racist or an act of racism when a person is dressed like this:

klans men
or if you find one of these burning on your front lawn

cross burning

But, you see, racism is sometimes difficult to figure out.

Is a seemingly racist incident an unintentional micro aggression or a full-on David Duke-style PDR?

Public Display of Racism.
no dogs negroes or mexicans

Quick quiz: Is this a Public Display of Racism?

Is this?

Or this?

Are you thinking the answer is definitely yes

…. or are you thinking that the question is debatable?

A couple of weeks ago, while shopping at the local KMart

Because layaway is wonderful.

I was perusing the home entertainment section when an elderly white woman approached me and asked if I had seen the movie 12 Years A Slave in the DVD section. She explained how she loved the book and wanted to watch the movie to see if it is a good as Solomon Northup’s memoir of his life as a free man wrongfully enslaved.

Asking a fellow customer if they know the location of a product isn’t unusual. I’ve done it plenty of times myself.

I think the reason why she specifically asked me had a little something to do with my complexion.

My complexion, mind you, looks a little like this:
arm
So naturally, in response to the woman’s inquiry, I felt a little like this:

I assumed that the reason why the woman asked me, and not any other person in the home entertainment department (including store employees) if I knew where 12 Years A Slave was, was because of one thing.

One, elephant-sized, melanin-soaked, thing.

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

A BIG, MELANIN-SOAKED ELEPHANT

Now, here’s the problem: I don’t know if the woman was racist.
I have only what I assume to be true of the woman and her state of mind.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

TRY AS I MIGHT, I HAVE NOT MASTERED THE ART OF MINDREADING.

Based on my prima facie assessment of the situation, I made three assumptions about the elderly woman.

The elderly white woman asked me where to find 12 Years A Slave because:

1. She assumed that because of my race, I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store ( possibly an unintentional microaggression).

In case you’re wondering, a microaggression is:

the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

B. The elderly woman was merely asking the nearest person in the area.

3. The lady was a full-on racist who assumed that I had not only seen the movie 12 Years A Slave, but I also knew the location of the DVD in the store.

You see, despite my epistemic prowess, I don’t know what the lady was thinking. I can only assume to know – and even then, my assumption is just an assumption. Even assuming that the woman’s inquiry was made with the best of intentions doesn’t mean that my perception of racism wasn’t actually racism.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that it was, either.
images redneck
In The Souls of Black Folk , W.E.B. DuBois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”
no japanese
If you’ve spent any time paying any attention to the media, you’d know that in the 21st century race is still a problem.

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

THIS IS NOT A PHOTO FROM THE 1950S. IT WAS TAKEN AT A KLAN RALLY IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JUNE, 2015

That fact might have something to do with this:

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A LIST OFTHE NUMBER OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

THIS IS A MAP OFTHE DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWN HATE GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES

It’s obvious that we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing (and often arguing about) race. And we think we have a grip on exactly what race is.

Wait a minute. I’ve been talking about the term “race”.

The philosopher in me says it’s time I define my terminology.

Generally speaking, race is defined as a set of characteristics that differentiate groups of humans. Race is viewed as an indicator of certain inherited attributes of which traits like skin color physical features, body type, hair color and texture, provide an indicator of supposedly biologically based attributes such as mental capacity, and moral aptitude. The concept of race has evolved over time, but the practice of classifying people is as old as history. Civilizations have always defined and separated themselves according to tribe, language or religious practices. In the Bible, God distinguished the Israelites from the Gentiles. The Greek philosopher Aristotle differentiated the “civilized” Greeks and the Persian “barbarians” and wrote, “This is why the poets say ‘it is fitting for Greeks to rule barbarians’”.

 ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

ARISTOTLE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHER AND ANCIENT GREEK RACIST

Our modern concept of race is a relatively new idea. The modern concept can be traced back to the 15th century (a.k.a. the Age of Discovery). European exploration of the New World is significant for two reasons: 1) European expansion led to the colonization of newly acquired territories, and 2) contact between fair-skinned European explorers and the darker complexioned native populations of Asia and Africa led to the development of racial categorization based on physical characteristics

… or phenotypes.
The concept of biological race developed as exploration of the New World and the need for labor required a justification for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and European colonialism. As a result of the enslavement of indigenous Americans and Africans in the New World, the world’s population was divided into three primary races:

the Caucasian race

Albert-Camus

the Mongoloid race

asian man

and the Negroid race

african woman

The white race, according to the race of European colonizers, is superior, while other races (in particular enslaved Africans) are considered inferior.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”  SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

THOMAS JEFFERSON, THIRD PRESIDENT OT THE UNITED STATES, WROTE AFTER SLAVERY THAT, “WHEN FREED, HE [NEGROES] IS TO BE REMOVED BEYOND THE REACH OF MIXTURE”
SO, IF JEFFERSON HAD HIS WAY, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE 23RD CENTURY

The 2008 election and the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama was supposed to have ushered in an era of American “post-racialism”; the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a society where individuals are judged not by race, but by the content of their character.

Race, in this era of post-racialism, is supposedly not an issue.

Or so we’d like to think.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS IS EVEN REMOTELY RACIST

Let’s face it, we think in stereotypes. Thinking of serial killers conjures up images of white guys. Looking of terrorists? Sorry, Arabs. When your neighbor says someone tagged his retaining wall, we think Mexican tagging crew.

That might just be a Californian thing.

You say someone just knocked over car a liquor store (probably to get money to buy crack)? Yep, it probably was a black dude.

None of us likes to be stereotyped, but the justification for stereotyping (or its cousin, racial profiling) is often stated as, given one’s racial and/or ethnic background one is predisposed to certain behavior can provide us with handy shortcut for figuring out what kind of people we’re dealing with and how those people are likely to behave. After all, when we look at other people, race is one of those things we notice.

 THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

THERE’S A REASON WHY SOME PEOPLE DON’T WANT THIS GUY TO BE THE NEW JAMES BOND. YES, THAT REASON

Race is never a pleasant subject to talk about. It’s one of those subjects that doesn’t usually pop up in a philosophy class (unless the class is specifically about race). I suspect that the reason why race isn’t discussed much in philosophy has to do with the fact that philosophy is dominated by white men. That’s no lie. I was once pressed to name five African-American philosophers. I came up with Cornel West, Ken Taylor and Angela Davis, but after conjuring up three names, I was tapped out of black philosophers.

I was shocked by my lack of knowledge about non-white male philosophers. I thought, “Hey, I’m not just some dude on the street, I actually studied philosophy, and I should be able to name five black philosophers!” Yet I had no idea of the names of more than three philosophers who share my skin tone.

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

THIS GUY IS THE BEGINNING AND END OF MY BLACK PHILOSOPHERS LIST (p.s. THE GUY IN THE PICTURE IS PHILOSOPHER KEN TAYLOR)

The subject tends to stir up emotions. A lot of historical baggage. We want clear-headed conversations. Naturally, my inclination would be to turn to what philosophers have to say about the subject of race. They’ve actually had plenty to say, just not all of it good.

It should surprise no one that philosophers are partially to blame not only for our inaccurate conceptions of race, but also more than a little bit responsible for racism.

Wanna know how?

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

LOOK AT THIS PHILOSOPHER CLOSELY. HE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY RACISM EXISTS

Given Aristotle’s sentiments towards non-Greek peoples, we are tempted to assume that modern (keep in mind that “modern” philosophy starts in the 17th century) philosophers would have been immune from the ancient view of classifying people as superior and inferior based solely on the assumed characteristics (of inferiority and superiority) associated with one’s geographical location.

Our assumption, however, would be wrong.

Enlightenment philosophers not only championed reason and science but also the belief that only certain groups of people are capable of rational thought. The Enlightenment belief that only certain people possess the capacity to reason provided the scientific basis for race and racism. Enlightenment thinkers developed the notion that the so-called superior, “civilized” races of Europe were successful because other, inferior races, specifically the African race, lack the capacity for rational thought.

In Immanuel Kant’s essay, “On the Different Races of Man” (1775), Kant attempts to establish a scientific basis for the classification of the races and divides humans into four distinct races:

1. Northern Europe (very blond) of damp cold
2. America (copper red) of dry cold
3. Black (Senegambia) of dry heat
4. Indians (olive-yellow) of dry heat

Based on his observations of the different races, Kant declared the natural moral and intellectual superiority of the white race and stated that superiority or inferiority of the world’s other races depends on its proximity to whiteness. Naturally, the dark skin of the African race, sets it in opposition to the white race.

Therefore, black = inferior.

don't listen to negroes
Kant observes, blacks are “passionate” and “talkative” and lack the capacity for reason. Because blacks cannot reason, Kant argues, they cannot be educated but can only be trained to serve as slaves. Kant agrees with Hume, who also argued that blacks lack the capacity to reason, that since blacks lack the capacity for rational thought, blacks also lack the capacity for talent, as talent necessarily depends on the capacity for reason. Kant writes:

The yellow Indians do have meager talent. The Negroes are far
below them, and at the lowest point are part of the American
people.

So, if observation of behavior leads to stereotyping, we are likely to think that Asians are better at math but make for bad drivers, white people are genetically prone to bad dancing, have a penchant for fair trade coffee, as I am genetically predisposed to having many children and speaking loudly in public places. In addition to stereotyping, as Immanuel Kant and his fellow philosophers demonstrate, we tend to think of our “group” as superior while emphasizing the supposed “inferior” qualities of other groups. It is, then, no surprise to us that Kant declares:

The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the
trifling. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in
which a Negro has shown talents, and asserts that among the
hundreds of thousands of blacks who are transported elsewhere
from their countries, although many of them have even been set
free, still not a single one was every found who presented anything
great in art or science or any other praiseworthy quality, even
though among the whites some continually rise aloft from the lowest
rabble, and through superior gifts earn respect in the world. So
fundamental is the difference between these two races of man, and
it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour.

Well, while we’re at it, why don’t we take a look at what David Hume had to say about black people:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to whites.
there scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor
any individual eminent either in action or speculation.

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

ALTHOUGH HUME CONSIDERED THE “BARBARIAN” ANCIENT GERMAN RACE INFERIOR TO OTHER EUROPEANS (LIKE SCOTSMEN, LIKE HUME), HUME STATED THAT THE ANCIENT GERMANS “HAVE STILL SOMETHING EMINENT ABOUT THEM, IN THEIR VALOUR, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, OR SOME OTHER PARTICULAR”

Let’s take a moment to read what other great minds and “enlightened” philosophers had to say about black people:

Thomas Jefferson:

…in memory they are equal to the white; in reason much inferior,
as I think one could scarcely be capable of tracing and
comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in
imagination they are dull, tasteless and anomalous… never
yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level
of plain narration.

Montesquieu:

It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should
place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body…
The negroes prefer a glass necklace to that gold which polite
nations so highly value. Can there be a greater proof of their
wanting common sense?

Alexis de Tocqueville:

I do not think that blacks will ever mingle sufficiently completely
with the white to form a single people with them. The introduction
of this foreign race is anyhow is the one great plague on America.

Voltaire:

If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours… it is
at least inferior. They are not capable of any great application or
association of ideas, and seem formed neither for the advantages
nor the abuses of our philosophy.

President Gerald Ford Administration cabinet member, Earl Butz, said to singer Pat Boone:

Pat, the only thing coloreds are looking for in life are a tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.

Well, seriously, who isn’t looking for that?

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

PROOF IT’S NOT JUST BLACK FOLKS WHO ENJOY A NICE PLACE TO SHIT

Unfortunately for Hume, Jefferson, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Kant, (not to mention the Social Darwinists), and the aptly-named Mr. Earl Butz, a close examination of race reveals: A) philosophers don’t know everything, and second: there is no biological basis for race.

Most scientists agree that race is not a matter of biology, but is a social construct.*

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates contends, all humans can trace their origins to 50,000 years ago to Ethiopia in Africa. Unfortunately for Immanuel Kant, one’s physical appearance (or even supposed inherited genetic qualities) is not a reliable method of judging a person’s character, moral aptitude, or intellectual capacity.

We can’t assume based on one’s perceived race that this person is inferior

prince mugshot

Or assume based on perceived race that this person is superior

bill gates mugshot

But here’s the thing: it’s not entirely our fault that we stereotype groups of people. Scientists theorize that our tendency for stereotyping is the result of a biologically engrained need to classify people and objects and to form tribal connections with other, like humans. To successfully operate and adapt to our environment, humans make associations between objects and actions (not too unlike Hume’s view on cause and effect). We associate objects and actions – for instance, lemons and sour, bees and sting, or black neighbors with higher crime rates. If we observe a group of people and a particular behavior, we are likely to assume that all of the members of that group also behave in a similar manner.

stereotypes_are_awesome

Funny thing, race is. Despite the fact that plenty (if not all) of us know that race is a social construct, when we inquire about someone’s race, we’re still looking for some indication of who a person is. And when someone doesn’t act according to our notions of how that race should act, we’re often perplexed. We observe that such and such or so and so doesn’t “act black” or that a particular person acts like an “Oreo”, Uncle Tom, “Twinkie”, “banana” or “wigger”.

white person with dreadlocks

There’s a nasty little idea floating around that people who do not act according to how their race should act aren’t acting authentically.

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

THIS IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT A “TYPICAL” ASIAN MAN SHOULD LOOK LIKE

But as any scientist will tell you, the fact that one is biologically a particular “color” or race does not infer that one’s behavior or cultural race conforms to our perception or expectations of how an individual of that race or color should act. The philosopher Robert Gooding-Williams distinguishes being racially (or biologically) black and being a black person. A racial personhood, according to Robert Gooding-Williams, is one’s racial identity – how we choose to identify ourselves.** 
rachel dolezal ebony cover

It’s worth noting that on the 2010 U.S. census form, individuals were given a choice of fifteen racial categories: American Indian of Alaska Native, Black, African-American or Negro, White, Native Hawaiian, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, other Pacific Islander, Other Asian, and some other race. There is some degree of satisfaction that the ability to choose one’s racial identity from fifteen races is a far cry from the three race categorization (Caucasian, Asian, and Negro) that dominated racial thinking for centuries, however, having more choices hasn’t necessarily cleared up our definition of race.
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are specified on the U.S. Census form as an ethnicity, not as a separate race. However, if asked to specify a race a person may identify himself as Latino or Hispanic, but racially he may be categorized as Caucasian, Asian, or black. …. Just in case you were wondering.

I’m not a fan of Metallica. It’s not for lack of trying. I’m not saying that their music sucks or anything like that. I appreciate the band’s role as a seminal hard rock/metal band that has influenced and continues to influence many other rock bands. And their 2009 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is well deserved. It’s just that Metallica, musically speaking, is not my cup of tea. Well, that’s only partially true. Really, it’s not even that I don’t like Metallica; I’m actually not supposed to like Metallica or any other hard rock band.

Metallica and all other musical artists who fall under the rubric “metal” is generally thought to be “white guy music” – angry white guy music – off limits to folks like me. Music, like everything else, is categorized. Or, more to the point, there’s music we’re supposed to like and music other people are supposed to like.

kanye lennon

Listen: I like the angry white guy music. I read David Sedaris books. I watched The Daily Show (and truly was heartbroken when Jon Stewart announced he’s leaving the show), and not only do I thoroughly enjoy watching The Colbert Report, I think that Stephen Colbert is sexy (in a snarky kind of way). I listen to National Public Radio. I love This American Life. I have a Liberal Arts degree. I recycle. I write a blog. I drink bottled water. I’m even a fan of Noam Chomsky.

Well, more of a fan of Chris Hedges than Noam Chomsky.

All of these traits (at least according to the website Stuff White People Like) are associated with white people.
People like this:


Not people like this:

But, if we know that race is nothing more than a social construct, the fact that Cornel West suggests that Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim is a blues man, or why Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, identifies as a black woman or why Latino kids living in East Los Angeles are some of Morrissey‘s most ardently loyal fans, and why I, being nowhere near being an angry white guy enjoys the snarky humor of The Colbert Report and am proud to say that my favorite musical artists are The Beatles, Steely Dan, The Cure, and nine inch nails.

Given my druthers, I would rather dress like this:

black goth girl

Than like this:

hip hop girl

The truth about race is that a particular frame of mind or set of characteristics is not innate and does not belong exclusively to one racial group.
W.C. Fields once said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”. Contrary to what Kant, Hume, and Jefferson believed, our race does not determine who we are and what we are capable of. Every individual is capable of dictating his own course in life, according to what each person determines is the path to personal happiness. For many of us, race is irrelevant when it comes to who we are. We are who we are, regardless of what we are.

…..Which brings me back to the old lady in Kmart.

I think that the elderly woman who asked me where to find the movie 12 Years A Slave was suffering from making an assumption about another individual based on hundreds of years of misguided (and often pernicious) thinking about race. She may not believe the racist ideology of Kant or Thomas Jefferson, but we’ve certainly been reared in a culture grounded in the Enlightenment philosophies of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and the Founding Fathers. And in that way, we may believe or act upon certain beliefs and stereotypes about a particular race without ever making the conscious effort to adopt a racist world view.

So, although I could have reasonably yelled at that woman:

I also have to acknowledge the possibility that philosophers really are as influential as every philosopher bitches and moans wants them (us) to be. Many of us practice Kantian philosophy –

Just not the right kind of Kantian philosophy.

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

YOU MAY THINK THAT YOU’RE NOT INTO PHILOSOPHY, BUT DEEP DOWN THIS IS WHAT YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE

Besides, in the end, our race does not matter; what matters is that each of us finds a way to live authentically.

Well, it matters if you’re an existentialist.
Wait, Kant wasn’t an existentialist, was he?

*I’d like to state here that the philosophers that I am quoting (Kant, Hume, etc) spoke about all races, not just those of African descent. I am singling out their opinions on blacks for selfish reasons and secondly to demonstrate how wrong many well-regarded philosophers have been (and sometimes are) on the subject of race. In fact, some nationalities and ethnicities are now categorized as “white” were not only excluded from the white race, but also subject to racially-motivated stereotyping, such as Eastern Europeans (including Poles, Slavs, and Jews), natives of Southern Italy, Germans, and the Irish.
** This does not just apply to black people but to all races. According to Gooding-Williams biological race is not equivalent to cultural race.

SOURCES:

1. Census racial categories from: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2009/questionnaire.aspx.

2. Aristotle. The Politics. Trans. Carnes Lord. p.36.

3. Matthew R. Hachee. “Kant, Race, and Reason” https://www.msu.edu/~hacheema/kant2.htm.

4. Kant quote on the difference between the talent of Negroes and Asian “Indians”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#Immanuel_Kant.

5. Hume’s essay “Of National Character”. http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=6.

6. Thomas Jefferson. “Notes On the State of Virginia”. The Portable Thomas Jefferson. 1975. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. NY: Penguin Books. pp.188-9.

7. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p.756.

8. Great Treasury of Western Thought: A Compendium of Important Statements of Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers in Western History. 1977. Eds. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. NY: R R Bowker Company. p. 759.

9. Voltaire quote on race is from Voltaire’s essay “The Negro” [1733]. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=666&chapter=81914&layout=html&Itemid=27.

10. “10 Questions”. Time. February 16, 2009. Vol. 173. No. 6. p.6.

11. Siri Carpenter. “Buried Prejudice: The Bigot In Your Brain”. Scientific American Mind. May 1, 2008: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=buried-prejudice-the-bigot-in-your-brain.

12. Kant’s statement on the inferiority of blacks is from “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime” (1764) http://www.philosophicalmisadventures.com/?p=20.

13. Francis D. Adams and Barry Sanders. Alienable Rights: The Exclusion of African Americans In A White Man’s Land, 1619-2000. 2003. NY: Harper Collins Publishers. p.92.

14. Paul C. Taylor. Race: A Philosophical Introduction. 2006. Malden, MA: Polity Press. p.112.

15. Gilbert Ryle. “The Concept of Mind”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 178

Yes, I’m A Philosopher (stop laughing, i’m serious)

Do you remember those “I’m a Mormon” videos?

You know, those videos of seemingly normal, average, people proclaiming their faith in the Church of Latter-Day Saints?

People like Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the rock band The Killers.

 

 

The point of the videos is to prove that there’s nothing wrong with being a Mormon.

 

I don’t know if the videos have improved the image of the Mormon Church, but if the ads have, there’s another institution that can benefit from a “we’re just like you” ad campaign.

Those institutions are institutions of higher learning.

 

There’s a lot of university education-bashing going on out there. Especially bashing those college majors that are usually described using the word “useless”.

English majors know what I’m talking about.

 

english-major

 

Ask around. It won’t take you too long to come up with a short list of “useless” majors. I mean we‘ve all heard the list. There’s English, ethnic studies, women’s studies, liberal arts, art history, communications, creative writing, fine arts…

Any major that has to do with studying or writing about the Renaissance.

 

Given America’s “if it feels good, do it” attitude, the proliferation of so-called “useless” majors on America‘s fine college campuses is not very surprising. I’m certain studying the major works of Conrad Faber von Kreuznach feels good to someone.

However, one major has the dubious reputation of being the most useless college degree of them all: philosophy.

What other profession would generate a meme like this?

 

finds work in ancient greece

 

 

Alright. English, Art … anything in the Humanities would.

 

Well, if you ask me (I know you did, I heard you), I think philosophy’s reputation is undeserved. And not just because I have a degree in philosophy.

 

TOTALLY WORTH TENS OF THOUSANDS WORTH OF DEBT THAT I WILL NEVER PAY OFF IN MY LIFETIME

TOTALLY WORTH TENS OF THOUSANDS WORTH OF DEBT THAT I WILL NEVER PAY OFF IN MY LIFETIME

 

 

rick's stuff n' thangs

RICK GRIMES: PHILOSOPHER

 

 

Listen: I know that philosophy has gotten a pretty bad rap. Why wouldn’t it? Philosophers spend their time thinking. About things. And stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

Who isn’t capable of doing that? Is a degree really necessary to think about stuff? Or things?

Or whatnot.

 

Probably not.

But here’s the thing about philosophy. A career in professional philosophy probably won’t get your own reality TV show, but philosophy is not useless. What makes philosophy not useless has nothing to do with the fact that philosophers think about stuff and things. Philosophy is not useless because of what philosophers think about. Philosophers think about stuff and things like existence, reality, morality, and knowledge. Philosophers devote their time to asking life’s big questions.

You know, those big questions most people don’t think about until they’re either drunk, flat broke, or just had a near-death experience.

 

Or if you’re lucky, all three.

 

AS SOON AS THIS GUY IS FINISHED EMPTYING THE CONTENTS OF HIS UPPER DIGESTIVE TRACT, HE WILL BECOME AS ENLIGHTENED AS THE BUDDHA.

AS SOON AS THIS GUY IS FINISHED EMPTYING THE CONTENTS OF HIS UPPER DIGESTIVE TRACT, HE WILL BECOME AS ENLIGHTENED AS THE BUDDHA.

 

And at least some of the time philosophers come up with an answer or two.

Sometimes those philosophers write what they‘re thinking about.

I did.

 

Mindless_Philosopher_Cover_for_Kindle

 

Philosophers are generous like that.

 

I mean, take a look at this guy, you can tell he’s a giver!

 

I THINK IN GERMAN SCHOPENHAUER MEANS “ONE GENEROUS S.O.B.”. OR MAYBE IT DOESN’T

I THINK IN GERMAN SCHOPENHAUER MEANS “ONE GENEROUS S.O.B.”. OR MAYBE IT DOESN’T

 

Listen: don’t pay attention to what they naysayers say. They’re all STEM field people who wouldn’t know a deep thought if one appeared in front of ’em right alongside the Higgs particle.
We know deep down, despite anything he says, Lawrence Krauss knows philosophy is more than useful – it’s necessary.

 

 
In fact, philosophy is pretty awesome.

To make things easy for everyone, I’ve drawn up a little list of what makes philosophy awesome.
10 Awesome things about philosophy:

 

1. Since philosophy is the parent of several major disciplines (medicine, astronomy, psychology, sociology, political science, physics, theology, to name a few) you’ll know a little bit about everything.

 

smart

 

 

2. Philosophy departments always have the coolest professors.

 

 

garden of earthly delights

YEAH LASCIVIOUSNESS!

3. One word: hedonism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. You’ll know how to win an argument every time.

 

5. You can spend hours talking about the movie Road House and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but you can do it all philosophical-like.

 

FUN FACT: BADASS, THROAT-RIPPIN’ COOLER JAMES DALTON (ROAD HOUSE) STUDIED PHILOSOPHY AT NYU

FUN FACT: BADASS, THROAT-RIPPIN’ COOLER JAMES DALTON (ROAD HOUSE) STUDIED PHILOSOPHY AT NYU

 

 

6. You’ll be unemployed but you’ll be really smart doing it.

Philosophy indeed is the most interesting path to poverty. it's a philosopher's life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. If you studied philosophy, you’re in the same company as Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Chris Hardwick, Susan Sarandon, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jay Leno, Wes Anderson, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Jefferson, Phil Jackson, John Elway, Neil Peart, Ethan Coen, Alex Trebek, David Duchovny, Bruce Lee, and Wallace Shawn. They all studied philosophy.

 

YES, THE TALKING DEAD GUY WAS A PHILOSOPHY MAJOR. SEE? PHILOSOPHY DOES HAVE SOME USEFULNESS

YES, THE TALKING DEAD GUY WAS A PHILOSOPHY MAJOR. SEE? PHILOSOPHY DOES HAVE SOME USEFULNESS

 

8. You can do more than paraphrase Nietzsche. You actually quote the text and understand what he means.  Same goes for Ayn Rand.

 

9. You can totally school your family and friends on any movie’s philosophical undertones. You know The Matrix is really about  Descartes’ evil genie and Nozick’s experience machine. You revel in the knowledge that you can find deeper philosophical meaning in just about any movie and/or episode of Star Trek.

 

matrix pic

 

 

10. Last and most importantly, when you study philosophy, you’ll learn how to think. Critical thinking becomes a way of life. You’ll know to never stop asking questions even if you know you’ll never find the answers.

 

And you gotta admit, the toga looks good when you’re pontificating about the meaning of your big toe.

 

john belushi

 

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY PHILOSOPHICAL

 

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.

 

badass4

 

 

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?

 

 

NOTE:

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!

 

SOURCES:
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.

 

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.

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.

There. I said it. Thomas Jefferson was an a**hole.

The presidential election is next month.

I’m not so sure who I’m going to vote for, if I’m even going to vote this time.

…. something to do with voting for the lesser of two evils.

That’s not saying much for my sense of patriotism.

Thinking about the upcoming election and the fact that the country celebrated its 236th birthday this year, I had intended, as a sign of my patriotic love for God and country, to write something in honor of our nation’s 236th birthday.

That would have been on the Fourth of July.

I ended up watching the Will Smith movie Independence Day on AMC instead.

And then I watched Jaws on DVD.

That movie takes place over Labor Day weekend, not the Fourth of July.

Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue gets me every time.

I’m not going to post the clip. It’s something you’ve got to hunt down see for yourself.

….but let the picture below give you an idea of what I’m talking about).

check out the knife quint is holding. the was badass ’til the end

Anyhow, between watching Randy Quaid doing an absolutely bang-up job of chewing scenery as a UFO abductee-turned-nutty hero, and grousing at my neighbors, who despite a city-wide ban on firecrackers, insisted on lighting an arsenal’s worth of incendiary devices as close to my woefully dehydrated (and as dry as the sand dunes of Tatooine) front lawn as possible, I did take the time to contemplate a bit about what it means (to me) to be an American.

Wait, before I get to what I thought, I’ll tell you what scene got me going: it was the scene in Independence Day when Randy Quaid (I’m certain his character had a name but for the life of me I didn’t bother to remember what it was) flies his plane into the belly of the alien mother ship while shouting, “Remember me, boys?!?” I’m no professional film critic, but that scene is just about the best example of overacting (?) I’ve seen outside of a Nicholas Cage film.

But I digress…

This is what being an American made me think:

I thought that being an American and the nation’s founding (is nation supposed to be capitalized?), I realized that this is the image that every American is supposed to think of when we think of Independence Day:

the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776

You know, I actually do think of the signing of the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July (I’m not kidding, I do). I consider myself a patriotic American; I stand for the National Anthem (and more importantly, I know the words), I can find the United States on a world map, and I’ve memorized the Preamble of the Constitution.

By the way, it’s estimated that nearly 37% of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a world map — in case you might be thinking finding your current location on a map is not an impressive accomplishment.

But here’s the thing about thinking about one’s homeland: when you think about all the good things (hot dogs, baseball, guns and the constitutionally protected right to own them), you inevitably end up thinking about so many things that are bad. When I thought about the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, the document that not only proclaimed that all men are created equal, but that every person is guaranteed (via the Creator) the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Don’t get me wrong, these are great things. Let me repeat — these are GREAT things. But, contemplating Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words tends to dredge up one, nagging detail about Mr. Jefferson — namely, Thomas Jefferson was a bit of a hypocrite.

In case you didn’t know, Thomas Jefferson, second president of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves.

In short, Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were created equal… except for the ones in the fields tending crops.

… and Sally Hemmings.

But that’s another story.

Now, I know this has all been said before. And there’s nothing wrong with maintaining that the Fourth of July shouldn’t be about dwelling on Jefferson’s (and a few other Founding Fathers) contradictions. But, if we want to appreciate what makes the greatest nation on earth the greatest nation God ever created (read appropriate amount of snark here), we must see things as they are — hypocritical warts and all.

Listen: The Founding Fathers were brilliant men. They were truly visionary in creating a constitutional republic based on the notion that a nation is to be by and for the people. But they were merely men. They were men who were influenced and shaped by the time, circumstances, and ideas by which they lived.

Some folks out there say that Jefferson was a bad guy for writing that all men are created equal and guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while he personally did not believe what he wrote. They ask how a man who believed in natural rights can not be a hypocrite when he was most assuredly aware that 95% of his fellow Americans were restricted from participating in the newly-minted American democracy. How could Thomas Jefferson simultaneously believe that some men possessed God-given rights while others were the property of other people?

This is why:

Jefferson, as well as many other Enlightenment thinkers, believed that nature (oops, Nature) was the basis of all rights. That is, men are born with certain (inalienable) rights and no man or government can take those rights away from him. This argument sounds good, especially when you’re petitioning the British Crown for independence. To declare to an oppressive monarch that every man has natural, God-given rights that even the King of England must respect is laying down the law pretty firmly, but there’s a problem when you claim that all rights are grounded in the natural law — nature often is an unfair bitch.

If you haven’t noticed, in nature, some animals are at the top of their food chain while other animals are merely prey to the dominant species. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed in The Politics:

For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient: from the hour of birth. Some are marked out for subjugation others for rule.

Aristotle also wrote:

So it is naturally with the male and the female; the one is superior, the other inferior; the one governs, the other is governed; and the same rule must necessarily hold good with respect to all mankind.

And:

The generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness.

Aristotle believed that in nature, weaker animals were subject to the will of dominant animals, and likewise among humans, weaker humans are subject to the will of dominant humans. Aristotle believed that weaker people were “natural” slaves, and that, as nature intends, natural slaves are meant to serve the will of their masters.

So what does this mean?

What this means is that, though we tell ourselves (and believe) that the United States is grounded upon principles of universal equality among men, a glimpse into the philosophy behind America’s Founding philosophers shows this is not the case. Our nation’s Founders were not inclined to (truly) believe that all men are created equal. Make no mistake; slavery (and the disenfranchisement of a large percentage of free white men) was no accident. Like Aristotle, Alexander Hamilton (who co-wrote The Federalist Papers, which, in turn, informed the Constitution) believed that some people are naturally fit to lead while others are fit to be governed. Some people, according to the Founders, simply lack the mental capacity to successfully govern themselves. Hamilton wrote, Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is why Hamilton wrote that Men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation and men with characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue should be in charge of electing the president.

… and why it took the 17th Amendment to allow for the direct election of U.S. senators.

… and why we still have the Electoral College.

So what’s the point of all of this?

You see, if you haven’t realized it before… I mean, if you think that you’re a Founding Father type of person, ask yourself a couple of questions: do I own a toga? do I own a powdered wig? No?

Well then, when you vote don’t forget — it’s the lesser of two evils.

 

 

 

 

 

Do the Dew… as long as your drink is smaller than 16 ounces..

It’s funny the things that can get a person thinking about how precious — or even precarious — we think our freedoms are.

This week, New York (City) Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced New York City’s proposed plan to ban sugary beverages over 16 ounces (or more than 25 calories per 8 ounces) in fast-food restaurants. This means next year, New York City residents might have to cross city lines to score a Big Gulp at the local 7-11. Mayor Bloomberg said high-sugar, high-calorie beverages need to be banned because, as we all know, Mountain Dew makes people fat.

I think we’d all agree that there is something going on with the waistlines of a not-insignificant number of Americans. Americans are getting fatter. As a portly American I can personally attest to the fact that Americans, as a nationality, are a chubby bunch of folks. But — as much as I agree that America does have weight issues, I’m not too certain that a wholesale ban on sugary soft drinks is the way to win America’s battle of the bulge. Here’s the reason why:

Americans love freedom.  That is, we love the idea that the word “freedom” represents: being unrestricted, self-determination, not being controlled by fate or necessity, liberty. Every American possesses the freedom or liberty do what one pleases — as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The idea that our liberty, the freedom to do what we choose, is infringed upon (especially when the infringing is by the government), is inherently unappealing to many Americans. The notion that the government would restrict the exercise of one’s unalienable liberties is seen by some as downright un-American. Of course, how unAmerican banning sugary drinks is depends on what philosopher you read.

Liberty, defined as the freedom to do as one pleases, is often divided into two types:

  1. freedom from
  2. freedom to

Liberty, as “freedom from” is defined as freedom from restraint or interference by law (e.g. the concept of “natural rights” — As Thomas Hobbes writes, “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.”). Liberty, as “freedom to” is any right that we have the power to do, (e.g. freedom of speech or religion).

This is not the point I am trying to make.

The point that I am trying to make is that when we define freedom or liberty from a philosophical point to view (although some people argue that there is a distinction between the two, most people use them interchangably), we think that a being that possesses liberty is one that is autonomous, that is, free beings are self-legislating and directed by their (freely chosen) sense of reason or rationality. Philosophers such as the German philospher, Immanuel kant, argue that our rational choices are the result of of rationally-held beliefs. When we think in a clear, rational manner, Kant says, we will make ethically correct decisions. So what we choose to do, including what we choose to eat or drink, not only affects our health, but is also a moral decision as well. A person who chooses to drink a soda pop may be doing a bad thing to do healthwise — but he might also be doing a bad thing, period.

But, here’s the thing: if we see drinking sugary beverages as a moral choice in addition to a health choice, we run into the question concerning the role of government in legislating morality. The English philosopher John Locke wrote that governments are never successful when it comes to legislating morality (Locke famously wrote that forcing non-believers to go to church does no one any good). We might say that the ability to make our own rational choices outweighs any reason to curtail the availability of individuals to purchase high sugar, high calorie beverages. And Kant states any attempt to legislate on behalf of rational individuals is morally impermissible (as this denies said individuals the right to exercise their capacity to use their own rational judgment).

So at this point, we say that Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban is bad because the act of interfering with an individual’s ability to freely purchase a beverage of their choosing interferes with our ability to choose for ourselves. To respect an individual’s ability to choose, we must respect their choices, whether we find (the choices) objectionable or not.

We might be satisfied with a Kantian response to Bloomberg’s ban, but we have a problem: namely, governments have the right to restrict freedom — if the restriction is in the interest of preserving freedom. For example, murder is illegal. The government acknowledges that not allowing murder restricts some individuals, but making murder illegal also preserves the freedom of others (i.e. people who are not murdered). If banning sugary beverages serves the greater good, then a ban on sugary beverages may be justifed. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote

As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it… it is impossible for a person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to himself, without mischief reaching at least to his near connections, and often far beyond them. (63-7)

Mill says that when we believe that our actions affect no one but ourselves, we’re mistaken; our actions can reach far beyond ourselves. Proponents of the ban say that the costs of obesity outweigh an individual’s right to engage in behavior that results in higher medical costs for society at large. According to this argument, proponents of the ban aren’t overextending the reach of the Nanny State or vegan meannies who don’t want anyone to have any fun.  They are simply civic-minded citizens who are looking out for the whole and trying to to what is best for everyone.

….although that doesn’t explain why milkshakes and alcoholoc beverages are exempt.