Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I Am An Erosopher

The goddess Sophia
It is rare to find your own view's mirrored by another, some might call this the Zeitgeist, something simply in the air at a given moment of time come to ripeness and given expression. 

The occasion for these sentiments comes from the reading of a friend's recently published prize winning paper, Philosophy as the In-Between.  In it, Professor Kristof Vanhoutte explains that to "do" philosophy is inseparable from the doing of history of philosophy for, as Heidegger maintains, we create dialogue with the past to renew "momentum" in the present.  It is a return of philosophy back to its beginnings with the Greeks, and the renewal of that sense of wonder they called Eros.

Of the four ancient Greek words for love, "φιλία" Philía, describes a virtuous love, and is of course that love, conjoined with "Σοφíα" Sophia-wisdom, that gives us the word philosophy.  In contrast, "ἔρως" Eros is sensual desire and longing, and it is this conception of philosophy as almost a lust for wisdom that Vanhoutte makes explicit for us in his discussion of Plato's Symposium:
Eros is a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, because he finds himself between wisdom and ignorance. He is a philosopher because he loves one of the most beautiful things that exist: wisdom. In fact, by doing philosophy, by philosophizing, he can calm the continuous dissatisfaction in himself that is caused by the fact that he does not possess wisdom. As such, Eros is a philosopher because he participates in the love of wisdom: philosophy.
Again, the concept of "momentum", an energetic description for the lustful conception of philosophy as Eros, is the faculty for wonder that made the philosophic enterprise come into being in the first place.  It is a faculty all lovers of wisdom must cultivate, developed through conversation with the past, and why I call myself Erosopher.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Capital's Will

It occured to me the other day that Schopenhauer's concept of the Will has a great similarity to Marx's depiction of capital as almost a living  force.  Marx uses the word very much like Schopenhauer, as almost like the blind desire to self-perpetuation found in nature.

Of course taken too far this would imply that Marx was, instead of a sunny optimist certain of capitalism's downfall, in reality a Schopenhauerian pessimist.  Certainly since Marx's time the feeling that capital is inescapable, as it infuses its self throughout every aspect of our lives, is even more true now than it was then.

I found only one conversation in regard to it online, but it is certainly a relationship that bears closer analysis.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

On South Park And Bullshit

Many may be familiar with Harry G. Frankfurt's unlikely bestseller On Bullshit, published some few years ago. As someone who greatly enjoyed that work for more than its cheeky title, I soon began to see its applicability everywhere, as one would expect to in a world almost overflowing with the substance.

However, I found it not just in the usual places: Fox News, CNN, The “History” Channel, etc., but also in more popular media, and none more popular than the animated program South Park.

Frankfurt roughly defines bullshit in contrast to lying. A liar is someone who believes they know what is true and purposely mislead. A bullshitter does not care whether what they say is in accord with the truth or not: “It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truths – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

“So they're bullshitters, so what?” you say. In that we know we are being bullshitted it can be harmless fun, but to those more invested in the message (South Park Republicans for instance), more susceptible to unthinking persuasion, and those of us who just plain care about the truth, things get more complicated.

This is certainly the view Frankfurt would, I believe, support.  For: “Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides...[e]ach responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does...[he] pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

To demonstrate what Frankfurt means if we apply his definition to the program, in one famous episode, “All About Mormons”, Stan is befriended by a Mormon boy named Gary, whose family has recently moved to South Park. Stan becomes increasingly irritated by the boy's good humor and the loving relationship he has with his family, in comparison to the one Stan has with his own.

Stan researches the history of the Mormon Church only to become irritated all the more by the ludicrous nature of the Churches founding and the incomprehensible idea that anyone could take it seriously.

Finally, enraged beyond endurance, Stan calls him upon the lies his life is apparently built upon. Gary then explains how it doesn't matter what his family believes essentially, that the point is it works for them and Stan has: “got a lot of growing up to do, buddy.”

In another episode, “The Biggest Douche in the Universe”, Chef takes the boys to New York and the Crossing Over TV show to have John Edward talk to the spirit of Kenny. As the plot unfolds Kyle, believing his late grandmother has spoken to him through Edward, joins a Jewish school thinking it would be what she wanted. Stan then confronts Edward and teaches himself cold reading to demonstrate its invalidity. By the end we find it revealed that John Edward is a fraud, and Kyle returns with Stan to South Park, but not before Edward is abducted by aliens to be awarded his prize as biggest douche in the universe.

In contrasting these two episodes I wished to demonstrate not only the relativism Matt Stone and Trey Parker would appear to endorse, but the deeper ethical question of being swayed to the view's of individuals who are clearly not consistent thinkers, if not conscious bullshitters. In the first example they seem to be arguing that if something works for you, makes you feel warm and fuzzy, regardless of its external truth, is good enough.  But in the second example they clearly argue that a lie is not alright even if it brings comfort.

It will be objected that in the first instance the lie did not involve business but family life, and that in the second Edward was taking advantage of the deluded for financial gain. However, it can be argued just as strongly in reply that religions are lies which make millions, both from their followers and their tax exempt status. But, the larger issue Frankfurt's argument would support is that a lie is a lie, and in any situation is corrosive of our respect for the truth.

The final nail in the coffin confirming their complete disregard for truth of any kind is demonstrated by the “Insheeption” episode. Here they were at last called to account by their audience when it became obvious that they were mocking a movie they had not even seen, and what is more, stole what they did for the episode from a sketch on the comedy website College Humor. A perfect illustration of Frankfurt's observation that: “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.”

Of course again, none of this is of the slightest importance to the viewer who wishes to be merely entertained. However, it does cast a shadow over their credibility as honest people.

This all leads us perhaps to some disturbing conclusions that reflect upon the present mindset of our society. In a world where bullshit is preferable to hard truths, those same hard truths social satire is tasked with exposing, the greatest bullshitters of all may be ourselves when we come to value entertainment over honesty.

Monday, July 04, 2011

More Than Meets The Eye

Recently I had the opportunity to see the latest film in the Transformers franchise.  As a child of the eighties, I felt a thrill of nostalgia run through me as I relived, in an epic fashion, the adventures of the Autobots that had so excited my childhood imagination.

Yet, as the story progressed, my critical faculties reasserted themselves.  We discover rapidly that the entire Apollo program was merely a ruse, an excuse for the U.S. government to get to the moon before the Soviets and obtain an alien technology in the form of an Autobot spacecraft that had crashed there some years before.

In the course of this I wondered what Buzz Aldrin would say about one of mankind's greatest achievements, in the development of which at least three people died, being used as a mere plot device in a movie for a line of toys.  To my astonishment my question was soon answered when the man himself appeared and was introduced to the Autobot leader Optimus Prime.  Certainly a prime example (no pun intended) of how capital comes soon or late to degrade everything once pure, and the ad men once again make a commodity of our dream's.