On Political Correctness

A controversial term

I can’t think of a term nowadays that sparks so much debate as “political correctness”. People see it everywhere, from TV shows, to advertisement, to censorship laws, through virtual signaling… What I think should be highlighted in all of this is not the term itself but the implications behind using it. What are we really saying when we say something is “politically correct” ?

Mind your manners

It’s a habit of our civilized societies to want to police how people speak and direct offensive speech toward the back of discourse. A little bit like unfavorable traits that we try to keep hidden from view, so that our friends can only see that Facebook profile picture where we’re smiling in the company of our friends, our loved ones, our pets, etc… Everyone is living a life akin to a Disney movie, and everything is fine, up until you start asking controversial questions.

  • Who is for and against abortion?
  • Who thinks white people are in part responsible for the attitudes of minorities toward them?
  • Who thinks we were in the right to invade Iraq?
  • Who thinks islam is a religion of peace?
  • Who thinks women should be equal to men?

If you ask these questions, among others, you will not get passive answers. Someone, somewhere will say something that offends another person or causes them to rise up and defend their opinion on the subject, because they know fully well it isn’t “politically correct”. The idea behind invoking an idea as being politically incorrect is that it must be true in some form because it speaks an unspoken truth, one that those who use PC language are trying to hide. That idea is of course originating from politics, wherein it is rare that politicians will say things that are politically incorrect (in theory), because it might cost them their elections.

Obviously, this means that whoever utilizes language that goes against this convention is risking something. Risking backlash from the community, for example. It’s sort of calling out a behavioral attitude to speech, in that certain things should be left unsaid in order not to offend or to disrupt social cohesion. There’s definitely a problem with that, more than one in fact.

Politeness

For centuries we’ve asked of young children that they be “polite”, I.E. that they speak correctly, so as to not offend, typically to not make their parents look bad in front of other parents. As they grow old, this sort of hold on language, depending on the times, is not given as much of an importance. This habit is thus to help shape the behaviors that we desire or wish to uphold in our society. If only it were that simple.

We’ve referred to politeness as simply being respectful of other people, but sometimes politeness is used to hide the most insidious of secrets. Political correctness seems to be criticized due to this, as if the people who demand certain phrases be removed from common discourse are hiding something sinister. Some sort of truth that they don’t want to be heard about themselves.

As such, when people who oppose PC culture hear “fat-shaming”, what they understand is:

“I know I’m fat, but I don’t want to be called that.”

When they hear “slut-shaming”, what registers is:

“I know I’m a slut, but I don’t want to be called that.”

When they hear “ableist”, what registers is:

“I know I’m a retard, but I don’t want to be called that.”

Just like it could have been said that if Timmy was saying something mean about Miss Cosgrove, it was probably true, but best left to ambiguous language. In fact, ambiguity has a lot to do with the criticism of political correctness. There’s the presumption that by making language more ambiguous, we are no longer speaking the truth but half-truths diluted in meaningless phrasing. Something we Quebeckers refer to as “patiner” (ice-skating, or in this case, verbal ice-skating).

You can see that when politicians give a one minute answer to a simple question that does not even answer the question. Isn’t there some kind of error in this, though? Why do we think that changing the way we speak is in itself some kind of evil thing that will dilute language and force us to never speak the truth anymore?

Why care?

Something I’d say a lot when I was younger and a boastful gamer on Counter-Strike is “this is so fucking gay”, whenever a situation was not going in my direction or I was losing the game. I didn’t think anything of it, heck I had done my fair share of homosexual things, as a bisexual. So why did I use that term? Simple: because everybody else was. These words that we ascribe minimal meaning can have enormous implications for other people. “So what?” I hear you ask, “if people are offended by what I say, they just have to not listen to me.”

You are right, and there’s also the issue of being able to hear what “the other side” has to say in every story. That’s always fruitful in some way or another, but you’re reducing a sociocultural question to an anecdotal level. It’s not what YOU say, it’s what EVERYBODY is saying. It’s not YOUR actions, it’s the actions of EVERYBODY. Because we humans are social animals, and if there’s one thing we’re good at as evolved primates, it’s imitation.

So when I heard my fellow dudes utter the phrase “this is so gay”, I would say it as well, and sometimes probably in presence of gay students at school. I thought nothing of them because they didn’t speak up. Why would they? Everybody was using it. They probably started using it themselves as well at one point, off of acceptation that their homosexuality was being used as an insult.

It’s cool to be independent and have a strong personality, hell I enjoy that very much myself. Yet, what trouble is it to you, as a strong and independent individual, to perhaps temper your terms when in the presence of people who you know – and you do – that those terms will offend them? You probably have friends who are minorities, yet you probably do use language that offends them, but they don’t tell you because they’re friends with you and they like you.

I still struggle with my own language at times and I say things that are involuntarily offensive, because I thought it’d make a good joke.

There’s no way to know whether what we’re saying is offensive unless other people tell us, and truthfully, we can’t be the judge of that unless we are in such a condition that those words hurt us. So when you’re with your friends, and you start making gay jokes or black people jokes, yeah they may laugh, but remember that your jokes are probably going to come off as offensive to folks who AREN’T your friends.

There’s a reason for that, and you know it: The Social Contract.

It works in a very simple logic: Your reach extends as far as where mine begins. Therefore, if you intentionally speak words that put prejudice upon my being, I should very well be allowed to call you out for it and vice-versa. It isn’t political correctness, at this point, it’s just human decency. (No you can’t make up reasons to be offended and then use them as some kind of knock-down argument: that’s silly, selfish and childish.)

Dear outraged people

I am turning now to those who are excessive with their usage of terms like “ableist” and “x-shaming”. While I agree that some things people say are definitely hateful and come from a place of bigotry, it is more worthwhile to educate people about why saying these things is wrong than just telling them they are and blocking them when they choose not to comply. If you don’t want to educate them, send them my way, it’ll be my pleasure to sit down and have a chat.

It’s absolutely understandable that because there’s so many people out there who just WON’T understand, that you no longer care to explain your condition and why for the 1000th time. There are people like me who will be glad to help if only to speak on a level-headed perspective. I’m not enabling these people to have this speech of theirs by accepting to speak with them, I’m allowing them to at least not act like they’re being stifled in their freedom of expression.

Because, like it or not, by telling every single potential misogynist out there to “just stop” whenever they ask one of their sealioning questions, what you do is you let those people conglomerate in little groups and become more and more convinced that there’s some kind of agenda. Those people turn into MGTOWs and MRAs and white supremacists, not by your fault alone, of course not, but just like the 1000th guy who asks you a question you’ve answered a 1000 time, these people eventually grow tired.

Nothing excuses hate, but nothing defeats hate better than love.

So if your heart is being tainted by all the hate you’ve received, delegate to people who are willing to chat with these guys.

Those willing to discuss with people who are opposite to you in a civil manner, speak up and take over when you see those conversations are getting out of hand, and invite the person to speak only to you, so you can exchange on the difficult subject with no risk of stigma.

In conclusion

I want to stress that if the movement for equality and equity wants to defeat hate, it must do so not with censorship but with overwhelming love. We need to put love in the market of ideologies, in order to trump hate. Love is not passive, it is active and it is wonderful. Those with hate in your hearts, learn to love. Our history is filled with hate, and we could do, as a civilization, with a bit more love.

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Words and Legal Positivism

Definitions and Usage

There is a discrepancy in modern discourse between the words, their meanings and how they are utilized in everyday discussions. You’ve probably read some of my articles on the matter, where I tried to explain why we aren’t really in a democracy. There was also another one where I tried to make the distinction between the American usage of the word “liberal” and what it means in reality. What is really important to understand with words is that they can be used to convey any form of meaning, based on how we use them. Right now, there is a misuse of the word “neoliberal” that I’ve found myself correcting more than a handful of times.

Those who remember the history of politics for the last 20-30 years or so will be able to associate “neoliberal” with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two people who were elected with the mission to stabilize ailing economies, but did so in brutal economic fashion. Cutting up public funding to vital infrastructures, putting the money gained from this gutting into the hands of private institutions and in police enforcement. Repressive economic measures are called “austerity”, where the government decides to halt all supplementary funding to public institutions in order to stack up on money and to reduce the national debt. In the case of neoliberals, this means slacking on corporate laws and fiscal regulations, spreading an ideology of de-unionization in the populace so that they will all begin to think as individuals and not as a people.

I could go on about this very odious moment of existence in the Western world, but I’ll refrain from doing so. What we must take away from the extremely loaded significance of the world “neoliberal” is that it must not be used lightly. As do most words that we use on a daily basis, this term should be used only when it is appropriate. Some people think that neoliberal nowadays means anyone who supports the DNC plutocracy or votes for a DNC candidate. The danger with this is that neoliberals have traditionally been conservatives, libertarians of the right who espouse the virtues of the free market at all costs and reduced government intervention in national economics. If you associate a virulent and oblivious fan of the DNC establishment to neoliberalism, you’re not only using the word wrongly, you’re allowing for the right to use the word against the left.

It won’t change the fact that both of you will be wrong, but it will hurt the overall aim of the left. Now, why is that?

Legal Positivism

In certain court cases, victory can be decided simply by choosing the definition of words to suit one’s needs. If the prosecutor, for example, says that the defense has “assaulted” the victim, the case can be lost solely by inspecting the lawful definition for “assault” and then deliberating on whether what the defendant did constitutes as “assault”. Translate this into political discourse, and then you get people who have nothing at all to do with neoliberalism being identified as such. So, when someone on the right picks up on this misuse (if they haven’t already), they can use that to manipulate DNC voters to go Republican, because the DNC are the bad guys, not the GOP. All it takes is for people to misuse the word, like how the word “liberal” has become a pejorative for anyone who is for diversity, even though liberalism is literally what the United States is founded upon.

Now of course, the thing here is that maybe the DNC doesn’t need to win and all America has to do is do away with the bipartisan elections. When is that going to happen, though? There’s talk of mobilization and there’s talk of voting for a strong third contender against the DNC and the RNC, but how much of that will really come to pass? I find myself looking in deception at Noam Chomsky, as he becomes some kind of icon for much of the new progressive left right next to Bernie Sanders, but both of them are old men. I have nothing against old men at all, but what the Jack Layton NDP debacle has shown me is that depending on people like that to guide the way can only result in some kind of deception. I’m sorry to say that because of this blind worshipping of old men, there are no viable alternatives, should they die. I don’t believe for one moment that Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks or Jimmy Dore can form an adequate replacement to lead the movement forward. Someone else will have to stand in the darkness.

One could speak of Caitlin Johnstone, but from what I’ve seen, aside from being an overbearing bulldog who condescends to anyone who disagrees with her, she has nothing of real value to provide to the political discourse, just more aggression, more faux-outrage at speculations. I would put her in the same basket as the TYT, Jimmy Dore and really whatever other political commentator out there. Most of these people are there to galvanize and have their 15 minutes of glory, destroying idols that everyone has worshipped for decades. If this is the defense for the Left, in the case words get hijacked the way they have been, I fear for the progressive revolution, because it is extremely ill-equipped to face the eloquence of a reinvigorated right.

Usage and transformation

It is undoubtedly true that words change over time, but not typically in the course of 20-30 years. Neoliberalism is still very much in use nowadays by political commentators and theorists alike. A common mistake people do when they speak of terms and phenomena is base them around their own perspective. So, if I think a liberal is someone who likes equality, then a lot of people will be liberals. In fact, however, a liberal should be someone who simply likes to weigh both sides of a story and come out with the best solution, without regard for whatever both sides might say. You might otherwise know this as “centrism”. Yet, when Americans speak of “liberals” they typically mean people on the left. Most interestingly, when far-leftists refer to “liberals” they hardly ever speak of them as allies. In fact, both the right and the far-left tend to dislike liberals, although the Left is usually a little bit more tolerant of them.

Lost yet? That’s because the point of misusing words is to ascribe negative connotations to things that on their own are relatively harmless. For example: Do you believe in liberty and right to property? If you said yes, you may very well be a liberal, in the philosophical sense. You could also ascertain that most Americans are liberals because “liberty” and “property” are the two things that basically shape most of human rights laws. So why do Americans somehow give a negative connotation to liberalism? Is it because liberals are too lenient toward minorities? If so, this “insult” is more with regards to tolerance. Are liberals too tolerant, to Americans? If so, why is this tolerance negative?

Dig a little deeper and you can very easily find why tolerance of the other is an enormous issue in society and why misusing (voluntarily) words is part of allowing political momentum to sway in your favor. Certain very smart individuals can easily use words that are seemingly harmless and put them at the forefront of their doctrine, to paint an enemy for their followers to detest. Liberalism, although the very ideology behind the Founding Fathers of the United States, is turned into ridicule, a pejorative to be thrown at those who might be too tolerant of blacks, homosexuals, worker rights, etc…

So who are the opponents of “liberalism” in that case? They are also liberals, except of the more conservative kind. They respect the idea of liberty and property, but think that allowing minorities to have more rights will eventually take away theirs. It becomes necessary, then, to separate oneself from the word liberal and simply identify as a “conservative”. Now, being conservative on its own is not ill-meaning, is it? It just means an appreciation of tradition and of moral values that are perhaps more old-fashioned. It doesn’t mean you have to force others to do the same.

Yet, in the eternal feud between “liberals” and “conservatives”, this is the no-man’s land. One side fears losing heritage and historical relevance and the other wishes to pave the way to the future. It is possible that both sides have some things right and some things wrong, but in the end, humanity survives through cooperation, therefore the transformation of words into misusage only serves to hurt humanity’s progress.

Interpretation in philosophy

It is a notion of philosophy that is not often spoken of, but “interpretation” plays a big role in our understanding of the world. Directly between us and the thing-in-itself is our perception, translating what this thing is to us. If we have a skewed imagination which makes us see things where there aren’t any, i.e. an enemy where one should see nothing but a potential friend, we are perpetuating humanity’s sins. Ignorance is not inherent: it is chosen. When we choose to sit upon our interpretation based on a priori perceptions e.g. ideas alone, without experience of the things we interpret, we are much more liable to be wrong. In psychology, this is referred to as System 1 and System 2, which are psychological phenomena and not neurological.

System 1 is our primal instincts kicking in when we discover something unknown to us. It gives us a reassuring thought candy to make us blissfully unaware or it tells us that this thing is outrageous and must be done away with, as an example. We can’t of course reduce System 1 to only this, but what I want you to get out of this example is that the human mind is irrevocably unable to not have a biased reception toward new phenomena. First, we try to associate this new phenomena to our existing sphere of knowledge, and we force it to fit in with the rest of the image we have of the world.

Even if the puzzle does not fit, we’ll keep it there because we aren’t used to being wrong about the things we take for granted. Now, say that we extrapolate this to misusing words. It is inevitable that if we use words with the wrong meaning in the wrong situation, and take that as granted, that we are going to have an erroneous view of the world. My examples above have been with regards to Liberalism but I’ll take something else for the following.

Let’s say you have a debate with someone, and you both argue about the difference between your ideologies and your argument is held around a certain philosophical notion. You say that the attributes of that notion are X and he says it is Y. Well, in the situation where the two of you have separate qualifiers for the same thing, is it at all possible that what you are arguing  about is not even that thing but something else entirely?

Images and Words

Let’s say I ask you to tell me what a person from a certain group might look like. What will happen is you’ll associate an image of the word I am telling you to a stereo-type that’s already been created in your mind. So let’s say I am asking you to think of what a drummer looks like. You’ll probably have the drummer of a band in your head and you’ll base your image of what a drummer looks like on that. There’s no knowing what a drummer looks like because there is no one specific look for drummers. Moreover, some drummers do not work off of a kit but participate in drum lines. Maybe I meant a drum line drummer? You can see then that when the image we’re associating to words is incomplete or based off the wrong information we have “anchored” to our brain, we’ll still come up with it as the easiest shortcut to truth.

This is the sort of thing that makes or breaks a court case, when we invoke ingrained biases as a form of truth that we THINK everyone else should agree upon. Once we’ve been brought into this blind spot, we will become oblivious to the errors in our arguments and those in the other, because if OUR view is wrong, then we certainly cannot properly understand whether the adversary is. We’ll believe ourselves to be right, but in truth, we are wrong. It is paramount, thus, to ensure that when there is litigation between two parties, that the definition of the terms is properly understood.

“When I said this, I meant that…”

“Oh well, to me, this means that…”

Interpretation of law goes a long way to make us understand the importance of properly defining our terms, and this can be inserted into everyday discourse. You can also think of how some fights break out between couples. Sometimes, both parties want the same thing but they have problems explaining themselves, and as such, appear to view things from a different POV but are merely misunderstanding each other.

In conclusion

More than in legal cases, words and their meanings shape the conflict between human beings. You need only look at the primary complain of individuals on social media who try to discuss discrimination: “Idpol poisons everything” they will say. The reason it does is typically a difference in meaning for words that change hands between groups. To an everyday person, a homosexual person is simply a gay individual, but to someone who actively does militant work either on social media or on the streets, the mere reduction of homosexuality to the word seems offensive, because it appears to deny transgenderism. Now, there may be a case for and against such an interpretation, but the problem, at its root, stems from a disagreement in definitions and both parties in an ideological trench war take for granted that their definitions are correct and the adversary’s is wrong.

This must be undone, and people must agree upon the meaning behind words before they start labeling other people and themselves with it. There is what the dictionary says and then there is how it is applied in academic circles and how specialists in the field refer to them. Patriarchy to some is some evil conspiracy, but to most feminist scholars, it is simply the subject of their study. It is not bad unto itself, but its existence cannot be denied. Just like I often write about how we do not live in a democracy, does not mean that democracy is superior, merely that we should at least admit that a democracy this is not.

When we cannot do that, then we are lost and our fight is always going to be for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Sociology

Art as a social marker

Sociologists will sometimes refer to changes in social behavior as being related to the environment that human beings evolve in. There’s also the way that we describe these changes. Some people go through more abstract functions, others are more direct and incisive in their criticism of society. Rappers and hip hop artists are commonly using social criticism as a starting point for their writings. The reason the lyrics to a hip hop song resonate within so many people is because they usually reflect the reality of those listening to them.

A rap group which I have been fond of for many years is the French band “IAM”, which is comprised of poor, immigrant, working class men who rose above to become big stars in the scene, despite significant stigma for their subject manner. Many of their songs revolved around the quality of life of men living in poverty and trying anything to make ends meet, when they are underprivileged immigrants living in ghettos. In their 1999 album “L’École du Micro d’Argent” (School of the Silver Micro – short for microphone), IAM set out in many of their songs to decry not only the quality of life of individuals like themselves growing up, but also of the inherent inequality in French society, as well as the negative media attention they got for calling these things out.

One of their most famous songs is on this opus, called “L’Empire du Côté Obscur”.

In it, the song describes the racism prevalent in France at the time of writing, by contrasting the so-called “good guys” who are white against the band members, who are all immigrants. The band appears to be embracing the negative image that the French society is reflecting back at them, particularly the Mayor of Marseilles back then, Jean-Claude Gaudin. In particular, the Chorus makes an inversion between the roles of light and darkness.

“Sous les feux / la vérité est masquée” – Which translates to “Under the light, truth is obscured.”

This highlights the fact that immigrants feel like they are unjustly vilified but are ready to play their part to the end, because there’s nothing else for them to do, to combat the system which keeps them down. However, the battle is not physical, as Shurik’N, in the first half of the song refers to a Pilot V5 as his lightsaber. The Pilot V5 is an ink pen, meaning that rather than attacking his opponents physically, he decimates them through his poetic prose.

Hip Hop and Rap end up serving as the only means by which the oppressed minorities can talk back against their oppressors, even though they are still seen as the villains simply for speaking up against this injustice.

It is in this that I wish to present the argument in this article, that art, alike technology, inspires our thoughts and the collective memory of a moment in time. Music is part of culture and culture evolves as a society evolves. For the impoverished minorities of France, this music is some kind of way to expel all the aggression and hopelessness they feel. In one moment, they are equal to their jailors, able to spit back at them and make money while doing it.

First example: Hip Hop

Although I did just present a RAP group (IAM) as an example of how the poverty of minorities inspires their imagination, I want to bring our attention to an older title and probably amongst the first to criticize society and institutionalized poverty / racism.

 

“The Message” establishes itself as an incisive and strong critique of society, particularly the New York subculture. In the very first verse of the song, we are met with this:

Broken glass everywhere

People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care

I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise

Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice

Rats in the front room, roaches in the back

Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat

I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far

’Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

While there is of course the usual rhythm and the rhyme to the song, you can tell that this is not merely poetic prose but a message, hence the title of the song. The first verse lays out the foundation to the rest of the song: People in the same state of being as the Singer are in a situation where everything is miserable, yet there’s no way out. Our subject here is stuck in a hellhole and the moment he tries to leave, someone came and repossessed his truck, forcing him to remain in this place. He doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t like the ghetto. Then comes the Hook, which is the transition between bits of the story being told here.

Don’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge

I’m trying not to lose my head

It’s like a jungle sometimes

It makes me wonder how I keep from going under

He’s already passed the point of no return, yet he’s surviving still. Our singer here is not alone in his plight, however. As we know, poverty is rampant in the ghettos that the Segregation has created in America, and with the systemic lack of support for the residents, in these parts of town, you can easily expect that when someone gets “pushed” through the edge, something violent will happen. Something desperate.

Standing on the front stoop, hanging out the window

Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezes blow

Crazy lady, living in a bag

Eating out of garbage pails, used to be a fag hag

Said she’ll dance the tango, skip the light fandango

A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses

Down at the peep show watching all the creeps

So she can tell her stories to the girls back home

She went to the city and got social security

She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own

There are two stories held in this verse. One of a lady who used to hang around “fags” who are of course homosexuals. This homophobic term was used much more easily in the 80s (the song came out in 1982), and it’s safe to presume that this lady used to be someone of some social privilege. Yet, she is here eating out of garbage pails and offering herself up for extra cash.

Grandmaster Flash then goes into the story of a “Zircon” princess. Zircon being a virtually worthless mineral that passes itself off as diamond. This girl is an image of the self-important teenagers who at a distance make light of the problems of the inner city, yet when she got to the city (with no job), she tried to get on with social security. That did not work and then she had to find a pimp, to fill in the financial gaps. Again, these are stories oft-repeated that we can imagine Flash has either seen or heard of repeatedly during his time in New York.

In the next verse, we have another story that has been found repeated across the African-American demographics in the United States as well as in other countries where institutionalized racism occurred. This instance showcases the school-to-prison pipeline:

My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
’Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps

A reality of poorer demographics, and one of the reasons they show up in crime statistics so much is demonstrated above. It is a story, for certain, but the reason music becomes so popular is that people identify with it, and they certainly identified with this song and the “message” it was sending out. It’s often been theorized – and as far as I know, rap artists agree as well – that hip hop and rap music has been a way for minorities and people of color to express their misery to a larger audience, when the government will not listen to them and instead makes their situations worse via (among other things) gentrification.

Metal / Rock

The band Snot is not particularly famous, but like Grandmaster Flash, it was part of a movement in the 90s of cynical music by very talented and (often) troubled artists. In the case of Snot, their lead singer died one year after the release of their first album. The band has been on and off for years since then. A song I want to look at is “Snooze Button”.

 

The song is certainly bombastic, and the theme throughout is the lack of political engagement in American society. In the 90s, there was a lot going on and people were starting to feel like the U.S. government wasn’t really out to help them but rather hurt them. This cynicism was probably exacerbated with Bill Clinton, and the first Gulf War, along with the War on Crime, which mostly targeted poor, working-class Americans.

Well, it’s just another song
Talkin’ about how you let them take your rights
Another redundant verse about how you refused to fight & lost
What cost? Your cause has got no champion
How could you hope to win? By just complaining

Quite clearly, right off the bat, the song is giving off a sarcastic vibe of being fed up with not only the system, but the people deciding to just give up. Nothing’s going to change, so why try? I think a much more scathing segment of the opening verse is “Your cause has got no champion”, which might imply that the author expects the person targeted by this song to stop waiting for a messiah and get up, get out there and make it happen.

As evidenced by the chorus:

Hook:

They took your so-called rights
You didn’t even fight

Chorus:

Well, here’s your motherfuckin’ wake up call
& there just ain’t no way around it
Caught you asleep once again & we ain’t havin’ it
Got freedumb for you to do just what they tell you
You missed that train of thought
You refuse to be taught a lesson
Now this is what I’m guessing
You’ll be held accountable
The things you didn’t want to know
You’re stressin’
Now with your mind they keep messin’
They took your so-called rights, you didn’t even fight

That the things you know exist and can hurt you don’t go away just by ignoring them and continuing to do as they tell you. The danger is still very real, and you know it, but you refuse to fight because you think the cost of resisting outweighs the benefits. In a way, you can’t be blamed for that, but that’s exactly how you become just a sheep in the herd, waiting for the day your fleece will be taken from you. It is a call to action because everyone else is busy apparently sleeping and no one wakes up if you don’t.

While you were busy fuckin’ sleepin’
You know your government was creepin’
Somebody left the door unlocked while you were asleep
Your life was bought & sold, yes, to the highest bidder

With regards to the War on Drugs, phones being wiretapped, mail intercepted, being “routine checked” while you’re walking on the streets of your ghetto. There’s also a lead-in for corporate media, which comes right after this part:

Left you in sitcom hell
So convinced you’re doing well
You sit back synapses are attacked
American gladiators are the only thing they’re given’ back
You’re dying & in your mind, while they keep lying,

A lot of popular sitcoms came out in the 90s, getting people to meet on a routine basis to watch the story of fictional characters unfold. It took their minds off of work and most particularly, off of what was going on around them, because after watching TV, the family was going to sleep and that was it. Maybe the parents would watch the news, but they would either fall asleep in front of it or switch off due to feeling powerless toward injustice. Dying and in your mind implies that the subject of the song is being alienated from the world he’s in, and thus becoming like an unthinking zombie, who swallows the lies that he’s given by his government. So what is the solution to all this?

They took your so-called rights
You didn’t even fight
Now that we’ve given you this message you’ve got a mess
But you can salvage, continue to grow
& soon you’ll know that little things in life can make a difference
You don’t got to be some politician
Take back those given rights
Stand up & join the fight

No need to champion a cause by your own, join the band in the rallying cry to take back your rights. It is a struggle, but there is something that can be salvaged and you can grow, without needing to be rich and buying the things that your TV lets you know are what you should want for yourself: Big screen TVs, expensive cars, a lovely wife and two beautiful children with your own little suburban paradise. What you have may not be much but it doesn’t have to tell the story of you, because you’re a brother to those who fight regardless of who you are or what you own.

Pop Music

Although most people who are deeply interested in music will typically dislike pop music, it is pop music and therefore pop culture that shape what the people listen to in majority and what gets aired on the radio, which shapes a sociological marker in history. Pop music varies in style and intensity based on decades. In the 60s, “rock” was becoming very popular, and the Beatles were at the top of their game during that time. In the 70s, we had a bit more psychedelic styles, and in the 80s was “New Wave”, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, glam metal, hair metal, etc. etc…

The 80s saw such a vast liberation of musical styles as a result of the 60s and 70s sexual revolution: When sex became less of a public taboo and could be talked about much more openly than in previous decades. The 80s was mostly marked with teenage rebellion and girl power; the 2nd wave of feminism having provoked traumatic changes to the cultural landscape. In the 90s, pop music started introducing Boy Bands, which were bands of “cute” men and boys singing love-drenched songs, along with your “could be” and “would be” and “should be” promises that got teenage girls in that decade to fawn over the vacuous nature of hunky boy-band types.

In the case of pop music, there is no specific message other than being the reflection of values at the time of writing. It’s rather rare that songs in pop music will bear a message poignant enough as to cause a change in culture. Typically, the songs that do will be marred with politically correct language, so as to not offend any political party or partisans involved, to the point of diluting what could be a powerful message. “Heal the World”, which although it was a very moving song, was only really calling upon the poor to change a world that the artists themselves could very well be helping to change, what with the millions of dollars they were making. It gives off a very hypocritical vibe.

There is a good example of music from popular artists that could be part of pop culture (due only to their popularity) and that is the “shock” artists; those who make music with lyrics just offending enough to be put on radio but still too shocking for certain associations to leave radio stations alone for playing them.

Shock Artists: Marilyn Manson

Who else, right?

Marilyn Manson was the marriage of two infamous people: Charles Manson and Marilyn Monroe. The character was supposed to be this beautiful but wretched man who spits venom and dresses oddly, challenging the norms of society at the time. There’s a reason Marilyn Manson was so popular (and still is) and it was because of the attempt by American society to deny the existence of very marginalized individuals. In the 90s, in fact, as a result of the Boy-Bands, what it meant to be a man was becoming extremely difficult on young teenagers in general: Having to be tall, hunky, athletic without a trace of body hair was a tall order for a lot of teenage males. It was also a way of normalizing heterosexuality.

When Marilyn Manson arrived with his androgynous, filthy, blasphemous character, he challenged all of the politically correct at once: No, men don’t need to be hunky. No, it isn’t right to hold your tongue when something wrong is happening. No, it isn’t normal that we treat the marginal the way we do. No, it isn’t okay to legitimize religious indoctrination. Normality itself is a sin, to one such as Manson.

 

The Beautiful People was hugely popular with the rebellious, the goths and the otherwise marginalized in society, but not only in America.

Like with Snot, the song has a definite sarcastic tone to it. Out in 1996, the song was chewing up the hypocrisy of pop culture and spitting it back at it, all at the same time putting Manson on the cultural map. The video itself is ripe with shocking imagery that would become the staple of Manson video clips.

And I don’t want you and I don’t need you
Don’t bother to resist, or I’ll beat you
It’s not your fault that you’re always wrong
The weak ones are there to justify the strong

This speaks from a position of hierarchy: You exist for my pleasure, and although I need you to justify my existence, I send you mixed messages about this. This is a hearkening to the psycho-social effect of power balances in society, where the weak need the strong, but the strong think they don’t need the weak.

The beautiful people, the beautiful people
It’s all relative to the size of your steeple
You can’t see the forest for the trees
You can’t smell your own shit on your knees

Power balance in the case of this song being the superficial attachment to the material, and the inherent ugliness of the sort of behavior that leads people to call themselves “The Beautiful People”. Being unable to see the forest for the trees means that the Beautiful People only see those of their kin but disregard the rest of the forest, and then ignore their own ugliness (shit on your knees).

There’s no time to discriminate
Hate every motherfucker
That’s in your way

This part of the song is the hook, which could refer to a reply to the above or simply be a summary of the thought, being that the Beautiful People are so inherently selfish that they’ll devour each other if it comes down to it. You can imagine the saying “dog eats dog” would apply here.

Hey you, what do you see?
Something beautiful or something free?
Hey, you, are you trying to be mean?
If you live with apes man, it’s hard to be clean

This seems to be a dialogue, but I don’t think so. It seems more like a message from the Beautiful People to the lower masses. Look at us, the rich, the beautiful, the privileged… Aren’t we wonderful? Why are you trying to be mean to us and our corruption? If we weren’t around you people, we wouldn’t have to be like this. It could refer to the habit of the political class in America to blame the poor for their own problems. I also think this can be tied in to the pre-chorus, in that the Beautiful People will blame each other before they recognize their own faults.

The worms will live in every host
It’s hard to pick which one they eat most
The horrible people, the horrible people
It’s as anatomic as the size of your steeple
Capitalism has made it this way
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away

This entire verse is a quip on capitalism and most likely corporatism. With all the corruption, and the “dog eats dog” antics, eventually, someone will come up to the top (as a result of capitalism’s competitive nature) and get rid of the competition: Hence, the Beautiful People will ensure that only their kind of people make the bulk of society; Fascism being authoritarian nationalism and Identitarianism, resulting in a totalitarian regime where one people, one mind exist for the glory of one nation.

At this point, the song repeats the Chorus a few times before ending.

Marilyn Manson is obviously referring, across the song at the hypocritical nature of pop culture and the way American politics are shaped around so-called virtue, while the people who believe themselves to be virtuous are full of worms and selfishness, motivated by greed. Their end-goal is fascism because once they will become threatened by the “horrible people”, they will turn to conservative and far-right politics to get rid of the dissent. It’s not so far from the truth, as the Trump Presidency in 2016 has shown, the more minorities demanded air space, the more extreme the response from those benefitting from the “Beautiful People” normality became.

In Conclusion: What is MY message in all this?

The message is that there is more to kick-ass songs that we like than just the music. A lot of the time, we can hear some of us ask each other to read more books, but sometimes simply listening to a thought-provoking song and primarily its lyrics, can lead one to read on the situation or to at least become aware of a condition they might not otherwise be open to investigate otherwise. In our world of instantaneity, it becomes primordial to have the rapidity of execution to pull off an engaging social commentary, but in order to do so, people have to be willing to listen.

I also think that if you are doing sociology or looking up what people thought or felt during various times of history, you can easily see that from which artists enjoyed fame from their work during their periods of existence. There’s a reason a band like The Doors worked, there’s a reason why Michael Jackson had such a following, and those aren’t just consumerism. What happens in the world surrounding us affects us either directly or indirectly, and causes us to make certain decisions based on this environment. The music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the food we eat are all part of the impacts of events in our society on the collective imagination.

 

 

 

Why don’t Presidents fight the war?

 

Nice song, eh?

Brings back good memories, stuff about my youth and being disenfranchised against the system and just wanting to destroy everything about a world I hated. There’s a fragment of this song that I think is not given enough attention, and has been part of political discourse for a very long time. Boris Vian, in a very touching poem and song, wrote about his experience in the first World War and how he refused to fight in the new one. It was called “Le Déserteur” (the Deserter). Toward the end, the poem goes a little bit like this:

S’il faut donner son sang

Allez donner le vôtre

Vous êtes bon apôtre

Monsieur le Président

“If blood must be spilled, go and spill yours, you are a good apostle, Mr. President.”

This is more or less a translation of the above. At the time, it was quite revealing of the mindset of some people in France. Throughout the song, Boris Vian describes the horrors he went through and his time as a prisoner of war. It’s sung in a rather melancholy tone, one of resignation. One which makes sense, because the song ends shortly after that last paragraph on:

Si vous me poursuivez

Prévenez vos gendarmes

Que je n’aurai pas d’armes

Et qu’ils pourront tirer

“Should you pursue me – advise your officers – that I will be unarmed – and that they can shoot me.”

The song in itself inspires civil disobedience but also a kind of resigned pacifism and pessimism. He knows fully well that people like himself can get imprisoned for pacifism and that desertion can lead to getting executed. Yet, for all the risks that his decision entails, the man portrayed in the song has decided he’d rather die than go back to the front and kill other “poor folks”. Since then, the song has been taken up by various artists, some more renowned than others, but the original I think is still superior to anything else, simply because of the minimalistic musical arrangement.

 

Sure, it’s bloody, but at least only one man died instead of hundreds. I would much rather there never be war, but humanity being what it is, it seems nigh impossible that war will cease to occur in the foreseeable future (barring a complete extinction of the human race). That being said, let’s move on to actually answering the question.

Presidents don’t fight wars, they make them

In order for a state to go in war against another, the decision has to come from the top. Citizens cannot themselves declare war upon another state and say that their warcry represents their country. In order for that to be, they have to be backed by an order from the highest authority in the nation. In America, it’s the President; in Canada, it’d be Parliament along with the Prime Minister. Once that is done, does Congress or Parliament go to war themselves? Of course not, that’s for the lower classes to do. They have a state to manage.

It’s in war that politics becomes truly honest, because politicians are safe from the war they are having the citizens wage. This makes sense, after all, because if the governors and mayors and ministers and representatives all went to war, who’d be left to enact anti-desertion laws? That’s notwithstanding the fact that even if the people are not in the mood for good old state fisticuffs, there’s nothing that some properly constructed propaganda can’t fix. Propaganda has become the new means of political coercion in the so-called democracies we live in.

Once you have a known protagonist and a known antagonist, all you have to do is pit one against the other and proclaim the protagonist as being righteous in HIS violence against the antagonist’s wife and children. Wars serve the appropriate role of perpetuating friction and tension between nation-states, so that very slight changes in political playgrounds open old wounds that are steeped in extreme violence. While we are chanting the praises of the Allied victory, we would do well not to forget the atrocities that Allied forces also committed against conquered nations. These were fueled by an intense hatred that originated not only in the existence of the Axis, but in the way members of the nations that allied themselves with Nazi Germany were described.

The Japanese stereo-type of the squinty-eyed professor with glasses on and buck-toothed grin originated from the American propaganda of the time:

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « ww2 american propaganda japan »

Such a violent, over-the-top caricature of ethnicity was the name of the game even for the Japanese and the Germans. When states engage in such univocal messages of who the enemy is, there is an irrevocable image in the members of nation-states as to who the enemy is, was and will be. At that point, the President can be assured that the people have gained a thirst for war that will be easy to summon, when a new enemy arises and that he only needs to spread some carefully crafted propaganda for the populace to join in.

Thankfully, in the era of social media, such propaganda would be offset by the presence of critical thinkers on the web who would point holes in the imagery, much like I myself had to correct progressives on the usage of “neoliberalism” when used to depict DNC voters. There is one thing that I can see that propaganda can be worthy for, and that is to ridicule an enemy which otherwise has an overly arrogant attitude about themselves. Caricatures exist for that reason: To make fun of that which is seemingly forbidden. Now, the difference here is that caricatures based on faults a person has is good, but a caricature that vilifies an entire ethnicity is no longer just caricature, it is propaganda aimed to galvanize citizens for war.

There’s nothing morally wrong about killing someone whom you think to be nothing more than a buck-toothed hobgoblin with poor hygiene and depravation of all virtue. It ends up feeling almost like putting a bastard animal out of its misery with a merciful shot to the head. At that point, the President has successfully created the recipe for total war, and the people did not even need to vote for it.

Not all propaganda is created equal

Hold on there, my little centrist, I see you. If antifa make gross characterizations of fascists, does that not make them the same as fascists?

Were I comparing two undisclosed parties, you would be correct in your assumption that one party’s actions does not justify the other’s. Astutely deduced, in fact. My problem with such a fallacious interpretation of the ethics of hatred is that some hatred, although unjustified, is understandable. For example, I can understand that some people would hate fascists, whose only existence is to “clean” the world of all non-white supremacists, to create a utopia where only the best and the prettiest exist and copulate. I can’t understand how someone opposed to that would be painted as similar or equal to the same fascists.

I would concur that I don’t agree with ethnic cleansing or the cleansing of Nazi ideologues themselves, but I do believe that fascism has a root cause and that root has to be undone, dissected, burnt to a crisp and thrown in the abyss from whence it came. Antifa would rather get rid of every fascist alive, and that is their choice. I am but one man, and what I am good at is attacking bad ideas. Physically assaulting a person is not my forte and I would probably not be very good at it, even if I have the shape for it. Ask me whether I’d like to be rid of fascists or antifa and I’ll respond to you:

Get rid of the former and you’ll see no more of the latter.

Concluding

The reason why Presidents don’t fight the war, aside from the very obvious institutional conditions forbidding them to do so, is that those who profit from war require a constant influx of belligerents, regardless what country they are from. Weaponry is not fabricated by the State, it is bought by it. Those who make the weapons are those who profit from war as well as the ideologues backing them. War is a lucrative businesses, and military contractors are all too eager to get juicy business deals with the major governments and institutions of this world.

If Presidents went to war themselves, then the connections and the networks that they had to finance the wars would collapse and someone else would have to take over. Don’t ask yourself why America believes itself to be the Big Brother of all the other states, protecting the weak from injustice. It is because the beast has to be fed, and it requires human blood as a sacrifice.

Now, as a parting gift…

 

Sex Positivity in Social Media

You would think…

That in our society of great sexual proliferation, both commercially and culturally, that we’d be more open to sex positivity. Whether it be with regards to appreciating multiple body types rather than what is considered “the norm”, our society compared to many decades ago is leagues forward in terms of moral standards. Yet, it appears that our reactions to outliers is just the same as before. Why would that be?

Well, I have a theory on that.

Reality

It is a pesky and annoying thing. At any point in time, anyone, including myself, will have a rigid worldview within which, any outliers become oddities that we try to single out as mere glitches in the system. This does not change from divine morality to secular morality. As no system or social structure is without its failings, there is always something in this world that threatens our worldview and thus our very existence. At least, that is how our brain reacts. When faced with “facts” or “claims” that would defy what we think we know of the world, our reaction will be defensive, accusatory and perhaps even “skeptical”.

Now why is that? Because we are animals, deep down and because despite all our technological supremacy over other living things in this world, we still fail, as they do, when met with challenges that once were physical, and now are merely conceptual. In relative morality debates, there always comes a moment where we will compare the most reprehensible of actions to that which our opponent is suggesting. That can either be in the shape of Godwin’s law or baby mutilation. Most of us agree that the Nazis were horrible people and that baby mutilation is unimaginably awful.

Yet, that has not kept some people from doing both and to still praise one or the other. Bertrand Russell, in one of his most worthwhile works on ethics and society, demanded of his readers to entertain a chancy position: That in order for me to be as rigid as I am about a concept or an act, I must understand that someone is equally rigid about its opposite. It serves me nothing to at once disregard a position because it is alien to all I know. On some occasions of course, I can disregard a position because I know it to be objectively false.

Does that make me right? Is it even necessary to be right, in such instances?

On that, is it possible that someone who entertains the same worldview as I have, by and large, might hold certain views that contradict mine? If so, does that make them less of an ally? Some, it would appear, nod their heads in unison at this notion. As a feminist, you must be 100% behind the emancipation of women (and men) with regards to the patriarchal society.

Some ask: “Well, what if I am but I also think I should be allowed to be a housewife?”

At that point, the concept of emancipation becomes a lot more complex than simply not being bound to a home, but rather having the opportunity and the capacity to choose. There is no surprise when you then hear some of the more rigid members of the feminist movement consider being a housewife as a cardinal sin against feminism. Not all of them, of course, but what sociology can tell all of us is that nothing is ever perfect and whatever you do, there will always be assholes in any group.

My theory? There is radicalism in everything. From music, to visual arts, to economic practices, to working habits, to masturbation and even to stamp collecting. Not one sphere of human life is safe from “the radicals”. Even Buddhists have their own violent uprisings every now and then, so why shouldn’t feminists? Now, I am not saying that this is a good thing, but that it is silly not to expect such radical reactions to things as apparently harmless as the following:

Social commentary

The following is just social commentary. I’m not trying to paint an entire movement or an entire group of people with a strawman’s brush, but rather give an example of what I am saying here: That radicalism exists in any and all spheres of human activity.

Mr Tripps posted about his wife's body size on Instagram.
Source

Above is a picture of a man with his wife, which he used in a post where he praised not only his wife’s body, but that of other women who like herself, have physical attributes that fall off of the prescribed norm in society. This, with sprinkles of feminist cheers. The picture above seems rather harmless on its own and the status is simply put, a love letter to curvy women with a shout-out to feminist ideals, who taught this man to see beyond prescribed norms.

What was the reaction of the web? #NeverReadTheCommentSection

“strong contender for least fave type of male feminist is “man who thinks liking a curvy woman is revolutionary” – Julia Pugachevsky

“I would dump a guy so quickly for patting himself on the back for having the audacity to date me.” – Kat Blaque <— Was quite surprised to see Blaque take the bait, here.

And then amazingly enough, when I went digging deeper, I’ve found people who purposely scoped his profile for previous posts of his wife, where he praises her beauty and emphasizes the fact that she’s curvy, while apparently suggesting size does not matter. If that is what he had said, then that would be true, but he quite clearly says in his post that he LOVES women with her body type and felt ashamed of such for most of his adolescent life.

More than anything, it feels like a coming out to men in his entourage who feel like women like his wife are out of the norm. To those who live way out of the norm, this seems like childish nonsense, and for good reason: They preach this diversity of body types constantly, so why is a cishet white man’s praise of their body types somehow more important than the many times they’ve called for this type of tolerance?

Therein lies the crux of the issue.

Social commentary lends itself to a univocal interpretation of what has been said, and more often than not, those who perform such commentary will then utilize their own lens to analyze the person making the comment. So, if a comment seems to threaten the fabric of reality for one person, then that person will use their own reality to explain away the individual’s outlier reaction. As above: Two women who do not appear to appreciate a man praising a specific body type, because they are used to men objectifying women for their own benefit. What is the goal here, ultimately?

Academic vs popular

It is extremely tempting, when you get into academic studies, to invest your time in educating everyone around you on the things they get wrong. I do it all the time, but what I have learned over the last few months is that you should only dispense your teachings to people who will listen. When you dispense the teaching on those who feel they have no benefit to extract from it, you waste that teaching and therefore your efforts. You may have heard of the phrase “choosing your battles”.

This is a situation where someone who is probably not as radical a feminist as others might be, decided to give appraisal to a specific body type in women and therefore his wife’s, lining it with some feminist social commentary on how our society expects certain things both of men and women: Women should be careful with how they look and men should choose their women carefully, with the physical attributes holding chief priority over all else.

Tripp’s intent here, from what I have gathered, was solely to raise awareness, in his own fashion, that liking curvy women is not a bad thing. Those who are deeply within the social disputes regarding this react sarcastically, because of course they know. My problem with this attitude, however, is that you have a rather inoffensive man making a rather accessible post on tolerating various body types, and on the other side, you have certain people deciding that his appraisal is not only unnecessary, but it is objectifying toward his woman and that she should be offended by his appraisal of her body, because they are.

A divide must be drawn between academic analysis of social interactions between men and women and people just writing things on the web because they feel good about themselves. That is why I titled my blog post “Sex Positivity on Social Media”, because what this looks to me, more than anything, is people being uncomfortable with a man’s physical preferences in women, particularly one that they consider “otherness”. At once, we have the same people demanding to be respected despite their curves, and when someone not only does that, but claims that their curves make them that much hotter in his mind, then it is wrong.

Gender studies are good for telling you how genders function in society, but it is not up to you to educate every single soul on this earth on how their behavior is wrong. Teaching does not work like that. On the contrary, what we’re seeing here is basically punishment-based behaviorism. It might work if every person on the web was your student and you their teachers, but on social media, everyone is a teacher and no one wants to be a student (mostly).

If this man takes what is being said to him to heart, what he’ll have learned is that not only was he shamed by his peers for liking curvy women, he is shamed now by the “progressives” for openly talking about his preference for curvy women. There is no win-lose situation here. In an atmosphere of SJW shenanigans where everything the “left” does is reminiscent of SJWs to some people, this is definitely not helping.

And come on…

Of course he does not think it is revolutionary that he likes curvy women. He just wanted to say it. Are we going to shame people for stating their preferences in body types?

In Conclusion: Otherness

My conclusion is that as a person who LOVES academic debates, I absolutely understand the perspective of those in the social justice community who reacted negatively to this outburst from Tripp. They have a point, but only causally. What they don’t want people to get away from his post is that curvy women should be the norm. That isn’t what he said, but it could easily be construed as such. In my post here, I didn’t pretend to say they were completely wrong, but that the reaction to this post is really overkill.

Vitriolic retweets abound from the original tweet this man sent out, and most of them seem to paint sexual preferences in a negative light. As if it is wrong de facto to enjoy women who have curves and specify this preference. It is quite likely that this preference of his is steeped in some kind of sexist bias, but I think some people are stepping way out of bounds to suggest that this man should not be talking about the body types he likes in women. He suffered social stigma and psychological stress due to it, so it feels only normal that he would like to expel all this negativity with a worshipping tweet about his “Curvy Goddess”.

Deciding to name “otherness” whatever does not happen to be normal has the unfortunate side-effect of creating yet another “normal”. The hypocrisy here ends up being about how we want people to be accepted for their otherness, but also we want that otherness not to be highlighted or praised in the fashion Tripp did here. The radicals lost a point here, simply due to their erroneous interpretation of the original post.

Not only that, they have probably revealed a lot more about themselves than they have about the man they criticized: They want to become the new normal, and in so doing, do not wish to be praised for who they are, but respected as normality. Isn’t that the goal of  most of Feminism and LGBTQ identity politics? To challenge norms?

I leave the answer to those who have one.

Philosophy: The Examined Life

Who are the philosophers?

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In order for one to be a philosopher, do they have to spawn the social and historical critique of society, à la Marx? Do they have to win a nobel prize, à la Bertrand Russell? Do they have to invent a whole new method by which we inspect the world, and therefore, ourselves?

Some would have you believe that you must be one of these things. Others think that philosophy is much more simple or much more complex than that. That in order to do philosophy, one has but to sit down and ponder their life’s doings and come upon a reasoned conclusion of its meaning. My reading of Daniel Desroches‘s “La philosophie comme mode de vie” (“Philosophy as a way of life”) so far, has revealed to me that even that question is difficult to tackle. In order to find an answer to it, we must constrain as much as possible, the venues from which answers may pour out.

Indeed, when inspecting currents of thought, Daniel seems to indicate that we can’t situate philosophy’s beginning with the pre-Socratics. Thales of Miletus may have spawned the first recorded existence of a school of philosophy, with his multiple disciples and descendants, but only in the Occident. A cursory look at history, reveals to Daniel that even ancient societies had specific instructions on how to regulate breathing, to encourage peace of mind.

(he cites, in page 40, that in 2600 B.C., the Minoan civilization had such practices, indicating strong evidence for the traces of what we now  call “philosophy”)

In fact, it was not until late in Greek history that words such as “philosophos” began to become more commonplace in Greek language. Not only that, but he addresses the fact that we tend to look at philosophy, in the West, as the dry academic writings of famous authors. When Pierre Hadot (from whom he cites frequently) inspected these antique writings, in order to find out why they appear to be so disorganized, so loosely connected and contradictory, as to confuse one as to what was really being taught?

The error resided not in the writings of the philosophers but in our lens, as moderns, that would have us look for a structure that we can find in 20th century philosophers. Hadot appeared to have made the discovery that Greek philosophers did not write in a structure that we were familiar with, causing us to see these contradictions where in fact was nothing more than the expression of changing cultural norms and mores. There was no theoretical dialectic to follow, merely the teachings of men who lived as what they taught.

Diogenes was a man who lived according to the creed which he taught: Simply, in poverty perhaps, but simply nonetheless. Plato was a man of letter and a strong character. His political life was testimony of this. Socrates was a man who taught very important things, particularly that of restraint toward the self, questioning our own beliefs. He would be made fun of for not using his intelligence to profit, unlike his adversaries.

In more modern times, Simone Weil was teaching an egalitarian method of seeing her fellow humans. As such, she worked jobs that some would claim were beneath her, being such a smart individual. Yet, that did not keep her from doing so and still write the books she wrote. These people lived as the philosophy they taught. Something a lot of academic philosophers referred to as “the good life” or “eudaimonia”, but taught in such a way as to make it seem the project of the elite alone.

The postulate, therefore, is not that we should all live like Plato or like Confucius, but that the philosopher needs to stick to a self-prescribed code that they remain true to as much as they can. Confucius was true to his code as much as he could, but he did not refrain from admitting his faults. That is also sticking to this conduct, by admitting when we are going away from our own teachings, allowing us to perhaps see them from an exterior angle and polish them.

So, in a nutshell, philosophers are individuals who live a life as observers, inspectors and sometimes activists, who scrutinize the way we live and question why we do so, then apply their findings to their own lives. If their philosophy is worth teaching, then merely by virtue of existing, they shall teach others how to live the life of a philosopher. Because the risk, as in all things, is dogma, and philosophers would do well to guide away their pupils from only following their teachings, and to find their own path.

Spirituality in philosophy

I’m getting the feeling, the more I read Desroches, that philosophy is some kind of spiritual conquest of the mind. As if philosophers turn inwardly with a shield and sword and seek out their own prejudice and dogma, with the aim of defeating them and then becoming as serene individuals as they can be. After all, this is what I personally think the “eudaimonia” consists of. Were I to teach something to pupils (should I ever get any), it would be that life never presents itself to us the way we want to, and that only in restraint of our expectations can we be happy. In fact, the search for happiness is how we alienate it from our lives. Why, do you gather?

That the more we think of how happy we could get, the more we realize how unhappy we are, because what we would like for life to be is not as it is and may very well never be. Does that mean that if I am poor I should remain poor? No, of course not. There is exhilaration if we choose the path to happiness and know ourselves to be capable of reaching it. Once we reach the milestone we sought, there is liberation of a sort, but that is not the life of a philosopher. A philosopher is not seeking a milestone like becoming a CEO of his own company. That might be a peripheral goal that he wishes to fulfill, but the life of a philosopher is in the endlessness of his journey.

There is no milestone to reach. The philosopher’s life is not lived between the past and the future but in all of them. Everything can be a source for his contemplative thought. You can see a form of pantheism here, perhaps, but a belief or lack of belief in God is not necessary for a philosopher to be. The only thing he should guard himself from is dogma. At all times, dogma is the only enemy of philosophy. Once it sinks its fangs into the mind of the philosopher, he ceases to be a philosopher and he becomes a Professor.

“There are nowadays professors of philosophy but there are no philosophers.”

This is a saying by Pierre Hadot, as this realization settled in from his research. It refers to the impracticality of studying philosophy, particularly the task of teaching it as it conforms to the methodologies of education. In the times of the Greeks, philosophy was not taught by one man in an assembly, with students sat at desks and waiting for him to pour out his wisdom. It was a constant exchange of words and wisdom. Compared to the way we teach philosophy today, you cannot but notice the stark difference.

While the systematic teaching of philosophical notions that prove practical in everyday life is laudable, to study them does not make one a philosopher, merely a person who knows of philosophy and how some of its components work. Next should come the question of applying these notions to our lives. It is not only the ability to look at things logically that is important, it is also the restrained disinterest that philosophers showed toward the world at large. Not in a way as to seem careless, but as to seem impassible, untouchable by mere insults or character assassinations.

Philosophers were and have been individuals that would promulgate their thoughts with nuanced approach, where applicable, and kept quiet when their knowledge was superseded by another’s in a given field. This is also important: A philosopher does not hold all wisdom and therefore authority in all things. No, the philosopher must recognize his ignorance, because it’s only in recognizing it that we may overcome it. Guard yourself from the delusion of being able to overcome it for long, because as you progress spiritually from your self-interest, the mind always drives you back to it.

At once, you are wise and the following moment, you are furious with anger, ready to lash out against all who oppose you.

To do philosophy

One must therefore do the following:

  1. Step outside of yourself.
  2. Inspect the world around you as if it was the first time.
  3. Correlate the thoughts you gather from this new regard with your old view.
  4. See where you might have failed and correct these errors or silence yourself until you do.
  5. Own up to the mistakes you make, right when you make them.
  6. Never take anything that you know for granted and never presume that you should always be teaching, because we are all teachers and we are all students.
  7. Be compassionate toward your fellow human being, always. For life is anguish and suffering, but it takes a compassionate heart to make it a tolerable experience.

Now these are guidelines, as Daniel says himself in the book, and you shouldn’t expect me to have the final word on them. These are simply what I have gathered. You should, as a philosopher, make your own path and your own guidelines, but number 7 is key to holding an honest view of the world. There is misery, there is untold violence and there is sheer cruelty, but one person’s kindness can pave the way to change in another’s heart.

 

 

Need and Want

The dialectic of desire

If you watch television or any kind of media that has advertisement in it, you’re going to come across a specific discourse and dare I say, a dialectic. Marketing people are quite skilled at working the barriers between a “want” and a “need”. That barrier or the central unifying core of the two is called “desire”. By simply calling to our desire, a want becomes a need and a need becomes a want. In order to manipulate this weakness in human understanding, we simply appeal to psychological markers that apply to a majority of individuals. This is how marketing becomes geared to specific demographics and causes most people to just skip or change the channel on an ad. It’s quite easy to see why.

In most cases, an ad won’t even speak to you because it doesn’t hit any of the necessary psychological cues that will cause you to listen. That’s usually because the ad on its own is not meant to be seen by someone like you. It’s meant for someone else. Retirement funds will be geared mostly toward entrepreneurs and aging individuals, so young people will seldom be interested by these ads. They are written and filmed in a way as to appeal to that demographic.

When in the 80s and 90s, marketers wanted to reach out to children, you’d get ads where adults were either doing rock’n’roll or hip hop in a cringeworthy fashion, to appear “hip” with current trends. Although the ads themselves were horrible to most children, they did stick with them, because the irony of these ads is that adults DON’T understand children, but try their best to do so, even if it comes off as awkward nonsense. I also touched on gender-based advertisement in my series on feminism. Considering the cultural ecosystem of then, kids couldn’t get much advertisement other than on TV or through magazines, to the tiny bit of time these advertisers could get kids’ attention HAD to be attention-grabbing and completely out of whack.

The ads that DID work with kids, at least, kids my age back then, were those that featured amazing gadgets and modular toys like Legos and others with plastic catapults pretending to be missile launchers. Of course, the ads didn’t always feature the price tag (I think they usually didn’t), because kids would know that the products were probably too costly for their parents. So, pumped up teenagers would run up to their parents and start begging for new toys based on that AWESOME ad they’d just seen on TV. Were the toys that great? Were they worth the price tag? That did no longer matter, because the ad had made it seem like it was the best toy ever.

Choosing this one example allows me to introduce the dialectic in more theoretical fashion. The advertisement as I said triggers certain psychological cues in our mind, to first grab our attention, then once the attention is given, the advertisement presents the content therein, based on the demographic it wishes to reach. Finally, as a conclusion, once the person has been “convinced” of the worth of the product advertised, the ending will throw a bone to the future customer, by inviting them to come get their own. It will sound like some kind of recruitment speech to some, where the private interests are pointing at the clients and yelling: “I need YOU to spend your hard-earned money on MY products! It’s worth it!”

For example, if you take a car ad, the car is normally introduced in a mysterious fashion, then its interior is briefly demonstrated, along with a beautiful exterior that fits with the overall scenery: River-side mountain road, calm country haven with long stretches of empty road, salt flat desert, etc… Then, when it seems the car of our dreams has been shown to us, it drives away, beyond our grasp. This sensation of yearning is exactly what makes marketing so successful.

Don’t miss out on your retirement, don’t miss out on your mortgage, don’t miss out on the best experience of your life, don’t miss out on the best vodka in the world, don’t miss out on the best BEER in the world, don’t miss out on the best movie in the world, etc. etc…

The marketer knows that these are things we don’t necessarily need from them, but they have to sell it to us to make a profit, so their advertisement is geared in that direction, to make us NEED their product, not only want it. That’s how the superstitious notion of supply and demand is created. We speak constantly of innovation, in marketing, for whatever product or service there is to be provided. Because innovation claims “first of class” privilege to said product or service. Now, how can there be a demand for a product or service the likes of which has never been seen until now?

An explanation is that there isn’t, but by appealing to the greed of men and women, the 30 seconds the advertisement has is enough to make people dream and then look at their surroundings in demoralized disgust. How much more happy would I be if I owned this too… I could be just like the man in the ad. He looks so happy driving that spacious Lexus, so sure of himself.

I don’t just want to be like him, I NEED to be like him.

Superstition

Going back on that superstition of supply and demand, I’m now going to expand. If initially, there is no demand, there can be no supply. Only by removing the supply from those who demand it will I create that demand. It can only be through the removal of seemingly vital products that I can then tell people: You need me. You need what I have to give. That’s why I see it as a superstition, because the demand is fabricated, it is not inherent to the market. Products have to first be seized from the general public by way of private ownership, before a demand can be created. Otherwise, there would be no market the likes of which we now see. Everyone would be able to be self-sufficient. There would be little place in this world for the nebulous concept of want vs need. In essence, we should not want what we do not need and we should not need what we don’t want.

That is how the economics of desire work; by creating jealousy where there is no need for it to be. This jealousy pushes individuals to seek that which they do not have, want what they do not need. In this case, is need subjective or objective? It remains quite objective, but a qualitative definition has to be made on just how subjective “need” is. A need is that which is necessary for the continued survival of an individual or the maintaining of their way of life or its improvement (should that be necessary). Now, do I NEED to buy an expensive car? Do I NEED to buy a car? That might be a possibility. Initially thus, my need is the car, because it provides transportation, but do I need to have a 500hp engine with a sunroof and re-heating bucket seats with a 370watt subwoofer in the trunk? Probably not.

Now, of course, there’s no one stopping anyone else from buying such things, but what we must reconcile with is that these are not needs, they are wants. What I say when I buy something expensive is that I am of a higher class, I am a person who is successful and deserves to be given better products than those who are not. That does make sense to a key, and I have to say I completely agree that a person who worked very hard should be given their just dessert. Why, though, is the man who has worked his entire life doing a job nobody else would want to do, not entitled to having better things? Even more distressing, why is that man’s retirement going to be spent in a home, forgotten by all, while a more wealthy individual will be able to live the last years of their lives in regal comfort?

The logic of the desire dialectic is that those who gain access to that which they desire deserve to receive all that they want and more. This, in lieu of proper prioritization of what is good for society, tells us that one man’s life is worth more than another, because one man is the owner of a marketing firm whose entire business model is based around creating false narratives that will attract new customers. Why is this dishonest work worth more than the work of a man who teaches children, essentially helping to raise the next generation of citizens? Because the market decides what is worthy and what is not.

If we follow the logic, we will end up thinking no one ought to be a teacher and we should all be entrepreneurs who make millions off of the products and services that we offer. That is nonsense, but that is the reality that we are given by modern media: Be pretty, be quiet, take abuse and reap the fruits of your self-inflicted punishment. No wonder we weep the death of empathy in our societies, we are far too busy tearing each other down than we are helping each other up.

Status

It is status that drives us to want things we don’t need. Like a Christmas tree adorned with lights and plastic objects hanging from its branches, we hope to shine like a model in a clothing store glass. How dignified do we look to others? What is that job we could have that would make people envious of us and our possessions? Desire is the magic mirror reflecting to us the image we wish we had but do not yet bear. It promotes hatred of the other, jealousy at every turn. Once you are snatched by this vicious circle, you will not escape. What of desire, in this case, then? It speaks of the deepest and most basic of instincts that we have as animals. Other species simply use plumage or intricate mating behavior to attract a worthy significant other. We, in a sick and twisted and intense desire to make love to ourselves, seek to find the beautified version of us, and wallow in its self-love. It reveals that deep inside, we hate ourselves, not because of who we are, but because of the others. Other people are happy, why aren’t we?

Status soon becomes a ghost we chase but never catch, because it is not status that will fix the unending pain we feel inside, that void of meaninglessness we try to fill with niceties and video games, cars, accessories, social clubs… That hate soon evolves out of us and is dispensed onto the others. Our lens is darkened by our failing attempts to gain success, and before long, we no longer love and we no longer appreciate the little things we have, because of the things the OTHERS have. This is simple animalistic behavior that certainly does not warrant a philosophical entry like this one, and could probably be summed up as: Humans are selfish and their selfishness kills their humanity.

Solutions?

What are solutions open to us to keep from engaging in this constant circle of materialism and self-hatred, followed by hatred of the other? Well, for one, we need to revise how we see our social transactions with other people. They are not goods and services, they are individuals with their own hopes and dreams, and their hopes and dreams do not necessarily overlap ours, nor do we need to trample theirs. We should carefully, either in meditation or in discussion with our friends, evaluate what it is we want of life, instead of keeping it to ourselves. When the smoke of doubt dissipates, we can then appreciate the little we have and learn not only to evaluate our wants and our needs, but why we have such feelings toward them.

If the feeling is to gain social status over another, we should cease and desist. Should the feeling be that it will procure US great happiness but is not necessary to our survival, we need to admit it is a want and not a need. Our needs can only be inserted into our wants when they are necessary for the improvement of our quality of life and, if possible, that of others. Altruism will ensure that we do look out for others and they us, and from hatred of the other, we will gain love and from love, we can all have that which we need, because we will care for each others’ dreams on more than an anecdotal level.

Conclusion

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