“Phil Whistle: Game Show Host!” Chapter 2

branches&creatures

Chapter 2

August, 1975- Beverly Hills

“Why does your father want to save that dump of a show?”

Amber showed up 30 minutes early. I had to scramble to clean up. I really need to hire a maid service. I invited her in, took her coat and offered her a bowl of nuts. The half-naked redheaded lady stumbled out of the bathroom.

“Did I come at a bad time?” Amber asks.

“No, this is my butler”, I say. Then I instruct the woman to get the cheese plate out of the kitchen.

Amber was wearing a long blue dress that covered up most of her body. It was more business than pleasure. I was confused. Finally we got down to business. That was when I asked her about her father.

“The studio asked him to deliver a solution to save the show or else they’re going to cancel it.” Amber replies.

“Cancel it.” I say

“That’s what I told him. That’s what the studio advised him. But he’s not listening.”

I break open a bottle of champagne. We toasted and put my hand on Amber’s leg. “That’s not why I’m here, Phil.”

Thank god.

“I’m dating Harlan Wilkerson. He wanted me to talk to you about a role that he specifically wrote for you in his next picture.” She informs me.

“Who?”

“You have an Academy Award, Phil! How do you not know who this guy is?”

“Look sweetheart, I haven’t watched a picture since Walker’s Wishes got cancelled. I’ve just been focusing on other things. That’s all.”

A frustrated Amber pours herself another drink.

“You have absolutely no desire to return to acting?” she asks.

“Now that I’m on two game shows, I doubt that I’ll have any time to do that.”

“Don’t make excuses for yourself. Please. This is going to be a big picture, and trust me, audiences want to see you return to the big screen. Harlan is in the Philippines location scouting. When he returns, will you talk to him?”

“The Philippines?”

“Yes. It’s about the Vietnam War.”

“Woah baby, I don’t know. Don’t you think that’s a little too soon?”

“Harlan and his studio doesn’t think so. It’s a great script. To avoid any contract disputes, we’ll fly you out in the summer, shoot for six weeks and fly you back.”

“Your dad will never go for that.”

“I thought you said that you can handle him. But don’t worry about that. If he puts up a fight, let ME handle him.”

“Do you have the script?”

“I’ll send it to Charlie.”

I haven’t read a line in four years. Haven’t been in a picture in nearly ten! After Amber left, I opened another bottle of champagne and walked out back to the pool. Redheaded sweetie was back there too.

“Do I still have to pretend to be your butler?” she asks.

“No sweetheart.”

I finish the bottle and fell asleep on the porch. As I was smoking on set the next morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about my missing Rolls-Royce. And what about Johnny? What the fuck was he up to that he needed a Rolls-Royce?

The contestants on the day’s show happened to feature a 12-year-old girl. Jill was her name. An absolute darling. She came from the Nester family out of Chicago. As I tried to give her a kiss, she appeared to recoil somewhat. Probably wasn’t used to boys. I introduce her on the show.

“This is Jill, 12 years old, and she’s going to be a knockout!”. That made her blush somewhat. It was adorable.

But I kept thinking about my own son, Johnny. Haven’t seen the kid in nearly a year.

“Jill is going to break all of the boy’s hearts. In about six years, Jill….why don’t you give me a call?”. The audience laughed. She was too cute for words.

But why steal a Rolls? I had a Lotus, a 63′ Corvette. Why a fucking ROLLS-ROYCE? While today’s taping left the audience satisfied, it wasn’t my best performance. I was too distracted. When I go back to the dressing room, Amber rushes over to me.

“I got Charlie on the phone. I sent him the script.” she says to me.

I take the phone.

“Charlie! Whatchu got for me?”

“I’m gonna shoot straight with you Phil….this ain’t a bad script. If you want to gun for another Academy Award, this will do it.” he says.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Amber walking away.

“Is Amber gone?” Charlie asks.

“Yeah”

“There ain’t no way that Luke or any of those assholes at ABC are going to let you do this thing. There are mentions of women getting raped by machine gun barrels, soldiers heads getting blown off by grenades. And in the last act, your character appears to go on a pseudo-philosophical, yet incoherent rant!”, Charlie tells me.

“But is it a good script?” I ask.

“Well, studios are certainly going for these things nowadays. They usually sweep awards season. This will be a great chance for you to work with a genuine auteur.”

“Who?”

“For fuck’s sake Phil! Harlan Wilkerson! He just won an Academy Award! If you want back into the pictures, this is how you do it. Work for Harlan, get your name back out there. But if you’re comfortable with the game show circuit, I suggest you pass on this.”

“Amber told me that I will have to be in the Philippines for only six weeks.”

“You’re going to the Philippines, Phil! Your contract with Luke doesn’t want you doing anything to injure yourself, get sick, or jeopardize your image as America’s favorite game show host. You won’t be able to have it both ways.”

After I got off the phone with Charlie, I rush to the set of Guess My Line. Again, Luke was there waiting for me.

“I need to talk to you.” he says to me.

“Of course you do.”

We find a quiet spot at the back of the set.

“Amber mentioned something strange to me. I’m not a big fan of her boyfriend’s work. Harlan, I’m sure you’re familiar with him. But apparently he wants you to be in this war film that starts shooting next year. Has anyone mentioned this to you?” Luke asks.

“No. I haven’t heard anything about this.”

“Because she asked if I would be willing to, “look the other way” if you will, while you were overseas filming this thing. But I don’t like this guy. I mean, the critics love him. But have you seen any of his films?”

“I know his name, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen his movies.”

“Pure trash. Not at all would I say they’re appropriate for families. They’re just one step above pornography. I wouldn’t think you’d be interested in working with this guy, right?”

“Of course not Luke! I embrace my image as America’s favorite game show host. I’d never do anything to jeopardize what we built here together.” I say.

“I didn’t think so. By the way, are we still on for Sunday?”

“Absolutely! I got the bar stocked up. I’ll send my butler to the butcher tomorrow to pick us up some steaks. I’ll call a few friends over, if you know what I mean. We’ll have a great time!”

“Good, and I want to bring over Jerry, he’s just been promoted to vice president of programming. Have you met him?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, he’s black, just so you know.”

“Yes, Luke, people can be black too. My pool doesn’t discriminate.”

“Good, because he has a few ideas of his own on how to improve Guess My Line. Great guy.”

I step out back to get in one last smoke before recording. To my surprise, Jillian Jonah was out there getting a puff as well.

“Well Jillian, nice to see you back here. There was a 12 year old girl on my show today that resembled you. Her name was also Jill. She was as sweet as she could be.” I tell her.

“That’s nice.”

I light up my cigarette. “How long have you been in LA?”

“Too long.”

“Don’t like it here, eh? I don’t mind showing you around. There’s a nice bar off of Sunset I could take you to. Maybe a few spots in the Hills that might change your mind about this place.”

She flicks her cigarette away.

“I don’t date co-workers.”

 

 

 

“Phil Whistle: Game Show Host!” Chapter 1

With Volumn I of Redux coming to a close, I wanted to do something different. Since I can do pretty much anything I want with this blog, instead of gripping about politics, youth, and philosophy, I’m going to publish my stories.

Introduction

I’ve had some strange obsessions over the years. Some dark, some weird. My current obsession is a little bit of both.

The 1970s were a strange time for America. A good time too. Some call it America’s “hangover” from the 60s. That sounds about right. The 60s was a busy decade. The Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, political assassinations, Summer of Love…it was certainly a turning point. The 70s came about and suddenly Americans were no longer innocent. They were bitter, depressed, and wanted to get IT ON. It was the birth of modern American cynicism.

For that alone, the 1970s deserve a reassessment. The decade greatly reflects our own time. After 9/11 and a fraudulent war, Americans elected Barack Obama who perhaps fulfilled the legacy that John F. Kennedy promised us. This ignited a Civil Rights Movement Part II, which temporarily made Americans feel good about themselves. But such a sudden shift in ideals offered a violent pushback. The result was Trumpism, which provides a similar “hangover” effect that caused the election of Richard Nixon.

To understand the 70s, we musn’t look to the great artists of those days….not the ground-breaking film and television that leaves a lasting legacy. Nay. Although those things reflected what the people thought of THEMSELVES in the 1970s, it didn’t reveal to them what they WERE.

To get those answers, we must look at what is perhaps the 1970s greatest achievement: the perfection of game shows.

Now I don’t know what this Phil Whistle story might reveal. But if I wish to be a storyteller, then I must tell a story.

Plus, give me a fucking break. I just came up with this thing on Sunday.

image

 

Chapter 1

August, 1975- Beverly Hills

“Great news Phil! Guess My Line wants you on their celebrity guest panel. Come to the office and let’s get the paperwork done!”

“Charlie, it’s 8 in the fucking morning. I went to bed four hours ago.”

“15 grand per episode. Want it or not?”

“Fucking shit”. I thought. I hung up the phone and crawled out of bed. I realized my pants were missing.

I also realized that there was some red-headed sweetie lying next to me. I think she was a contestant on the show a few weeks back.

“Sweetie, I gotta go meet my agent. I’ll drop you off wherever you need to go.” I say to her.

“Can’t I stay here?”, she asks.

“Alright, but if you’re going to steal any of my shit, don’t steal my Jack Harper autograph.” I grab my pants and turn around.

“Or my Oscar”

I meet Charlie at his office in Burbank. I tell his secretary to get me a bagel and a Bloody Mary.

“It’s 9:30, Phil.” Charlie says to me.

“I know, I’m getting started late. So that toupee’d son-of-a-bitch is willing to share a stage with me?”

“Yes, George is willing to have you on the show. Since your program aired, George’s has been slipping. ABC is shitting a brick and Luke is desperate to get it back on its feet. He toyed with the idea of having a Family Showdown: Celebrity Edition with George and his family appearing.”

“George’s family hates him”, I say

“Which is why you’re appearing on HIS show. And the deal is for the rest of the season.”

“Fuck it”, I said. I signed the paperwork.

Before each taping of Family Showdown, I light up a cigarette. Then I light up another one for good luck. For this particular taping, a contestant, forgot his name, came up to me.

“Mr. Whistle, uh, I’m a BIG fan. But can I ask you a favor? In my family, we’re Christian, so I’m just wondering if you could not kiss my wife?” He asks me.

“Well, that’s kind of my thing buddy. But I tell you what…how about I just kiss her on the cheek. Will that work?”

“Absolutely! Thanks Mr. Whistle!”

Asshole.

I kissed both his wife and mother. I should have kissed his father too. But I buttoned up my three-piece suit and got ready for the call.

“Welcome to FAMILY SHOWDOWN! With your host….PHIL WHISTLE!” The announcer calls. I run up on stage and everyone goes apeshit. After the crowd laughs their balls off at a few lame jokes, I introduce the contestants.

“The Towler family flew all the way over here from Texas! What part?” I ask the father.

“Phil, we flew in here from San Antonio and we watch your show every night. We have to get away from that Texas heat every once in awhile! Know what I’m saying?”, he responds.

“Say no more”

Because I don’t care. Then I walk across the stage to kiss the big-titted family from Minnesota and we’re ready to play:

“Tell me, Mike, name something that a police officer uses every day?”

“A donut!”

“So Lisa, at what age do women stop being interested in sex?”

“31!”

Between commercial breaks, I smoke two more cigarettes. When we stand on the stage at the end of each recording, a grandmother will sometimes sneak me her panties. At the end of this particular episode, I decide to take a nap in my dressing room. I was still hungover and was hoping to sneak one in before the next recording. Unfortunately, the associate producer Amber Lindenwood, daughter of show creator Luke Lindenwood, interrupts me.

“I’d like to go over some show notes.” She says, “Dad wanted me to clear this with you before his meeting with the studio.”

I then decided to forgo my nap. “I can’t, I’m on my way to the set of Guess My Line“, I respond. I didn’t have time for that shit.

“But he wanted me….”

“Don’t worry about your dad. I can handle him.” I interrupt. I undo my tie and rush to the next set.

Amber follows.

“When would be a good time to meet up with you then?” she asks. Amber was, I dunno, 23? Long-haired brunette. Nice legs. “I can meet you at your place tonight.”

I stop.

“Amber, your father would sock me square in the face if he found out you were at my house.” I tell her.

“There are just a few things that I’ve been wanting to discuss with you. Just hear me out. Please.”

“Shit” I thought. This girl has grown a crush on me and I might do something that I will probably regret.

“Fine. I’ll make you a nice dinner”, I say. “Scallops, or salad, or whatever people eat these days. I’ll have my butler make it. But don’t tell your dad. Be there by 7.”

I rush down to the set.

Unfortunately Luke also ran Guess My Line. He was there waiting for me.

“Did you talk to Amber?”, he asks.

“No. I had to get out of there. What’s happening, Luke?”, I ask as I give him a buddy-slap to the back.

“Big news from upstairs. We desperately need to talk.”

“We’re talking now baby!”, I walk over to the bottle of scotch and help myself.

“We want you to take over Guess My Line.”, Luke informs me. I take a big sip of my drink.

“So you’re firing George?”, I ask.

“We’re letting him go at the end of the season.”

“Why don’t you go talk to Charlie about this?”

“I want to discuss this with you before we start cutting deals and getting the agents involved.”

I just shrug my shoulders. “There’s nothing to discuss! You have a massive hit with Family Showdown. Everyone’s getting rich! Why fuck with a good thing Luke?!”

“I know. This is why we need to have a meeting. Maybe toss some ideas around on how to improve the show if you were to come back. How about if I swing by your place tonight?”

“No can do, good buddy. I’ve got a convention tonight at 7.”

“Where at? We’ll meet up for drinks afterwards.”

“Uh, it’s in Riverside. Look, I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of this idea. But I promise you that I’ll entertain it. Get with me on Sunday, I’ll have you over for a few cocktails, I’ll have my butler grill us up a few steaks, maybe have a few broads over. We’ll have a great time when we discuss this. I promise.”

I rush Luke out of my dressing room and down the scotch. Then I pour another one to bring to the set. I walk behind the stage and there was the entire gang.

“Hey Phil! I haven’t seen you since you got your own show. I wouldn’t mind getting another blow on THAT whistle.” Norma said to me.

Jesus.

Norma Lynn is a regular guest on the celebrity panel. She hadn’t been funny since 1967 but had to pay the bills somehow. She got George and me drunk one night and convinced us to run a train on her. George probably realized that I had a bigger dick than he did and has been hostile to me ever since.

Others on the panel were Tom Oswald, another unemployed comedian that has yet to realize he’s going bald. Dana Walsh, an actor that co-starred on Walker’s Wishes with me. And Betty….Betty…..I forgot her last name.

Yet the one I didn’t know, but wanted to know, was Jillian Jonah. A model I suppose. A tall, blond firecracker of a woman.

The stage director showed us to our seats. I was stationed in the front row between Jillian and Betty. I hid my glass of scotch behind my name card. Finally George Hammerscmidt decided to show his face.

“Well well well, as I live and breath. Phil Whistle. How are you, you magnificent bastard? I see that you still have your hairline.” George says to me.

“Yes, and I see that you still have a show!”. We share a few laughs.

“You know”, George says, “I am always surprised that you were once a British guy.”

I wanted to punch those fake teeth right out of his fucking mouth. But I continue to be jovial with him. The stage director then called for everyone to the set.

“Welcome to GUESS MY LINE! With your host GEORGE HAMMERSCMIDT! Featuring Dana Walsh….Norma Lynn….Betty”…and the announcer goes on. Finally he gets to my name.

“And welcoming back to the studio, FAMILY SHOWDOWN’S very own………PHIL WHISTLLLLLLLLLLLLE!”

The crowd goes wild.

George came out and did the same bullshit shtick he’s always done. He bumbles around like the old idiot that he is, pretending not to understand this current generation despite getting blowjobs from hookers and doing coke with Dennis Hopper. Then they wonder why his ratings are tanking.

I phoned it in for most of the show. All I had to do was open my mouth and people laughed. I could tell George hated it. Eventually he walks over to me on the air and grabs the glass that I had hidden away then takes a sip. What a fucker.

“How do you like that ginger ale George?”, Norma asks him.

“Whew! Go easy on that Phil. Call a taxi if you’re driving home.” he replies.

There might’ve been a few gasps in the audience. But all of LA knew that I was drinking. The entire panel was drinking for Christ sake!

After the taping, I drive home to the Hills where I discover that my Rolls-Royce was missing. When I advised that red-headed sweetie on what NOT to steal from my home, I probably should have included the Rolls. But when I walked in the house, I found her passed out buck naked in the Jacuzzi.

“Hey, did you see anybody come to the house and steal a car?” I ask.

“Yeah, some one came in and said that they were your son. He didn’t look anything like you though.”

Fuck me.

 

Fragile Masculinity Under Attack! Part II

Back from Thanksgiving vacation. I had enough time driving back to think of things that piss me off. This is what I came up with.

I’m  always skeptical of someone that declares themselves to be something rather subjective. I worked with a guy that claimed to be a genius…I mean, with a straight face, he said to me “I’m a genius”. Now there are certain “objective” ways to declare yourself as something. If you want to say you’re a “genius”, the best objective way to do so would be to say something like “I have a 190 IQ” and/or “I’m a member of Mensa”. If true, those would be irrefutable facts and, I suppose, by definition you would be a “genius”.  Otherwise, most people would think you’re just a stupid asshole.

And speaking of assholes, have you ever listened to the Jason Stapleton podcast? I once listened to him regularly but one thing that drove me crazy was his insistence that he was an “alpha male”. It made him sound more delusional than cool, which was the complete opposite intention. It’s been awhile since I’ve listened in, so maybe he stopped doing that. But Jason is hardcore libertarian and one of those white guys that came from nothing, now has something, and believes everyone owes him something. Very similar to Adam Carolla. You know, just because you make millions of dollars talking about the stock market and libertarianism…apparently that makes one important. But Jason and Adam, you guys don’t serve important functions in society so I really don’t feel sorry for you because you have to pay millions in taxes. But I digress. Jason wants you to believe he’s an alpha male. He tells us all the time. But is declaring ones self to be “alpha” an action that a genuine “alpha male” takes?

Now I’ll admit, Jason is probably more alpha than I am, but that’s a low bar to hurdle. He’s successful, according to him he’s good-looking…he seems to hold a degree of objective criteria to be classified as an “alpha male”. But again, how masculine can you be if you have to keep reminding people how masculine you are?

And that’s always been the weird thing about the anti-feminist factions…feminism is a perceived as a direct attack on “alpha male-ism”. Which in some forms, it could be! But in response to this attack, instead of upholding traditional “masculine” characteristics like self-confidence in ones’ manhood, masculinity becomes overemphasized to the point where it becomes questionable. Why would a woman’s rise in power be perceived as a threat to male power? And it’s here where the “alpha male” movement starts looking paper thin. Instead of maintaining confidence and acceptance, maleness becomes overemphasized….or in other words, men overcompensate. And it looks desperate.

Not to confuse all the Right-leaning movements out there, just because something is “libertarian” doesn’t make it “alt-right” and so on, but I’ve mentioned before that many on the Right (particularly the alt-right) want a return to paternalism sans the responsibilities that were once included with it. Others have noticed the same. They’d rather sit at home and whine about how they deserve a girlfriend because through some perverse yet unrecognized sense they’ve somehow earned it! And many have flocked to Trumpism because it stokes the fires that rages from within because it takes on an exaggerated form of masculinity as a counter-attack against increasing female power in culture. It has permitted men, or emboldened them, to bring out the worst in themselves by promoting bigotry and sexism all because they can’t get laid or feel that their masculinity is threatened.

But what Stapleton and others do to annoy me is their over insistence on the things that are stereotypically “masculine” (at least if you’re a white male)…big trucks, guns, hitting the weights, and doing everything you can to not look like a pussy. Maybe my own masculinity is threatened when I see those things. Clearly I’m not a manly man. I like sports but that’s the only thing I can talk with other “men” about. I don’t give a fuck about cars, I don’t know how to fix things, I don’t like gyms, and I’d rather watch anything with Ryan Gosling over something Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was in. Mind you, maybe I do tend to do things to overcompensate…I do own a big truck that I don’t need (I only own it because I don’t want to worry about upkeep) and you can say that I like to live vicariously through James Bond when I watch those films. Fair enough. (Perhaps I’ll defend my obsession with James Bond as being a genuine artistic critique, rather than a masculine obsession, in a later post). BUT…but….in general I don’t believe that masculinity is something to be “flexed”, if you will.

While I’m absolutely a flawed person, I am who I am. The only person that I’m trying to impress is, well….ME. Seeking to become an “alpha male” by declaring yourself an alpha male is not very alpha male-like. In fact, I’d argue, just being aware of the concept throws into question of what your status might be. If you ever had to ask yourself “am I an alpha male?”, the question has effectively been answered. REAL men don’t concern themselves with such nonsense. Think James Bond has ever wondered that? Therefore, this completely disqualifies me from being an alpha. If you’re reading this post…you are not an alpha. If the TITLE of this post pops up in your feed…you are not an alpha. Alphas don’t concern themselves with such shit. They’re so cool, they’ve probably never heard of the Internet. They’re so comfortable with themselves, it never occurs to them to question their manhood.

To quote the great Commander William Riker “don’t try to be a great man, just be a man and let history make its own judgements”. Because REAL men, in addition to quoting Star Trek, don’t need to prove themselves. So put down your copy of “Gorilla Mindset” (Which you can listen to above, if you can stomach it) and just be a man for fuck’s sake.

“Kant” Revisited: Gnosticism

Welp, I was hoping to have something new posted over Thanksgiving weekend, but that plan failed miserably. Instead, we’re getting a flashback from my failed podcast “My Life With Kant”. This is actually two episodes put into one post. Additionally, since I don’t currently have access to a computer, everything is being posted through my phone. As a result, this post will look like shit because I don’t edit or spellcheck. Apologies. Enjoy! image.pngI’ve discussed my religious education in the past, and how, even though I reject most of what I learned, it still provoked me to think about the larger issues that we face in this life. Without my education, I never would have been interested in philosophy, most likely at least. But when we think of Christianity today, even though there are many different sects, there seems to be a common notion about it that we can all agree upon. Christ died for our salvation. That we can all agree upon, or I assume most denominations can agree upon that. However, throughout most of Christian history, there seems to be a dogma that casts a shadow over the believers. To many, Christianity isn’t an internal struggle for one’s own soul, even though it is for many others. But the internal world isn’t as important as how you live externally. Do you go to church? Do you give to your church? Do you pray? Do you act according to how the Bible tells you to act? If you answer yes, then for many that would make you Christian. But most don’t consider the gravity of salvation. Christians would tell you, or at least the one’s that I know, that if you don’t accept salvation then you’re damned to hell. For eternity! That’s an extremely heavy idea! But we take these ideas for granted in the modern world. I’ve always been interested in early Christianity. Think about the time immediately after Christ, would those followers have the same interpretation of Jesus’s teachings as we do? There was a lot of religious ferment during that era, and I imagine not long after the crucifixion, there was probably a lot of different people saying a lot of different things. However, the only interpretation that most people remember today is that of the Apostle Paul. His version of Christianity won out. But what were some of those other interpretations. Gnosticism is quite an expansive description. It doesn’t really explain a single sect of early Christianity, but rather it encompasses a multitude of them. Gnostics were searching for salvation for sure, but they were seeking it through knowledge. They were more concerned with the internal soul of mankind, rather than through any sort of external salvation. The work that I’m drawing upon is Stephan A Hoeller’s ‘Gnosticism, New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing.” He states that the monotheistic religions focus on the faith, or emphasizes the ‘I believe’. The Gnostics by contrast seemed more interested in obtaining knowledge that can liberate one out of the existence of the material world. Now it’s not hard to imagine how some of this might dive into mysticism of sorts, so I’m going to try to separate the mystical parts from the philosophical ones because Gnosticism has influenced a great deal of thinkers, to include Carl Jung and…So while most other religions were perfectly content with whatever sort of experiences their spiritual forefathers had, the general aim of Gnosticism was to get to the heart of understanding behind these experiences. So the individual believer can undergo a gnosis of their own and add to that understanding, and not have to rely on a priest or other ordained being to achieve greater knowledge. So while contemporary Christianity might emphasis phrases in the Bible, Gnosticism doesn’t rely on any sort of documentation, although there are infamously many Gnostic texts which contradict many of the claims made by the canonical Bible. The Gnostic Texts seem to indicate that the human soul is just an extension of the larger Divinity, however as Hoeller explains, we are existentially separated from it. And of course, when we say existentially, we can think of typical Nietzscheian themes like finding meaning, loneliness, etc. To many, this may sound like typical Eastern Religious thinking. So this line of thinking embraces the human condition, and the meaning that it seeks, as opposed to denying it like we find in typical Monotheistic religions. But perhaps one of the more interesting things about Gnostic thought is that it doesn’t take the perception that the world was created perfectly, and humans, through the perversion of dark spirits, caused it to be flawed. Instead, the world is seen as inheritably perfect. This is again, where existentialism is often compared to Gnosticism. The world is a dark place and we seek to escape from it. But the only way to escape it is by denying the material world, and the body that keeps our inner consciousness, or soul, imprisoned inside, and finally rise to a new spiritual realm. And of course, This would differ considerably from that of other monotheistic religions of the time, which insisted that man fell from grace and was in need of salvation. Humanity was therefore to blame. Instead, in the Gnostic tradition, God is more or less the owner and the initiator of the Universe, but other powers came to shape it. On its surface, it seems that Gnostic thought embraces a dualistic approach towards human beings. Our bodies are products of nature, but our souls are an extended part of the Divine. As stated before, in order to find union with the Divine, we have to deny our material selves. Therefore, we have to find salvation through knowledge of the spiritual realm. Even though the denial of the material realm is quite prevalent in Gnostic thought, there still has to be an embracement of life itself. Additionally, having Divine knowledge would require one to act morally. However, there are no set rules when it comes to ethical behavior. If one was committed to moral considerations, and understood the knowledge behind them, then their actions would reflect that character. But it doesn’t appear that the Gnostics took scripture as being literal. In fact, Hoeller points out that they found Adam and Eve to represent the psyche, where thinking and emotions originate, and spirit which is the transcendental consciousness. Adam represented the psyche, and Eve, the spirit. So the Gnostics tend to take a more positive view towards woman than what other religions would have been doing. These teachings were developed during a time when there was also a considerable amount of intellectual thought. So it would have to appeal to those who were well read in the works of the Greek Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. To some, the works of the Old Testament were seen as nothing more than myths, and were treated as such. But to the Gnostics, it wasn’t the stories themselves that were important, but the knowledge and insights that were contained within them. When we read history, and we see who influenced who, and how so and so’s actions ended up creating a whole series of events that led to present day, I always wonder who the most important person in history was. And it doesn’t matter what you believe, but you have to admit, Jesus Christ has to be up there. I know that creating lists trying determine who the top 100 most important people of all time were, is sort of dumb. Because everyone is playing their part in history, whether or not we’re aware of it. If you take one of us out, history would look completely different, if not immediately, then a 100 years from now. But for entertainment’s sake, let’s go ahead and create a list of the most important people in history. For my money, Jesus Christ would definitely have to be number 1. There may be some difference between what I say and what someone else says, but he would definitely end up in the top 3. And what’s weird is, outside of the Gospels, there’s absolutely no other document that describes His life. Probably out of every figure in the top 100, He’s the one we know the least about. And even if you’re one of those people that denies that Jesus Christ existed, even as a fictional character, He’s still the most important person in history. I mean, something happened. Someone got crucified, and that event would forever change the course of history. But because we know so little about Christ’s actual life and teachings, outside of the Gospels, we can almost project whatever perceptions onto Him that we want. If we look back to the few hundred years immediately after the Crucifixion, we find that there are completely different interpretations of Jesus’s life than what we find today. I left off in the last episode on chapter 5 of Stephan A Hoeller’s book “Gnosticism, New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing.” And this chapter addresses the Gnostic Christ. And it appears that the Gnostics viewed Jesus as an inspirational figure, and not necessarily as an authoritarian one. And of course, ancient Gnostic texts were never considered canon, nevertheless, a few of their ideas might have slipped into the New Testament. The Gospel of John appears to be somewhat influenced by Gnostic thinking, but an example that Hoeller provides is from the Book of Mark, which I believe was written 30 or 40 years after the Crucifixion, but it’s the parable of the wheat and tares. And as Hoeller explains, because the book explains it better than I can, but it says: “A man sows good wheat seed in his field, but later finds that an enemy has sown weeds among the wheat. When the workers ask if they should pull the weeds out, the farmer tells them to allow both wheat and weeds to grow until the time of the harvest, when the two can be more easily separated.” Hoeller would go on to explain, quote: “According to Gnostic teaching, the world is a mixture of the seeds of light and of darkness. Though it is impossible to distinguish between them now, in the fullness of time, they will separate naturally, as ordained.” End quote. So who knows what influenced what. Who knows if the writings in the Gospel of Mark would later influence Gnostic thought, or if Gnostic thought influenced the Gospel of Mark. But it’s clear that there are different interpretations. One of which, is that Jesus was a Gnostic Teacher, although their basis for this doesn’t appear to be based on anything in the New Testament. As where we view Christ today as being the salvation of our Souls, Gnostic tradition would have placed more emphasis on Jesus being a liberator of our material existence. According to Hoeller, this could be found in the Gospel of Thomas. So in this text, Jesus seems to downplay the Divine aspects of His teachings, and focuses on our attachment to the material world. He also doesn’t want humanity to be focused on the more dogmatic aspects of religion, and instead wants us to focus on our journey from ignorance to knowledge. And an important verse that’s provided here is the saying “Be passers by”. So I guess that’s not all that different from the teachings that we all learned in Sunday School. It’s a saying similar to “Turn the Other Cheek.”, in that Jesus seems to be promoting a more passive (for a lack of a better word) way of life. But through this interpretation, I can’t help but think of Socrates or the Stoics. I mean, you gotta remember, that Greek philosophy was already established by this time, so it would have had to exercised a degree of influence in this world, especially since they were governed by the Romans. But, at any rate, Jesus would seem to promote a minimal lifestyle. One that didn’t emphasize the external material world, but instead focuses on internal development. So Jesus is very much a Sage. And by the way, I don’t think that this view is all that different, or shouldn’t be all that different, from Contemporary Christianity. This is why, I’m assuming, that the Gnostic Jesus would probably reject the Great Commission, or whatever that doctrine is called where every Christian must go out into the world preaching the Word. Preaching the Word, or enthusiastically stating the new insights that you’ve gained from reading about Jesus Christ is cool, but what does it matter if someone has a different takeaway. That’s why Gnostic Jesus is more concerned with you and your journey, rather than you and your relation to someone else’s journey. ANYWAYS…But even to the Gnostics, Jesus was still a Savior. If you took His message, and understood it, then your soul is liberated through the Gnosis, or the Knowledge that you gained. At least according to Hoeller.

“Kant” Revisited: Rationality Won’t Save Us

“Rationality won’t save us”, as Robert McNamara warned us in “The Fog of War”. That’s probably my favorite quote regarding the nature of warfare.

It can’t save us because it’s beholden to the irrational.

The threat of nuclear war has been staring at us for the last 70 years. Mind you, the threat of it alone has probably prevented another World War. People in general just can’t stomach it. But it’s only a matter of time.

If a line is created, humans will inevitably cross it.

It’s simply been too long since the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sure, history remembers it well, but the scars will quickly be forgotten. Unlike the Cold War generation, we haven’t grown up knowing that there’s a gun pointed at our heads. But the barrel has never been lowered. We’ve grown up under its shadow yet we haven’t noticed. But it’s there, and it will go off. We may dodge a bullet under Donald Trump, but nuclear deterrence won’t hold forever. It can’t. It certainly won’t hold if we keep electing lunatics into office. But if we have learned anything from Robert McNamara, who nearly saw nuclear war despite having two rational heads controlling the chess board, rationality might give us warning…but it won’t save us.

Once again, I must’ve been plastered when I wrote this because there isn’t much that I remember. But I do recall a professor that would continually repeat “numbers never lie”…as if they told the entire truth.  That’s all he pretty much ever said in class. He’s right, and I never questioned it. But thinking on it now, it kinda pisses me off. I explain why in the post.

Now that I think about that class, I hated it. So this is kind of my F-U to that professor.

I’ll be occupied over the weekend, so I won’t be writing much. Enjoy the holiday. As usual, because I’m lazy as shit, I don’t edit or spellcheck. So please forgive those errors.

Enjoy!

branches&creatures

Do you ever come across C-Span and wonder who the hell watches this shit? Well the answer to that is me. I do. While everyone else is watching Negan beat the shit out Rick and the gang, I’m watching trade deals with the Ivory Coast and some obscure professor with an Eastern European name discuss his latest social science book.

That’s what excites me. And if I could serve in any branch of government, it would be the State Department. It’s not as sexy as the Department of Defense or Homeland Security, but that’s what I’m interested in. Hell, if Donald Trump called me up and said “Kanye West doesn’t want to be Secretary of State, do you want the job?”, I might say yes. I’d consider it at least.

I imagine that most you listening know what the State Department is. In case most of you don’t, I think that a lot of people think of it as the customer service of America. When the military rolls in and destroys your village, you get with your local ambassador and air out your grievances. Right? Hilary Clinton was the State Department Secretary in case most of you don’t remember.

So anyways, the work that I will be reading is Theory of International Politics by Kenneth N. Waltz. And when trying to come to a definition of Theory, as it is distinguishable from the definition of Law, Waltz says something interesting. My infamous professor of sociology in college, in his defense of statistics, simply said that numbers never lie. And being a low-level college freshman that was more interested in getting laid than getting into any sort of in-depth discussion on anything, there was no way for me to refute that. No, of course numbers don’t lie. But perhaps numbers don’t tell the entire story. Waltz simply says that numbers and statistics only describe the world, but it doesn’t explain it. With my finger firmly on the pulse of modern intelligentsia, this might be a dubious idea. At least in the realm of social sciences, there might be a tendency to try and reduce individuals and events into a numerical description. Why? Possibly because numbers are absolute, and the real world is chaotic.

But Waltz introduces this idea of “inductivist illusion.” as credited by Levi-Strauss. And this is the idea that the more information we gather, like data and case studies, the more likely we are to arrive at truth. But then Waltz provides a quote from C.S. Peirce that said, quote “direct experience is neither certain nor uncertain, because it affirms nothing-it just is. It involves no error, because it testifies to nothing but its own appearance. For the same reason, it affords no certainty.” End quote. So data doesn’t necessarily prove anything. It’s just a representation of thing being analyzed .And of course, I feel the same way about history. It’s an assessment of how we got to our current time, at least in pragmatic terms, or just a recalling of events that happened some time ago. Of course, lessons should be learned from it, but using it as a tool to determine what’s going to happen in the future is pointless. Data and history can determine probability, but probability does not necessarily equate to actuality. So the inductive method clearly has its limits. And expanding on his definition of Theory, Waltz says something interesting. Quote: “those who believe, oddly, that knowledge begins with certainties think of theories as edifices of truth, which they would build inductively.” End quote. So he’s wanting to throw into question that knowledge begins with certainties. So it doesn’t appear that Waltz is an empiricist, as he seems to invoke Immanuel Kant later on. So once again, our ideas of post-modern truth comes knocking at the door. But Waltz is trying to explain his definition of theory, in a rather long yet interesting way, at least in ways that should be familiar to you if you’ve been listening to this podcast.

He seems to be explaining the definition of Theory as not something that is rooted in empirical evidence. If all we needed was empirical evidence to explain things, we would have no need for theories. So going with that thought, theories are things that have to be constructed. In conclusion, laws are facts of nature, while theories are ways of explaining those facts.So then Waltz goes into explaining Reductionist theories. And those are the theories that focus on the individual or national level. Or more specifically, the reductionist method attempts to understand the whole by examining how its parts interact. So it moves from the small to the large. However, Waltz himself doesn’t appear to be a fan of this method, or he appears to think that these method alone cannot adequately explain international politics. And he seems to take a few shots at the Hobson-Lenin theory of capitalism and how it promotes war and imperialism, even though non-capitalistic countries with differing economic systems have engaged in similar war and imperialistic tendencies. So assessing internal public policies and economic strategies of a nation cannot adequately explain why countries engage in certain international tendencies.

There’s a lot of information here, but what helped me get through a lot of this is a YouTube series from a man named Charles Kirchofer, who provides an excellent summary of this section. But, he says that yes, economics do effect politics, but it also works vice-versa. And a lot of the talking points from reductionist theorist would lead you to believe that democracy equals peace, and so on. But it should be important to note, that Waltz isn’t necessarily saying that we need to completely do away with reductionist theories, but there has to be other supplementary methods towards understanding politics. One size does not fit all.Which that’s a very anti-political idea when you think about it. At least anti-political from the point of view of someone that is heavily engaged in one political ideology over another. It’s all too easy for us to bogged down and become too pro-free market or too-socialist, or whatever the case may be. When the fact of the matter is that there might be more than one way to skin a cat.Political ideologies tend to have a monopolizing effect on its followers. Whenever you turn on Fox News, would you hear anyone ever propose raising taxes or promote gun control. Of course not. Because politics have such a polarizing effect, we have such a hard time attempting to assess problems through other methods. I don’t know if this is what Waltz is getting at, but there is certainly a tendency for certain political scientist to look at their field with only one lens, rather than abstracting themselves and their personal biases from the equation.

This is where, I think, history becomes important. Right now, I’m listening to An Economic History of the World since 1400, a lecture series by Professor Donald J. Herrald. And I’m listening to the part about Mercantilism, and how it dominated European economic thought for over 200 years. But no one at the time thought of themselves as “mercantilist”. That was only a title attributed to them many years later. But because we have the benefit of hindsight, we are able to fully understand the mercantilist system in an unbiased way because we have no skin in the game. We are able to see it from all angles, perhaps in a better way than Adam Smith did when he coined the term “mercantile system” when that system was in its waning years.

So, when choosing between political ideas, is it best to ask yourself “how will history assess this position hundreds of years from now?”. So therefore history itself maximizes its full utility under the pretense that human progress is constantly on the upswing, and that all actions are assessed through the lens of the betterment of human progress? Therefore historicism becomes the proper guiding light for human activity. I don’t know, what am I talking about here?

Anyways, Waltz, in addition to reductionist theories also brings up systemic theories. Which, I guess we can think of it as a way to distinguish the system and the parts that make up the system. So, I suppose that if we think of reductionist theories as being bottom-up, systemic theories are top-down. But we need systemic theories that distinguish themselves from reductionism. To extend this out into a greater philosophical discussion, I think that what we need to think about is how we can generally predict behavior from individuals and nations by just looking at their internal functionality. So we can say because a then b. But there is no exact certainty. We can say that because someone has a tendency towards something, that they are more likely to commit a certain action, but we have to take into account how external factors can make an influence. On an international scale, take into account the saying “only Nixon could go to China.” The idea that a hardline anti-communist would reach out to a communist country would be considered an unpredictable move.

Of course, when it comes to Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy, the word Realpolitik comes up. This is where ideology is sidelined in favor of pragmatic solutions. This is often considered a negative term. Whether or not Waltz’s neorealism, the central thesis to Theory of International Politics, can be considered a form of Realpolitik, I have no idea. I might just be seeing connections where none exist. But what’s interesting is that in Waltz’s form of neorealism, as where states on their own function under a centralized government. But no such polity exists on the international level. We can consider organizations like the United Nations as a governing body, but we can also consider this organization as a predator without any teeth. So international politics operate, more or less, in a state of anarchy. As in, nations all have equal right to self-preservation.

So how can we predict state behavior on an international scale, despite nations having a diverse set of internal ideologies? And by the way, neorealism contrasts with neoliberalism, I’m assuming, or the thought that nations act in accordance with their internal ideologies. So anyways, how can we determine international behavior? Well Waltz seems to advocate that the anarchistic state of international relations fosters feelings of insecurity. When one state seems to be out-gaining another, that helps to determine the actions of competing states. So external pressure, as motivated by insecurity and self-preservation, is why states seem to act contrary to their ideals.

So, I guess in some ways, how this relates to realpolitik is that as nations relate to one another, they do so out of pragmatism rather than out of any ideological needs. Now, Theory of International Politics was written during the Cold War, and Waltz seems to be advocating for a bi-polar balance of power (as opposed to multi, or unilateral) because that seemed to be the most stabilizing. Presumably, he was thinking about the United States and the USSR. So we can debate the merits of that thought, as well as the merits of neorealism in general. But Waltz wasn’t trying factor in human nature in his system of international relations. The way that I like to think of it is, he was just trying to see how individual parts interacted with a system. But what I find so intriguing about international relations is how it often results in war. It’s either about seeking it or avoiding it.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Errol Morris. And his other famous documentary “The Fog of War”, he interviews former Secretary of Defense Robert S McNamara, who played a major role in two wars. And one of his lessons is that “rationality will not save us.” The example that he gave was the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Khrushchev and Kennedy were both rational actors, but we came only moments away from nuclear war. Now you’d think that after seeing the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that large scale nuclear warfare would never be an options. Nevertheless, intelligent people, the best and brightest of our nation, nearly caused such a thing. Now, we can argue that the threat of nuclear warfare became a mechanism that had to be controlled by the heads of state. But if it was such a horrific thing, why didn’t nations try harder to try to abolish it?Rationality won’t save us.

War is both an avoidance and an objective. It is the meeting point of modern technology and primal instinct to dominate our enemies. Modern man believes itself to be the pinnacle of rationality. That is, after all, the arrogance of modernity. But rationality is a creation of its maker. And because it is so, it can bent towards the will of its user. It prevents nothing, it only enables. Every generation has its excuse for war. If it isn’t the military industrial complex, other reasons will be found. It is simply an impulsive need for destruction, enacted on a global scale. It is far easier for nations to engage in violence, and individuals are subjected to laws. But nations make them.

Thought of the Day: Socrates’s Problem of Good

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods”? As Socrates infamously asked Euthyphro. (In Plato’s Euthyphro)

The GOOD, I have found, is far more problematic than evil.

I have waved off this problem earlier by stating that “there is no ACTUAL good and evil, just the knowledge of good and evil.” As if this were an epistemological (I guess. I truly don’t remember what I was talking about) problem rather than a genuine ethical one….they exist ONLY as a phenomenological problem, not as something that we can objectively ascertain even though we can overwhelmingly come to a consensus on what we find “good” and “evil”. But is Socrates’ question still relevant even if it’s referencing imaginary beings and concepts that only exist in the mind? We might not accept the existence of gods, Socrates didn’t, nevertheless even the godless among us will conform to an accepted standard of “good” even if it isn’t believed that it’s derived from an otherworldly being.

“Good for the sake of good” I always thought.

During my atheist days, believers would often ask me why I bothered with doing good if there wasn’t a standard to hold me to it. The response would usually be something like: “I don’t need a God to do good, but clearly you do.” While many of my views have changed, that one is still true. Even if I somehow definitively discovered that there isn’t a supernatural realm that holds us together, I’d still strive to do good. Why? Excellent question. Even among the atheist and agnostics, there does appear to be a metaphysical pull towards preferring good to evil. Logical explanations for this vary, but people…almost universally….prefer it.

I can’t recall which World War it was, but studies indicated that only about 10% of soldiers fired their weapons (or something like that). The exact details of the study I don’t recall, but what we discovered is that people just don’t want to kill other people. In fact, in the military, they have to be indoctrinated to do so. Mind you, people can be convinced to kill others…through things like mob mentality and fervent nationalism…but MOST people will never kill anyone in their entire life, to include war veterans DESPITE having the legality and motivation to do so. I suppose the same can be observed in animals of the same species. Animals kill all the time, they even get violent with one another. But does the average animal ever kill one of their own? Now I might be comparing apples to oranges by comparing animal morality to human’s. But the point I’d like to make is that perhaps the ideas of morality, of good and bad, might be innate…or the capability of forming such ideas are “hard wired” into us.

Some can claim God here, but a Maker is not necessary….such ideas probably have an evolutionary benefit, especially when we consider societal bonding. So the origin of GOOD is found in both biology and society. Yet we (or maybe just me) find such explanations wanting.

Have we answered the question posed by Socrates?

I think we simply reframed the question. Since ‘good’ has no divine order, we’ve simply turned it over to the whims of other people.

What makes an action inherently GOOD? Is it good because we like it, or do we like it because it’s good? OR are actions morally affirming because we find them good, or do we find them good because they are morally affirming? If the former for both questions, then good and morality are subject to change according to human whim. If the latter, then it’s conceivable to have an objective set of morality that exists independent of the mind and can be found true under any circumstance…like 2+2 always equals 4. Yet the problem becomes obvious: unlike the number 2, there’s not a clear set of criteria for what makes something “good”. It’s not a well-defined concept. In fact, I might be making a major philosophical blunder by confusing “good” with “inherently moral”. While a given action might be morally defensible, it could have devastating consequences on others.

Draw up any sort of scenario you want out of that.

But as far as “good’s” relationship with “moral”, what can we say about it? Is it the absence of evil? If so, then how do we define “evil”? For this, I find that we have a much easier time drawing up a definition. (although not a precise one, like the number 2) At the very least, we have to say that evil is an intent. One could easily make a bad moral decision, but simply because it’s “bad” does it make it “evil”? (especially if it was done unintentionally?) No. So there has to be an intent to do bad, but by simply intending to do bad, does that make an action EVIL? Once again, we find problems. A man going back in time to kill a young Hitler BEFORE he comes to power and commits genocide is BAD because he is off to kill an innocent man….even though it saves MILLIONS of people. Maybe that’s not the greatest of examples, but it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where people must do bad things for the greater good. Therefore evil must be MORE than an intention to do bad, it must be the intention to do bad for the sake of bad itself.

Do such events happen? Well, there’s the case of psychopaths (or is it sociopaths?) that lack empathy and commit acts against others for their own enjoyment. Serial Killers, serial rapists, child molesters…those are all seemingly evil acts that no one but the perpetrator of the crime benefits from. Are those clear cut cases of “evil”? I’ll let you be the judge….but it’s seemingly far EASIER to pinpoint evil (or at least define it) than GOOD.*

*In the middle of writing this, I completely forgot the point I was trying to make. 

“Kant” Revisited: Arthur Schopenhauer

I was most certainly drinking while writing most of Kant. But there’s a reason why some of the best writers were, and are, complete drunks.

I don’t remember writing a single sentence for this episode. However, some things were obvious: when I was on, I was ON.

Not everything that I wrote during the course of the series worked. Yet there were times when I surprised even myself. I’d like to say that I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’d be lying. There were times when my writing and thinking soared between poetic and enigmatic. While I’m not a fan of Hegel, I was intrigued by his method of purposefully trying to make his writing difficult to understand. To a degree, I was trying to do the same…and there were times that I succeeded.

I don’t know if THIS exact episode is a perfect example of that. BUT when re-reading this, a certain dread came over me: have I taken a step back in my writing? While you might not be a fan of it, there’s a part of me that wishes that I can return to this form of enigmatic style.

Now that I’m sober, is it gone? Can I ever “re-discover” it?

I don’t know.

Really, I couldn’t even follow what I was talking about. I suppose the question I was trying to ask was: is free will found in unimpeded passions OR is it found in not becoming a slave to them?

With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ll probably be unloading a lot of these “Kant Revisited” posts. So look forward to that.

But as usual, I don’t edit or spellcheck these. Please forgive those errors. Enjoy!

What could art be, if it’s not the diversion from the phenomenal conditions of life?

As much as Zizek still finds Hegel relevant, he remains a minority. But while Hegel was at the height of his powers, while lecturing at the University of Berlin…he did manage to attract rivals. One such rival was none other than Arthur Schopenhauer…who would schedule his lectures during Hegel’s. But despite Schopenhauer’s animosity, Hegel managed to attract more followers in his time, leaving Schopenhauer bitterly frustrated…a characteristic that very much shows through his writing. Even though he didn’t find the attention he deserved in his OWN time, Schopenhauer seems to have bested Hegel among thinkers in our era. With his obvious crankiness resonating with modern audiences.

But as much as we become confronted with the nothingness that’s set before us, there’s a deep-seated concern for purpose. Why continue on? In his work “The Wisdom of Life, Schopenhauer introduces what he calls “Eudaemonology”….or how we can structure our lives, so that we may maximize our success and happiness. The key point here, being that existence should become preferable to the alternative…that of non-being. So, “The Wisdom of Life” for our practical purposes today…can help us navigate through the void.

But it would be interesting to speculate, how…someone like Schopenhauer would be received if he were alive today. In our Golden Age of self-help books and uplifting quotes, in order to be cherished in this era, one must appeal to the liberal democratic optimism of progress. There are few thinkers today that would deliberately take a contrarian or cranky perspective. Slavoj Zizek seems to come close, but he seems to take a scatter-minded, loosey-goosey approach, which may come across as contrarian, but in actuality…his writing is just a representation of his inner monologue. The writer and podcaster Bret Easton Ellis comes the closest to Schopenhauer, with his unfriendly views towards current entertainment and disdain for the thin-skinned millennial generation. But this attitude towards current times is hard to come by. Us liberals have been spoiled by the eight years of Barack Obama, that we ended up choking on our positivity when Trump got elected. Whatever sort of creative drives that are bourn out of disdain, will hopefully return under the Trump years.

But what would Schopenhauer HIMSELF think of these times? Even in his own era, he held contempt for the seemingly innocent activity of card-playing. Such distractions only took away from one’s own inner constitutions. Even though he would marvel at our technological advancements, notably the internet…but he would flip his lid to learn that we were using it for social media and vanity, rather than for knowledge and education. To him, social media would be a mindless distraction that would only reinforce our dependence on an interconnected world.

For Schopenhauer, real happiness is found in self-sufficiency. The mind shouldn’t have to rely on the stimulus of the outside world ONLY, in order to find happiness. As the cliché goes, one could be surrounded with material gains, but still be poor in spirit. Not that the external world and the body aren’t necessary. Schopenhauer would even state that physical health is necessary towards happiness. But for a genuinely happy person, that individual would have the power to generate meaning from their own intellectual faculties…or the world of the mind would be found to be infinite and sufficient.

Therefore, it is the intellectual pursuits that are held in the highest regard. The pursuits of the material world are nothing but empty drives of the will, aimlessly propelling the self forward without meaning. So it would be safe to say that Schopenhauer wouldn’t be supportive of the lifestyle decisions of James Bond…or even a Charles Bukowski. Although, these would be considered intelligent and self-sufficient men, their ambitions don’t go farther than the material world. Theirs is the acceptance of the nothingness and absurdity of the world, that they would find it unnecessary to live a self-sufficient life of intellectual pursuits alone. They primarily favor the physical extremes of sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol.

And it is here, where we come to a crossroads within the Schopenhauer system. If we accept our representation of the world as our will, and we reject the metaphysicism of dogmatic religion (like Christianity)…we have two choices. Possibly more, but I want to focus on two of them: we can adopt stoic-like practices, either through pure stoicism or other self-disciplinary practices like Buddhism (as Schopenhauer likely did), OR, we can engage in our animalistic/nihilistic tendencies and engage pursuits of the material world…or the path of James Bond.

Now must of us choose the happy medium in between. We realize that by failing to play by the rules, the external world will enact ITS WILL against us. To find cooperation, we adapt our will, so as to not piss off the Medusa of the outer world…one that can strike at us with its many snake heads. This path is the most comforting one…we acknowledge the beast within us, but to not agitate the large beast outside of us…we quietly take our prey, even if just in imagination, because keeping up appearances (despite knowing the falsity of the outer world) is the true gift from the gods…the blanket of conformity, to keep the world turning.

Perhaps the acknowledgement of both the blanket and the animal beneath it, is the true path towards self-contentment, if not happiness. But happiness itself is a far loftier goal. Ultimate happiness, or the perpetuation of unlimited gratification, can be considered unachievable. The mind carries excessive baggage from its journey from the pond…towards a self-aware being, that continual happiness would work against the purpose of the mind, therefore making the pursuit of it unwise. While ultimate happiness is unachievable, sustainable self-contentment makes itself a far more worthwhile goal. And this is done by making a truce between the nihilistic ghost driving the will, and the external beast ready to pounce at any moment.

Schopenhauer seems to see the intellect as being a releasing energy, made to liberate the soul from the material body. This is a gift to mankind….what elevates us from the animals that co-habitate the planet with us. But what if we took the contrarian view? The view that the intellect is not a blessing, but a curse? Life has been existing on this planet for millions of years. Life lives, it eats, it fucks…or it doesn’t, but nevertheless it procreates…and so the system goes on…millions of years without a hitch….species going extinct as nature dictates. Then blossoms the human intellect, taking us to places life has never been before. So mother nature, with millions of years of experience under her belt, then here we come, circumventing the process…going into space and fucking up the planet. Then, after years of reflection, we become aware of our destruction and impending doom.

What have we achieved with this superior intellect? We might have uncovered the mysteries of the universe, or we are well on our way towards doing so, but to what purpose? So that we can alleviate the pains of death and uncover the nothingness that awaits us? Everything comes at a cost, to include the intellect. Are we really better off knowing about our impending demise? Are we that much happier for knowing the justness and injustices of the world? Perhaps Eve was better off not eating the fruit of knowledge. We have been cursed with our knowledge, and we continue to pay the price for our great leap forward….with our continual deliberations on what it means to be happy.I guess, as the old saying goes…ignorance is bliss….or, it’s more bliss than knowing. Look no further than your pet; living a sweet blissful life, unknowing of the struggles of what it means to be human. Your dog, happily moving from one moment to the next…overjoyed at the prospect of getting a scrap of food, or a pat on the head. You take comfort in having an animal that gets the simplest joys in the most mundane things. You suspect that your animal could wish itself to be human, that you pity it in the most innocent of ways. But with this consistent blissfulness, perhaps its your dog that pities you.

Schopenhauer invokes Aristotle when says that life devoted to philosophy is the happiest. But how true has that proven to be? A life of philosophy has the burden of knowing the true conditions of reality. Knowingly believing in falsities is not a practice that the philosopher usually condones. If we took any philosophy out of history (say, Schopenhauer), and put them into a room with any religious cleric, I would wager to say that the cleric would be the most cheerful of the two. The belief that the nothingness of death are actually alleviated by venturing to the afterworld, is such a powerful nonsensical idea, that it disguises or obstructs the true pain of being. The believer is able to go through life without any burdens of the philosopher, because their questions have been answered…and they take comfort in the lie.

But what Schopenhauer is trying to reach towards, is the freedom we receive from being unobstructed from our pursuits. And a person with deep intellectual capabilities will find that their pursuits will spoil the other necessities of life, namely relationships with others…which they will find shallow and unrewarding. This person might, as a result, find themselves alone or bored, due to their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom. Schopenhauer acknowledges the burden of the intellectual, but on the flip side…the person that only pursues the joys of physical reality, (whom he calls Philistines), will also soon find themselves bored. But this specific boredom and restlessness, is of a much shallower variety. Their restless pursuits could never compare to that of a true intellectual.

So where does that leave those with deep inner worlds? Without the assistance of drugs, alcohol, and other substances, is true happiness attainable? Or perhaps a more suitable question should be…is happiness the ONLY worthwhile feeling? The burden of knowledge cannot be put back into the tube; Eve cannot attach the fruit back to the tree. We are, for better or worse, doomed with the reality of our knowledge. How does one move forward with this burden? The pursuit of happiness is the cornerstone on which liberal democracies are based. But is it the cornerstone on which existential meaning is based? It makes sense for governments to cherish this pursuit…but why must there be a pursuit of it at all? From a mental health perspective, the only obstructions to our happiness are the ones we place in front of it. If we adopted the way of the stoics, we can theoretically be happy in any situation, therefore negating the use of the pursuit. But is true happiness possible? With our awareness of uncertainty, and time, and the realities of the world, perpetual happiness is an unrealistic goal. At best, the greatest that we can achieve is perpetual solitude, a la the path of the stoics and Buddhist enlightenment. But what’s the mechanism behind this solitude?

In the last episode, Zizek explained to us that the real objective of philosophy, is to not explore the nothingness of the thing-in-itself, but to explore the veil of perception that covers over it. The human mind has been jostled from one extreme to the next…it’s far better suited for managing catastrophe (which is a better tool for survival), than maintaining any sort of grounds for perpetual contentment. Our actions of completing one objective to the next is not motivated by ONLY pure survival, but driven by a conception of the IDEA of happiness. It’s the carrot that dangles in front of us. We might get a nibble every now and then, which keeps us hungry for more…but the idea of living in a world with an endless amount of easily accessible carrots, is an empty one. Yet, that’s what moves us forward, despite us understanding that such a world is unattainable. It’s the temptation of the carrot, the veil over the nothingness, that keeps us wanting more. So it’s the idea of happiness, and not happiness ITSELF, that’s the valuable tool. It’s The PURSUIT of happiness that’s the real key towards eternal self-contentment.

But with this burden of knowledge, we know that a state of persistent pleasure is only a myth. When we look at the condition of life, we realize that happiness and pleasure are seldom applied. Most of our lives are spent in sleep or operating functions that might bring about pleasure, but are, in fact, not pleasurable in themselves. Yet while a life might be full of happiness…does that happiness bring about meaning? Has the one that has spent their entire lives in the solitude of pleasure…brought about meaning upon themselves? This pointless existence, in Schopenhauer’s terms, is just an aimless drive of the will…seeking pleasure because that’s what the machine demands. A blind allegiance to happiness is not, in purely self-aware terms…not a full utilization of the free will. By giving way to pleasure at every turn, then it is the pleasure that owns you.

Indeed, seldom do we find meaning in happiness, outside of its own sake. Usually, we find the excessive dwelling in it, to be precious time wasted. To construct meaning, to possess the burden of knowledge, is to live beyond pleasure and pain…and not to become a slave to them.

Have I argued in favor of Schopenhauer? I have no idea because, once again, I failed to make it through the entire book. But that’s okay, because that gives YOU the opportunity to explore this subject on your own. I’m not asking and answering questions so that you don’t have to, I’m asking questions because I want you to be up late at night, like me! The ball’s in your court, buddy! Go read the damn book yourself!