Well, just when you though you’d seen it all. I randomly came across a quote from one Caitlin Moran about death (more about that to follow) and it upsets me that anyone thinks they can throw the word “philosophy” around like it’s just a meaningless term. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people that thinks you should have a PhD after your name in order to be considered to have the right to speak about philosophy, but when it is obvious that they either have no clue what they are talking about or they are dishonest.
Now, before I continue, I should say that I write things in this blog about people whom the intellectual tradition does not touch one, for good reason. Partly, I must admit, it is because it is quite easy to point out their mistakes and, as so, they’re a nice exercise in logic. That said, I find it very scary that there is a multitude of people who believe these people and follow their advice. If you want an example (other than the one below), just look in the comments on my homepage, where Mystic Tiger Ashram accused me of attacking “alternate philosophies” (as if such a thing existed and as if it is a bad thing to knock erroneous ideas down).
But, let’s not get sidetracked. Onto that passage I was talking about:
“Death is not a release, but an incentive. The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life. My traditional closing time rant is that humans still believe in an afterlife. I genuinely think it’s the biggest philosophical problem the earth faces. Even avowedly nonreligious people think they’ll be meeting up with nana and their dead dog, Crackers, when they finally keel over. Everyone thinks they’re getting a harp. But believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence. It’s like an insidious and destabilizing mental illness. Underneath every day-every action, every word- you think it doesn’t really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise.”
-Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman
So, in my preemptive defense for those who will think that I am doing this out of “support for repressing women” and for being evil and all that other crap, I have bolded the part of quote which, according to Moran, makes this a philosophical issue, so I have the right to judge its veracity, whatever the rest of the content is. Since we are on this theme, I’d also like to remind everyone that Plato, though being about 24 centuries away from women’s rights movements supported equal rights and equal education for women (in the Kaliopolis this is explicit).
A lot of philosophical discussions end in frustration and have no overall value because even philosophers forget the extreme importance of defining their terms. So, in order to be productive in this case, let’s do that.
Moran talks about death, about death we shall talk about. There are two basic understandings of the end of life, but current philosophy says that there are three, so let us examine them. They are the naturalist physical theory, the naturalist mental theory, and the eternalist theory. The physical (also biological) theory maintains that death, i.e. the end of life, comes whenever your heart stops beating and your brain stops working. The “mental” theory, also a materialist theory, says that whenever basic mental functions are stopped (go figure what that means), the end of life has occurred. This is a very popular idea today with the debate about euthanasia, because this theory holds than a person in PVS has, basically, already died. Of course, this theory completely ignores Aristotle’s point about first and second actualization, but that’s a different matter. On the whole, it is a materialist theory as much as the first one, which is why I say that it would be correct to say that there are two basic theories at play. The physical theory fits together much better with the reductive materialist side (type identity theory, eliminativism) and the “mental” with the non-reductive materialist side (functionalism), which is currently the orthodoxy of philosophy of mind, but Kim’s problem will probably change that.
The third theory maintains that the end of life is not necessarily the end of existence. It maintains that there is “something else” that preserves the identity of the person when their physical functions cease. That “something else” is commonly seen as the soul, the life principle of the body (i.e. you got life when you have this, at the end of life it goes away). Part of this theory are both Plato and Aristotle (yeah, despite what your teacher may have taught you, go read Aristotle’s De Anima), Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and probably every other religion out there. Clearly, this is an important issue, because so many people have believed in it for so long and, if this is wrong and so wrong that someone who has no experience in philosophy can figure it out, philosophy and theology students across the globe are doing a terrible injustice to their parents, their country, and themselves by pursuing an education which includes these disciplines. Of course, my own life is at stake here, because if Plato and Aristotle and all the Christian thinkers are proved wrong, I’ve just wasted all my college career and a lot of money learning about these people and, on top of that, am no longer relevant to the intellectual community and to the world.
In order to make things as clear as possible, let us divide the eternalist group into two sub-groups, namely pantheist religions and theistic religions. Why so, you may say? Well, the issue is that Pantheism seems to entail Monism (i.e. there is really only one being and everything is that being), so what the theistic groups are arguing is the eternal part which does not get destroyed when the body ceases to work (i.e. the soul) is quite different from what these groups claim is the eternal part (a part of the being that is everything).
First,let us consider Pantheism, the groups that entail Monism. This group includes the Hindu religion(s) (many people are confused when they find in the Vedas that both “only Brahman reincarnates” and “all who do not go to Nirvana reincarnate.”), Buddhism (even though it does not believe that the eternal part is actually a being), Hegel (the Absolute), and many others. To these belief systems, the above quote does apply. They would receive it with happiness. Hegel would insert it into a triad, the Hindus and the Buddhists would at the same time assert its veracity and, at the same time, argue for its polar opposite to be equally as valid (everything is part of god, remember?). That said, enlightened Buddhists and Hindus are not expecting for a harp or anything like that, Nirvana is simply ending the cycle of reincarnation. There is, therefore, no way to “sort it all out in paradise.” Being in Nirvana basically proves that there is nothing left to sort out, both Samsara and Karma are completed.
Now, the juicy part, the second group seems much more affected by this assertion and promises for much more heated debate. Plato (read the Phaedo), Aristotle, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. all belong to this side, the theistic side. This second side believes that there is a God or gods that have created an afterlife of some sort for righteous people as a means of providing justice (i.e. if you’re good and you suffer unjustly in this world, this is the compensation plan). Of course, it seems, just from the sentence above that Moran does not even have a clue about what the Platonic, or Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim understanding of “paradise” entails, because, by its very definition, a person who has “things to sort out” does not go to paradise. The whole point is that if you do screw up on this side, you don’t get to go to paradise. It is the people who believe that there is something after death that look out for what they are doing not the opposite. Incidentally, it just so happens that all these belief systems happen to each have a very extensive and well-defined moral code. I do not know much about Islam, but if you want to see how close Platonism and Christianity are, check out John 11-14 and compare it to Socrates’ final speech to his friends before drinking the poison, where he basically says, “If you love me, obey my teachings.” In addition, it is usually the opposite world view, the idea that (physical) death is the ultimate end that fuels an absolute carelessness about ethics.
Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov highlights this idea extensively, “if no God, no immortality. If no immortality, everything is permissible,” says Ivan Karamazov. Of course, the strict validity of his own logic smacks him in the face toward the end of the book as the homeless man sings, “Vanka [diminutive of Ivan] went away…” (boom, and I didn’t spoil the book) Within the realm of philosophy, one need look no further than Jean-Paul Sartre to highlight this point. While, seemingly, a lot of people jump with excitement at coming to accept that there is no Divine being and, therefore, no meaning of life and, therefore, that all things are permissible, Sartre understood the true connotations of that acceptance. That is the reason why he lived with the utter assurance that the only thing meaningful was to put as many things as possible (things and people) under one’s dominion and why he was a sexual sadist. He argued that “love” was illogical and that there was a word in every single language that had absolutely no meaning, namely “we.” This is the logical conclusion of believing that there is nothing beyond death. Of course, if there is nothing beyond death and no objective morality, then if you can commit a crime with the absolute assurance that you will not get punished for doing it, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. In fact, even if you do get punished, if you really want to do it, go ahead anyway. In other words, we have stumbled into Book II of the Kaliopolis. Whereas these evil belief systems like Platonism teach that, even if someone had the ring of Gyges, it would not be permissible for them to commit evil and that people should not even be frightened by death when it comes to doing what’s right (both Platonism and Christianity hold fast to both), Moran’s proposed safety net against complacency is to introduce atheism, which says, “it’s not wrong if no one saw it.” I don’t know about you, but, if we are looking for ethical expediency and a war against complacency, it is the first, not Moran’s choice that does the job.
Elsewhere, she says that we should use the understanding that we are dying at every moment to live our lives. Of course, this begs one to ask what she means. If by that she means that the time to do the right courageous thing is now, then it is the understanding that our life begins its expiration process from the moment of birth taken together with the idea that, at the end of this life, one will have to face a Perfect Judge who will consider their actions in this world which would get one ready to do the right thing.
If, on the other hand, Moran means by living our lives a more subtle formulation of “YOLO,” then it is simply cliche, except stated with a little more whit and a British accent. It is, however, on the whole, unworthy of any consideration, since Hedonism has dropped out of the mainstream philosophical arena for a very long time now. If Moran wants to protect this, the view that, since we’re dying we should go out there and “enjoy” (the Platonist maintains that the momentary thrill does not provide enough good consequences for the destruction of the soul that results because of it) ourselves, then why does she talk about “setting things straight,” etc. in Heaven, as if she know what she was talking about?
Of course, it could be that this is simply another attack on traditional metaphysics and ethics, but a particularly dimwitted one, so it deserves not consideration on that regard.
Finally, a word about How to Be a Woman. I have not read any other words other than the ones I have quoted above from it, but if the aforementioned excerpt is a marker for the rest of the book, the prospects are not very high. Of course, one must consider the title and its proportionality to the thickness of the book. Whenever I go to bookstores, I often find it very amusing to see books with titles like, “History of the world: Babylon to the Fall of the Roman Empire” that are about 150 pages long. I may be mistaken, but if you were to write the book in micro print there would not be enough pages there to examine that extensive period of time for the whole world. No one except for the most intellectually doomed members of our society would buy a 200 page book titled, How to Be a Doctor, for the simple reason that there is simply no way that the complexities of being a doctor are examined in 200 pages. If that is true, then why would anyone think that the complexities of femininity and womanhood can be sufficiently treated in 200 pages? Of course, I could be wrong, How to Be a Woman could be a multi-volume work of high psychological and philosophical worth, but somehow I don’t think that is the most likely scenario. I wonder why it is that there are people who buy such a book and there are two choices, either people are extremely slow to understand that womanhood as a whole cannot be treated in 200 pages, or they believe that anything said by a woman about womanhood is valid, no matter what it said. If you are one of these people, you are probably very annoyed at this point, but wait, there’s more. If it is true that what any woman and only what a woman says about womanhood is true, then it is also true that all things that men and only the things that men say are true about manhood are also true. However, there are and have been in the past many women who have had many correct critiques of manhood and masculinity and many who have had incorrect ones. Their views were, thank God, considered and we are a better planet for it. If, however, the second option is true for Moran’s supporters, then it means that if a man were to write that men are vastly superior to women and throw around phrases like, “Are you meeting a woman? Don’t forget your whip…” he would be right. “What an outrage!” cry out radical feminists and I agree with them. Who, then, is this SOB? None other than Friedrich Nietzsche, who incidentally happens to be the idol and teacher of many radical feminists, Mary Daly for once, who is able to reconcile her feminism with Nietzsche because she utterly rejects the idea of femininity as such. In so doing, she should lose the title of “feminist” in a blink, because she has betrayed the very idea that she says she is promoting and much of the jeering that pro-life women and especially young women get when they stand up for their beliefs (if you don’t believe me, go on YouTube or go down to Washington D.C. for March for Life and see for yourself) deserves to go to her instead of them.
In short, I am up to my nose with people who believe that I and many people much brighter than me just so happened to waste much of their lives (4+ years so far in my case, much more for many others) and an insane amount of money (college and graduate school tuition together is enough to buy a spacious house) in order to study this philosophy thing, when seeming Divine inspiration of Ion’s kind would have done the job just as nicely. Good thing we got them looking after society, otherwise the actual experts would have to speak on the issues and the world would be in a better place.