Against Prattle: a Philippic

The following treatise–more of a brief polemic really–is a collection of reflections concerning the ethics of false speech. Referring to it as a Philippic, the written or verbal attack first used by Greek rhetor Demosthenes to denounce Philip II, I have written this as  part-social criticism, part-moral essay. If you would rather listen to and watch the diatribe than read it, click here.

1

The Buddha identifies the misconduct of the tongue as one of the five precepts in the Eightfold path, and this vice, millennia later, still exists as a ubiquitous problem that, like a tick, burrows in the skin of, taints the blood of, and festers in the soul of its victim, unrelenting in its ways, corrupting within our society, and inflicting upon our rationality insipidity and vacuousness, which, in turn, strips us of our communicative and contemplative functions, and over time it becomes all too comfortable as it finds its way into our everyday interactions. We are powerless against this latent evil, and we no not of when we are consumed by it, for we feel the urge to act upon it, failing to consider what we really are doing.

2

Having not yet come to terms with themselves, having not yet established their place with their peers, and having not yet stipulated the trifles whereof they speak, the youth of today have failed incommensurably to understand the importance of that to which they contribute their input. Whencesoever this problem has arisen goes beyond me, inasmuch as the prevalence of this particular epidemic is to be considered universal for this time. It is due, possibly, to the increasing globalization of texting, a form of communication that has undermined the fundamentals of language, both socially and digitally, leading to the utter disregard of and complete ignorance of proper conversation and the destructive neglect of conventions in grammar, which, in turn, has created countless neologisms, limitless acronyms, and egregious shorthand, all of which has stemmed from our technology, since the culture of today is influenced so much by it.

3

So what exactly is the nature of the misconduct in speech to which I refer? To what extent does misconduct reach in relation to the tongue? The prattle with which I concern myself is that consisting of no practical value, of no constructive merit, or, more specifically, language used not for the betterment of the individual, i.e., their character or for their rationality, but for empty entertainment, i.e., the consumption of time or that regarding external matters such as diurnal occurrences or social conference. When speaking of the former, I speak of right conduct, speech used to further one’s morals and virtues or to further one’s thoughts and ideas, as these can be considered constructive, insofar as it provides the interlocutors to engage in discourse that will have a lasting effect, whereas engaging in the latter provides no such resolution.

4

Proper usage of speech, then, consists of structured, formal talk, which will benefit not just the talker but the listener, the useful benefit being the capacity to expand upon ideas, not the capacity to inquire into the happenings of another’s business found so commonly in the chatter of those not practiced aright in the art of conversation. And what is to dissuade us from said prattle? to inspire us to partake in constructive dialogue? Just as it is the job of the mother to nurse and raise her children and not the opposite, so too does conversation stimulate and enlighten and not the opposite; it is a shame when the mother chastises and abuses her young, just like when discussion dulls and deteriorates the minds of its users. We must refrain from reducing ourselves to useless talk, evidently, as it, like a car with no engine, will stall, will remain idle, and will get us nowhere, its only success being a waste of our time, precious time.

5

And what does this look like, exactly? While I hearken to the frivolous matters discussed nowadays, I cannot help but ask why. It is like a burning in my mind, not exactly a physical sensation, but a yearning, a desire for something that will bear fruit, which can be consumed and then digested, and like the natural desire of hunger, it will continue in a cycle. Of what use is talking about the small matters of your day? of talking negatively of those who have wronged you in the slightest offense? of colluding, viciously, behind the backs of your friends? of complaining incessantly of that which has no effect on you, or of that that rests outside of your control? To what end does this lead? So, in my moments of velleity, I ask myself and of my peers: where is the excitement? the passion? Where is the intense fervor we so frequently seek in life? Since this life is limited, it is this time, time of conversation, time of being with friends, that we should exchange not playful persiflage but confrontation, debate, forasmuch as engaging in a unilateral conversation bears no seeds, merely fruits; it is the seed, from which the ideas burgeon, which we desire, for the fruit will, in time come, but it is the journey, not the destination, that matters, so far as the learning, the stimulation, comes directly from the discourse. From conflict comes resolution, not the other way around, insomuch that, like a student, our learning comes not from the finished paper, but the computation of it, which is exactly what we are looking for when we converse. Indeed, a better use of our time would be used discussing big ideas, ideas that will inspire the aforesaid debate, considering it creates a connection between those involved and will hook them. We should be debating philosophy, history, politics, values, psychology; we should be debating the arts of the free man! for we, after all, are free, and thus we desire a fulfillment of our needs. How one should act, ethically, should take precedence over what minor misadventure another has committed one fateful day every time, seeing as the former is practical, whereas the latter is trivial and should be kept to one’s self.

Morality and Suicide Squad

IMG_1167A whole spate of DC and Marvel movie adaptations has recently come out this summer. It is not surprising to see the amount of hype that surrounds these titanic blockbusters. And with the recent arrival of Detective Comics’ Suicide Squad, we are given yet another fast-paced action movie. My overall rating would be pretty high, as there was a genius balance between narrative and exciting sequences. However, there two major disappointments, which I will explain at the end. I had been waiting for this film to come out, and as I watched it, I find a wealth of profound prompts to write on. So, for today’s post, we will explore the philosophy and psychology of the villains of Suicide Squad. Specifically, we shall discuss the rights and wrongs of objectifying prisoners, the ethics of redemption, and the morality of religion and higher/transcendent power (Spoilers ahead).

The one behind Task Force X is a government agent by the name of Amanda Waller. An ambitious and determined agent, she will do whatever it takes, no matter the risks, to accomplish a task. Her great breakthrough consists of recruiting the worst of the worst to do the government’s dirty work. In the case of the DC universe, there are plenty of contemptible and expendable criminals to take advantage of. This is controversial at most, and it brings us to the question of whether or not we should risk prisoners’ lives for dangerous missions. To answer this question, we must first analyze Waller’s motives and her tactics and then the situation and rights of the prisoners. Beginning with the first inquiry, what is Amanda’s main goal and how does she ultimately reach it? We are under the immediate pretense that Waller is supposedly doing us a favor. Her goal is very clear from the start: she wants to protect her nation. How does she plan on doing that? By risking dangerous criminals’ lives to deal with threats. At first glance this seems pretty smart. Not only are we under the protection of trained and specialized mercenaries and serial killers, but, if they die, it lessens the criminal population, thus lowering crime rates, right? Wrong. Note that we are dealing with cold-blooded killers who kill primarily out of either satisfaction or payment. As we will discuss in the following paragraph, these are people, too. They may have killed people, but they have the right to live just like us. Nelson Mandela once explained, “A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” By this merit, we should respect the criminals and treat them like normal humans despite their misdeeds. Again, we are dealing with human beings, not animals. How does Amanda Waller make them do it? Why she makes deals with them, of course. She mercilessly makes them do what she wants them to do against their free wills by threatening to kill them with the bombs she implanted in them. These prisoners have no free choice and must do whatever is asked of them, for their life is at stakes. At one point in the movie, I thought Amanda was dead and thought to myself, “Would Waller’s death be justified?” After some thinking, I have concluded that killing Amanda Waller would be justifiable. Think about it: Amanda is a manipulative and apathetic person who will stop at nothing. Waller even says self-admittedly, “[Because] getting people to act against their own self-interest is what I do for a living.She straight up murders half a dozen of innocents in one scene. This side of Amanda is no better than the criminals. If Amanda is not killed, furthermore, think of how many more people she will manipulate and get killed. It would be utilitarian to kill her, for think of many deaths you could prevent by ending her existence.

We spoke of how a criminal’s right to life should be respected as with anyone else. But this raises another question: Should these villains be granted redemption? Let us look at the situation one more. A select few convicts guilty of countless murders are forced to carry out missions that will surely result in their deaths. I said that these killers are humans, too, and that they should be able to live. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves whether we should—or can, for that matter—forgive these people for what they have done. Each of these villains, we have learned, has killed numerous people both innocent and guilty. I would like to focus on two of these criminals to decide whether they should be redeemed or not. First off, we have “El Diablo,” a man who happened to be tragically endowed with pyromancy. Right off the bat, I admired this character. Diablo never asked for this to happen to him, it just did, and he had to suffer with it. Immediately, we can give him some sense of salvation. This reluctant hero… I mean villain of ours stubbornly refuses to use his powers lest he cause more death and destruction around of him. Here we have a self-conscious man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like all of us, he too has emotions, and when his anger gets the best of him, he cannot hold it back. After accidentally killing his beloved family, he shrinks into penance. This is a truly human struggle. El Diablo realizes he creates harm and genuinely wants to be forgiven. In the end, El Diablo, like a courageous hero in a movie, sacrifices his life in the name of his family and his faithful team. This man had to suffer all his life, and he gave up his own life to save those around him. El Diablo, I conclude, has been acquitted of his sins. Next we have Floyd Lawton, AKA the sharp-shooting mercenary Deadshot. Give him a large sum of money and he will kill anyone you ask. This is a man who deserves no sympathy, for this man will take the life of another for cash. But deep down, this man is also a respectable human being. In his flashback, we see Deadshot nearly kill Batman, but two things stop him: his daughter and his rationality. Let us further examine these two aspects. Deadshot is, you must realize, a parent, and not a bad one. We all have a weak spot somewhere. Deadshot has some humanity beneath his murderous habits. He is also a concerned parent who will do anything for his daughter. Deadshot could have easily escaped his arrest and could have died serving Waller, but he listened to and cared about his daughter. One of his conditions for joining the mission was being able to see his daughter. This is a man who values family above everything else. The other thing that makes Deadshot an admirable man is his self-control and rationality. On one occasion, Deadshot could have killed Batman; on several occasions, Deadshot had the opportunity to shoot Amanda or Captain Flag when their backs were turned; and on another occasion, he could have easily aborted the mission and gone back to his life of crime. However, in each of these situations, which could have resulted in more killings, Deadshot managed to hold back his impulses and act coolly. While he may not hesitate to pull the trigger on a mission, he is able to maturely act without impudence on important occasions.

Finally, we have the characters of the Enchantress and Incubus, who, in my interpretation, are symbols of the death of religion in the modern age. The book All Things Shining, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, tells of the declining supremacy of religion and mythology in the 21st century. As a result of this loss of guidance, we have become autonomous individuals who have lost our values and have thus ushered in an age of nihilism. The Enchantress is something like a goddess who is most likely descended from a civilization with a heavy reliance on shamanism. Viewers of the film even compare her to something like that of a Mayan deity. Her brother, Incubus, is released into the world like a ‘god among men,’ having been trapped in an ancient artifact for nearly seven millennia. There is an important conversation that occurs between siblings that supports my claim. The Enchantress says (I do not have the exact quotes), “The humans have turned against us.” Incubus responds, “But they worshiped us? We were gods to them.” It continues darkly with, “Now they worship machines, so I will build a machine that will wipe them out.” Nothing like a god’s wrath, huh? It is true, indeed, that we have entered a new age of idolatry. No longer do we invest our faith in an omnipotent being, we now worship technology and all the powers it has. The foundation of our society has been built upon science. Everything from the creation of the universe to human behavior is governed by the laws of physics and biology and psychology.  The gods have become obsolete in our industrial times. We no longer need a higher being to tell us how things happen and how we should behave. Dreyfus and Kelly wrote in response, “The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us: we have kicked them out,” and, ”Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods.”[1] We have not fallen out of favor with the gods, the gods have fallen out of favor with us. At this revolutionary point in time, we have realized that there is no need for deities like the Enchantress or Incubus. In the ending of the movie, before our protagonists fight the gods, the Enchantress tantalizes, “Why do you serve those who cage you?” She then begins offering the villains anything they could ever want. Here the gods have realized that they are not needed and are trying to convince the homo sapiens to come back to them.  “Why do you worship those who do not care about you instead of worshiping us, the gods, who can give you anything you need?” is what she is really trying to say. God is trying to reassert its dominance, it is trying to regain its relevance in a world gone technological and without faith. To combat their imminent obsolescence, they offer a final deal. After Incubus is killed—I am still not quite sure how a man-made explosive is able to kill a literal god incarnate—the Suicide Squad manages to get the Enchantress in her vulnerable state. She is one bullet away from death. As a final defense mechanism, she suggests she can bring back Rick Flag’s girlfriend. Flag sees through this illusion and kills her, giving a whole new literal meaning to Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead […] And we have killed him.” This inevitably leads to the figurative and literal death of religion.

In conclusion, we have gone over several controversial ethical issues ranging from the usury of prisoners to the tragic downfall of religion. We have found that murderers are humans deep down and deserve redemption, that the government should not use prisoners as means to an end, and that religion will eventually become trivial. Beneath this action movie derived from a comic, there is a deeper, more profound lesson, as there is in every film. Because you never quite know what you will encounter, you could unknowingly stumble upon a philosophical moral quandary waiting to be solved.

Personally, I was very disappointed that 1) Deathstroke did not make an appearance and 2) I felt that the Joker was as disappointing Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens. He sadly did not get enough screen time.


[1] Dreyfus and Kelly, All Things Shining, pg. 222

 

For further reading: All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly (2011)

Awakening, Transcendence, and Every Day the Same Dream

tumblr_inline_nh9ci8dC691qgdfuf.jpgIn our generation of sedentary gamers and people generally unsatisfied with their lives, we may just find that every day is the same dream. Such is the message delivered in the flash game “Every Day the Same Dream.” Despite being a 2D scroller game, players of this game have been scratching their heads over the cryptic messages, metaphors, and symbolism hidden throughout the simplicity of the game’s mechanics. After thoroughly examining the wake-up call, I have discovered the five principles to breaking out of the same dream every day: living with nature, awakening to reality, compassion/the circle of life, nonconformity, and mindfulness/transitoriness.

First of all, let us look at the title of the game and a quick summary. The game is fairly simply and plays out accordingly: You wake up and get dressed for work, then you enter the elevator with an old lady (who is important!) before driving to your job, where you work in your cubicle until finally, you go home only to wake up to the same grind. Unfortunately, this may sound a lot like a lot of our lives. We have few goals in life, few aspirations. The only thing that drives us through our day is work, and work alone. What is the purpose? Why we do we waste our lives repeating the same thing with no real result? At some point in our lives we must question the direction of our life. And while it may be nihilistic to say the least, some of us do not know we have a true purpose. Hidden from the individual, this purpose, this value—it is buried deeper and deeper with every repetition. All this repetition, all this lack of perseverance, makes reality seem like a dream. Reality is merely a reflection of the past and what is to come, for we do the same thing over and over, yet it is futile. The old lady in the elevator mutters the same cryptic message each time: “5 more steps and you will be a new person.” For the longest time I was bewildered by this esoteric advice. What exactly was she referring to? Then, as the game progresses, we have the choice to slightly alter the course of our day, and that is when we awaken from our Groundhog Day.

The five principles appear symbolically within the game. My interpretations are subjective and purely based on my conjectures alone. While commuting to work, we have the option to get out and find a cow, approach a homeless man and be taken to a cemetery, go to work naked, catch a falling leaf, and finally, jump and end it all. Let us decipher them piece by piece to find out how to find meaning and faith in life.

Leaving our car to enter a meadow is our first piece of evidence. Everything is so industrialized nowadays, so much to the point that nature no longer receives our love and attention. We, the workers, intent on one goal, must stop following a pattern of modernity and turn to nature sometimes. This cow represents all things natural in life. In a little animation, the character in the game pets the solitary bovine animal. From this alone, I can infer that this man is realizing something. He shows this cow affection and sees this animal as another living being. Just think for a moment of all the animals on Earth, of how many other living beings breathe the same air as we do. It is incredible, really, just how much of an impact embracing nature can have. Unlike the cow, our protagonist has a clouded objective in life, not to mention the countless obstacles that hinder him. This cow, on the contrary, is simply living. There is no grand scheme for the creature. Nature has a way of doing things with ease. As Epicurus said, “The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity”; or in simpler words, everything we need is easy to obtain, but everything we want is purposefully made hard to obtain.

If we take a left from our apartment building, the player comes across a homeless person on the curb. This principle still confuses me a bit, as it has two parts. My first interpretation is the virtue of charity and humanism, like that of the Ancient Greek Seven Virtues. Characterized by benevolence and self-sacrifice, charity is giving to others. This is a leading virtue in living a good life. Showing kindness to others will make us a better person, thus contributing to our quest for transcendence. While we do not actually give anything to the homeless man, we take him up for conversation. Again, compassion and care for others will strengthen us and lead us to a more meaningful purpose. Human beings are social animals, and it is disturbing, frankly, that we treat those who are less fortunate than us like they are below us. An experience like this reminds us of the importance of maintaining a goal in life. We may not succeed, and at times we fail, but who does not? Imperfect and predisposed towards failure, humans must learn and accept failure as part of their journey. The old man ends up responding with an eery, “I can take you to a quiet place.” In a flash, we are transported to a cemetery–indeed, a quiet place. I got a feeling of immense gloom when I saw this scene. Lives are fragile and our time to go eventually comes. But we are all human; we are all imperfect. It should be learned that we must treat others with respect as if it were our last day. We all have a time to go, but we never know when.

My third favorite principle in the game is that of nonconformity and divergence. I can not help but stress how much this century emphasizes conformity and sticking with the status quo. Shackled to commitment, we are only slowing down our own growth. Our talents and our purposes are being chained with us. Society demands conformity, and we, like obedient sheep, follow along. We are told what to do and we do it. Sometimes there is a special type, though. If you could not tell, Nietzsche’s Superman is one of my favorite paradigms, and it helps in this situation. The third step to becoming a new person is to diverge from the accepted way of doing things. The character in the game has the ability to do his daily routine naked. That is right. He breaks a social norm—a construct, really—and does it like a boss! The man’s wife questions his sanity, and as he enters his workplace, his boss is furious and fires him. This firing may not be so bad; in fact, it is a blessing. Formerly constricted by our workplace, we now have new opportunities in life. We were strapped in our chairs and stared at our computers for hours on end. Being fired frees us, literally and figuratively. But that is all it takes. This is not to say we should all strip down for work in order to be nonconformists, no; rather it is saying we should take risks. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” after all. Judgement from others is a complete absurdity. When we break free from the “set” way of doing things, it is interpreted as wrong or inappropriate. Who are they to say what the correct or right way of doing things is? We must rise above Nietzsche’s proverbial herd and be the Clark Kent of our own world!

Our fourth and penultimate step is foretold by a leaf. Before we enter our office, we come across a small, lonely tree out front. It has but one leaf dangling from its poor, wretched branches. In the previous run-throughs, the player most likely paid little attention to this tree, but alas! how metaphorical it truly is. On this second-to-last level, that one seemingly inconsequential leaf manages to fall from its perch. Powerless, it is guided by the air into the character’s hand. Mind you that this is not some sort of epiphany or ultimate enlightenment, it is a reminder to be mindful. Once more we are brought back to nature and to being in the moment. Nature is the easiest place to practice mindfulness. It is in nature that we find our breath and awaken our senses to the world. Noticing the leaf all those previous encounters is an example of this. Taking in our environment and noticing details is easier said than done. Our filled schedules make it near impossible to take into account details as meticulous as a simple leaf. More than that, this leaf not only represents awareness, it also represents the transitoriness of life. Like the seasons, our lives change, and like that leaf, we will eventually wither, too. The leaf goes through immense changes throughout its life. We can learn a thing or two from that leaf: in the spring, it retains its beautiful color and becomes healthy; in the autumn, it changes colors, yet it does not complain about the wind; in the winter, it gets cold, but it does not yield; in the summer, it gets hot, but it does not care about the tan it receives; and at the end of its life, it does not worry about what is to come. We undergo so many changes and overcome so many challenges because we were built to. Fearing death is useless, it will come in time. This is not to say living is without purpose, but we should not be knocked down by the obstacles that encumber us.

Finally, we find transcendence and awaken from our dream to find reality. When all is said and done, when we have attained our touch with nature, our charity, our individualism, and our awareness of life—only then can we awaken from this dream we call life. So far, everything we have seen is a dream. All that time working and achieving nothing has been a waste, truly. We must—we have to—face reality. Waking up is hard; waking up is not splashing water on your face or simply meditating; waking up is like Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. We fear waking up. We have lacked the comfort of nature, we lacked charity in mankind, we lacked faith in ourselves, and we lacked awareness of reality. Standing over that cliff with no idea of what lies ahead, you must make a choice: to jump or not to jump. It is a gamble. It is the most dangerous gamble possible. Are you willing to find your meaning without guidance or will you stay in the comforts of your dream? This is no longer, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you too?” This has now turned into, “If no one has jumped off a cliff, would you do it?” Would you be willing to defy all that is expected to transcend reality and find your true meaning? Doing this means letting go of control. You must have faith to jump off that cliff and find what you have been searching for. There is no return, for this is it. This is reality. In the final level, our 2D friend stands on a railing outside his office and makes this leap. No, it is not suicide. It is waking up. And that is exactly what happens. The final level consists of you walking through your empty apartment, into the deserted elevator, through the car-less traffic, and into the office building devoid of life. True, objective reality awaits you. You have officially transcended life and completed the spiritual journey.

However, the ending is a bit disconcerting for some. Upon awakening from the same dream every day, and after exiting your old workplace, you come across the same railing you jumped from just moments ago. Standing on that railing is a figure that appears to be… you. I will admit, this got me mixed up a bit, and it took some thinking to figure it out. With the help of my friend (his review is the first link down below), I have come up with a solution. Our incarnate doppelganger standing on the railing is in fact us, but from the past. We have transcended this corporeal world and entered a whole new intellectual plane, and we are viewing our transformation–our transcendence from an objective standpoint. After all these dreams we have been dreaming, we have found the dreamer. As per Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, we have established a spiritual awakening and grounded ourselves as the viewer of reality in its whole.

Every day, the same dream occurs. Held in check by a lack of ambitions, an obscure idea of the future, and a predetermined course, we must all transcend this dream and awaken to reality.

Watch my friend’s playthrough of the game
Play Every Day the Same Dream yourself

Breaking Bad’s Philosophy

UnknownEasily one of the best shows in television history, Breaking Bad owns up to its ingenuity through its complex philosophy. The great thing about Breaking Bad is that the characterizations, plot lines, and themes are delicately planned out and are designed to create questions for the audience. We constantly question Walt’s motives and ask ourselves if what he is doing is just. I will be using David Koepsell and Robert Arp’s Breaking Bad and Philosophy to help explain the intricate morals, cumulative transformations, and real-life translations.

Walter White starts out as  a high-school chemistry teacher living with his wife, a son with cerebral palsy, a soon-to-arrive daughter, and overwhelming pecuniary problems. Having left a successful company and settling instead as a teacher, Walt is left dissatisfied. Uxorious and unable to do what he wants, Mr. White’s life is dictated by those around him. He is a man of reason, but he lacks assertiveness and is disparaged by his ambitious DEA brother-in-law Hank. Here we have an excellent setup for the plot. Walter White is a nerdy chemist who cannot stand up for himself. What makes Walt’s characterization so powerful is its shock factor. By going from a very reserved teacher and interim car washer to a devious drug producer, the viewers get interested in Walt’s character. We do not expect this sudden transformation, which makes it all the more interesting.

Speaking of transformations, what is this whole Heisenberg persona about? Faced with cancer and a sudden realization of death, Walter White is detached from his conformed life. No longer concerned with living in accordance with the rules and authorities, Walt is able to choose his own life. Knowing he going to die one way or another, Walter is freed from his shackles to live the life he never had. Walter joins the meth business after observing Hank bust an operation. The large sums of money persuade Walt to produce meth to provide for his family when he is gone. Walt’s complicity in murder and drug distribution leads him to create Heisenberg. It can be argued whether Heisenberg is an alter ego or Walter himself. When he becomes Heisenberg, he is transcending his own morals, becoming Nietzsche’s Superman. At the same time, Heisenberg’s ruthlessness and spontaneity start to take over Walt’s personal life. We watch this rise to power in his everyday actions. Paradoxically, the cancer that limits Walt’s life subsequently opens up new more possibilities. Walt’s motives slowly change from providing money to being in control. Instead of thinking about the present, Walt starts to see life in the bigger picture. Our former chemistry teacher knows death is imminent, so he decides to do something about it. Walt’s carpe diem attitude leads him to do as he pleases without fear. Walter White no longer has to deal with the consequences of his actions, for Heisenberg has it all under control. There is a sort of connection we feel to Walter White. Trapped by the pressures of society and money, we can relate to Walt’s change of heart. A perfectly normal man is corrupted by the problems of our daily lives. When he dawns the black hat, Walt enjoys taking part in the illegal drug business, and it gives him a new meaning in life. Walt is creating a life worth living.

But while Walter is having fun blowing up cars and buildings in the name of his family, are his actions justifiable? Let us start off by examining his motives. Walter constantly tells his wife that everything he does is for her and the kids, and it is true for the most part. Cut short by cancer, Walt’s life is now dedicated to preparing his family for when he is gone. He arrives at the conclusion that he must acquire $737,000. What choice does Walt have? In the first season, Walt pridefully rejects his friend Elliott’s offer to pay for his treatment. Right here Walt could have avoided his life of crime. As soon as he declined the boon, he was destined to break bad. So, is selling meth to pay for his family’s future morally right? Yes and no. While Walter is not killing anyone, he is making the means to do so. Providing people with dangerous drugs is certainly bad, yet Walt is only making it. He and Gale Boetticher reason that people will get meth no matter what, but by creating pure meth, it is right. It is the user’s choice whether or not to do meth, so Walt is not responsible. Therefore, Walt has a sustainable source of money for his family. All the while junkies are dying because of him. But according to utilitarian principles, there is a contradiction: what is best for the people is best for virtue. There is a demand for meth, which, if supplied, will make them happy. On the other hand, people die from it, too.

Walter is responsible for many deaths for that matter. Overall, Walter is responsible for anywhere from 30 to 200 deaths. About ten of them were direct and the rest were indirect. Let us examine how justified these murders were. The first two deaths of Emilio and Krazy-8 were intentional. In a position of certain death, Walter acted in self-defense when he killed the former with phosphine gas at the threat of gunpoint. Krazy-8 is a bit more complex, though. Kept prisoner, is can be argued that Walt’s choking and killing the drug dealer was out of self-defense. Murder alone is immoral, but it can be said from a utilitarian viewpoint that it was acceptable. Think about it: both victims were drug dealers who have certainly killed before. By killing the both of them, Walt has potentially prevented future drug deals and murders. Several of Gus’ bodyguards were killed by gunshot and two dealers were run over by Walt. The first two are inexcusable as they are pure cold-blooded murder. The last, however, must be considered carefully. Walt killed the two dealers in order to save his partner Jesse from being shot. Jesse and Walter are very close so it is understandable why he would do such a thing. Yet then again, Walt did get out of the car and shoot one of the guys point blank. Some of the deaths were not as direct. Gale Boetticher was Walt’s former lab assistant before he was gunned down by Jesse. In this case, Gale was innocent and had no need to be expended. Walt ordered the hit, and in doing so, made Jesse a killer. Prior, Jesse had a (somewhat) clean record. Like his merciless employer Gus, Walt used Jesse as a mere instrument. Here, the blame is on Walt. Jane, Jesse’s late girlfriend, died from choking on her vomit; however, Walter could have easily prevented it. After accidentally pushing the drugged out girl on her back, she started to choke, and Walter just stood by and did nothing about it. Again, this could go both ways. This event could have been avoided had Jane done the responsible thing and not taken heroine. Conversely, Walter White could have intervened and saved her from dying. This one is up to you to decide. As a result of Jane’s death, her father, a now grieving air traffic controller, mindlessly crashed two planes. About 167 people died as a result. Walt inadvertently caused a chain of events leading to this, but it is a long stretch. Gus, Hector Salamanca, and Tyrus’ deaths were orchestrated by both Walt and Hector. While Mr. White supplied the bomb and came up with the idea, it was also Hector’s decision to go through with it or not. Both of them were under the threat of Gustavo Fring, so it was a dual effort. Here we have the same logic as Emilio and Krazy-8. Gus was a sociopath and he definitely deserved to die. Killing him freed Walt and his family from death and prevented further damage.

 

For further reading: Breaking Bad and Philosophy by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp (2012)

The Avenger’s Internal Civil War

Unknown.jpegRecently I have made it my mission to find either a philosophy or a psychology behind any book, television show, or movie I come across. Marvel’s recent Captain America: Civil War is no exception. Behind all the non-stop action of constant explosions and unearthly punches I pieced together my own deconstruction of the characters’ ethics and mental processes. The civil war faced by these superheroes goes beyond even their powers, for their supernatural strengths are no match for the most complex and powerful weapon–the human mind (Spoilers ahead)!

Let us begin with the titular character, Captain America. The Avengers are given the option of either signing the Sokovia Accords and surrendering their freedom, or going rogue and continuing their missions to save the world. Steve Rogers immediately refuses to sign the act, arguing that the Avenger’s purpose is to aid the world whenever they need it. By being commissioned by the government, they are communicating a loss of power and their ability to make choices. According to the captain, the heroes should be able to do whatever they want whenever they please. Whether this is selfish or justifiable is hard to say. Captain America stands for freedom in the home of the free. Where others want to have control, he says no. In this way, he is a vigilante, as said by the secretary of state. However, later on in the movie when Captain America protects his wanted friend Bucky (the winter soldier) his motives can be questioned. Sheltering a man who–although brainwashed–has killed countless innocents from the government is not a good idea. Further, this man you call your friend has killed the parents of your billionaire friend is a little concerning. Again, is this act justifiable? Most likely no, in my opinion. Perhaps Rogers is right about keeping his freedom, but abetting a criminal who you know should not be alive is a bit outlandish. Despite their long past, Captain America feels it is his duty to save his friend from the world that is trying so desperately to kill him. Furthermore, his actions are constantly manipulated by his dogged resistance. Nearly killing several superheroes, beating the sense out of Iron Man, and causing mass destruction all for the sake of his assassin friend, Bucky.

Captain America is not the only one guilty of wanton destruction. His main opposition, the proponents of the Accords, namely Tony Stark, are just as disillusioned. Tony learns from a despondent mother that her son was killed by the Avengers during the Sokovian incident. This could be considered a turning point in Stark’s decisions. That guilt in addition to his ego leads him to believe that it would be better to be under the government’s control. He has a point: the Avenger’s are dangerous, and preventing further worldwide destruction would make more people happy… and alive. While Iron Man may be right in this way, his ego and determination make him a volatile opponent. Tony Stark suffers from a cognitive dissonance that would inevitably lead to his duel with the captain and winter soldier. Stark admits his ignorance and joins Roger’s mission to save Bucky. When he learns that his parents were murdered by the brainwashed Bucky, Stark snaps. He knows that Bucky did not mean it and that someone else is behind it, but he is too consumed by anger and rage that he ultimately chooses to betray the two. In a vicious battle, Iron Man blasts the winter soldier’s arm off and mercilessly beats Captain America around. Unfortunately for Stark, for it is human nature, anger leads to blindness. Just when he is about to blast Bucky for good, the captain utilizes Tony’s weak point and is able to prevent him from making a mistake.

Lastly, we have the Wakandan prince T’Challa, or Black Panther. The prince is left devastated after Bucky allegedly blew up a conference in Vienna, killing his father. Bereaved, the prince dawns his vibranium suit to take his revenge on the assassin. His mind unwittingly succumbs to vengeance and so he seeks justice for the wrongful act. Avenging his father is his only mission, and nothing will get in his way. Eventually, the Black Panther realizes that he has been misled the entire time and that another man had killed his father. Unlike the first two characters, the African prince is able to let things go. In a very enlightening moment, he stealthily approaches the man who killed his dad. Like the wise man he is, he knows that that Zemo’s intentions to destroy the Avengers from the inside comes from a familiar vengeance. Zemo wants revenge on the superheroes that killed his family. Touchingly, T’Challa notes, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them [the Avengers]. I’m done letting it consume me.” He retracts his claws and decides not to kill Zemo even he is the very monster that got him into this situation. I found this moment to be very important. The prince demonstrates the ability to control his emotions and realize that things need to take their path. Instead of dwelling on the past, he must move on. If only Iron Man and Captain America could show similar attributes of righteousness.

Freedom, Ethics, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullWe have finally arrived at our final analysis of the Empire of Corpses, an anime that is rich in both fantasy and philosophy. It really is quite fascinating how, despite its action-packed sequences and outlandish plot, the film manages to provide the audience with an underlying message that can inspire thought and discussion. My previous posts on this topic reveal the secret dualism, metaphysics, existentialism, and sociological prompts that riddle the movie. Finally, I have decided to wrap up this trilogy with a look at ethics and a final question.

Ethics is the study of morals: what is right and what is wrong. The two main “antagonists” of the film, Sherlock Holmes and the One, wish to create a perfect society through any means necessary. As the ancient proverb goes, “The end justifies the means.” But what does that really mean in essence? Does this mean we can go around committing immoral acts as long as they are justified by the result? What makes an act immoral? Unfortunately for us as the analyzers, there is no answer. According to Richard Rorty, morality is a very loose and general concept. In fact, he claims morals are purely manmade. Everyone in their daily life makes decisions based on their conscious. I could feel a certain way about a certain topic, but that does not mean you by any means will feel the same way. There is no consensus about what is “socially acceptable.” Because the definition of morality cannot be confined, Rorty asserts that it is completely subjective—and it is. Controversy is inevitable as a result. The question of killing an equal then comes to debate. Why is it wrong? The general opinion is that you should not take someone else’s life; it is just the way it is. However, this answer does not seem to satisfy us. Knowing this, let us talk about the main protagonist of the movie, John Watson. Watson is a young, ambitious scientist who is desperate to give his dead friend Friday a soul. We find out in a flashback that Friday offered his body to Watson to be experimented on in order to find the secret to the soul. Sure, Friday did an honorable thing, but Watson’s actions must be called into question. Given this unrealistic scenario, would you consent to letting your closest friend die to accomplish the greatest feat in history? Even if it meant losing him permanently? Not only does he accept this, but Watson then goes on a wild goose chase to find Frankenstein’s notes to bring his friend back. During the course of his journey, his self-interests lead to the deaths of hundreds of innocent men, women, and children. John constantly covers for Friday, clearing him of all actions in the name of experimentation. What gives John Watson this right? Why must the people around him die just so that he can get what he wants? Selfish to say the least, John could save many people, but he only chooses Friday. And what of the antagonists, you ask. Sherlock Holmes wants to rid humanity of emotions, namely fear and hatred. In doing so, he predicts that Man will live pleasantly without the constant burden of feelings. The One, on the other hand, wants to create a society where the dead and living can live together in peace under a single mind. Neither of these solutions is half that bad, that is until you consult the notion of freedom. Whether you are religious or not, we all have this idea of free will. While some people believe we are in charge of the decisions we make, predestination and determinism state that everything we do has been planned for us. Isaiah Berlin thought of freedom as a magnet with a negative and positive influence. Negative freedom is the removal of constraints, whereas positive freedom is the ability to make choices. Berlin says that no matter what, they will always cancel each other out. We may choose to surrender our emotions in exchange for a civilization with no conflict, or we may give up or freedom to make choices to live under a single entity. No matter what outcome, we may or may not truly have freedom. There is no way of knowing for certainty. What goes on in Watson’s mind differs completely from that in Sherlock Holmes’. In Sherlock’s mind, he is doing the right thing; but the One also thinks he is doing the right thing; meanwhile, the audience is thinking that both of them are insane. Therefore, I conclude that morality is not a truth. Morality is not reliable. Perhaps the villains are correct for once, and we are the ones who keeping the world in conflict. Now that I have explained my reasoning, will end this tertiary analysis with a question. Who is the antagonist? As far as we know, there may be no protagonist after all.

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

 

Human Nature, Society, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullWhat do zombies, mad scientists, human identity, and dualism have in common? Why, they are all themes of the movie the Empire of Corpses. This thought-provoking movie, as I explained in my previous post, has many excellent philosophical concepts woven through its fantastical plot line and setting. But while I touched on the surface of human identity and dualism, there are still more topics. In this post, I will discuss identity, human nature, and society.

One thing that never changes is human nature. On the contrary, our societies are constantly changing around us, evolving to fit our needs. Luckily, we can call to the great minds of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and Postmodernism to help dissect Man. One of the main antagonists of EoC is Sherlock Holmes strangely enough. Holmes is a corrupt government agent that wishes to create the “perfect society.” In translation, he wishes to rid mankind of all emotions to obviate violence and conflict. After his plans are foiled the secondary antagonist, the One, will use Frankenstein’s notes to link the dead and living under a single consciousness. We can split this up easily by comparing the One to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sherlock to Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes’ most influential idea was the Leviathan. He explained that humans are selfish and will do whatever benefits them most. To keep everything in order, a collective society would have to be made. Thomas called this society the Leviathan. Perhaps the One is trying to create a single society that would get rid of inequality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought the opposite of his British contemporary saying that man was natural peaceful and able to exist in harmony. It was only when we formed societies that conflict arose. Our strict morals and laws limited our say and freedom. By removing conflict, Sherlock promises equality. Now that we are looking at this in a brighter light, we must further unravel human nature to find out who the real antagonist is. Niccolo Machiavelli, synonymous with deceit and treachery, was a political philosopher who could be described as cynical, for his views certainly were. In the Prince, Machiavelli describes Man as, “They are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely.” Obviously, we can see some rationale for both Holmes and the One. Let us go even deeper by examining Habermas, Heidegger, and Foucault. Jürgen Habermas’ public spheres were conducive to progressions in technology in communication in society. The classes of a society would allow changes and freedom. In addition, Michael Foucault urged the idea that humanity was a social construct and purely of our creation. Our ancestors would not be able to communicate with us, he corroborated. With these two philosophers, we now know that if these two bad guys in the movie were to alter humanity, it would most likely be for the worst. Not only would society retrograde, but it would no longer be able to produce a meaning. Lastly, we must look at Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was an existentialist and expanded upon the meaning of being human. Pretty much, like any existentialist, Martin conceived the state of being as the ability to question ourselves. He also said that as soon as we are born, we have the innate instinct to set goals.

The third and final part of this trilogy will come out soon. The question remains: Who is truly the villain here? John Watson for pursuing his unachievable ambitions and sacrificing the lives of innocents? Sherlock Holmes for wanting to rid humanity of fear and hatred? Or the One for wanting to bring society together?

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

Identity, Dualism, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullI am not one for anime movies, but over the weekend, I saw The Empire of Corpses. Surprisingly, it was not half that bad. A quick plot summary is as follows (spoilers of course): The 19th century is dominated by the corpse technology that allows the dead to be reanimated. John Watson, our main character, must find Victor Frankenstein’s notes in order to get his best friend’s soul back. Unfortunately for him and his team, there are others in search of the notes for their own needs. This sounds like your average zombie action adventure movie; however, my friends and I were able to uncover the hidden philosophy dealing with metaphysics and morality behind the film.

Let us first deal with the elephant in the room: why re-animate corpses from the dead? To anyone in their right mind, it sounds like a horrible idea. The engineers dealing in “corpse technology” give the bodies artificial souls which, like hypnosis, are prone to suggestion. So, the industrial revolution is revolutionized with dead laborers. This brings up the question of the soul and identity. Friday, John Watson’s zombie friend, has no soul, so Watson wants to find the notes in order to truly bring back his departed friend. We must ask ourselves, “What makes us us?” Again, we are approached by Réne Descartes, Avicenna, Derek Parfit, and Nick Bostrom’s philosophies. The first three were engaged in dualism, debating whether our identities are determined by our spiritual soul or our physical body. In order to find out if Friday really has a soul, we must explain the mind-body problem. Avicenna imagined a flying man. Suspended in the air with all senses blocked off, Avicenna figured that he would know he existed despite the inability to feel, hear, or taste anything. It is kind of like Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Both Descartes and the Persian scholar agree that the mind is a separate entity that exists in harmony with the body. Derek wondered who he would be if he and an exact, hypothetical replica of himself were transported to Mars. Derek and John Locke reasoned that although they shared the same memories and bodies, their identities were determined by the different experiences. Nick Bostrom then poses the question of what makes us different from A.I. Is Friday still Friday just because he was brought back to life? Does he retain his memories and sense of identity? According to Bostrom and the preceding profiles, no. As I discuss Nick’s philosophy, replace “A.I.” and “simulation” with “corpse” to better understand John Watson’s ambitions. Bostrom noticed the meteoric growth of technology and began to question whether humans would be replaced by artificial intelligence. He claimed that yes, the possibility of machines replacing us is all too real. Similarly, in Empire of Corpses, the dead begin to replace the living. If Watson were to preserve Friday’s brain and upload it to a computer or another corpse, would it still be Friday? What is the distinction between man and machine? What distinguishes us from mindless zombies? There is no real answer, which is why this question is so prevalent and still plagues philosophers today. Perhaps what differentiates man from machine is the ability to think. Sure, simulated A.I. can solve problems, but they cannot think practically and in advance. Without our ability to think and question, we are all mere machines… or corpses. 

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

The Matrix and The Giver

MatrixGiver.jpeg

In my previous posts, I juxtaposed the philosophies of The Giver to those of Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. However, there is another theme I noticed that builds upon this theme of philosophy: Skepticism. The famous movie The Matrix utilizes a similar plotline to that of Lois Lowry’s dystopian setting.

It has been several years since I have seen The Matrix franchise, but after reading a summary and multiple analyses of its philosophy, I will do my best to interpret its connection (I could write a whole post on The Matrix’s philosophical influences, but I have chosen not to). One major theme that both works share is, like I said, skepticism. Knowing what is real from simulation plays a key role in The Matrix. Neo is the few that sees the world for how it really is. As with Jonas, everyone around him is living a simulation–a reflection of the true world. The notorious “simulation theory” that states all of us are being controlled in a computer simulation can be found in both the book and the movie. When Neo is released from the mainframe and enters the real world, he is no longer imprisoned in his ignorance. Likewise, Jonas, as he gathers more and more wisdom and memories, finds himself exiting the simulation. He, like Neo, is able to escape from this false reality. I read an interesting New York Times post as well as a brilliantly written SparkNotes article that, in a fashion similar to mine, compares the Matrix to Socrates, Plato, and Descartes (I highly recommend reading my first two The Giver posts and my post on Descartes for more insight). One thing all three of these philosophers have in common is uncertainty; skepticism. Both articles that I mentioned use Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and theory of Forms. Something they said, which I seem to have missed, is Descartes’ “Evil Genius.” The Matrix itself is that little devil inside our heads that has been misleading us this whole time. Unfortunately, Neo cannot blame his peers for believing lies, because Descartes claims we are all living a dream. A simulation.

Another concept that the Wachowskis enforced was a “resurrection.” In an interview with the folks at Movie City News, Lana Wachowski said about the first film, “Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life.” Pretty deep, huh? In the giver, we see the same exact thing happening to Jonas. The twelve-year-old boy escapes his sheltered and predestined life and finds he must give his and Gabriel’s life meaning. By forgetting his community to find the Elsewhere, Jonas has left behind his cocoon to become, metaphorically, a butterfly. It can be debated what the Elsewhere really is; it could be death itself, it could be a new start, who knows? I personally interpret it as the darker ending, but with brighter results. In terms of The Matrix, it could be the real world that Neo awakens to. Another notion I have in relation to The Giver’s ending is this concept of a paradigm shift, another intention of the Wachowskis. In agreement with other theorists, I interpret Jonas and Gabriel’s probable death as a catalyst. When Jonas finds the true world, the reality, his memories have come to life; he is in a better place. He and his “brother” may have entered Heaven, but their memories have brought change to the community. Echoing Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s existentialism, Jonas has created a paradigm shift by going against the norm and against society for the greater good. He and Neo defied what was generally accepted to relieve the people of their ignorance. Both characters are trapped in a simulation, then they are freed to understand their worlds, only to find that they are the Ones that must make a change.

 

For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/24/movies/philosophers-draw-on-a-film-drawing-on-philosophers.html
http://www.sparknotes.com/film/matrix/section1.rhtml
http://moviecitynews.com/2012/10/dp30-cloud-atlas-screenwriterdirectors-lana-wachowski-tom-tykwer-andy-wachowski/
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)