Trump Tests Contemporary Philosophy

At a supper party I spoke with a young woman who was getting a degree in philosophy.  I took the opportunity to lament the state of contemporary philosophy.  I told her, “There’s no more truth!”  She responded, “If there ever was.”

There were a coterie of philosophers in recent years who maintained that there is no such thing as truth.  Some of the notable philosophers were Nietzsche, Derrida, Fish, and Rorty.  Their assertion is that there is no outside reality that language copies and reproduces with words.  Rorty wouldn’t even make an assertion like that.  Because if he had said that there is no reality that language copies, that would have been an assertion of which the predicates of true or false could be attached.  Being consistent to his own system, Rorty said that he would use language in such a way that we would be attracted to speak like him.  He wasn’t making a statement about truth.  He was persuading us to speak like him, think like him.  Rorty wouldn’t even accept the endowed chair in the philosophy department at the University of Virginia which was offered him.  He thought that philosophy was no longer a viable discipline.  So U VA created a chair in a brand new department called something like cultural studies.

What does all this have to do with Donald Trump?  A lot of us are getting sick of all the lies he is telling.  As of August 1, the fact checker at the Washington Post found 4,229 lies told by Trump.  This averages 7.6/day.  If Trump had the brains, which he doesn’t, he could claim that contemporary philosophy has eliminated the concept of truth.  Since there is no truth, he would not be making statements contrary to it.  In short, Trump is the most prominent spokesperson for contemporary philosophy.

I was always suspicious of Rorty, Derrida, and Fish when I was a student.  Their claims didn’t convince me.  Now we have a test case for contemporary.  Is Trump lying?  Or can’t he lie?  Is there such a thing called truth which Trumps 4,229 statements are contrary to?  Or are the tactics of Trump and Giuliani, which seek to poison the notion that there is truth at all, entirely legitimate and in keeping with philosophy today?

I think the public outrage against Trump’s lies is an indication that most of us believe in truth, and bristle against lies.  When it comes down to it, I think that the pretensions of contemporary philosophy is another case of the emperor’s new clothes.  We see through it, even as we do Trump’s lies.

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Three Billboards Outside Hamlet

What is it with Hollywood and dark stories?  So I’ll add Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to my list.  That list is highly acclaimed movies that are gratuitously dark.  On the list are Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and even though it isn’t highly acclaimed, Avengers: Infinity War.  What I found so uninteresting about Three Billboards is that it is a study of hate and revenge.  The movie showed us different ways and reasons and expressions of hate and different ways to take revenge.  For two hours.  Then, in the concluding 15 minutes, there was forgiveness and humanity as Mildred and Jason decide not to murder a rapist.  While I was watching, I asked myself, “Do I want to watch two hours of hate and revenge?  To what purpose?”  No.  I don’t.  I’m beginning to think I’ll have to take a vacation from Hollywood, as I did with pop music during the disco period.

Do we like to watch human darkness?  Do we want to pay money to watch hate and revenge?  For two hours?  Is life dark in its essence?  My life isn’t.  And the life of my friends isn’t.  And neither I nor my friends are living in existential bad faith.  We’re just living our lives.  Authentically.  There may be some philosophical currents that claim life is dark.  The Borg in Star Trek were created because viewers wanted a darker story.  Why?  What’s so great about darkness?  I think that people who crave dark stories are living in bad faith because I’m guessing that their lives aren’t all that dark, either.

Then I thought about really great art.  Many of Shakespeare’s plays are tragic.  They dramatize the lust for power, prejudice, the lust for revenge, hatred, anger, death, and other themes that are hard to watch.  And Sophocles not only wrote about murder, he wrote about incest.

Yet I enjoy Shakespeare.  And the darkness in it doesn’t put me off.  I think that the difference with Shakespeare is that there is nobility in it, too.  Of course I need not even mention the beauty of the language–the perfect marriage of sound and sense.  Shakespeare tears one’s heart open.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri just bored me with the incessant rage and petty revenge.  It wasn’t even all that true to life, as people, generally, don’t burn down police stations.

Plato had a real problem with well-done evil.  The Greek word kala means good and beautiful.  So it was a real question how you could have a beautiful ugliness.  Shakespeare isn’t wholly ugly in its beauty, with the noble impulses motivating his characters.  There is no nobility in Three Billboards, Manchester by the Sea, or Moonlight.  There is only base and unlovely humanity.

The Bee Gees are considered a great band by some.  And Boogie-oogie-oogie, the disco song, won a Grammy.  But when I had to live through the disco period, I turned exclusively to Classical Music until better pop music came back.  Looks like I’m going to have to do that with Hollywood, now.  Hope it won’t take too long.

Why I’m Glad I’m Sober

I’ve seen both sides.  I lived a long time drunk or high every day.  And when I wasn’t high I was thinking about getting high.  Here’s the things I did when I was a drunk:

  • get mad so I needed a drink
  • get drunk

Now I live a clean and sober life.  Here’s the things I do, now that I am sober:

  • write music
  • record original music and play with other musicians
  • form healthy relationships
  • play card games with friends
  • volunteer in interfaith functions
  • sit on a faculty committee
  • teach classes at church
  • organize lecture series
  • feel my emotions
  • read philosophy, poetry, and fiction
  • go out on dates without drinking
  • listen to live music and hear it and enjoy it
  • write poetry
  • buy art with the money I don’t spend on drugs
  • enjoy life
  • laugh and cry

There are still struggles in life and hard days.  But, as a musician friend of mine said about the process of recording my original music, “enjoy the process.”

The Assassination of Aristotle

Philosophy and Religion used to provide guidance to us.  Now, psychology has taken over the role of guide for human behaviour.  It is a role that psychology is ill equipped to perform.

Plato taught us to examine the soul.  Aristotle taught us how logically to present an argument.  What is left of contemporary philosophy is only rhetoric, persuasion, and language analysis.  In the 20th century, philosophy turned logic into arithmetic and called it symbolic logic.  Then they said that logic is a closed system and does not relate to the world of experience.  That means philosophy can’t argue for the truth anymore, because you can’t argue at all.  Then philosophy said that there is no truth, only what I want.  So we are left not with arguments in search of the truth, we are left with persuading people to do what we want, what we want them to do.

Richard Rorty, one of our past great post-modern philosophers wouldn’t take an endowed chair in the philosophy department of the University of Virginia because he thought that philosophy had reasoned itself out of existence.  He had them design some sort of cultural analysis department that he taught in.

So we are left with expressing our feelings, accepting ourselves good or bad, and affirming ourselves, worthy or not.  Those are principles of psychology.  And as a consequence, we get “The Girl on the Train.”  A very long, uninteresting movie about the feelings of a girl, and her life–a life I didn’t much care about.

But I do care about people, and religion taught me to love others.  However, I have also been taught to love the good in people, to nurture it, and to bond with it.  Aristotle said that only virtuous people have the kind of temperament that can sustain friendship.  They are virtuous themselves and their psyche is not at odds with itself.  But philosophy has reasoned itself out of existence.  And religion’s influence is fading, has faded in society.  And we are left with The Girl on the Train.