Archives for posts with tag: philosophy

The role of leadership is often left unquestioned as a noble pursuit. Leaders are heroes, heroines, paragons of virtue whom we admire from afar. Even the vicious and corrupt, those leaders who govern by fear and intimidation, they too achieve a pernicious admiration, infamy in the maintenance of their tyrannical claim. They stand above us, statuesque, leaving no choice but to look up to them.

A leader is someone whom others follow, but if everyone’s goal is the same, why not walk in tandem, side by side? Why create an exploitable hierarchy at all? Leadership bestows upon us certain privileges, and in creating that role, we dilute our common goals with aims of obtaining those privileges, abandoning our original pursuit for the sake of immodest greed. If our goals diverge, obtaining followers would require coercion, and leadership would be simple charlatanism; deception, bribery, and extortion becoming our highest virtues. If we are on common ground, leaders are an unnecessary risk. If we differ, they are charming despots, apathetic in their oppression of our autonomy.

The first justification is wisdom. Leaders are knowledgeable, and so are justified in their position. This role is the teacher or the guide who provides us with knowledge that would be difficult to obtain on our own. Yet the goal of the teacher is not to hoard their position of prestige over the student, but to give of themselves until the student becomes their equal. The goal of the guide is that one day the trail may be shared with a peer. The intrinsic hierarchy of intellectual authority is tempered by its altruistic directive toward equality.

The second justification is that of stratagem. Leaders are keepers of the big picture, overseers of the forest while others focus on the trees. However, this is not a position of power; it is a different vantage point. If everyone’s goals are ultimately the same, the overseer serves more as a conductor of an orchestra, guiding the beauty of the process. Others follow because they see their goals fulfilled, not because of any power being exerted over them. If the goals diverge, or the leader ignores the minutia of the trees at the expense of their followers, those followers are well within their rights to adopt or elect new, more conducive, leadership.

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In a game that’s mostly pawns, you think they’d have some issue with their expendability. Maybe instead of marching forward against others just like themselves, they ought to turn around and demand change from those behind them sending them to their deaths.

The third justification is the figurehead. This is the leader people rally behind. The leader as symbol. One action or event may have thrust them, even unexpectedly, into the front of the crowd. This is not a position one can seek, since it is most often an accident. They are those who inspire us, never asking for followers because their goal is not actually to lead.

The fourth justification is organization. This is the person who takes the first step. The leader who sees where progress needs to be made, and seeks other like-minded people to share in this goal. This is a leader with initiative. They are not one step in front of everyone else, as the organizer might see that a figurehead ought to be the most visible in achieving their shared goal. The organizer simply sets up the march.

The final justification is change. This leader is someone who makes a difference. The world follows the new path that this leader has laid down. This leader is anybody. To quote the historian and social activist Howard Zinn, “Missing from such histories [of social activism] are the countless small actions of unknown people that led up to those great moments. When we understand this, we can see that the tiniest acts of protest in which we engage may become the invisible roots of social change.”

A leader stands above others not because they exist in some power hierarchy over the rest of us, but because they embody one or more of these characteristics. Power within leadership is inherently coercive and corrupting. A leader is a friend who inspires us to be better; a parent who teaches us how to tie our shoe; someone who cleans up the mess, not because they made it, but because it needs to be cleaned. Or a leader can be you, making a tiny difference in the lives around you.

Meat Loaf is known for three things: being the sole visible casualty of anarcho-conformism in Fight Club, singing songs about doing anything for love except for one thing, and going great with ketchup. The philosophy of Fight Club is soul-crushingly tedious, sugary tomato paste isn’t particularly scintillating either, but I am dead set on writing a blog about Meat Loaf, so I guess we’re stuck with that one song of his that everyone thinks is about anal.

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But I won’t do that!

Meat Loaf is pretty clear about all the things he would do for love.  He would run right into a metaphysical plane of existence, for instance, and then come back. In addition, he would never lie to the person he loves, and that’s a fact. When pressed about his commitment to doing anything for love, Meat Loaf agrees to all sorts of conditions: coordinating his lover up or down according to which direction is most suited for the occasion, helping her move, and adjusting the thermostat.

What’s less clear is what he wouldn’t do. Near the end of the song, Lorraine Crosby accuses Meat Loaf of eventually cheating on her, just like every other man. Meat Loaf says that he won’t do that. This makes the song somewhat confusing since saying that you’ll do anything for love except screw around on your partner isn’t the most conventional vow.

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“If you *REALLY* loved me, you’d have sex with that woman!” “Nah babe, I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that!”

I mean, unless there’s a silent third party in the song that Meat Loaf is in love with, but he won’t have sex with this third party while he’s still in a relationship with Lorraine? Let’s just assume for the sake of this blog that Meat Loaf and Lorraine Crosby have a weird swingers thing going on. In any case, Meat Loaf has made a vow, and regardless of how far his relationship goes, he will not give up this one part of his autonomy.

Let’s get real for a moment here. To give you all a tantalizing glimpse into my own love life, I once had an argument with a past girlfriend where she was upset because I had asked her to pay for bowling after I had paid for supper. It was her belief that as the man, I should pay for the dates to their completion, and in return, she, as the woman, would prepare home cooked meals for me. I’m not the biggest fan of gender roles, personally, so we got into a bit of a tiff. The relevance here is that she exclaimed, “I would do anything for you!” and my reply was that this clearly was not the case, as she wouldn’t pay for bowling.

People make this claim all the time, despite the fact that most people have limits, be it screwing around, paying for two rounds of bowling, or having anal sex. Even the most devoted person probably wouldn’t kill their parents for love. “But Lorraine Crosby would never ask me to do such a thing!” Meat Loaf might exclaim, “She’s not that kind of person!” Who decides what kind of person Lorraine Crosby is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Meat Loaf. My ex-girlfriend believed me to be a man’s man, which I am definitely not, so she would do anything for me only insofar as I adhered to that mold. We make this claim of eternal devotion if, and only if, we have confined our partner into a box that we define.

The importance of this analysis is obvious when we look at cases of desperation. If a man will only treat his partner well if she acts in such a way that conforms to his idea of what a lady should be, for instance. Or the unrequited stalker who would do anything for his obsession except leave her alone. I would do anything for love, but I won’t allow self-determination or independence.

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I would sing for her, kill Beasts for her, but only so long as she doesn’t read books! She might start getting ideas, thinking…

Jean-Paul Sartre posited that any relationship is about transforming your partner into an object, or becoming the object they wish you to be. The person who would truly do anything for love, including killing their parents, has abandoned themselves completely and exists only as their partner’s whim. On the flip side, we are fully prepared to give the entirety of our autonomy only after we’ve convinced ourselves of our partner’s objectification.

Jean-Paul Sartre is a miserable sod, so let’s ignore him. Let’s focus on Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf is clear in his boundaries. There is no way he is going to screw around, no matter how much her love might depend on it. Meat Loaf is also great at communication: the entire song is a dialogue between two partners hashing out their expectations for the relationship. Both are allowed their autonomy, but this hinges on fundamental respect and a commitment to overcoming ambiguity with dialogue. Meat Loaf would not, in fact, do anything for love, and it is only for this reason that those two love birds might have a shot after all.

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does it make a sound? While some believe this is an unanswerable koan designed to clear the mind and achieve zen enlightenment, there actually is an answer: no, it does not make a sound. What it would create would be vibrating particles that require a hearing recipient to understand it as “sound.” Consider if there was a bat present at this spontaneous tree felling; it would not produce a sound so much as a sonar “ping.” The bat would translate this event in a much different sense than a human being. Without an interpretive subject, a tree falling in the woods essentially becomes describable only in mathematical terms.

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Ask not, did it make a sound? Instead ask, what does having sensory organs at all tell me about my relationship to reality?

Consider an alternative: if a fire hydrant is in a pitch black room, is it still red? Again, the answer is no. Colour requires the reflection of light off of a surface, to be interpreted by the rods and cones in our eyes. If there is no light bouncing into our eyeballs, there is no colour. Presumably there is still the hydrant’s aspect of “red” that would be present while the light is gone, to be reinvigorated when the light returns, but our understanding of it as red is so far removed from its objective aspect that to call it “red” is a misnomer and used only for the sake of comprehensibility. It’s not difficult to imagine a different kind of biological organ that interprets light differently from our human eyes, similar to how a bat would differ from us in interpreting sound waves. The essence of a thing and how it interacts with the world around it outside of how a subject perceives it is thus quite impossible to experience.

This is what Thomas Nagel would refer to as The View from Nowhere. Immanuel Kant would call it the noumenal world. A conceptual world that is unavailable to us based on the fact that our understanding of “worldness” comes entirely from our uniquely human senses. We may be able to understand it in conceptual terms, and science has certainly given us more refined definitions with which we can do so, but its existence in any sense of the word that might have value to us is completely irrelevant to how it objectively “exists.” Music, colour, sensuous touch, and decadent taste; these things have meaning insofar as they are wholly human, oblivious to any other interpretation. Even our scientific tools can only function along the spectrum that our senses allow us to interpret, meaning that the concepts we have of the noumenal world may be far from its totality.

Contemplating a tree falling in the woods should not lead to a conversion to Buddhism, but to philosophical revelation about our relationship to reality.