Archives for posts with tag: philosophy

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.

anal

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.

adultery

“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.

gaston

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.

Falling-Tree

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.

If you’ve ever taken a philosophy course, or at least had the misfortune to talk to someone who has, it’s likely you’ve heard of the trolley problem. It poses us this moral dilemma:

A trolley carrying five people is barreling towards a barrier erected by the dastardly Snidely Whiplash. You, our intrepid hero, can save these five people from certain doom by pushing a button that reroutes the train onto a different track, but alas! Snidely Whiplash has tied someone else to that track, and in rerouting the train, you will be killing that one person. What do you doooooooo?

Snidely_Whiplash_Evil_Villian_2939902

That mustache is so prominent, it really distracts from the fact that Snidely Whiplash wears a dress.

Most people’s first thoughts are going to be utilitarian. Morality can be reduced to a simple mathematical formula: five people is more people than one; you should press the button. Here’s the problem: first impressions are wrong; utilitarianism is wrong; you are wrong. Consider this second example:

You are a brilliant surgeon. Snidely Whiplash has been at it again, and has, through some dastardly plot, caused organ failure in five separate individuals who are now in your operating room. Their situation is dire: their deaths are imminent. Just at this moment, a box arrives with a note that says, “Each patient has a separate failing organ, and your assistant is compatible with every single one of them.” In the box is a gun. As a brilliant surgeon, you can save those five people by killing your assistant and using his organs to save their lives, or you can do nothing and allow them to die. What do you doooooooo?

snidely-whiplash-image

Come now, Utilitarians! T’is simple maths, m’yessss?

Despite the framing, both problems are identical in content. In both cases, you can either passively allow five people to die, or actively kill one person in order to save them. I expect that most people’s first impression of the second example is to not murder their assistant, even if they would push the button in the first one, but what causes that discrepancy?

Lt. David Grossman analyzes the nature of killing in his book On Killing, and part of what allows regular human beings to kill, who otherwise wouldn’t, is a distance from the target. It’s easier to kill someone at range than it is up close. It’s easier to kill someone through a scope than it is through your bare eyes. It’s easier to kill someone with the press of a button than it is with a gun. The consequences of our actions become diluted the further we get from our deeds. If we consider life in the abstract, life becomes worth measurably less.

Part of the reason that a nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima was that nobody wanted to send in ground troops. It’s easier to kill from far away, and the horrors of a nuclear blast became justified. We care more about being ghosted by somebody off Tinder than we do about the collective deaths of the entire Syrian civil war because what happens to us up close will always matter more, no matter how ridiculous the comparison might be. We don’t want to kill our assistant because we assume that we have a relationship with that person, but we’re fine with killing a stranger tied to some train tracks, never stopping to wonder if that person might be someone else’s medical assistant.

Ethics is obviously an ongoing conversation, but the importance of the trolley and surgeon questions are what we as human beings are capable of. Are we killers? I mean killers in the sense of killing people, regardless of how far away (literally and figuratively) from the victim we are, or how little we value their lives. We are in control of our actions; that’s what we must decide.

When considering the trolley problem, think to yourself. What would Batman do? He would obviously swoop over to the train and work some kind of bat-strategy to save everyone, but he would never push that button. Know why? Because Batman is a God damn hero.