Tag: Philosophy

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 993: Sexual Selection In Darwinian Theory, or Why You Can’t Get Laid

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Herbert Spencer was the 19th century philosopher, scientist and all-around smart cookie who coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” after having read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species. While some may argue each and every tenet of evolutionary theory (much to the exhaustion of everyone who actually knows a little something about science), we have come to realize that Spencer was only half-right in determining which genes get promoted into the next generation. It’s also a matter of Survival of the Sexiest.

Sexual selection extends beyond the boast-worthy ability to fend off predators, gather food and shoot zombies with a crossbow. Mate selection based on these factors certainly occurs, but the truth grabs many more hairs between its gnarled knuckles. So much of who we are plays into our subconscious exigency to be sexually selected.

So if you’re finding your Saturday nights have of late been more occupied by binge marathons of Murder, She Wrote than sweaty, carnal bodyslapping, perhaps you should turn to science to understand why. With a few tiny modifications to your being, you might just find yourself crotch-deep in sexual social butterflydom.

English dictionaries

You need to word good. Humans – at least most humans – possess a far greater vocabulary than that which is needed for basic communication. It’s true – most of us know words like ‘dungarees’, ‘mellifluous’ and ‘woebegone’, but how often do we really need to use them? Evolutionary scientists suspect we throw down this excess of verbiage in an effort to show off our intelligence to potential mates. This has been tested; we tend to spew a more flowery and profound lexicon when we’re in a romantic mindset. Then again, some of us do it just to make a living. Read more…

Day 966: Which Came First And What’s On Second?

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While the central focus of this project has been devoted to the kind of esoteric trivia that will one day allow me to run the category of ‘Obscure Miscellany’ on Jeopardy, sometimes I like to ask the big questions. The paradoxes. The queries that prompt chortles and didactic witticisms in some company and distant frosted-glass stares with maybe a “woah” among stoned people.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To teach us about existential nothingness, of course. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Only the most fleet-footed of Broadway angels know that one, and they’re keeping their collective yap shut. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s a paradox that has been juggled from philosopher to philosopher, flitting through the fingers of the rhetorically-inclined while attracting the occasional wordy summation from the theological or scientific camps (who are divided by a fuzzier line than even they would admit). This is the stuff of mental meandering, the kind of riddle that the mind loves to lock itself in the bathroom with and do wicked, self-abusing things. It’s an A-or-B multiple choice question with a clear and concise C and D hiding in the margins.

My favorite kind of question.

Dinosaur-1

The most obvious (and therefore buzz-killing) answer is “the egg”, using the justification that other animals – reptiles, dinosaurs and their cool-blooded ilk – also came from eggs. Let’s toss this smirking solution into the semantic garburator  right away by clarifying that ‘egg’ for the purposes of this riddle refers only to ‘chicken eggs’. We’re trying to untangle a paradox here; no one is suggesting that the chicken was the first creature to poach its zygotes inside a calcite shell. Read more…

Day 964: The Engineering Of Consent

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To be perfectly clear, Edward Bernays was not in advertising. Yes, he was hired by companies, corporations and entire industries to convince the public that they should buy a given product, but there’s a fundamental philosophical difference here. Advertisers want the public to accept a product or service, and then to pay for it. Edward Bernays made use of the public’s sense of morality or their collectively accepted world-view, then manipulated those as needed in order to get us to pay for a product or service.

The correct term for Bernays’ life’s work is ‘public relations’. To say that Bernays invented P.R. would not be an overstatement – in fact, he helped to coin the term in the early 1900’s, and subsequently taught the first course on the subject at New York University in 1923. That we presently live in a society that can be manipulated and swayed by an expertly-placed pile of verbal bullshit is, in part, Bernays’ fault.

But don’t hold it against the guy. He changed the world – and in particular the North American way of life – more than almost anybody else in the 20th century. You may have never heard of him, but you have almost certainly conformed to his machinations, even if only subconsciously. As long as he gets to you – that’s all he needs.

He even has me convinced that's a real mustache.

He even has me convinced that’s a real mustache.

Sigmund Freud, the great grand-pappy of psycho-analysis, was perched upon two branches of Edward Bernays’ family tree. His mother was Anna, Sigmund’s sister, and his father was Sigmund’s wife’s brother. As such, it is little surprise that psychology wormed its way into everything Bernays did. Beginning as a press agent in 1913, fresh out of Cornell University, Bernays tweaked the concept of the ‘press release’ (which at the time was only a few years old) into something magical. Read more…

Day 860: Ethically Steering The Hypothetical Death-Trolley

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Today I’d like to talk to you about math.

Not “math” in the numbery, equationy, algebra-y way, but an ethical sort of math. Every time we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a moral conundrum, a little light flickers in our brain’s mathematical wing, weighing the heft of the pros against the heft of the cons. But is simplifying a dilemma into quantifiable terms really the best way to assess the situation?

Probably not. Each scenario has its own circumstances and personality, but that should never prevent us from making sweeping, knee-jerk generalizations – not to mention some judgy finger-wagging – to tell one another what we ‘should’ do. If ethics boiled down to nothing but math then the most soulless and sociopathic among us would have the easiest time at life. The heart always has its say.

But without the math, the heart would be the only one steering our moral ship and we’d never get anything done. No hypothetical ethical tightrope exemplifies this quite as well as the Trolley Problem. At least none that I found today, from the moment I decided not to write about the history of the mechanical pencil and instead opted to write about this.

TrolleyProblem-1

The Trolley Problem starts out like this: there’s an out-of-control trolley racing down the tracks. No one knows why, maybe Daniel Tiger just decided he was fed the fuck up with King Friday’s tyrannical taxation and someone needed to pay – it’s not important. Five people are tied to the tracks and cannot escape the trolley’s path. They are facing certain death. Except you notice a switch within your reach. If you pull it, the trolley will get diverted down another track, where only one person will die. Do you do it? Read more…

Day 855: Globe-Surfin’ – The Life Of The Perpetual Traveler

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It only took 14,465 days for me to figure it out, but I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up. No, it’s not writing; that’s my fall-back option if the real dream doesn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy plucking fancifully at my keyboard like a squid with a brand new marimba. But all that arrhythmic finger-tapping can be exhausting. Also, it gets in the way of my finger-drumming along with Rush’s “YYZ”.

No, the answer wafted sensuously into my think-holes this morning on a breeze of sweet euphoria and buttery revelation. I want a vocation that simultaneously provides no measurable improvement to the world around me while enabling me to try the best regional food and liquor around the globe. Something with only the vaguest of schedules, yet with a built-in excuse to disentangle myself from unwanted invitations whenever necessary. I’m craving a career that would inspire envy and drive in my younger self – a true calling steeped in long, lazy stretches within the regal realm of unending liberation.

I want to become a perpetual traveler. Is that too much to ask?

Not to be confused with a hobo.

Not to be confused with a hobo.

There are two variants on the perpetual traveler philosophy. The first is rooted in the freedom of not being a resident of any nation. It’s an expression of pure anarchy, or as pure as one can muster on the friendly side of local laws. One must still adhere to regional rulebooks, but without having to pledge fidelity to any bureaucratic system. The bastions of authority may still dictate the impenetrable limits of your actions, but they don’t own you. To put it existentially, you are adrift – truly disconnected from the rigors of permanent residency. You never vote, and you are tethered to the ramifications of politics by nothing more than the sponge-cake strand  of your whim. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Read more…

Day 817: Adios, Amigos!

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You know what’s wrong with the world today?

The children.

I’m not talking about their slimy little running noses, their unmitigated X-box apathy or the horrific Beiberfication of what was once a proud, noble, Huey-Lewis-worthy pop culture. No, it’s their very existence that’s dragging us down, the fact that two people bumped groin-toys and spurted yet another savage, eco-thrashing soul upon our poor beleaguered planet.

Such is the philosophy of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, also known as VHEMT (the ‘T’ at the end only exists so they can call themselves ‘vehement’, which apparently they are). Where other environmentalist organizations seek to reduce pollution, VHEMT aims to reduce polluters. Where Greenpeace strives to protect endangered species, VHEMT wants us to become endangered. Voluntarily.

Don’t confuse these folks with those pansy-ass moderates who merely seek to lower the planet’s population through families having fewer kids or some other half-measure. Humans are the scourge of the earth, and this group feels that our best bet is to wipe ourselves out completely. Not through war or disease or a collective sprint off the crusty cliffs of the Grand Canyon, but rather via a (sort of) natural extinction.

LesUKnight

This is Les U. Knight. Les was a part of the environmentalist movement a couple decades before it was trendy and corporate-sponsored. After watching the relative disinterest in planet-saving throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Les launched VHEMT in 1991, deciding a more completist solution was necessary. He’s not asking for a massive genocide or for government-mandated sterilization. Les simply hopes we can all agree to sheath our testicular might and stop having babies. Read more…

Day 806: Ending It All, But With Panache

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When that icy murk of depression sinks into the soul and plants its jagged spiky heels into one’s chest-flesh, thoughts of ending it all tend to squirt to the surface. It’s a dark reality that such notions dance a step or two through most brains at some point or another. Thankfully, for most of us that nastiest of acts makes merely a flitting appearance in our morbid fantasies. For some, it becomes a reality.

Suicide is always a tragedy, or at the very least the final chapter in a years-long tragedy for some weather-beaten soul. But suicide with style is the stuff of gaping gawkery. Not everyone tilts their weight off the Golden Gate or gulps down the business end of a firearm. Some folks have opted to roll the dice on a happier afterlife in strange and prose-worthy ways. Whatever had propelled them to such depths may be lost in history, but clearly they wanted to take their final bow in a way we’d remember.

So as a tribute to their creativity I’ve compiled some of the more macabre and inventive suicides from recent to ancient history. I recommend reading this one with a bottle of something oomphy at your side, and raising a toast to each. Don’t worry, unless you fill your glass too full you’ll still be able to walk afterward.

HaouiMontaug

Haoui Montaug was a fixture in that hippest of New York scenes throughout the 80’s. He was a doorman at Studio 54, Hurrah, the Palladium and Danceteria. He was the barometer of Manhattan coolness, and he parlayed that into a touring cabaret revue that featured a young, pre-superstardom Madonna and a trio of local white Jewish rappers that would become the Beastie Boys. Montaug was the key to the party, so it was only fitting that a party would be his final earthly scene. Read more…