Thursday, March 26, 2009

"The Sum of Intelligence on the Planet is a Constant; the Population is Growing."

Sometimes I worry about the intelligence of future generations, specifically here in America. Children are increasingly becoming less and less required (or even encouraged) to read with the proliferation of video technology, and this coupled with the rapid growth in text messaging is leaving children unable to spell. With all the ways we communicate with each other electronically, face to face human interaction is becoming less and less prevalent. In a grand irony, our very need to constantly stay connected to one another may just be the thing that tears us apart.

Just imagine a world where we are "chained" to our cellphones, unable to pull ourselves away from them for even a moment for the fear that we will "miss something", while the world around us passes us by. We avoid one-on-one face-to-face human contact, and even when we are in such situations our lack of basic language skills that should be learned from reading leave us incapable of being able to express ourselves in an articulate and coherent manner.

If you ever get a chance to read the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, I highly recommend you do so. Bradbury's book is about a world in the not so distant future where society has become entirely hedonistic and anti-intellectual. Children roam the streets at night seeking violence and mayhem to distract themselves from the adults who are too busy watching wall-sized televisions and imagining the programs which they view to be real social interactions to take care of their children. In this world, books have been outlawed due to the ways in which they threaten the common man and make him feel insignificant and unintelligent. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman and, since house are now fire-proof, the job of the firemen is to find and burn any and all books.

The most jarring thing about Fahrenheit 451 is not that the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. There were plenty of similar dystopian books written about the same time. What makes this book stand out to me above other classics such as Brave New World and 1984 is that there is no outside force that sought to remove books from our homes. There is no Big Brother or drug that makes sure we stay placated and unintelligent. We did it to ourselves. The majority of people stopped caring about knowledge, and the intelligent minority threatened the happiness of the masses by making them feel like they weren't good enough. We wanted books gone, and the government gave us what we wanted.

So, please, I'm begging you: put down your cellphone for an hour and have an honest-to-goodness real life conversation with someone. Or pick up a book and read something that will expand your mind and make you more intelligent. The world doesn't have to be like this. We are in charge of our own destiny, and it's up to us to make sure that we as human beings don't devolve into glorified monkeys. It's not too late.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pop Philosophy vis-à-vis Watchmen

I wanted to put this youtube video in as my picture for this post, but I couldn't figure out how, so enjoy it here.

So, after seeing Watchmen for the second time, I thought I might follow up my one-word review of the movie with some philosophical assessment of the characters which comprise this gripping and psychologically conflicting movie. The way I see it, there are three main schools of ethical philosophical thought espoused by the costumed heroes that are the focal points of the Watchmen story: utilitarianism, moral absolutism, and nihilism. WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

The character at the forefront of the utilitarian "camp", for a lack of a better word, in this story is the retired hero turned media mogul Ozymandias. Ozzy sees a problem with the basic nature of humanity, one which he shares in common with The Comedian: people are essentially savage beings, and sooner or later without outside intervention we are going to destroy each other. Ozymandias therefore creates the ultimate utilitarian problem: the entire world is about to destroy itself, so, in order to save the lives of billions, he kills millions. Then, the other heroes who have discovered his plot (Silk Spectre II, Nite Owl II, Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan) have to decide whether they do the so-called "right" thing and make Ozymandias pay for the murder of millions, or simply let him get away without in order to help ensure his new global peace. So, as in the philosophical ethic of utilitarianism, "the good" is seen not as that which we might find most morally pleasing, but that which ultimately is best for the greatest percentage of people, forcing us to ask ourselves if we could live with the deaths of millions if it were for the sake of world peace.

Then, in contrast to the utilitarianism of Ozymandias, we have the moral absolutism of Rorschach. Rorschach, psychologically disturbed though he might be, sees ethics in absolute categories of right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. To quote Rorschach, "Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon." Matters of expediancy don't factor into his moral decisions, and there is no letting lesser evils go unpunished in order to bring in those who commit greater evils. Criminals are evil; therefore, criminals die. It's just as simple as that. And yet, within Rorschach increasing mental instability and paranoia, the reason the character is so compelling is that there is a little Rorschach in all of us. Whenever we see great injustices, or evil men hurting women and children, or people taking advantage of the weak and defenseless, there is a part of us that says "to hell with the system; this person should be dead." As human beings, we want justice, occasionally in extreme and violent ways.

Finally, we have the nihilists of the Watchmen universe: The Comedian & Dr. Manhattan. The interesting thing about these two is that they react to their belief that life is ultimately meaningless in entirely different ways. The Comedian sees all of human existence as one big joke. And, as a result, he becomes a parody of the darkness he sees in the heart of humanity. He lives a life seemingly composed of equal parts hedonism and pragmatism. He does what he wants, when he wants to do it as long as the personal risk is minimal and he can gain from the results. Dr. Manhattan, on the other hand, sees life to be a "highly overrated phenomenon", and as a result becomes increasingly detached from and unconcerned for human beings, to the point of leaving the planet to go live on Mars. Seeing his past, present, and future as one singular quantum moment, Dr. Manhattan becomes increasingly bored and depressed by human interaction, becoming in some cases little more than a passive observer, such as in the case of The Comedian and the Vietnamese woman who scars his face.

If you were to ask me what Watchmen was about, I'm honestly not sure I could give you an answer. The graphic novel is so indepth and has so many layers that it is difficult to sum up into a singular concept. Ultimately, I guess Watchmen is about life: the ways in which we live, we make the world a better place, and who we choose to become as we experience the world.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

I am finding it hard to express verbally (or in type) just how excited I am for the new Watchmen movie coming out this week. This story raises all kinds of interesting questions about morality, God, and human nature. I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who haven't read the comic, but if the ending is anything like it is in the book, you will leave the theater unsure of what would have been the right thing to do, and those are some of the best stories I ever read/seen. For now, I'll leave you with this logical argument:

1. Rorschach is morally committed to the proposition "murder is wrong".
2. If something is wrong, then it should be punished.
3. Rorschach has committed murder in the past.
:. Rorschach should turn himself in.