Philosophy for Dummies

Today is an important day in my life – it marks the first day of me being a full-time philosopher. You may be asking yourself what that job exactly entails. When one hears the word – “philosopher” – one usually thinks of old men with long beards arguing over arcane theories which have zero practical application. You may also think of a college student who can’t pick a major and wants to pay back student loans as an Applebee’s waiter. Or you may just think of a twirled-mustache-corduroy fricker pompously sitting in Starbucks reading a book on Plato. All of these stereotypes are sadly close to reality. I attempted to twirl my mustache this morning and have indefinitely retired my razor until my beard grows a proper length; I am even wearing a sweater vest while writing this – “dressing the part” may help stimulate pretentious brain cells. Suffice to say I am trying to bring some legitimacy to my new career which is neither respected nor lucrative.

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Let’s circle back to the question of what the job of philosophy actually entails? My previous co-workers – who I wholeheartedly miss – thought it would be funny to buy me Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris; Yes the same series of yellow books that 50-year-olds buy when learning Microsoft Excel. I laughed when I unwrapped this present of “knowledge” and was skeptical about the merit of its content. My skepticism quickly faded when I read that Tom Morris was a Philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame for 15 years and is world-famous for his books and lectures – all detailing how philosophy is practical for the modern world. Morris is not a dry-boring professor but rather a funny down-to-earth guy who once taught one of the most popular classes on Notre Dame’s campus – Philosophy 101. Morris defines philosophy as follows…

“The word philosophy just means ‘love of wisdom.’ This is easy to understand when you realize that love is a commitment, and wisdom is just insight about living. Philosophy, at its best, a passionate commitment to pursuing and embracing the most fundamental truths and insightful perspectives about life.”

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Philosophy is precisely what this blog aims to do – garner more wisdom and insight in order to lead a better life. Morris elegantly states what purpose this “insight” serves…

“Philosophy at its best is an activity more than a body of knowledge. In an ancient sense, done right, it is a healing art. It’s intellectual self-defense. It’s a form of therapy. But it’s also much more. Philosophy is map-making for the soul, cartography for the human journey. It’s an important navgational tool for life that too many modern people try to do without.

Philosophy is merely the act of examining life so that the journey is best enjoyed. To put another way, philosophy is a searching spotlight on a winding road – without the light, it would be easy to miss the scenery and possibly take the wrong path. In respects to illumination, William Ralph Inge once said that “the object of studying philosophy is to know one’s own mind, not other people’s.” Morris adds to this concept…

We question things as deeply as we can, in order to understand as deeply as possible. The ultimate goal is a firmer grip on who we are and what our place in the world really is.

But more often, philosophy can be thought of as a package of existential survival skills, along with the determined application of those skills in a sort of a search-and-rescue mission for the soul. Philosophy is not just a game. It’s not just a mental sport. It is the most vital use of our minds for getting our bearings in life.

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Hence, as a full-time philosopher, I will strive to learn those existential survival skills to not only enhance my own understanding but also my readers’ understanding through this blog and books that I publish. The ultimate goal is to bring the complicated subject of “Philosophy” to a greater number of people and bring it down a couple of pretentious notches. I didn’t go to school for philosophy or have any formal background in the subject – I frankly am taking the advice of one of the greatest philosophers of all time…

“The only true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing.”
-Socrates

It is not the pompous and complacent intellectual who dominates wisdom but rather the humble and curious truth seeker. So I hope that makes my title of philosopher a little less ridiculous sounding and I hope everyone sees that we all have a little Socrates in us – hopefully minus the beard and crappy pay.

Mike Rowe-Not Everyone Should Vote

The election is less than a month away and we are all soaked from the political cloud that has been looming over our heads. This election year has been unique because it seems like facts don’t matter and conspiracy theories reign supreme. I am not a conspiracy theorist and believe that they are very dangerous for our society (The Sexiness of Conspiracy). Believing that there is always some hidden agenda makes people avoid facts (abstaining from vaccines for instance) and react negatively to certain groups (the persecution of Jews in the 20th century). I honestly don’t believe that everyone should vote in the election and Mike Rowe, the guy from Dirty Jobs, made this point perfectly clear when asked a question by a fan.

“Hey Mike, I have nothing but respect for you. Your no-nonsense outlook and incredible eloquence have really had a profound impact in my life. Can you please encourage your huge following to go out and vote this election? I would never impose on you by asking you to advocate one politician over another, but I do feel this election could really use your help. I know that there are many people out there who feel like there is nothing they can do. Please try to use your gifts to make them see that they can do something – that their vote counts.” -Jeremy

Hi Jeremy,
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it. I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?

Casting a ballot is not so different. It’s an important right that we all share, and one that impacts our society in dramatic fashion. But it’s one thing to respect and acknowledge our collective rights, and quite another thing to affirmatively encourage people I’ve never met to exercise them. And yet, my friends in Hollywood do that very thing, and they’re at it again.

Every four years, celebrities and movie stars look earnestly into the camera and tell the country to ‘get out and vote.’ They tell us it’s our ‘most important civic duty,’ and they speak as if the very act of casting a ballot is more important than the outcome of the election. This strikes me as somewhat hysterical. Does anyone actually believe that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ed Norton would encourage the ‘masses’ to vote, if they believed the ‘masses’ would elect Donald Trump?

Regardless of their political agenda, my celebrity pals are fundamentally mistaken about our ‘civic duty’ to vote. There is simply no such thing. Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it – the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact, and to your point, they’re encouraged.

The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that ‘everybody’s vote counts,’ they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that ‘everybody in the country should get out there and vote,’ regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.

Look at our current candidates. No one appears to like either one of them. Their approval ratings are at record lows. It’s not about who you like more, it’s about who you hate less. Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest – Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect?

So no, Jeremy – I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process. So if you really want me to say something political, how about this – read more.

Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with “Economics in One Lesson.” Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.

Or, don’t. None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely – these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.

Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor – ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls.

In the meantime, dig into Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. It sounds like a snooze but it really is a page turner, and you can download it for free

-Mike Rowe

Don’t rely on Facebook or even news for your primary information. The least everyone should do before voting is to read each candidate’s policies. Start reading now and by the next election you may see the entire world differently.