Dec 312009

I just finished reading Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up – a comic’s life, an honest and direct memoir about his youth and early life experiences which shaped the development of his unique comedic style.   The book covers the time from his childhood through to his 30′s when he walked away from stage performing to do movies and other media.  I am old enough to remember the phenomenon that was Steve Martin at his stand-up peak, having reached teenage awareness with liberal and progressive enough parents who allowed me to watch Saturday Night Live and got cable with HBO.  No one who (over)used the catch phrases ‘Well excuuuuuse me!” or “I’m a wild and crazy guy!” or dropped a “Grandpa bought a rubber…” in conversation can forget Martin’s truly novel and paradigm shattering form of expression – it hardly does it justice now to call it simply comedy or entertainment.

It is not my intention to give a full fledged review of this book.  I’d like, rather, to partially examine something in the book that surprised me and is relevant to our PEL universe - Steve Martin studied philosophy in college during his ‘formative’ years and attributes a certain amount of influence to the discipline on his development.  Although this is not a typical ‘reading’ and the topic might be somewhat unorthodox, I consider discussing Philosophy & Comedy perfectly legitimate and this a suitable text for the endeavor. 
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Dec 152009

Christian Realism” — even Christians ought to struggle with David Brook’s latest invention. How delightful to juxtapose other-worldliness and practicality! But to really understand it, replace “Christian” with “love” and “Realism” with “War.” Meaning, “I love war, but I wage it only out of love.” It’s almost a self-parodying confirmation of Nietzsche’s critique of the human capacity for turning aggression into “love,” with Christian love as his prime example:

In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity meant to inspire terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: “Eternal love also created me.” Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its “eternal blessedness” it would, in any event, be more fitting to set the inscription “Eternal hate also created me” — provided it’s all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie!

For what is the bliss of this paradise? . . . We might well have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint: . “Beati in regno coelesti”, he says, as gently as a lamb, “videbunt poenas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat” ["In the kingdom of heaven the blessed will see the punishment of the damned, so that they will derive all the more pleasure from their heavenly bliss."]

For David Brooks, such reversals fit his standard recipe for praising the opposition: it’s not enough merely to agree with a policy or like a speech; one must incorporate it into one’s sanctimony. In this case, Brooks likes the pro-war speech Obama gave while accepting a Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, it is an example of Obama’s profound decency. Profound decency, in turn, means engaging in precisely the policies that liberals would thing of as inhumane by cloaking them in the garb of tough love, democracy-spreading war, etc. Further decompose such conservativism into its religious rationale: there is evil in the world, and it must be opposed. We must take Christian love to mean war, not peace!

Add to this the pleasure of one particular bit of aggression towards those Godless Europeans — that of using a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war. But again, turn this hubris on its head and remind us that combating evil requires super-Obaman humility. And just as Obama imposed it on the Swedes, this humility can be imposed on entire countries — in its institutional form, as Democracy — at the point of a sword: Democracy is ”the only system that fits humanity’s noble yet sinful nature.”

So you see, when we wage these wars we may not be forceably converting Muslims to Christianity, as Michelle Malkin would have us do; but it all comes to the same thing. Democracy just is an institutional expression of Christianity. Freedom-wars just are “Christian Realism” … just are holy war.

Dec 062009

Discussing the “Chuang Tzu,” Chapters 2, 3, 6, 18, and 19.

It’s the second-most-famous Taoist text and the most humorous, with anecdotes about people singing at funerals and jumping out of moving coaches while drunk. What could it possibly mean to “make all things equal?” and how is the Taoist sage different from our other favorite paragons of virtue (hint: magical powers)?

Featuring special guest panelist Erik Douglas, another U. Texas philosophy grad school dropout calling in from England and knowing more about Eastern philosophy than we do.

Buy the book or read it online.

The end song requires explanation: I had a “New Age” period where I investigated Eastern philosophy, tried to be cheerful all the time, and was generally insufferable. This song, “Pass Time Incorporeal,” is an artifact of that time, with lyrics from early fall 1989; the recording is from 1993. It finally slipped out on a 1996 album of similar goofiness rejected from my “real” albums called “Black Jelly Beans & Smokes.”

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