Essays…

“God’s Not Dead 2″

GND2-Final-Key-Art-002-copy-1000x520 An analysis Not an april fools joke: By S.A.Kehr

 

I have become aware that a sequel to the awful movie “God’s not dead” is being released today. I want to briefly talk about this as it touches on some things I consider deeply important. As most of you who know me personally know I am an atheist but that’s not what I want to talk about. Many of you will also realise that april fools day is a terrible day to release any movie, also not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is firstly the portrayal of philosophy in popular culture.

 

We as a society have lost touch with the value that philosophy brings to our lives. We engage it every day through value theory about what we should or should not do, want, make and be. we engage it through our appreciation of beauty be it in art, literature, music, or even the world around us. We engage it in the attempt to understand ourselves and each other and live meaningful lives whatever you may believe that looks like. You might ask “So if we are already fully integrating philosophy into our lives what’s the problem?” Answer: We’re doing it badly! the goal of philosophy at large is not to change your beliefs but to help you have the clearest picture of them you can. For each of us we must at some point decide how our lives are to be lived and it is only by having the best tools at our disposal when evaluating those choices that we can have the most effective solutions. If we fail to take seriously our understanding of these matters then how can we hope to make better decisions in the future or even know what it is we truly want. This misunderstanding is embedded in the title of this movie and for that reason I would like to share the unpacking of it with you.

 

The titular phrase “God’s not dead” is a paraphrasing rebuttal of one of my favorite philosophers, Nietzsche, who famously said “god is dead” but what is meant by this is not well understood. Nietzsche was indeed an atheist and from this we can know that he did not mean “There was something like a person that was called god and it has ceased to live”. Nietzsche also was well aware that plenty of people were still devout believers and so we can surmise that he did not mean “no one believes in god anymore”. Instead what he is saying is that for an ever growing population of middle to upper class europeans specifically those involved in the burgeoning sciences and their rejection of supernaturalism, at this time in history the notion of god was essentially meaningless and that even if some still payed lip service to the idea of a supreme being it was less a force in their daily lives as it was a black box to hold the mysteries we didn’t yet have better answers for. The god Nietzsche is referring too is the all too real presence to which humans chalked up events they could not understand like why the sun rises or the winters were cold and as we begin to understand more fully the interconnectedness of the natural world and the processes that lie beneath it we no longer needed that mysterious supernatural force to make sense of the chaos. Nietzsche is commenting on the state of mankind’s understanding not declaring a purge of the religious. While it would be disingenuous for me to say Nietzsche didn’t care whether or not you believe it’s also incorrect to think that this declaration is his argument against it. Nietzsche cared most that we each be honest about what we wanted to see in this world and work toward that goal unfettered by the manipulations and machinations of those who would mislead us for their own gain. This was his main charge against religion, A charge he leveled as well at the emerging science of his day! Nietzsche wasn’t a propagandist for atheism but instead a radical believer in self determination. For him the worst outcome would be to let someone else tell you what to think or believe and to that end pronouncing the death of god was pronouncing the birth of ourselves as masters of our fate.

To bring us back around let’s consider the fundamental problem that brought us here in the first place. The role of philosophy is to help us understand the world we live in and are a part of. Those who study philosophy are well equipped to tackle the questions that provide us with a path to a fulfilling life because they have learned to parse information and understand its meaning. It is not an attempt to change your opinions or beliefs unless they are built on shaky foundations. Philosophy does not care WHAT you believe but that you believe it for the right reasons. Philosophy cares that you aren’t mislead or convinced by bad arguments and it contains no inherent bias against any given position. As such treating Philosophy as your enemy is telling of the practices you are engaged in because what philosophy IS the enemy of is Propaganda. While I have not seen this only now released sequel It’s forbearer is just that and tips its hand from the very start by misleading the viewer about the content its title is a supposed rebuttal to.

 

As I said at the start I am an atheist and as such wasn’t likely to be a fan of this movie but I am always open to the possibility of being wrong. I would love to be confronted by an argument that challenged my views on the existence of the divine or supernatural. What I will not suffer quietly is the abuse of the practice I have dedicated my life to or the subversion of its principals to hide the odious hand of propaganda. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is above all things honest. Sometimes that honesty is painful, at others it is a relief, but to pervert it for the sake of “winning” is to weave the rope that will hang us all. We live in a time where our divisions are made painfully clear and the vitreal between us has consumed much of our potential. Let us not squander what remains but instead learn to face painful truth with the optimism and hope of a better life to come from the hardship we now endure.

 

I won’t presume to tell you you should or shouldn’t see this movie but if you decide you will at least view it with the critical eye philosophy has instilled in us and share that with those who haven’t had the chance to develop it themselves, not as an enemy but as a friend, because it is up to each of us to be the ambassadors of reason. If we can not follow that old adage to “disagree without being disagreeable”  then what hope is there to pass on this valant practice to those who need it most. I would leave you with one more slightly vague Nietzsche quote to ponder in that spirit of generous debate:

 

“What I know by the term Philosopher is a powerful explosive in the presence of which all things are in danger” 

A Year in Villainy: An Introspective

 

 

A few quick words: This month’s essay will be our last monthly installment. While we all enjoy producing content for you, getting these essays out the door has become something of a chore so we’re scaling back from monthly to occasional in the hopes of prioritizing quality over quantity. We would rather use the stage this podcast gives us to bring you content that feels fully fleshed out rather than just meet the deadline. Give it a chance and if we hear enough requests to bring back monthly essays we will probably oblige. There are a few other changes coming as we try to grow and tweak this little experiment. Thanks for your support and loyalty

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By Vincent Lee Metal

I’m going to take a moment to break from character and explain the why and how behind the creation of the Professor Metal character and how he came to be involved in a Philosophy podcast. I hope you’ll forgive the break in the performance, but even I, great though I am, cannot be Professor Metal at all time.

Okay, so the breaking from character is off to a bad start. Still, there is a story to be told, as I have found to be the case behind so many things we see in our day to day lives.

I have worked to understand people for as long as I can remember. I started traveling just to be able to see what “over there” was like and whether or not the people were any different. I’ve seen things from a wide variety of places and perspectives within modern society, and most of the perspectives I have sought solely so that I might know what the view looks like from there. I’m not some kind of anthropologist or sociologist. I just really like to understand where other people are coming from. And from this I have figured out one important thing: Everyone likes to think that they are ultimately a good person.

Now, despite what you may think from the phrasing of that observation, I do not disagree; people are, by and large, decent enough. But even people who do more harm than good can often justify their actions well enough to fool at least themselves. And that has always made me wonder if it is possible to have the capacity for empathy AND lack the need to justify one’s actions as ultimately good.

It is worth noting that at the point in my life I started wondering about these things, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I’m still only relatively certain. But I had neither entertained the idea of college nor even bothered completing high school. I was not unintelligent. I was just not as familiar with the ideas that had come before me. I did not even know that the thing I had been kicking around in my head had a name already: it was my first Thought Experiment. After quite a few years of wandering, I eventually settled down and decided to try my hand at school for the first time in a long time.

It turned out that my strengths were in the things I had never really had much interaction with in K-12: Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy, things what are largely mental pursuits. STEM fields always interested me, but my limited capacity for memorizing formulae and equations did me a disservice in this regard. And yet, I did relatively well in other courses of study. I met the people what would become the members of the Philosophical Chain Gang back in those days and we became fast friends, having several common interests and a tolerance for one another’s company. Then, as almost every good story about a rather radical shift in a person starts, I met Someone.

It started by learning about the things she was in to, and amongst those, the Steampunk aesthetic spoke to me quite strongly. It started with the way I dressed when going to conventions. People started asking me if I was a Steampunk character they were simply unfamiliar with or if I was an “Original Character”. Then I started dressing like that every day. It was comfortable, like the way I should have been dressing all along.

One day, at a convention, a small child walked up to me and asked me if I was a super-villain. The ideas and concepts I had once pondered as something of a leisure activity came back to me. I smiled, and told them that indeed I was. One of my friends at the convention with me told the child I was called Professor Metal. Sitting around telling stories about the Con at the end of events spawned several stories about this character that we just sort of made up on the spot. It wasn’t until several months later that this would come to be something more than jokes told in passing between people what knew each other from the various conventions, many of which I performed security duties for.

When sitting around doing concept work for what a podcast from myself and the people what would later come to be the Philosophical Chain Gang would look like, these gentlemen who had become like family to me raised the possibility of having a bit of fun with the idea of Professor Metal. I feel that for sake of giving credit where credit is due, this was not originally my idea. But the group of us picked it up and ran with it, as the idea of using me as the mediator/commentator had already been raised. I have a decent enough voice for that sort of thing and I do not have the ability to come up with well-formulated arguments as quickly as the rest of the Gang.

As we have built the podcast, we have sort of created the lore around this character, Professor Metal. He is a super villain that feels no need to defend his actions as “good”. And yet, I feel, he is ultimately not a bad person as he makes himself out to be. He doesn’t lack empathy, but neither does he feel that he is morally responsible to anyone but himself. He is a constantly evolving character, developing in ways that neither myself nor Sean, who easily does more work to make this podcast what it is than the rest of us, can foresee. It has been a great year of creating content we can be proud of; content we hope you have been enjoying if you have been with us for a while now or that you will enjoy if you are only finding us for the first time.

The Celebrant

 

Firework streaks in night sky, celebration background

 

By Sean Kehr

As many of you may already be aware February has been our little podcast’s anniversary. This has caused me to be a bit introspective about the nature of what we’re doing and my involvement with philosophy as a whole. While philosophy has been a rich and engaging field of study for me it isn’t always an easy path to follow. It seems in our modern world of productivity and technology the philosopher is seen as one part anachronism and one part court jester. The philosophical community is viewed as a relic of a bygone era and the practitioners within it as foolish or lazy. Despite this I have found no greater joy than the satisfaction after a hard-won debate with those fellow seekers willing to truly lay their beliefs on the line. It is not the satisfaction of winning that’s so rewards me but instead the satisfaction at overcoming the struggle. I have won arguments and lost them, I have been taught and taught others, but what is universal is that when we are fully engaged in the deeply harrowing work of puzzling out the mysteries of some problem or another the moment of understanding comes as a blaze of wonder leaving me awestruck at the beauty hidden within the intricacies of my world. It’s not unlike an explorer who sees for the first time a new land filled with strange features to explore. To me this experience and the breadth of its effect on my view of the world has been more richly rewarding than any other path I could have followed. And as I have said to be introspective on such a profound part of one’s life is to wonder how one has come to that place.

All of my life I have been an inquisitive person wondering about the world around me and so perhaps on some level I was always headed toward philosophy but the turning point of most note was most likely when at the age of 15 I received a copy of Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” from a well-intentioned neighbor. I considered Jim Morrison a bit of a personal hero and in an attempt to counter that the neighbor gave me a copy of a book of poems from Morrison and mentioned that he had been into Nietzsche’s work so along with it he offered the copy of Beyond Good and Evil. I had no idea what it was but the title was ominous enough and the publisher had clearly gone to no effort whatsoever to avoid that feeling in the chosen cover design. The way he talked about it this book it may as well have been the Necronomicon. I have thought back to this event many times and wondered if he was merely naive or actively trying to bait a trap perfectly aligned to snare a teenage boys interest but in either case it had worked. If he was truly that naive his plan to spook me with the dark and foreboding tone of Nietzsche’s work had backfired and I was hooked.

This brings me to the real point I wish to discuss which is Nietzsche and the way he is seen in our time. Much like that neighbor it seems most people view this man as a kind of nihilistic, anti-social, madman reserved for only the most depressed and angry readers. This sense of his place is the zeitgeist is only reinforced by the associations he receives both historically and by the malcontents who love to quote him. And who could blame them he is infinitely quotable, a wordsmith of the highest caliber capable of packing in more mystery and truth per word than most would ever manage in whole volumes, but this is not the Nietzsche I know. The philosopher, philologist, psychologist, and wandering sage I have come to know over the many years of our interaction is no figure of ill repute but in fact the Celebrant.

It’s hard to see Nietzsche as a celebrant if we focus only on the quotable Nietzsche of popular fame. With such fine examples as “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” and “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” and the masterstroke “God is Dead” its nearly inevitable that most people would view him as a pessimist at best. It is however a very different man who I have found so inspirational a man who wanted us to live life and not let the moments that make us who we are and can be slip away. I see the man I admire so in a different set of quotes, some nearly as famous as the preceding set are infamous. I would like to share some of them and my interpretations of them with you.

“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.”

Here we see the spirit of celebration that for me is true of the works in question. Live your life and do not let the weight of it keep you from enjoying it instead take joy in the struggle and make what you do a part of your joy. This is perhaps one of the most powerful messages I can think of from this great mans work and also perhaps one of the hardest to do because Nietzsche is not asking us to celebrate when it is easy and we are happy but when we are lowest and most in need of the celebratory spirit. If your burdens can not be carried with joy in our hearts then we may as well lay them down because no doing in all the world is worth sacrificing joy for.

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’”

Here we are asked to imagine that our lives are to be lived again to this moment in eternal recurrence and asked if we would be overjoyed at the prospect or despair at the pain we must endure again. The point of this is to remind us that if we do not live in joy as a means to overcome hardship we are merely subjecting ourselves to hardship not growing in spite of it. Again we are counseled to celebrate even in the most painful of circumstance the very fact of our existence.

“I tell you: one must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”

This is probably the finest moment I can think of to highlight the celebrant in Nietzsche. We are living beings and as such we can not be stagnate but instead must always be growing or wilting and it is in our living essence that we find the inspiration to create. Without it we can not be great and it exists in the places we most often shun the darkness, the pain, the unexpected, and the unknown. This is most likely the reason why so few people ever really get to know Nietzsche. On the surface many of his sayings are dark, or gloomy, or angry, or judging, but it is these dark places where beauty can flourish and have its greatest impact. Imagine a garden where many beautiful flowers have been grown and yet there remain shaded areas filled with weeds. It is not the flowerbed we must attend to improve the garden and yet without the chaos of the world outside the garden we will never discover any new flowers there. In knowing and becoming comfortable dealing with our dark places and chaos we learn new and wonderful things and can turn that darkness into something beautiful.

I wont go on as there are too many moments from his work to handle in this format but I encourage anyone reading this to take a second look at this figure of some controversy with new eyes. I have been moved by the power of what Nietzsche has had to say and believe he has more to teach us in our modern world than any other philosopher. I should be careful to note however than while I hold his work in the greatest of esteem that doesn’t mean he’s infallible. There are many areas I disagree with Nietzsche on but they pale in comparison to what he can teach us about living the good life. But perhaps I might leave you with one more quote to ponder as it relates to what we have discussed and the endeavor we at the Philosophical Chain Gang are engaged in

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for a great first year everyone

Social Contract of a “Totalitarian Dictatorship”

-the-dictator-wants-to-know-if-you-can-survive-the-wadiyan-games-exclusive--84c2ce85d0Social Contract of a “Totalitarian Dictatorship”

By Professor Metal

I am often told that the people of Metalonia suffer under my rule, that they are not “free”, and that they want to live in peace. I can only say that these people, organisations, and international courts do not understand our culture or the relationship my people and I have. There is, like in every society, something of an unwritten contract between the people and those who govern them. I keep a copy in my vault in case anyone needs to consult it.

The people of Metalonia, by and large, enjoy a great standard of living. Anyone what can work, does. Healthcare, housing, and basic necessities are all taken care of, and though the quality of these things are based on your value to our society, no one fails to receive things they need to survive. Roving Death Squads keep the populace safe, Re-Education Centers teach both young and old the laws and customs of the land, and Subjugation Stations rehabilitate criminals, often into some of the most loyal of all subjects of the Metal Empire.

To be sure, there are things I do not grant my people that some governments do. But really, how many of these freedoms do you really use? Are you a journalist? You still have a job in Metalonia telling people what I want them to know. Are you a firearm enthusiast? There are always positions open in the Roving Death Squads. Are you a religious leader? You can practice here in one of our “Religion Zones”, though you may have a skill-set that lends itself well to our Ministry of Propaganda.

There has also been some discussion as to the privacy allowed my citizens. Yes, there is an Elusive Yawing Examination Camera (colloquially referred to as the “All Seeing E.Y.E.”) on every street corner and public building. But those are simply to track foreign journalists and to make certain everyone’s Citizen Registration is up to date. There is nothing nefarious about them if you have nothing to hide. I, Professor Metal, wish only to keep the citizens of Metalonia safe and up to date on their vaccinations and medical enhancements.

These and many other things are why people should think before making outlandish claims about my “human rights record” and my “totalitarian rule”. The people of Metalonia, at the absolute minimum, are sheltered and fed. How many countries can say that of their people? These aspersions being cast at our fine nation are slander by those who envy our order and prosperity, pure and simple. Look at my biggest detractor, America: They claim to be an advanced and democratic society, yet their people are kept complacent and ignorant to the point that they actively vote against their own interests. In the interest of transparency, I must admit that am a little in awe of this. I’ve never had so much as a single citizen vote, much less directly against their own interests.

Let’s not forget that every loyal citizen chooses every day to be a part of this society by continuing to be in it, by receiving the benevolent gifts of the Ministry of Public Good, and most importantly, by not leaving to go somewhere else. Are there disloyal individuals who take my food and my homes whilst plotting to destroy me and the nation I have built? Yes, and they are hypocrites of the worst kind. Some receive money from foreign governments, some are dissatisfied with their place in society, and some are simply fooled by the propaganda of our enemies. Yet even they have a place within our society. Once they have completed a Thought-Police taught Re-Admittance course from an accredited Subjugation Station, they are welcomed back into our society with open arms.

So yes, people in Metalonia cannot own guns unless they are a member of a Roving Death Squad. Yes, the people of Metalonia have rights freedoms of speech or religion(outside of the Religion Zones) that are able to be revoked by any member of a nearby Roving Death Squad, Propagandist, or Re-Education Specialist. Yes, the news agencies of Metalonia must run each story they wish to report on past the Ministry of Totally and Completely Fair and Open Journalism. But even then, the people of Metalonia are free to do as they wish. They simply must accept that there are consequences for certain types of actions. That is our social contract. That is both the blessing and curse of radical freedom. I do my best to keep my people safe, and sometimes they must be kept safe from themselves.

The Birth of the Cool: Class v. Aesthetics in the Modern Age

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The Birth of the Cool: Class v. Aesthetics in the Modern Age.

By Bruce Carter

One of the most ubiquitous concepts in modern English vernacular is that of “cool.” It’s one that we take for granted, underlying most (if not all) of contemporary popular culture. Of all slang terms invented since we started differentiating between slang and “proper” language, it has become the most ubiquitous and taken for granted. What we rarely notice is that the concept of “cool” is in many ways unique and contrary to the relationship between class and culture for all of human history preceding its emergence.

For starters, let’s break down what we mean when we say someone or something is “cool,” and present a working definition-set. In this case, it has three main parts:

1. Calm, unflappable

2. Has access to aesthetically superior culture, including music, art, fashion, and dialect (see also “hip/hep.”)

3. Is admirable and/or admired by others, primarily due to #2 above.

Next, an example to examine: one quintessential figure in popular culture representing coolness was Fonzi (nee Arthur Fonzarelli) from the TV show Happy Days. It’s not necessarily the case that he’s the most cool character ever – such an argument about who that is would be impossible to arbitrate – rather that coolness and coolness alone was his entire raison d’etre. There wasn’t much more to his character other than being over-the-top cool all the time.

What’s worth noting about Fonzi is that he was from the “wrong side of the tracks.” He was much poorer than Richie Cunningham and company, and didn’t have access to the advantages they did, such as a future in college. In plain terms, there would seem nothing admirable about his lifestyle: he was a dropout who worked as a mechanic and hung out with high school kids. There would seem nothing cool about that. And yet somehow, Fonzi was still the coolest of cool. In the eyes of Richie and his friends, Fonzi’s relative poverty somehow gave him access to a style that they couldn’t hope to achieve. This is a key point, because it is in fact a necessary prerequisite for coolness: privileged people can’t have it. One’s maximum possible coolness runs counter to their level of privilege. Certainly, people from wealthy/privileged backgrounds can have positive characteristics, and even culture that’s admired to some degree – “preppie” fashion does go into style from time to time. Wealthy people can be calm and unflappable, and usually are. But they can’t be cool in the full sense of the word. Any attempt for them to do so inevitably comes off as being an impostor, a cultural appropriator, or even a square.

And that’s something very remarkable about coolness. Because between the dawn of recorded history and when this concept emerged, the exact opposite was true. Societies have always aped the fashions of the ruling class, who also had control over what art was produced via patronage. It was royalty followed by nobility who determined what in culture was to be admired; everyone else in society followed along. That is to say, aesthetic judgements were “trickle-down,” as it were. When Queen Victoria decided to wear black for the rest of her life in mourning of her late husband, the rest of Britain followed suit, and ultimately so did the entire English-speaking world. Beau Brummel’s relationship with George IV is the reason that men’s fashion requires neckties to this day (though they are entirely unnecessary to hold shirt collars closed since the invention of the button). For thousands of years of human history, it was the people with the power and money who decided what good taste was as well. The list of such examples goes back to the Pharaohs, and almost certainly beyond. Rationally, this makes sense: power begets power; those with political and economic power would naturally wield cultural power as well.

In the same span of history, contrary to the culture of high society there was only “folk” culture. Folk music, folk art, folk tales, etc. were the art produced and appreciated by the lowest classes, as distinct from what the upper classes produced, and what the middle class aspired to follow. Although it was distinct and contrary to highbrow, folk culture was never considered particularly aesthetically admirable, and certainly not “better” than highbrow culture. That is, however much one might enjoy folk culture, folk was never, nor will ever be, cool. And serious academic treatments of folk concern themselves less with its complexity and aesthetic markers than who made what, where and when: art theory as anthropology. Which is far from the same thing as aesthetic admiration of the art itself. Thus, folk is never “fine” either.

As such, the fact that today the lower class has and produces culture to which the middle class aspires, rather than the middle class aspiring to that of the upper class, stands out as very odd, yet we see it everywhere. It’s what causes rich suburban white kids to get into rap and try to act “gangster,” which reflects their imagining of what lower class culture is like. And before that, to adopt rock ‘n roll in the 50’s. But prior to about that portion of history, the notion that the middle-class masses would want to copy the styles of the poor and oppressed was unthinkable. And reasonably so. So how did this all get turned upside down? As with any broad historic cultural shift, there are perhaps far too many individual variables to track with anything approaching scientific rigor, and any theory proposed will inevitably involve a certain amount of speculation. But there are a few key markers in history which seem to stand out as “before/after” moments, and a trend that draws a line through them.

The first of these markers is World War I. As has been discussed at length elsewhere, that event more than any other marks the breaking of power for the royal families of Europe. Although some royal lines survived and still play roles in their countries, those roles are highly diminished, ceremonial at best. Prior to WWI, royalty held real (in some cases, absolute) power. But it was the death of a royal that triggered the cataclysm that wiped out a significant portion of Europe’s populace. As such it was quite reasonable that the role of royalty in actual political decisions (such as whether to go to war) was summarily eliminated.

While some countries who retained their royalty still supported them, it become more difficult to admire them in everything they did, as had been done before. One might say “God save the King,” but they didn’t necessarily seek to copy how he dressed. With the growth of the film industry, Hollywood stars began to take over the role of the famous person we wish we could wake up as tomorrow, diminishing the hold that royalty held on aesthetics, and creating a vacuum waiting to be filled.

One country who lacked a royal tradition even prior to WWI was France. For many decades leading up to WWI, Paris had also been the home of a number of thriving and dynamic artistic movements. Unaccustomed for over a century to either proper royalty or nobility, the French had long ago passed the torch of artistic judgement onto artistic communities themselves, producing a great number of celebrated artists and movements working within the rich cultural community of Paris. This shift divorced aesthetic judgement from nobility. Although it wasn’t yet in the hands of the underclass (French artistic movements were decidedly bourgeoisie) the “best” culture was definitely out of the hands of the blue-blooded. With the influx of soldiers marching through Paris in World War I – and again later in World War 2 – most of the English speaking world was introduced firsthand to vibrant Parisian culture. And they were awestruck.

It’s difficult to overstate the degree to which Paris was placed on a pedestal in the former half of the 20th century, particularly by Americans. If you imagined someone who could introduce you to the finest food, the finest fashion, the finest works of art, or someone who could make an authoritative judgement on any matter of taste, you inevitably imagined them with a French accent. Paris was the romantic vacation destination for anyone seeking cultural enrichment of any kind. The phrase “an American in Paris” automatically conjured a sense of someone giddy to be surrounded by the best culture of all kinds, far superior to what could be had at home. To most of the world, the greatest cultural products weren’t to be found in the palaces of royalty, but in the galleries, restaurants, dance-halls, and even the mere streets of Paris.

But while American GI’s returned with tales of an aesthetic Nirvana, they influenced France in return. In the years following WWI (and again reinforced after WWII), the cultural mavens of France did something quite remarkable: they blessed American jazz music. Many published reviews from French music reviewers started discussing jazz with the kind of academic fervor and admiration formerly reserved for classical music. As much as white Americans adored French culture, the French adored African-American culture. And they were extremely vocal about it, showering jazz with effusive praise in magazines, newspapers, and anywhere they could.

This put white America in a somewhat uncomfortable position: the culture they most admired and celebrated in the world was openly admiring and celebrating a culture which they were actively oppressing. No one could disagree that the French knew best when it came to matters of taste; everyone knew that. And yet, the French equally admired a product of African-American culture. The only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn was that African-American culture was somehow significantly superior to mainstream American culture. The torch that had been passed from European nobility to French artistic communities, had been passed once again, this time to African-Americans.

That is when cool was born. The inversion was complete. From then on, those higher up the social ladder could never again be entirely confident that those “below” them didn’t know something they didn’t, weren’t secretly listening to better music, wearing better styles, or speaking in better dialects. Especially African-Americans.

While white America has tried again and again to appropriate specific styles from African-American culture, that appropriation remains resistant to class: only the underprivileged can do it with anything resembling authenticity. The end result is a society which treats aesthetics as inverse to social class. One in which rich people secretly envy poor people for at least one thing, and in which poor people can see themselves as superior to rich people in at least one respect. Whether that inversion promotes or ultimately inhibits democratic progress is a discussion for another day.

When one looks across the long span of human history, all of the thousands of cultures that have come and gone, morphed and mutated from one thing to another across the world, the concept of “cool” stands out. That an oppressed class should be considered culturally superior to its oppressor runs contrary to the power dynamics naturally expressed everywhere and everywhen else. It required a very particular chain of events in societal interactions, spread across a very particular period of history. It is truly remarkable, which is why I find it curious that it has heretofore been so little remarked upon.

The Importance of Villainy…

Slider-villainMany people ask me, “Professor Metal, why do you call yourself a Villain? I thought no one is the villain of their own story.” I get this more often than you might imagine, in fact. More often than not, people do not understand my explanation. As such, I will attempt to explain herein.

People often misunderstand “bad guys”. It is just a thing they do. They assume we are all out for world domination or, barring that, just want to watch the world burn. Sometimes you see a villain in some medium that is just misunderstood, but otherwise a good person who has been forced into doing bad things by circumstance or accident. My favorite example of this is Mr. Freeze from the Batman mythos. He is a man who does bad things because he wants to do research to help his nearly-dead wife, and that sort of thing takes resources, both monetary and otherwise. He does not commit crimes or other evil acts out of a desire to do so, but because he has no means within the legal economy to perform this research.

Before you get ideas in your head about this sort of thing, I am not one of these types of villains. But they do exist, and are hardly worthy of the title. I am a Villain because without people like me, society could not advance.

I know that may seem a bold claim, but the fact of the matter is that we look to villains both as a contrast to that which is good and as a way to identify the darkness within ourselves.

Without the contrast of the villain, would we even know what good looks like? If everyone was good, would that property even mean anything? I think that you cannot have heroes without villains. You see this played out in our stories fairly regularly; a hero must have something which society contrasts him against. As it is quite popular these days, we shall examine this from the perspective of comic books and related media.

Take a look at Batman. He goes out to fight crime, and suddenly all of these villains that people had not even conceived of before start popping up. The Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, all villains that your normal run-of-the-mill law enforcement officer is not even remotely equipped to deal with. Why do they not start appearing in Gotham City in such force and numbers until after the appearance of the Batman? It is because, dear reader, there was nothing that needed that strong of a criminal response. There was nothing for them to contrast against, no need for their power. Villains cannot truly thrive in an atmosphere devoid of Heroes.

This is not to say, mind you, that villains cannot exist without contrast. But they cannot achieve their full potential without them. Which brings us to our second point: Villains help the common man by allowing them to identify the darkness within them and in the world around them, and to see the extent to which it can go if left unchecked.

Life is not, as you likely well know, all sunshine and roses. There are vile and horrifying things in the world. These things are not always easy to understand. In attempting to do so, we can see the vile and horrifying things we could also be. The young person who grows up seeing these things can easily find themselves going down such a path. Or they can see the effects of this on the world around them and choose a better path.

Being a Villain means being the person people look to as an example of what not to be or do. It means being willing to make horrible choices for what you perceive to be the best of reasons. Sometimes that vision can become clouded. But, to quote the wise Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks, in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.”

On the Joy of Being Possessed…

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By S.A. Kehr

On this auspicious occasion with all hallows eve a mere heartbeat away I wish to discuss that most curious cultural practice of “dressing up”. Why do we don clothes and makeup so different from our usual attire? Surely in our adult lives we can choose to wear any style we might see fit and, if these clothes were so much more fun to wear, we would simply wear them all year long. Even accounting for social norms and mores, we might well choose to wear such costumes in the privacy of our own homes and yet it is very rare that we costume ourselves except for this particular celebration. For these reasons I dismiss the notion that the wearing of costumes is fun on its own merit or really much different at all from any other style of dress. So what then can explain our overwhelming enthusiasm for the practice? To answer this I will need to step back in time and consider the ancient practices surrounding costume dress in earlier societies.

Let us start with dress as a form of honorific. In many cultures, dress signified the individual’s place in the social hierarchy; the most elaborate forms of dress being reserved for the most important roles. The most important roles were positions of great authority and responsibility to the well being of the community. The role of the soldier being somewhat decorated in increasing increment to the veteran status of the individual and often including trophies of past victories. We, of course, see this practice reflected in the awarding of medals and other signifying adornments. In our history these would have often been gruesome or frightening because the soldier was the keeper of death. In several ways the work of the soldier was about death; the death of the other and martial skill, the ward against our own death and the fear that accompanies it, the designated person who will interact with death so we don’t have to. These roles made trophies that spoke to our fear of death desirable. A soldier who was intimidating because of his adornment would have been more effective at keeping danger away. Similarly, the soldier would be a better stand in for our interactions with death, both our fear of it and an emissary to it.

These connections make the case for a deep association between dress and status, and we would see similar types of practices around other roles of authority, but it is the dress of shaman that I think will best lead us to understand costumes. Specifically, it is the practice of ceremonial masks that decodes this mystery. In spiritual practices of older civilizations, it was common for the shaman to interact with spirits as representations of the forces of the world around us. An important part of this practice was the mask which symbolized transformation into a denizen of the spirit realm. In some instances, it concealed the humanity of the wearer allowing them to interact with the spirits unmolested and in others, it was the image of a particular spirit allowing the practitioner to become a vessel for that spirit’s interactions. Having been possessed* the practitioner would then allow the spirit to deliver messages, deliver blessing or curses, or even revel in the pleasures of humanity. This is the practice that I believe suffuses the modern Halloween celebration, not because of any genuine belief in either the act of possession or the spirits it is attributed to, but instead it is the psychology of human beings. Our minds have the flexibility to extend outside ourselves and become someone else.

We are most familiar with this in the form of empathy, wherein we take on the role of another person and feel their pain. But we also live vicariously through them and experience triumph or joy. We do this with narrative as well, allowing us to be transported into books, movies, TV, or even music. So strong is this capability that we are manipulated by it, as in the case of action heroes who don’t emote much allowing us to become the person in the story, what psychologists have termed the Neutral mask, or when advertisers make us uncomfortable for the “characters”** in some unpleasant situation so that we feel compelled to buy their brand of toilet paper or antiperspirant. We should be unsurprised at this capability to become another, since we do it many times a day but we rarely speak of it. Indeed, we ignore it, treating it like those creatures of legend who we dare not speak the names of. It is fundamental to our very humanity to the extent that its lack makes one an object of fear themselves: Psychopaths.

We can not abide a person who lacks this ability because without it there can be no human connection making the psychopath’s actions unpredictable. But if, as I have suggested here, the experience of becoming another is so fundamental to our humanity then why don’t we speak of it more broadly? The answer is fear! That same fear that gripped the western world in the middle ages, the fear that if we are so open to the influence of the world around us that this opens us also to the darkness, possession by demons. What is a demon in terms of the phenomenon I am describing? If the spirits of ancient practice represented the forces of nature that played so heavily on our lives, then the demon is the incarnation of the evil we find in ourselves lurking below the tranquil surface of our minds. If we are open to such possession, then surely we are only a stones throw from being possessed by something we find repugnant. This is the reason we are afraid to speak openly about this basic human behavior; because we can not be sure we will not be led into the darkness we know all too well is there by some unscrupulous figure. We fear the manipulator more than any other kind of tormentor because we can’t predict it.

Now we have a theory to explain the phenomena of dress and costume’s impact on us, but we must still ask why such a reverent act would be taken so lightly if we still ascribe it such power. Let us first look at the traditional practices of Halloween itself. In its early religious context, all hallows eve was the day on which the gates of the underworld were flung open and the dead and their tormentors alike were free to walk the earth, making this a time of celebration and great fear. While it might be great to get a visit from grandma after her passing, it would also be an opportunity for demons and the like to torment us. In order to hide from these malicious spirits we wore masks so we could conceal ourselves, but with the cloak of anonymity came the opportunity to act out the darkness that lurked within. This behavior was not unknown to us, as it played itself out in the form of masquerades where attendees regularly wore masks depicting devilish faces and acted in ways they felt restricted from in their public lives. In some sense, with their identities concealed the participants took on the roles of the spirits who’s masks they wore. And so to is it for us on this holiday we change our outward appearance to signify our transformation into the character we have chosen. We do this secretly and while we don’t claim to be that character, by and large, we do adjust our attitude and expectation of others. Our mythology has changed, and our costumes have kept pace with it. but the essence of “dressing up” has not.

We see this reflected in our modern hero myths around superheroes who don a mask and outfit to become something other than they were before. We see this clearly as it regards Batman: Bruce Wayne dresses in a mask to shield his identity but also to become the bat, a kind of totem for the work he does. In the process, he becomes a different person in many regards. It has been argued that in some sense this is reversed, as Bruce Wayne is more fiction than reality in this story suggesting that the crime fighter persona has more claim to that person than the socially acceptable playboy. Yet, either way, it shows us the transitional figure using the mask as a form of transformation. It is by transforming into the hero that the flawed and limited person under the mask can become the ideal, and so, too, do we seek to embody an ideal as cast among the characters of our modern age.

So what, then, explains the many costumes portraying non characters? What of the human-sized bananas and cardboard box robots who seem to embody nothing but at best a pun and at worst a cheap attempt to fit in? Many of these echo invoking the jester or clown. One is dressed both literally as the object or pun, but also wears a kind of meta costume of a fool dressed in this way evoking the platonic ideal of humor. But we have not yet reached a clean taxonomy as there are still the cheap or hastily constructed to be dealt with. These can be divided into the genuine and the satirical. Genuinely cheap or simplistic costumes may indicate that one is not easily moved into the possessed state by way of costumed dress. I should note here that I do not associate difficulty entering this state in this way with psychopathy; indeed, one may be highly empathetic but find other forms of attachment more efficacious. While there does seem to be some correlation between those who enter this state most easily and those who find dress up most appealing, this is by no means a good test for ones empathic capabilities. The second form is the satirically bad costume. This is best exemplified by the T-shirt reading check one I am a: Hobo, Ghost, etc. but was also well voiced by Wednesday Adams when asked where her costume was “This is my costume. I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like everybody else.” Here we see the very notion of dressing up turned on its head to ask what a costume is and if one’s “normal” appearance might not be as much costume as any silly or evocative form of dress.

This leads me to one last point of interest: Cosplay. A culture born from fandoms and love for the characters of particular media, Cosplay has come to dominate conventions and movie premiers, though it should be noticed that cosplay has started to work its way out to all manner of events. What strikes me as most interesting about this form of dress up is that it takes the power of possession away from the highly ritualized events of Halloween and masquerade and carries it into the world as a kind of personal totem that can follow the participant. Those who participate are, in some sense, using the likeness of a character to not only express the selves they are but the selves they wish to be. Elements of the cherished character are made a part of the cosplayer, be that guile, strength, or confidence. By doing so, the participant is granted leave to act in ways that grant personal fulfillment. In a brave new world where we each have the power to adopt those parts into our evolving self, we may face new dangers in opening ourselves this way. But so, too, can we become the designers of our inner self. Cosplay may be the first outward signifying act of a new kind of inner rebellion against the tyranny of our own limitations.

“Mad Max” as Criticism of Car Culture…

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“Mad Max” as Criticism of Car Culture

By Ryver H.

Warning: spoilers ahead for pretty much the entire Mad Max series, including Fury Road.

Cinema, as with most forms of media, has a long and storied history of social commentary. This isn’t really all that surprising, if a creator feels strongly about something, it will often come across in their work, whether intentional or not. Those views tend to be reflected throughout the narrative, though they aren’t always apparent at first viewing. This brings me to Mad Max. While, on it’s face, this franchise (now consisting of 4 movies, 2 video games, and a couple of comic tie-ins) seems to be very much steeped in car culture. Both pre and post apocalypse settings in the series seem to revolve around automobiles and car culture, with plenty of chrome, leather and burnt rubber to go around. Despite this, George Miller (the director and writer for all four movies) seems to put a healthy vein of criticism for the same automobile culture that becomes increasingly apparent as the series goes on.

Starting from the beginning, the original Mad Max follows Max Rockatansky, a member of the Main Force Police, an organization specially charged with policing the extremely dangerous highways of a near-future society on the brink of collapse due to oil shortages. The world that Max inhabits is a harsh one, where violent crime is so prevalent as to be almost unenforceable, and road rage can and does escalate to the point of vehicular murder. While definitely comparable with many of the other “car” movies of the 1960’s and ‘70’s in terms of lengthy chase scenes, spectacular stunt work, and a focus on the vehicles almost as much as the characters, the criticism already starts to show. The movies villains (the Acolytes) are shown to steal gas and attack others, putting their own rides and thrill seeking before the lives of others. They are shown as over the top examples of many stereotypes revolving around “petrol heads” of the time, a picture of unchecked violence and fanaticism in a civilization on the decline. It is also hinted at that the Acolytes aren’t the only violent gang in the area and that the increasing scarcity of oil is driving these “mad” gangs into more and more dangerous behavior to get their thrills/ stay on the road.

In the second installment, The Road Warrior, some of the concepts present in the original are cranked up to 11. Taking place five years after the first movie, the world Max lives in has all but come to an end. Wars sparked over resources have ended in nuclear apocalypse, crumbling civilization and leaving the few humans remaining to squabble among themselves over increasingly scarce supplies. After Max is attacked by raiders attempting to steal his car and the “guzzoline” contained within it, he ends up teaming with a group of survivors and defending one of (if not the) last oil pumps left in the wasteland from the warlord Humunngus and his gang of marauders, hoping of fill his own gas tanks and keep his rig rolling. With the stylized design of the bandits and the main conflict of the story revolving around the oil derrick, the criticism feels a lot more apparent in Road Warrior than the original. Much of the design for the bandits seems to be a twisted take on many themes in car culture, with a lot of leather and chrome in their costuming as well as heavily customized cars and motorcycles to better terrorize the wasteland. The central conflict of the story seems to indicate that despite much of the world going to hell over oil, there are many in the wasteland, Max included, that are more comfortable killing and dying to fuel their engines than there are willing help rebuild others survive and rebuild what little they have left. They would rather die trying to get or keep the gas than be left with an empty tank.

Beyond Thunderdome was the next follow up, taking place 15 or so years after Road Warrior. It follows Max once more as he continues to try and survive in a world gone mad. This time he finds himself embroiled in the politics of Bartertown, a city in the middle of the desert that is caught between Auntie Entity (the leader and head of all the above ground commerce in Bartertown) and Master Blaster (who runs the methane processing plant below the city that helps power the place). It’s probably the weakest of the series, honestly, but the commentary is still there. Methane (a gaseous fuel that can be harvested from animal waste, as opposed to crude oil) is the main export of Bartertown and is traded for all manner of supplies and other goods, showing us once more that humans, Max included (who strikes a deal with Auntie to help fuel his car and have it returned to him), haven’t entirely shook the gas habit that ended their world, though many are shown using old cars as wagons drawn now by beasts of burden for lack of fuel.

Fury Road is the newest film in the series coming out after a nearly 30 year hiatus of the film. I takes place after the fall of society but it is unknown when in relation to the other films. Once more we join Max as he teams up with Furiosa, another driver who is trying to save a cadre of women from their captor and take them to the semi-mythical “green place”, a region untouched by the nuclear fallout that turned their world into the arid wasteland they have come to know. While oil consumption is less of a theme here, as an in narrative explanation shows that “guzzoline” is prevalent in the area, the topic of car culture and the society around that is back in force, certainly making up for what Beyond Thunderdome lacked. If Road Warrior cranked things to 11, Fury Road goes to 12. The central villain of the movie hasn’t just embraced car culture, he has made it into a religious experience for his followers, supped up rigs becoming holy relics, chariots for his followers (the War Boys) to ride into battle, promising a chromed out, muscle-carred valhalla to all those who die in his name. The main baddie himself, Immortan Joe, drives an ultra stylized monster of a rig (named The Gigahorse) powered by two “holy” V-8 engines. Joe’s cult is the ultimate conclusion of over-done car culture. His followers scream “Witness me!” before going (usually) to their death trying to perform some insane stunt along the lines of an extreme “He y’all, watch this!” They drive like mad and dance with death because ultimately they want their leader, whom they worship as a god, to find them worthy of his praise. Miller goes so over the top as to almost parody many of the aspects of car culture (fast cars, big engines, cool looking rides, insane stunts) and yet, in a way, some of it almost seems believable. There tends to be a lot of one-upmanship with people and cars, who is the fastest, who can do the craziest stunts, etc. that the war boys almost seem like the ultimate end to that.

While I think that while, on the whole, the Mad Max movies are a bunch of fun and crazy car action films, there is definitely a criticism to be had of car culture and the warning of going too far with something that runs throughout the franchise. In the real world there have been many cases of motorist violence and accidents caused by thrill seekers that, even as outlandish as the characters seems in the Mad Max universe, maybe they aren’t too far off. Things tend to get weird in places where society breaks down even a little. Who’s to say that as we start running lower on oil, and people get more desperate to keep their own ride, or for that matter their way of life going, thing don’t go a little crazy on the roads? Hopefully our attempts as a society to move away from combustion and toward cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy will also steer us away from “The fastest, the biggest, the meanest” cars in favor of more efficient, cleaner, and economic vehicles. Eventually moving us away from a world where Mad Max would be even possible. Because, really, can you see a smart car putting along in a wasteland at the end of the world?

The Real Value of Education in the Humanities

(We apologize for the tardiness of this essay for the month of August. Technical difficulties with with Professor Metal’s robotic dog caused it to seek out and devour the philosophers homework!)

The Real Value of Education in the Humanities

S. A. Kehr

We have spoken at some length during the show about the value and role of philosophy to the modern world. Still we are constantly bombarded by the sentiment that nothing is “getting done”. It seems as if Professor Metal’s many decrees ,and mandates fall on deaf ears. So today I would like to address two points:

(for the sake of clarity I would like to point out that I have used herein the term subject in two different ways, one being that of the subject-object relationship in which the subject is the observer, and two being subject as American English speakers will find themselves familiar with from primary school referring to e.g. math, science, art etc. I have tried to mark out these differences but please be aware as you read on.)

    1. The humanities are not many subjects each with their own distinct spheres of influence as the natural sciences are. This remains a common misconception, the basis of which is the adoration heaped upon the natural sciences in our modern era. But let me say also that I do not by any means begrudge science the influence it has. I will address this in point 2 but for now just know that this essay is not anti-science. In the academic culture that has developed in the western world S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields are seen as the core of academic rigor. This leads to the belief that the humanities should similarly break down into clearly defined categories of study. Where science is easily broken into categories like biology, physics, and chemistry (with some admitted overlap of fields but still clearly defined even in those cases) and math breaks down to arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and calculus (My apologies if I have confused these categories) the humanities do not break down into art, music, literature, and philosophy in the same way. While each defines a discipline used to study the totality of human experiences they do not refer to different objects or examine differentiated categories of experiences. Instead the humanities are a single toolbox holding many tools but all of which approach the same singular subject matter. When a painter paints, they are engaging the same subject matter that a musician, an author, or a philosopher might. Now there are, of course, differences between individuals and, as mentioned, the tools are different from method to method; this is less akin to the difference between biology and physics than it is to the difference between Louis Pasteur using a microscope and Stephen Hawking using a telescope (for clarification this is merely a hypothetical). We would not expect the two scientists to produce the same work nor would we expect them to use the same tools in that work. It is because of the vast contributions of the sciences to our current prosperity that we have organized our academic institutions in a way that suits them. This is not an issue until we come to people who are not educated in the humanities. Within academia those misconceptions are of little importance and to the segment of the populace who receive direct education in the humanities the distinction is clear. But to that portion of the population that has received little to no humanities education the only framework that they have to apply is the one found in modern academic institutions which is inherently biased in favor of a reductionist model of the world that traces its roots back to the sciences. Whether this lack of education is because of the failure to fund such programs during compulsory K-12 education or because they did not attend post secondary education programs that emphasised a broad education, e.g. vocational programs, the outcome is inevitably that the population sees the humanities as many different spheres of influence. More damningly each is seen as a frivolous waste of time because it fails to get anything done in a concrete way. This expectation of a tangible result is itself a byproduct of misunderstanding the project of the humanities as being many separate domains; the inability to see the totality of such endeavors renders each less significant. Failing to see the transmission of a car as essential to the project of driving makes its workings seem indescribably unimportant, which is clearly not the case. This is the impetus for my concern about this seemingly simple misunderstanding.
    2. I believe strongly in education. Full stop, no qualifiers, at its core education is vital to the progress of human beings. Don’t confuse this with endorsing anything that can be “taught”: education comes from a community of truth seekers not ideologues spreading their particular flavor of dogmatic belief. Here, I’m looking at you anti-vaxxers, and I humbly apologize to any of Professor Metal’s many propagandists; clearly I mean other ideologues. I believe that a fundamental education in the S.T.E.M. subjects can become the foundation for a broader understanding of the world. My problem is with the attitude that education should be a zero sum game (a zero sum game is one where, as with chess pieces, in order for one side to gain the other must lose in equal proportion). We must develop strong educational programs in S.T.E.M., but not to the exclusion of the humanities. While the fundamental building blocks of understanding our world are indeed nested within these subjects they do not compose the whole of it because they deal with only the object and not the subject. This is where the humanities should fit into our picture of a complete education. To know our world, we must also know ourselves and our relationship to it. Without the subject in our subject-object relationship we can not know of the relationship to the object and vice versa. But why should we care beyond just a more complete picture of the world (which I would argue is reason enough but fails to address the “getting things done” concern)? I submit that the S.T.E.M. subjects are like a tool which has the power to shape the world. I would also submit that the humanities are the technique for using that tool. It is only in both having the tool and understanding how it might be used that we become capable of utilizing that tool to its full potential. In this we see that both are vital and that without both we can not exercise our will upon the world (the relationship between them being our understanding).

If we continue cutting humanities programs from our educational curriculum in favor of an ever increasing focus on S.T.E.M. education we risk becoming a society of technicians capable of executing the operations of progress but lacking the creative vision to pursue what lies beyond our current stage. We risk becoming a rudderless ship adrift on an ocean of de-contextualized events. While the humanities alone do not correct this, their addition to the educational landscape allows for the possibility, if not the inevitability, of our future generations having the capability to proceed where we have fallen into stagnation. I said earlier that education should not be a zero sum game but in order to escape this we need to make changes to how we educate our populace. Firstly we need to be willing to pay for education. There is no magic bullet that prevents the need to raise more money to properly fund more education. We must fund education at all levels, including graduate studies, if we want a world that has room for progress. This means reversing course and undoing the system of higher education that turns students into debtors, it means paying higher taxes even if you don’t personally have children who benefit, it means paying teachers at all levels a wage that respects the value they add, it means more teachers and smaller classes so students aren’t lost in the shuffle, it means funding early childhood education. It means longer school years and the expansion of lunch programs to make sure students are able to learn, it means spending on development for better materials and curriculum, and it means investing in protecting children from violence and abuse so that schools can be a safe place to focus on learning. And what I’m sure will be the most controversial of my proposals, it means that education dollars and resources are distributed evenly between urban and rural schools as well as across socioeconomic groups rather than being based on the tax collected in that specific area; for this we will require a centralized agency to oversee both funding and curriculum. I know some of you will disagree with this because of concerns over the specter of bureaucracy but I ask you this: Is what we have now working? I don’t think it is and while we can disagree amicably about that, it remains my opinion, barring significant evidence to the contrary, that vast systemic change is required to fix our convoluted and antiquated educational system.

Professor Metal’s Guide to Why I Should Be Ruling the World

I am certain you are all wondering why I’ve called you here. Please, have a seat. This will not take too much of my undoubtedly valuable time.

There are many, many reasons why I feel I would be best to rule the world. You all have messed the place up pretty badly in my absence. The divisiveness you all create with your petty squabbles over borders, religion, and resources is mostly to blame here. We can sprinkle in a little bit of instilling fear in your populations, which seems to have started to better stratify your resource hierarchy within a given society, and irresponsible treatment of the world around you.

Now, I understand that a lot of this is not new. We’ve been doing it to lesser or greater extents since our race began; trust me, I checked. We’ve done better in some things, and are proper f**king it off in many others. But none of this really covers the main reason I should be ruling over the human race with a velvet-clad iron fist. You see, I am not certain that this is not all, to some extent, my fault, and I would like a chance to fix it.

For some time now, I have been wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, other people are not some time travel drug-induced nightmare. If perhaps I am not at all in control of a small nation of minions, a moon laser project, an army of cloned lab assistants, and three Philosophers, but in fact all things. That maybe, just maybe, I create not only the podcast and this document you see before you, but all things in the observable universe.

What would that mean for me? It would mean that not only is the suffering everyone experiences in their day to day lives entirely of my doing, but any experiences you could be said to have at all are also of my doing. It would mean that I control every last one of you by sheer force of my unparallelled mind. And I must admit, I rather like this idea. My lonely, solipsistic existence would be unfortunate for people that believe they have a view of the world that is their own. But it would be great for demonstrating the simple fact that I am the greatest Super-Villain of all time.

Often times the term solipsism is used to denote narcissism or a disregard for the thoughts, feelings, opinions, or general well-being of others. Other times, it is used to indicate the belief that one is the only person in the world that actually exists. And to some extent, neither of those are wrong, per se. Indeed, I often use it in latter fashion. Many of you will be bothered by this, thinking that it means only that we cannot be certain of things outside of our own minds. You may be thinking that perhaps Professor Metal is somehow mistaken. What you should really be bothered by is why I made you think this, and whether or not I am in, in fact, setting you up to be deemed a thought-criminal. Indeed, there may very well be Thought-Police outside your home or place of work even now. That could be one of them right over there (spoiler alert: it is).

With our preamble out of the way, on to the amble. There are problems inherent in the idea that only I exist. For example, where did this… damn it, what are these things… COMPUTER. That’s right, where did this “computer” I am writing this on come from? Do I even have a small nation of minions, a moon laser project, an army of cloned lab assistants, and three Philosophers? And most importantly, why would I be writing this if I am only writing it to myself, or recording a podcast only I can hear?

Those, loyal subjects, are not all that difficult to explain. Being Lord and Master of all that does, has, or will exist is hard work, even for an intellect as vast as mine own. Controlling everything you think, say, or do is rather stressful. And so I turn to these projects not because I think that they will help convert the already controlled masses, but out of a sort of desire for catharsis. It is helpful to me to get these ideas, opinions, and feelings out there so that I can better focus on more important projects. Having these things out there is a way for my mind to take the burden of controlling you individually and instead have a sort of subroutine that passively… well… pacifies you all. It allows me to teach you all how to think about the world around you without having to either go around and personally teach you or to simply dominate your minds. I have, perhaps, made the mistake of having too many of you to focus on all at once.

Do not think that I do this out of some sense of selfishness. If I could, I would grant at least a small percentage of you an independent first person perspective, one not ruled over by my mighty will. It is my sincere hope that by teaching you all how to think, at least the best amongst you will awaken to a consciousness not directly ruled over by the Benevolent Professor Metal. It would take a great deal of a burden off of my time and resources.

As it happens, I am willing to make you a deal: become an independent person, one not ruled by my awesome mental power and capable of independent, rational thought, and I am willing to give you whatever your heart desires. Do you desire wealth or riches? Just say the word. Do you want a place of power in my vast empire? I would be delighted to allow you to take up some small piece of the burden that is the cosmos. How about a puppy and some ice cream? That has been by far the most common request, and I never grow weary of granting it.

I make this offer not out of some softness for those of you capable of rational thoughts about the world around you, but because you are the greatest thought-criminals of them all. I have judged you and found you wanting. I hereby condemn you to be Free.