0 0 Colin McGinn Colin McGinn2018-10-19 16:28:262018-10-19 16:28:26The Good Place
The Good Place
The Good Place continues to delight and instruct with its philosophical allusions and witty dialogue (good acting too)–at last philosophy finds its place in the sun! But let me put in a good word for the show that precedes it on a Thursday evening: Superstore. This show is genuinely subversive, very funny, and marvelously acted. Last night had the funniest and most outrageous comment about female masturbation that I have ever seen on network TV.
Is this Brit t.v.? I’ve always enjoyed Brit. humor—the low and the high, not so much the middle. There is, I’ve heard, a lot of good stuff lately on American television, but one has to pay premium prices to access it (no a la carte options, only purchase of “bulk” packages of programming). “Quality” programming is mostly for those who can afford it—the rest of us are left with re-runs of,” Gilligan’s Island”. That said, one excerpt from a, “Gilligan’s Island”, episode: An actor playing an, “ape-man”, sits down to dessert with Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Mrs. Howell: “Now, we shall see, if he uses his fork to consume his pie, then he is a Harvard man. If he uses his spoon, then he’s a Princeton man”. The “ape-man” uses his hands to stuff the pie down his throat. “Good heavens!”, cries Mr. Howell, “a Yale man”. For a really low-brow show , that was pretty good.
Those two shows are on network TV, NBC I believe. American humor.
Humor is itself a queer thing. I know, innumerable books have been written about it, but not one really satisfying. Laughter is the behavioural response to finding some things in some sense queer. But no one can say exactly which things and in what sense queer (and if we can’t say it exactly, couldn’t we say exactly why not?). The attempt to understand quantum mechanics induces a kind of “epistemic” giddiness, but no laughter. If it were otherwise, Richard Feynman would have died of laughter not stomach cancer. The attempt to understand the Greek Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, on the other hand, great thinker and writer on serious matters that he is, convulses one to distraction. I can’t resist the reference to Hart, whom I’ve been reading lately. What a monstrosity of pomposity (I’m afraid I’ve been called that). Jerry Coyne, in his last book, took him on, but not that effectively. Hart is considered, in some circles, the world’s foremost Sophisticated Theologian—not least for the alleged excellence of his prose, which I find resembling rather the burbling flatulence of an over-heated tar-pit.
When someone’s “fine prose” is congratulated you usually find some variety of nonsense.
Speaking of nonsense, my Oxford English Dictionary defines “wisdom” as “the quality of being wise”. I found this unhelpful and moved on to the definition of “wise”:” having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgement”. Equally unhelpful. Experience, knowledge and good judgement to what end? To what “good” end? Solace? Peace of mind? Many successful human monsters exhibit “experience, knowledge and good judgement ” in the course of their depredations. And many people commonly considered virtuous and wise find little solace in their lives. The vapid truth is that one finds one’s solace where one can get it. Buddhism suits Owen Flanagan. It suits others not. Rather a good tennis match and a good beer keep me going. (you have probably written something already on the idea of wisdom—it was unwise of me not to check first)
Wisdom: seeing further than the next person.
No one sees further (I always thought it was “farther) in every direction. There is expertise in narrow fields, seeing further, true. The “wise”, perhaps, are those who can master the art of impulse control,of which few of us are capable. I was determined this hour Not to drink another beer, but I remain among the unwise.
It’s really a comparative concept, and not a precise one.
Just four beers a night, actually. I would be interested to learn of the drinking habits of philosophers you have known. Its not all that indiscreet a question. You needn’t cite anyone by name.
There are some tea totalers but mostly they are semi-serious drinkers. I myself stopped drinking a year ago because I didn’t like playing tennis with a hangover.
Best reason yet I’ve heard to to leave off drinking. Best reason yet to continue drinking: the madness over here.Steve Pinker, in a (very) recent “tweet”, offers a sober assessment, with which partly I agree—but I suspect his optimism, at least with respect to America, is being sorely tested. Have always enjoyed Pinker—see Pinker and Jackendoff’s response in, “Cognition”, to Chomsky’s, “Merge”, program, or his response in, “Mind and Language”, to Fodor’s review of, “How the Mind Works”….I’m Commenting too much, I know. Such are the homely hazards of lack of impulse control.
Pinker is a very smart guy with no buts about it. I’ve reviewed several of his books and always found them excellent. I’d like to read the two articles you mention.
Here, perhaps, is a proper Comment (and question). I do not understand the aversion—the repulsion—I feel whenever I try to return to my novel. I Know there is good stuff in it, and potentially good stuff more. This is not whining, its just the case. No aversion to an attentional or intellectual challenge—I relish intellectual challenges. Novelists have often complained about their reluctance to return to their works. Your own experience in writing fiction?
I know what you mean. You feel there is no substance to it apart from yourself (no facts, theories, etc). My solution is to make it funny and linguistically inventive (not so easy however).
That sounds about right. I was considering the desperate measure of psycho-therapy. But I’ve left off psycho-therapy—the last therapist I saw (at the age of 16) wanted me to suck his dick (if he had wanted to suck My dick I might have continued)…Such language on a “family-friendly” blog. Recently read Alexander Rosenberg’s take on trying to publish a “philosophical” novel (“The Girl from Krakow”)—most of the philosophy purged by editors. Language and humor are the way to go.
We must try to keep the X-rated content down, if we can.
Just read the interview with Steve Pinker on The Los Angeles Review of Books’ blog (see:”How We Evaluate our Current Circumstances”) (7/27/18). Fairly convincing. I might myself be a latent Optimist—but more “current circumstances” discourage the effort. Sorry for the previous profanities. Was it one too many “cordials”?. No, not nearly. Sobriety—or the attempt at it—always makes me more profane. Check out the documentary, “Strokes of Genius”—a Tennis Channel production. “Spoiler alert”: Nadal beats Federer.