“We are what we pretend to be, so we have to be careful about what we pretend to be.” K. Vonnegut
I don’t often read books on Philosophy. I think it’s a subject better discussed than read, and also, there is a high risk of some obnoxious dude telling you why the way he sees the world is the correct one. It’s a minefield, really.
Also, the temptation to make yourself appear educated (and make your reader feel stupid) by writing ineligibly about abstract thought processes is never higher than in philosophy. (Academia ranks second.)
So a book on philosophy must be really really good for me to pick it up. The title of this week’s book was – “Missing out – In Praise of the Unlived Life”. Because, let’s be real – we are all dreaming of a life we do not have, of who we could be if circumstances were different.
It’s an interesting subject – and I’d wager a guess that a lot of unhappiness comes from the gulf between who we are and who we want to be.
So I figured I give it a try. It started promising – Adam hypes the reader up with talking about our ‘unlived lives that (…) are more transgressive than we tend to be in our lived lives.”
Yes, Adam, that’s what I am here for. Tell my why we all have this unlived life, and whether or not to go for it, or how to deal with it.
But … he doesn’t. This book is really weird in that the title and the prologue promise a completely different book from what the book actually is. (Perhaps that’s a joke on the lived live vs unlived live subject.)
Instead, the book is more of an essay on various Shakespearean plays. I kid you not. In the first chapter, it’s all about King Lear, and frustrations. Then, he goes on to talk about Othello. Which is not what I expected, and honestly not what I am here for!
(Neither King Lear nor Othello are my favorite Shakespeare plays. If you want drama, and tragedy, you cannot do better than Macbeth. Fight me on this.)
So the premise of the book is quickly abandoned, which is a pity. I was close to abandoning the book, which is something I rarely do. However, then the author talks about ‘getting away with it’, and it rang a bell.
The question he asks at the beginning of the chapter is – “What is it like to live in a culture in which the thing people like to say is, ‘I got away with it’, in which this is a boast?”
Well, Adam, I can answer that question for you. Look no further than the Republican Party in the United States, c. 2006 – now.
“Our new moral law, so to speak, is to get away with breaking them.” That describes perfectly the abandonment of norms and traditions we are witnessing right now. Interestingly, to ‘get away with it’, you still have to believe in the existence of laws – you couldn’t get away with it if there were no laws. So, in a way, breaking of the rules prove they exist, but by breaking them, they get weakened. Thus, a vicious circle starts.
Rules, as we speak, are not made to be broken, but made to be broken without punishment for doing so. This is the really important point – it is the absence of consequences that is our new moral litmus test. Just don’t let them catch you.
And this is also what has been said over and over about Trump – the complete absence of consequences to what he says or does. He said it himself – he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue, and his followers would still vote for him. It seems, quite frankly, that he can get away with everything.
And this is part of the appeal of him – because we all want to get away with it, we all want to break the rules with impunity, and he does. We all see him do it, he confesses to doing it, and yet – no consequences.
The Good Person – the one who does the morally correct thing – is therefore replaced by the Impressive Person, the one who can break the rules without punishment. There are no principled persons anymore, only opportunists, who try to bend the law and find loopholes. Breaking the law isn’t the crime anymore – being caught doing so is.
“They would need to keep the world as it is, not to go on rebelling against it, but to go on cheating it. They would be pro law and order.” And that’s when Phillips hits the nail on the head – because, as Trump himself said, he is the candidate for Law and Order. Not because he wants to uphold the law, but because he wants to exploit it.
And next week – we’re talking lemons.