Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Carlin Sums It Up

I appreciate George Carlin's view of the world. He's been labeled a "cynic," but I don't think that's accurate; he's actually one of our great humanists. And he's a lover of language. That's a love I understand.

Carlin was interviewed for last week's Onion A.V. Club (the much-underrated "serious" entertainment arm of the Onion newspaper), and the interviewer notes that Carlin's humor doesn't tend to favor one political side over the other; that there's no clear "leftist" or "far right" bent to his observations. His response is worth reprinting.

I believe the difference between right and left is that the right, for the most part, the bulk of their philosophy is interested in property, and the rights of people to own property and gain and acquire and keep property. And I think on the left—though they blend and mix—on the left primarily you will find people who are more concerned about humans, and the human condition, and what can be done.

Let's suppose we all just materialized on Earth and there was a bunch of potatoes on the ground, okay? There's just six of us. Only six humans. We come into a clearing and there's potatoes on the ground. Now, my instinct would be, let's everybody get some potatoes. "Everybody got a potato? Joey didn't get a potato! He's small, he can't hold as many potatoes. Give Joey some of your potatoes."
"No, these are my potatoes!" That's the Republicans. "I collected more of them, I got a bigger pile of potatoes, they're mine. If you want some of them, you're going to have to give me something." "But look at Joey, he's only got a couple, they won't last two days." That's the fuckin' difference! And I'm more inclined to want to share and even out.

Me too, George.

Read the interview (including an interesting discussion on Carlin's contribution to Constitutional Law classes across the nation) HERE.

11 Comments:

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Ok. Now I have to comment.

I like Carlin as much as the next guy, but this is this sort of overgeneralized garbage is does not warrant special reprinting.

Additionally, of course there's a clear "leftist" or "far right" bent in his observations. The one you've reprinted, is a "leftist" bent observation. That does not mean that he has no "right" bent to some other observations.

But let me get to the point. Carlin's premise (the potato analogy) is so simplistic as to be laughable.

Imagine someone were to come up with a similar premise, but right leaning. It might go something like this:

"Let's say we all just materialized on Earth. There are two islands on this Earth. Six people inhabit what we'll call "Island 1." The only food is on "Island 2." The six people on Island 1 need to build a bridge to get to Island 2.
Three of the people start building the bridge to the food, but the other three do not. The remaining three not building the bridge know that the bridge will get built anyway, because the people building it want to live.

Democrats would say, it's not their fault that they were not driven enough to help build the bridge. We can't ask for the same amount of effort from everyone. And then the Democrats would take the food from those who built the bridge to those who watched the bridge being built."

Laughable, isn't it? Of course it is. Because life does not work like either scenario. Nor can one reasonably extrapolate a system of governing based on this.

That's what sort of little annoys me about his "observation." As if magnanimous George is so much more of a humanist than those Republicans. His theory of human nature and government leaves out the most human attribute of all: personal choice and individuality. Humans are not merely droids wandering about happening to run into potatoes from time to time. We are the masters of our fate. To take away single most human attribute as a personal philosophy does not appear humanist to me.

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven." William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

Gosh, that really hit a nerve, didn't it?

First, I want to point out that the interviewer was the one who noted that Carlin's humor tends not to bend "left" or "right." Carlin's response to that observation is to illustrate what is, to him, the fundamental difference between the two philosophies.

Second, of course it's laughable. He's a comedian, not a social/political scientist. He's a comedian who happens to be, I think, more politically and socially aware than most, but he's a comedian nonetheless.

I labeled George a "Humanist," because he's genuinely interested in the human condition. That's what humanism is: "One who is concerned with the interests and welfare of humans." This doesn't imply that he's more "humane," or that he's somehow more magnanimous than "those Republicans."

And most importantly, his little "theory of government" (and I think you've attributed far too much to the potato skit to call it a theory of government) absolutely DOES address personal choice and indiviuality. Namely, his OWN personal choice, and his individual opinion on how human beings should treat each other.

At heart, his philosophy as it is stated essentially boils down to "the golden rule:" Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Is it not an exercise in free will, and a rejection of "droid"-like behavior to choose this philosophy for oneself?

Note that nowhere does Carlin imply that his simplistic analogy should be the way our government is run. What he says is that he sees the fundamental difference between the "camps" of "left" and "right" to be that of property. And he concludes that, as an individual, he probably falls into the "left" category.

What's so infuriating about that?

Read the whole interview and you'll see that Carlin addresses some of your thoughts.

"A little nonsense, now and then, is cherished by the wisest men."
-Roald Dahl

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

The reason I think I attributed his comments to the Government is that he did not merely talk about right versus left. Although that's how he starts.

He talked about what "Republicans" would do. At that point, it's not merely a theoretical exercise in right versus left. It's a theory of governing. Republicans are a political party. Which is why his comments do not appear to be merely an ideological exercise.

Now, perhaps I give him too much credit, as a comedian/philosopher. It may have been a slip or an honest mistake. But that's why I read it the way I did. He's not just saying, "the right values property," he's saying Republicans hoard the potatoes. And as a Republican, I'm telling you, I hate potatoes. If I had a whole world of them, I couldn't give them away fast enough. And that's why it's frustrating.

If there's one thing I learned, it's that Republican and Conservative are not synonymous. Nor are liberal and Democract. Or Liberal (with a capital L) and Democrat.

But to ascribe humanist to him, while granting it as broad a definition as you've done, does not really say anything. Most people are humanists, in that sense. I'm interested in the human condition. Aren't you?

But I confess to not having read the whole interview. And I will. And I like Carlin. Particularly some of his old stuff.

"You had me at 'dicks fuck assholes'." -Team America, World Police

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

I love our correspondence. Which of us is Adams, and which is Jefferson (he says, tongue firmly in his not-fit-to-lick-either's-boots cheek)? To your points:

"He talked about what "Republicans" would do. At that point, it's not merely a theoretical exercise in right versus left. It's a theory of governing. Republicans are a political party. Which is why his comments do not appear to be merely an ideological exercise."

I suppose, but so what? How many Republicans do you know that are, in matters of property and economy, to the "left"? For that matter, how many Democrats are to the "right"? As a matter of party make-up, I don't think its much of an over-generalization to say that Republicans tend to be "right" leaning in their politics, especially as they relate to property, nor Democrats to the "left." Would you disagree with that? See below for more on this.

"Now, perhaps I give him too much credit, as a comedian/philosopher. It may have been a slip or an honest mistake. But that's why I read it the way I did. He's not just saying, "the right values property," he's saying Republicans hoard the potatoes. And as a Republican, I'm telling you, I hate potatoes. If I had a whole world of them, I couldn't give them away fast enough. And that's why it's frustrating."

I'm not sure I agree with you here. He isn't saying "Republicans hoard the potatoes." He's saying that Republicans, and the right, tend to have a more fervent interest in the acquisition and keeping of goods. It's not that the guy won't give Joe any potatoes, it's that he won't give Joe any potatoes without knowing what's in it for him.

And that's an assertion that, individual exceptions aside, seems pretty defensible. YOU may want to give away those potatoes like they're going out of style, but your party holds a different view, as borne out by their actions while in power.

The privatization of Social Security is really the perfect example of this. And let's use the potato analogy again. We have a system where every one person puts in two potatoes to provide for the previous generation. In other words, each person is giving their potatoes to someone else, with the understanding that their children will do the same for them.

What the Republican President advocated was the dismantling of that system in favor of letting each person grow their own potatoes, and giving them each the chance to hire a barn contractor to build them a place to store them. Some people wouldn't grow two potatoes, and some would grow many more, and depending on whether you'd chosen a good barn to store them in, you'd have even more, or even less.

Essentially, he wanted to stop giving away everyone's potatoes, and make the whole potato business your own responsibility, not everyone else's.

Now, whether or not that viewpoint is BAD is a philosophical judgement, and depends on your individual
political, moral, and social outlook. But whether the Republican party attempted to do this is a matter of public record. I'm happy to point you to memos regarding the "sixty-year battle over social security," and the recent efforts to "win" that battle.

Those are the sorts of actions I think Carlin refers to. Whether it's right or wrong to hold a philosophy that tends to lead to the above-listed actions isn't a question that Carlin attempts to answer, except to say that as far as his own beliefs are concerned, he thinks its better to share. I also share that philosophy, and that's really the reason I posted his thoughts. I think it's better to share.

"But to ascribe humanist to him, while granting it as broad a definition as you've done, does not really say anything. Most people are humanists, in that sense. I'm interested in the human condition. Aren't you?"

I wouldn't have this middling site if I wasn't. =) But despite my definition's seeming broadness (and that definition isn't mine, per se, its the Dictionary's), it's really not that broad at all, at least, not in the philosophical sense. It's just the simplest one. A more elaborate one then, to justify my classification of him as such: "a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values—be they religious, ethical, social, or political—have their source in human experience and culture."
(http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/definitions.htm)

That's the sense in which Carlin's a Humanist.

"But I confess to not having read the whole interview. And I will. And I like Carlin. Particularly some of his old stuff."

Me too. I like the way he sees the world. I may not always agree with it, but I appreciate it.

I think we should self-publish a chapbook of our debates. Our own selection of "letters," so to speak. It'd be a hoot.

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

I like Carlin. Especially when he talks dirty.

I say mash them taters and anyone that doesn't like it is un-American.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

And you guys write gud.

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Codemorse: "As a matter of party make-up, I don't think its much of an over-generalization to say that Republicans tend to be 'right' leaning in their politics, especially as they relate to property, nor Democrats to the 'left.' Would you disagree with that?"

Of course not. But that's not what I said. I said his analogy does not work because it's overbroad. And it's otherwise impossible to extract governing principals from it. If you otherwise limit the analogy in order to gather some basic governing principles from it, then we're changing the context of the conversation, and it doesn't get at my underlying problem anyway.

If I complain that an analogy is false, it's no answer to say that it's not intended seriously to apply as a principal of governing because he is a comedian (your first point), nor is it answered by saying that a more limited analogy might be more applicable to governing policy considerations (your second point). Of course it would. And if he had come up with such an analogy, I might not have a problem with it. But he did not. He made a sweeping generalization, and implied (or actually, outright stated) from that generalization, that "on the left primarily you will find people who are more concerned about humans, and the human condition, and what can be done."

I think that's hogwash. There's no inherent antipathy to "concer[] about humans" with protecting property rights. Particularly when you apply those protections in a real world context.

For example, one might argue that a liberal/Democrat government that provides incentives for its citizens to continue to sustain a minimal existence on welfare does not evidence a particular "concern" about humans or humanity. It makes us feel good about ourselves without addressing the systemic problems that cause poverty.

Your social security point is a perfect example of this. We do not, in fact, have a system where every one person puts in two potatoes to provide for the previous generation. In 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. Now, the ratio is just above 3 to 1. Every person used to have to give 1/16 of their potato. Now, everyone has to give a third. Within the next twenty years, we will all have to give half. Thirty-five years from now, when workers in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt.

It's a pyramid scheme. The biggest one ever invented. And you know what the Democrats "concerned" response was to this fact? Don't you dare touch this nonsensical bankrupting idea. Had the President in fact even made a vague attempt to "dismantle" this ponzi scheme, he'd be a hero. Instead, we're sticking with the devil we know. Concern, indeed.

Of course it's better to share. It's also good to love. And care. And all those other things we learned on Sesame Street. But no one shares in a vacuum. There are different ways to share, and some ways are more effective than others. And if we are truly concerned about those less fortunate, we have to seriously consider implementing policies that make a difference to those people.

And this is basically why I think Carlin's full of it on this point. Putting forward the blanket statement that it's better to share does not make one more concerned about humans or the human condition. It just helps a person feel like they do.

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Oh, yeah, and taters suck. Ask the Irish about that.

 
At 7:55 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Oh, and there's a big NU game this weekend if you'd like to join. On ABC. Against Ohio State.

 
At 1:27 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

I'm in. Saturday afternoon?

I've decided to make Social Security the topic of our first non-comment section debates. Discussing whether or not its a "pyramid scheme" is rather outside the scope of our current scuffle. It is, however, something I'd like to discuss, so I'm making it the first topic we discuss outside the comments section and for the main page. I'm writing up my initial thoughts, and I'll send them to you tomorrow. I'm using your comments here as a jumping off point.

As for your other Carlin-centric remarks, I can't really comment further, except to say that either I am not smart enough for the intricacies of your criticisms, or you are perhaps reading a bit too much into what was, at most, a light-hearted attempt by one man to explain his own, personal philosophy.

Assigning it greater meaning than it's been given by its creator seems to me an exercise in frustration for the both of us, as I don't really think Carlin should be running the government.

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

And yet my last post still remains. Game. Saturday. Think about it.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home