Posts Tagged Shelly Kagan
In a move that has left many industry insiders scratching their heads, the remaining members of the band Judas Priest have left the band and joined a Judas Priest cover band called Nightcrawler. The band, whose members have agreed to step aside and instead handle Judas Priest’s touring responsibilities, have been a staple of the greater Villa Rica, Georgia metal scene for the past fifteen years. Rob Halford and the boys plan on taking over Nightcrawlers’ regular Sunday night gig at Joe Don’s House of Beer as well as occasionally traveling to Macon and Atlanta for gigs.
This began as another satire article, but I’m afraid it will not make it. Instead, I believe the philosophical dimensions of this story are far more interesting. Who are Judas Priest? A collection of specific musicians who play a certain number of songs they have written in the past. Maybe. Think of Priest like your body. If your body doesn’t have all of its limbs it is still your body. If Al Atkins or Rob Halford or KK Downing leave the band, they are still technically Judas Priest, as we have seen. While many fans would argue that the band changed greatly when Ripper Owens was the singer, you can’t really argue they weren’t Judas Priest. After all, they put out two albums under the name Judas Priest. You can go look on my mantle; they are filed under “J”.
Under what circumstances is Judas Priest not Judas Priest or, even more interestingly, under what circumstances would you no longer be you? Lets say all the members of Judas Priest left and another group of musicians came in and played the same songs, would that still be Priest? The band Yes has transitioned through new scores of new members at every instrument and they still are known as Yes (although their was some legal wrangling to determine whether that was true).
Similarly, if all of your limbs were removed, then all of your organs except for the brain, you’d still be you, right? In fact, no one would have a kidney removed and say “I’m no longer me anymore”. You might not even need stop at the brain. Take away the parts that control motor function and coordination and you are still you. Really, what you are is that small section of the brain that contains memories and the idea of who you are. You may argue that there is a soul, but until you show me one with a tag on it saying “Exhibit A”, I cannot enter it as evidence.
Back to our Judas Priest problem. If Judas Priest left, but became a Judas Priest cover band, I’d have a difficult time figuring out who the real Priest is, but I’d probably eventually settle on the idea that the band playing that the members of Judas Priest joined was the real Priest. After all, the audience might identify with the name Priest, but most people derive the identity of the band from their memories of what the band was and meant. The meaning is not solely attached to the name, but the collection of memories that follow the band and some of the identifying, tangible characteristics. However, if all the members left and started a mariachi band, that would not be Judas Priest. They need to be playing the same songs, doing the same stage show, etc. in order to still qualify as the real Priest. Some form of the identity must be the same.
Here’s where it gets tricky. If Judas Priest’s members didn’t leave the band and kept the name, but chose to all of a sudden play mariachi songs and change their stage show, they would still be Priest, just not if they left and did the same thing. Just like if you changed careers or got remarried or became a professional baseball player, you’d still be considered you. So, the name Judas Priest does have value in terms of an identity marker for fans, but it is not the only characteristic that makes up identity and, as we will see, it is not always necessary.
If your brain were pulled out and put into another body, let’s say Lemmy’s body, I believe the person who had Lemmy’s body would be you. Therefore, while people would call you Lemmy, you would still be you, just in Lemmy’s body. As noted philosopher Shelley Kagan once said when presented with a similar problem “follow the brain”. However, here’s where identity gets messy, most people would find it difficult to believe you if you were walking around in Lemmy’s body claiming to be you unless they knew about this brain transplant. They’d believe you were Lemmy, even if you knew things Lemmy couldn’t possibly know about you.
It is safe to claim that what you perceive to be you is far different than what others perceive to be you. Your internal identity does not match the identity the world has for you. Let’s say that for years, all the members of the band were gone and replaced with lookalikes. Unless you had some knowledge of this, you’d assume you were watching Judas Priest when you saw them in concert. In our example, however, the audience was made aware of the shift, so the identity of the band would stay with Halford and the guys. Had they not been and had the cover band from Villa Rica been convincing lookalikes, people would have been none the wiser.
The point is, we think we know what a band is, based on our memories and recollections, but really we only know our created image of the band. The difference between the internal perceptions of the band and the external ideas are miles apart. Our image of the band has some similarities to the views of others and a few similarities to how the band views itself, but for the most part there is no common relationship except for a few markers here and there.
This is also the great problem of personal identity. How are we meant to function in a world where we see ourselves as one thing, but the world sees us as something else? Sure, there are some meeting points, but overall we have no clue how they see us. We are left to play a perpetual guessing game where we will never find the answer.
Who are Judas Priest? I’m not really sure. I know I have my version, you have yours and they have theirs. The places where we meet are certainly Judas Priest, but the places where we don’t are also Judas Priest. We know enough to know and agree that the band that left Judas Priest in our story is Judas Priest, but we lack enough evidence to understand what Judas Priest is in its totality.
We filter Judas Priest through our own minds and have an image completely exclusive to us. Judas Priest is our Judas Priest, a Judas Priest of the mind. We are forever stuck trying to reconcile that image with the image of those around us and failing miserably at the task. Such is the lot of humans when searching for truth. Stuck looking at one tiny, infinitesimal section of the map while trying desperately to figure out where everything is.
Back in May I got the opportunity to attend a basketball coaching clinic at the Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. The clinic featured some of the top college coaches in America including George Mason’s Jim Larranaga, LSU’s Trent Johnson, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and the one and only Robert Montgomery Knight (his friends call him Bobby). Myself and about 1,000 other coaches were herded into an auditorium converted into a gym for three days in order to find out the secrets of how to lead young men and women towards becoming championship caliber athletes. Anyone who has ever been to one of these clinics before knows the drill…coachspeak followed by coachspeak followed by the occasional substantial and interesting point followed by more coachspeak and more coachspeak. By coachspeak, I mean the repeated uses of expressions like “the short corner” or “attacking the elbow” which are meaningful to most coaches but come across like some mysterious hybrid of Swahili and Mandarin Chinese to the uninitiated. The one astute point in the midst of the coachspeak is often fantastic, which is why I highly recommend these clinics to other coaches, but the hours upon hours of coachspeak can take it’s toll on even the most fervent hoops junkie.
I am not a very good note taker, but I decided I was going to try to get down as much of what was meaningful as possible. This worked for the first 5 or so hours. I have lovely, detailed sketches of out of bounds plays and wonderful points about how to properly position my post players when they are down on the block. After a certain point, I began to drift away from the land of normal coaching thought. Too many things that were not basketball began to assert themselves into the clinic. The words character and discipline began to rear their ugly heads. Coaching has developed an odd fixation with these ideas over the years. They are somehow indicative of the deeper meaning of sports. If you are a good coach, your team wins. If you are a great coach, your teams win and develop discipline and character. You cannot win without discipline or character. You will be tested; under these circumstances discipline and character will show. The pantheon of great athletes all had discipline and character. Blah, blah, blah. My problem with this formulation is that there is very little discussion over what these terms actually mean. We are just supposed to know.
My mind was spiraling out of control. I had been reading a ton of Descartes and had recently listened to an incredible online course on Death by Yale Professor Shelly Kagan. These thoughts were ping ponging around my mind. They had begun to merge with my notes. Here is the mental chaos that ensued:
(For the sake of time and not boring the noncoaches out there, I have removed all of the traditional basketball and have all left the weirdo philosophical stuff basically untouched)
1. What is character and discipline but the denial of the self? Why must the self be removed or fought for someone to play the game well? Is the self such an albatross that it must be obliterated in order to achieve “greatness”?
2. Does the self even exist? How is it possible for the self to exist as something different from the body? Are there two of us in here? Am I the Ghost in the Machine and if so, who is that in here who keeps telling me to not do the things I want to do? Why am I so committed to not letting the Ghost play?
3. So…does the self exist? It must because we are asked to deny it. Discipline asks us to deny the self, so something must be asking us to deny the self. It must be the self. It is a similar formulation to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”. There must be a self otherwise what is there to deny the self. The question then becomes, why on earth would the self ask to deny itself? That is a bizarre idea that must lead to a good amount of confusion when someone first enters the “Church of the Winner”.
4. What is discipline? The self wants, the self says no. Why would it deny what it wants? Denial of short-term gratification for deeper long-term fulfillment. Losing the self in the team. But why would we want to lose the self?
5. Why does the self imagine? What set of circumstances would make it want to wish for more or different?
6. Here is a list of the things that have been labeled acceptable by coaches at today’s clinic:
Victory over other selves
Destruction of other selves in other uniforms on the path to victory
Adulation of other selves if the correct function has been performed correctly
Greed as long as it stays unadmitted
Here are the things that have been labeled unacceptable by coaches at today’s clinic:
Gluttony (in terms of food or comfort, but not in terms of success)
Destruction of other selves wearing the same uniform as you
Adulation of other selves when the correct task has been performed incorrectly
Adulation of other selves when the wrong task has been performed correctly
Obvious greed for the wrong things (cars, status among the wrong people, “bling”)
7. Here are the rules when attempting to gain victory over other selves:
A. Winning at athletic contests can show the superiority of the self that denies the self (but doesn’t admit it)
B. Cheating is wrong because it skews the game, thus defeating the illusion of the level playing field. How can we determine which self is better if we haven’t deluded ourselves into thinking that we have triumphed over another self in a fair set of circumstances?
C. Hard work represents a self more able to deny the wants of the self. Pope Jordan the Ascetic.
D. In work matters, the self that can deny some of the wants of the self (rest, gluttony for the wrong things, comfort) and can nurture other wants of the self (the unspoken enjoyment of adulation, greed for money or status, appearance of a lack of the self) will get almost none of what the self wants, but more than the self that doesn’t.
E. Terminology is the coin of the realm. Terminology is a tiki mask of legitimacy. It is the short cut to proof that one is the self that can deny the self. If I understand these absurd terms, I must have spent hour upon hour of self-denial in learning these hollow metaphors that make very little sense. My commitment to irrational details shows how willing I am to obliterate the self for “greatness”. The more the metaphor rings hollow, the greater the proof of the self that has given up more immediate opportunities for gratification in order to learn them. The sheer absurdity of the basketball cliché has a normative function.
F. Emotional and physical discomfort are goals to be aspired towards. The more we pretend we are experiencing them, the more we will be ready when they show up. A champion is one who has vowed to spend his or her entire life mired in this sort of discomfort so that when the moment of real discomfort arises, they will have a lifetime of awful experience to draw on…and then they can put the round ball in the round hole one or two more times than the self in another uniform who hasn’t put him or herself through as much pain.
G. Creativity is something that is both an expectation and a curse. One is expected to think thoughts that fit into a neat box, but in a slightly different way than the other selves. When a self creates something that doesn’t fit in that box and loves it enough to share it with others, the self will be ridiculed or snickered at for the heinous crime of self-indulgence.
8. The self that denies the self (and claims not to) feigns praise for the creator but really respects and admires the editor, the salesman and the promoter. Creativity requires a complete exposure of the unfettered self. The self that denies the self (and claims not to) is appalled by pure creativity because it is a reminder of the dull rituals it is shackled to in the hopes of further denying the self.
9. “Deny! Deny! Deny!” -a coach stressing the importance of defense.
10. If the self that denies the self (and claims not to) conquers other selves, it feels a momentary sense of relief and the joy of not being conquered and being exposed as a self that doesn’t deny itself. This is followed by a horrific realization of the more than 6 billion predatory selves that may be lying in wait; hunting for the same moment of relief and joy.
11. How does the conquering self know the difference between itself and the conquered self? The self needs an Arbiter in order to know it’s worth. Without the Arbiter, the self cannot tell the difference between Pyrrhic victory and a miserable defeat. So, an Arbiter is created. The Arbiter (a scoreboard, an official) is declared real in our minds (except for most of the time). We often declare the Arbiter wrong (the refs hosed us, the final score doesn’t reflect how the game went, etc.). Who even knows who conquered whom?
12. Many of us long for a time (long ago) when “the rules meant something” and could give us a longer period of relief when we conquered the other selves. We think that this time existed and that somewhere along the line the losers rose up through the sleight of hand of a group of morally relative sycophants who took our comfort in winning away. We no longer even feel like we can enjoy the illusion we have created.
13. The odd thing about this belief is that I’m not sure that this magical time of the primacy of rules ever really existed. Maybe all there ever was were a group of selves pointing backwards trying to find new a clever ways to conquer other selves.
14. Consume in the name of the past, in the name of progress, in the name of protection, in the name of peace, in the name of whatever allows us to remember to forget or forget to remember what we are.
15. “Why do we think of offense and defense as different things?” Great point, coach! Better than you even know.