Zombie Strippers Philosophically Disected

 

“Great tits huh?”, “Yes, but what does it mean?”

Last year I watched Zombie Strippers with a few friends and was amused by its extravagant combination of nudity, gore and philosophy. Some might consider this a pretentious B-movie, but that assumes that the philosophical content of this flick are mere sound bites and not a coherent philosophical statement. In this post I will argue that Zombie Strippers is a celebration of life by demonstrating that our fear of death is irrational.

The mood of the movie is set when a scientist, watching a group of rampaging zombies in a laboratory, says: “Behold, a pale horse”. This quote is taken from The Book of Revelation (6:8): “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death …” (emphasis added). In the great tradition of zombie movies, this is a story about the survival of the human race. Four Canadian students have recently described the mathematics of zombie attacks and conclude that: “it is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble.” At last, the central theme of all great zombie movies has been scientifically proven.

The scientists’ motivation for developing a virus that “reanimates dead tissue and jump starts the brain’s motor function”, turning people into zombies, is that “after one experiences death, fear is more or less gone” and soldiers can become super soldiers.

Fear of death is a leading motivation in human life and controls our behaviour more than anything else. Being able to foresee the future and realise that we will all one day die is a basic aspect of the human condition. Many see death as the greatest evil, preventing anything in life from being meaningful. After death nothing matters any more and there is thus no point to life as everything we achieve will disappear and become meaningless.

Roman philosopher Lucretius argued 2000 years ago that fear of death is irrational. He assumes that past and future are symmetrical and that as such, not being born and being dead are equivalent. Not being born can not be feared so, if not being born and being dead are equivalent that there is nothing to fear in death.

The argument brought forward in Zombie Strippers is similar to that of Lucretius. Those whose become zombies are effectively dead and alive at the same time. They have thus no more fear of death and can live life to the fullest.

Kat, played by former pornstar Jenna Jameson, is reading The complete works of Nietzsche and quotes to her fellow exotic dancers from Fröhliche Wissenschaft (Gay Science):

“All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.”

A typical Nietzsche quote that some people might see as an implicit endorsement for tyranny. Kathleen Higgins tries to explain Niezsche’s statement as an attempt to humour – but she needs to work very hard at explaining the joke. In the context of Zombie Strippers, I think this quote relates to our fear of death. The idea of dying is “terrifying and monstrous”, but those who have died and subsequently become zombies and are able to tell us about their feelings, fear death no longer.

After Kat has become a zombie, she sits in the dressing room and reads Nietzsche again. Laughing out loud she says: “It makes so much more sense now … I never felt more alive”. She then goes back on stage and performs for the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy.

Second stripper to become a zombie is Lilith. When she is asked what death feels like, she says:

“… I remember once lying in the snow under a clear blanket of stars, there were so many stars. Couldn’t comprehend what it was like; a vast and noble void. But now, I understand it. I feel I am a part of it, that infinite nothingness. … Death is good!”

Lilith has in her mind solved an existential problem because she is dead. As living people we often fear the nothingness that is the universe. Some try to fill the void with religion, but that is another discussion. The movie shows that by removing the fear of death, the fear of nothingness is removed.

To counterpoint Lilith’s assertions, when another stripper, who is not a zombie stripper goes on stage the audience does not like her. Only after she has been turned into a zombie and has shed her fears, she is popular with the punters again.

One after another, the strippers of the Rhino club decide to succumb to the zombies and become un-dead in order to approve their appeal to the men. As in any zombie flick, the situation gets out of control and zombies appear everywhere.

Our ability to add meaning to life is closely related to our attitude to death. Eugene Burger writes that death is what gives live urgency because none of us have forever to achieve our ambitions. If there was no death, life would be meaningless. To use a well known Nietzsche quote in slightly changed form: What does kill us makes us stronger.

As I am writing this I am enjoying a break in Port Douglas, Australia. Walking around town I found some graffiti, perfect to close this post: “Zombies are also people”.

Five questions to help you escape the Rat Race

Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.After several months of essay writing, finally have some time to reflect. I do enjoy studying for the MBA, but sometimes it does makes me wonder why. When studying philosophy I decided to place my career on hold. Now that I am finishing this MBA, I feel a need to forge ahead in the corporate world. Why do I want to do this? I have plenty of money and a job that I can do with one hand tied behind my back.

Last year I bought an edition of a Dutch philosophy magazine which featured an article by Daan Rovers about the nature of ambition. Rovers provided a philosophical check list for for life choices, which is great for anyone asking themselves existential questions on whether you should pursue something or not.1

1. How long will this activity provide satisfaction?

They way I interpret Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought experiment of the Eternal Recurrence is that we should lead our lives as if everything we do will happen over and over again—until eternity—just like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill. Is your ambition something you could do until the end of days? With a lot of ambitions the answer is “No”. Having a lot of money, for example, becomes pointless after a certain amount. Basically, this requirement cancels out most quests for material gain and forces us to focus on internal goals. Nietzsche places an enormous burden on how we should live our lives, eternity is a bloody long time! But, this is a good way of thinking about it.

2. Is it about the destination or the journey?

This question can be related to Aristotle’s idea of Poiesis—the “bringing forth” (Speaking with Heidegger) and Praxis, the doing—as an aim in itself. The common sense philosophical consensus is that the journey is more important than the destination (praxis has priority over poiesis). With respect to doing an MBA, if you do it to be able to staple another university degree to your wall, then it is probably not the right thing for you. The idea behind giving priority to praxis, the journey, over poiesis, the destination is that this will enable personal growth. Focusing on achieving goals will only lead to needing to seek out more goals, leading to an endless spiral of seek without ever getting anywhere. If you focus on the journey you will collect experiences which will accumulate into internal growth.

3. Are my various ambitions compatible?

This is an interesting question, especially for somebody like myself who has far too many interests to fit into one brain. Charles Taylor, the pragmatic philosopher, thinks ambitions are almost always incompatible. As longs as they are internally directed and meet the above two criteria, any ambition is compatible with the next.

4. Is this the right moment for a change in direction?

This is question strikes me as the odd one out. In my own thinking “now” is the only moment right for a change in direction. Pondering on when the time for change is right will lead to never changing at all.

5. Is success actually important?

For an answer to this question, a simple gem of wisdom I read on a toilet wall in London many years ago:

Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat


  1. Daan Rovers (2008), ‘5 Persoonlijke Vragen over je Ambities’, Filosofie Magazine 7. 

Know Thyself: Personality Tests are Worthless

One’s own is well hidden for one’s
own; and of all treasure troves, one’s
own is the last to be excavated …

Friedrich Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra

The importance of self-knowledge has been acknowledged through the ages and across cultures. A visitor to the temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece was commanded to “Know Thyself” and Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote that “self-knowledge is enlightenment”.

Self-knowledge is different from knowledge of the objective world. It is, by definition, subjective and is thus not easily obtained, as illustrated by the epigraph. Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers, two of the most influential psychotherapists of the last century, theorised that people have a hidden personality of which they are not aware. It is this hidden, subconscious, nature of personality that creates epistemological hurdles and makes self-knowledge a difficult to obtain treasure.

Many different psychometric tests have been developed to determine a subject’s personality or other aspects of the self. These tests are used in clinical settings and research, but are also widely used for recruitment and leadership development.

For my MBA studies I was asked to undertake a battery of personality and motivation tests in an attempt to improve my self knowledge. The main question to be answered is whether this myriad of numbers and classifications actually describe me as a person and whether they can provide a deeper self-knowledge to enable me to be a better manager.

Numerous studies have shown that psychometric tests can be used to make predictions about behaviour of individuals and job performance. There are, however, many situational variables, such as organisational culture, which influence behaviour and research indicates that personality plays the greatest role in situations where there are no social clues on how to behave .

Some of the often used methodologies are scientifically problematic. There is little empirical evidence to confirm the validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Also for Theory X/Y and ERG Theory there is little or no evidence to confirm the validity of their assumptions.

Problematic aspect of self administered psychometric testing is a high level of inherent confirmation bias, also known as the ‘Forer Effect’. Am I really very conscientious, or do I perceive myself to be conscientious? Am I really an extroverted person, or is it my high level of energy which subjugates any innate introvertedness? Do the results of these tests provide a picture of my inner self, or are they a reflection of my perceived self?

The test results do not actually reveal any information beyond what has been entered by me, because the results are only a linguistic rearrangement of the answers. This is confirmed by recent research that showed that most people are able to guess the outcome of personality tests without actually undertaking them.

Comprehensive self-knowledge can thus not be obtained by completing surveys because they can only reveal the perceived self and are not capable of unearthing the inner (subconscious) self. Psychometric tests are suitable only as a vehicle for introspection, providing an entry point for reflecting on one’s self. This introspection can, however, not occur without life experience to reflect on.

Obtaining self knowledge, considered essential for leadership development, requires something deeper and more substantial, as alluded to by Nietzsche in the epigraph to this blog entry. As our behaviour is predominately controlled by situational variables, the only way to obtain self-knowledge is life experience.

Only by being exposed to a multitude of situations and challenges can we know what our personality actually is. As we gain life experience, our inner and perceived selves slowly converge. Maturity is the situation were the inner self and the perceived self are almost identical and self-knowledge becomes apparent. Even the most carefully designed personality test can not leapfrog the knowledge obtained through life experience. Carl Gustav Jung, who inspired development of the MBTI recognised this when he wrote:

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche … would be better advised to abandon exact science … and wander with human heart through the world.

This foray into psychometric testing leaves me to conclude that no psychometric test can ever replace the fullness of life experience to obtain true self-knowledge. Experiences such as exposing oneself to a challenging situations, occasionally exploring the boundaries of morality, experiencing different cultures or going through emotional turmoil are the only meaningful ways to gain self-knowledge.

Don’t Stare into the Abyss: The Philosophy of the Void

abyssAbout fifteen years ago my friends and I discussed one of Nietzsche’s famous aphorisms in from Beyond Good and Evil:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

This almost mystical utterance has kept me thinking for years—until recent. The solution came to me from reading a book about the boundaries of thinking by Dutch philosopher Jan Bor. He quoted Chinese Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi:

Leap into the boundless and make it your home!

Jan Bor also mentioned Dutch poet Lucebert who wrote:

… who falls into the abyss becomes an airman—free and floating.

It dawned to me that the only way to stop staring into the abyss is to jump into it. The staring seems to refer to trying to locate firm ground down in the dark depths of the chasm. This is what philosophy has been doing for most of the 2500 years it has been around as we know it. Many philosophers have attempted to find some solid foundation for knowledge. Descartes’ thought experiment in his Meditations is a great example of somebody jumping into the abyss, or as he put it, into deep water. This leap takes great philosophical courage and Descartes tries hard to: “either to plant [his] feet firmly on the bottom or sustain [himself] by swimming on the surface”. As I argued previously, I don’t think that Descartes has succeeded in planting his feet firmly on the bottom and should be content with simply floating in the water.

The solution to Nietzsche’s aphorism is to take the same leap of faith, just like Descartes did, but not to hitherto find firm ground, but to make the void your home, or in the words of Lucebert, become an airman—free and floating.

This comes close to the concept of the metaphysical hot air balloon I have theorised about some time ago. Jumping into the abyss and accepting there will be no firm ground removes the fear of falling to your death. The eternal free fall, a state of blissful weightlessness, will be the result of taking this leap into the abyss. The warning signs should be removed—be brave and practice some philosophical base-jumping!

Is academic philosophy Exsanguinated?

Is academic philosophy Exsanguinated?In one of the university texts I have been reading recently, the author often writes that a certain philosopher is being ‘over-sanguine’ in his approach. I thought this was a strange word to use as I found out it means ‘passionate’.

Can a philosopher be accused of being too  passionate? I don’t think this can be the case. Philosophy often deals with very important questions—the meaning of life, what ought we to do and other such life changing questions. How can one not be passionate?

Academic philosophy seems a bit exsanguinated at times. The main reason for this, I believe, is that too many academic pursuits are judged by the same standards as exact science—philosophy is an art form, not a science. Most academic philosophy could do with a blood transfusion!

The distinction between passion and reason is a very old one. In moral philosophy it has often been contended that passion conflicts with reason and that the latter should always have preference. Plato’s myth of the charioteer in the Phaedrus illustrates this idea. The charioteer is the soul of man, while the two horses represent reason and passion. Plato’s preference for reason has dominated Western culture for a long, long time.

If philosophy is an art form, we should listen to Nietzche, who teaches in Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik that there is no Apollo (reason), without a Dionysus (passion).

Academic philosophy: Does it play a role in society?

Academic philosphy

Philosophers on strike.

I have been studying philosophy at university level for eight years now. See my previous Blog, The Philosophy Race, on why I have been so slow. On the odd occasion, however, I doubt whether I should actually continue studying. Studying a university degree and having a full time job is quite a task, which does not leave much time for philosophical reflection outside the curriculum. The ‘train’ relentlessly keeps on going and there is simply no time to stop along the way and explore some side avenues.

Sometimes I am also disenchanted with academic philosophy as it tends to be extremely technical and tedious. Although I understand that issues can become complicated and convoluted—specially with 2500 years of history behind them—a philosopher should be able to break free from these bounds and create new philosophy.

There are thus two kinds of philosophy. Passive philosophy: the reflection upon what has been written and the subsequent academic analysis of this; and active philosophy: the creative process of producing new philosophy.

One of the problems of contemporary philosophy is that it is part of academia and therefore dependent upon government funding. To be be able to continually justify this funding, academic philosophy has become almost like a science, rather than a creative art.

Looking around the media landscape we see pop stars and movie actors proclaiming their philosophy on many subjects. It is interesting to note that one of the first major philosophers also was an artist—Socrates was a stone mason—proclaiming his philosophy to his fellow Athenians. Academic philosophers of today still use his thoughts as a source but are a long way from his influence upon society.

But Socrates was not loved by most of the Athenians, as he was sentenced to death because he supposedly had a negative influence on the youth of Athens. Are academic philosophers afraid to come out of their ivory tower and join the social debate? Why should we rely on pop stars, actors and politicians as our beacons in life? Philosophy should go back to the market place!

Thus spoke Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong like a morning sun (Friedrich Nietzsche).