Philosophy is Making A Meme-Based Comeback

Who said Facebook meme pages weren’t genuinely educational?

Today I learned about Peter Singer, the controversial utilitarian philosopher and professor, through the legendary and ultra-specific Trolley Problem Memes Facebook page:

The description on their post reads:

“Bob is close to retirement. He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure. The Bugatti is his pride and joy. In addition to the pleasure he gets from driving and caring for his car, Bob knows that its rising market value means that he will always be able to sell it and live comfortably after retirement. One day when Bob is out for a drive, he parks the Bugatti near the end of a railway siding and goes for a walk up the track. As he does so, he sees that a runaway train, with no one aboard, is running down the railway track. Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child very likely to be killed by the runaway train. He can’t stop the train and the child is too far away to warn of the danger, but he can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. Then nobody will be killed —but the train will destroy his Bugatti. Thinking of his joy in owning the car and the financial security it represents, Bob decides not to throw the switch. The child is killed. For many years to come, Bob enjoys owning his Bugatti and the financial security it represents.”
bobs bugatti.jpg

This is genuine food for thought…

“When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch, he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation.”

What would you do, or perhaps, what are you already doing?

It is hard to argue that this is just an internet joke, cat-video style. There’s more going on here.

I don’t have the time or expertise to fully explore utilitarian philosophy, or the aid industrial complex (which Singer does not appear to address in the full article that this example comes from). And perhaps Singer over-simplifies the matter of giving money in a capitalist world, and doesn’t address the environment that leads to inequality and poverty or the many non-monetary ways people can take action. Instead, this piece zeroes-in on hard choices with explicit and clear consequences. Perhaps this striking clarity is how a modern day philosopher, (not a wildly popular or respected subject) has had such a huge impact that it has worked it’s way into meme-quality posts. This post was written in the 90’s; Singer had no idea it would reach audiences like this, yet it has, whilst still raising the same vital philosophical questions.

what is justice.png
From Philosophy Games. another meme/philosophy page.

No, it isn’t solely educational, it’s also very much memes, but still; today more than ever, we *are* all connected, and perhaps philosophy is making a come back, at the time when it is most needed. The ethics of using disposable plastics that damage our oceans (and that we all only care because of one major TV series...), the ethics of inhumane laws and the “following orders” problem coming back, the concepts of freedom and privacy in the internet becoming urgent and dangerous… these issues are all about the core of what is morally right or wrong.

trolley problem mario.png
And also, memes.

Not only that, but follow your dreams kids! This person is a philosopher, and yet when you google their name, they come up, and they have a wiki page. That could be you! People could care about what you do, even when it’s “got no career prospects” and “isn’t very practical”…it’s all about what you do with it. Admittedly, male, cis and white leap out at me that this isn’t necessarily effective for everyone, but the point still stands. Even a field like philosophy; studied for millennia, not “practical” for real life; can be ground-breaking and controversial.

Also, everyone with Netflix should immediately watch “The Good Place”*. It has Kirsten Bell, it has Jameela Jamil, and it is like nothing else. The show centres around the afterlife, ethics, and explicitly explores philosophical themes, whilst being stunningly beautiful and witty as hell. (*This is not #spon, I wish I could be that important.)

To conclude, philosophy is rad, and it’s making a (meme-based?) comeback, you should follow your dreams because anything might happen, and you should watch another Netflix show, because a blogger you don’t know says it’s something special. Perfect.

good place cast.png
(This is a picture of the cast, not the show. Go watch it!)

Thank you for reading! I’m working on making my site more easy to navigate, but you can start with the tags on the right to see the different categories I post in if you want to start, or check out my most popular post so far to get started!

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