Monday, February 21, 2011

Jay-Z and Nietzsche on Gettin' that Dirt Off Your Shoulder

I'm sure many of you remember this great clip from the 2008 presidential race. In response to Hilary Clinton's negative campaign ads, then-Senator Obama brushes off his shoulders, alluding to Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder."

[Please, listen as you read.]

To brush the dirt off of one's shoulder is to treat another's negative comment or act of disrespect as unimportant, as not worthy of one's attention, as, well, mere dirt on one's shoulder.

For Jay-Z, if you take yourself to be great, if you're "feelin' like a pimp," you should react this way to most, if not all, negative comments or acts of disrespect.

Jay: "I'm a hustler homey, you're a customer crony/ Got some dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me?"

Great people, for Jay, should have no time for small, petty detractors.

Nietzsche agrees.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he writes:

"No longer raise up your arm against them [the "flies of the marketplace," the haters]. Numberless are they, and it is not your lot to shoo flies. Numberless are the small and miserable creatures; and many a proud building has perished of raindrops and weeds."

While Nietzsche thinks that great people shouldn't hesitate to brush the dirt off their shoulders in reaction to the comments and actions of haters, he surprisingly encourages great people (or those who would dare to be great) to flee from those who offer praise and adoration as well.

Nietzsche takes it that small people are unable to appreciate true greatness and flock to what is flashy, what is of the moment. He writes: "Little do the people comprehend what is great--that is, the creating."

When small people encounter a great person, they demand that she say something profound (now!), that she give them answers, that she give them a new song to sing.

For Nietzsche, paying attention to this type of adoration and attention is just as harmful to the great person as her taking negative comments too seriously.

For Nietzsche, the world revolves ("invisibly"), around the subtle ideas of great persons. For Nietzsche, "It is the stillest words that bring on the storm. Thoughts that come on doves' feet guide the world."

To listen to the crowd, to put on a show, is, for Nietzsche, to miss one's call to greatness. To be truly great, for Nietzsche, is to think ideas that will change the world, without concern for the ever-changing tastes of the crowd.

Nietzsche takes it that one should brush off the haters and the worshipers.

Is he correct?

Is our president aiming at greatness by Nietzsche's standards?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


What is it to be confident?

It's easy to fall into a bad way of thinking about our psychological concepts. We tend to think that we can know, through introspection, whether a psychological concept can be properly applied to us. We think that we just know what it feels like to, say, believe something or trust someone and that we simply can't be wrong in claiming to so believe or trust on the basis of these feelings.

"I know when I'm sad!"

"Don't tell me what I believe. I know what I believe!"

"What do you mean I want you to fail? I assure you that's not what I want."

One of the most profound lessons Black Socrates has learned in his days of philosophizing is that this way of thinking is deeply flawed. One can be wrong about whether one is sad or angry or believes that something is the case. One can feel that one believes something-or believes in something-, yet not believe (or, better, that someone believes something is not a matter of how one feels). (And if you want an argument for this claim, check out Wittgenstein on private language).

If believing, trusting and being confident in is not a matter of how one feels, what, then, is it a matter of?

It is a matter of how we've come to use our psychological concepts and which behaviors are taken to be criterion for applying those concepts.

If you say that you believe that Black Socrates didn't cheat on you, but act as if you don't believe (say, by checking my email, constantly calling to find out where Black Socrates is...when he'll be home...who he's with) then, if fact, you do not believe that I didn't cheat, no matter how you feel.

So, back to the opening question: What is it to be confident?

We see now that being confident isn't a matter of feeling confident. Being confident is a matter of acting in a way that would make it appropriate to apply the label "confident" to one.

So, ask yourself, if I saw someone who acted like me would I say that that person was confident? (and include speech, dress, posture, etc, under the label of "acting").

You may discover that you're more (or less) confident than you take yourself to be.