The Good Place, Gotcha-Style Philosophy, & Me

No spoilers for the TV show alluded to in the title of this post lie below. Content warning for references to the Holocaust, infanticide, abuser tactics, and bullying.

This post was written under the influence of suddenly-necessary sobriety from alcohol and caffeine, ContraPoint’s concept of digital self-harm, the solid credentials of a certain TV show, a whole lot of therapeutic re-framing in favor of the resilience narrative, and sleep deprivation.

I am very good at spinning the shit of my life into comedy gold. Self-absorption, the men who dumped me and the trolls who talked to me more than my colleagues at the time call it.

Meanwhile, the rest of you laughed, and I could laugh too, because it was a comfortable laugh I granted you rather than some nervous chuckle I inadvertently elicited from you.

This time is going to be different. I hope you’re still here.

Act II, Action!

The professor had spent just under a month teaching us, the eager students in the small class, all about the categorical imperative. We’d read Kant and read around Kant and discussed Kant. All of us were thrilled to be learning about A Great Canonical Thinker of the Post-Enlightenment West in a class with just eight students taught by such a well-respected intellect. We were primed to be taught.

Possibly no one else there was more so primed than me. After two years of apostasy, lashing out against the shoddy excuse for morality provided to me by theistic belief was not enough anymore. I was hungry for substance, and Kant was very obliging in The Metaphysics of Morals.

We should all have consistent principles, right? Always do things like not lie and fulfill our obligations, correct?

Congratulations! If you just agreed with that, you have killed not only an innocent baby in the present day but also Anne Frank.

Anne Frank you killed simply by refusing to lie to the Nazis, but what about that baby? You see, by Kant’s reasoning, if you were on your way to an interview crucial to your future and you saw a baby drowning, your duty would oblige you to let the baby drown. You don’t owe this random baby anything; it’s not your baby in your care. However, you do owe it to yourself, your mentors, your family, and your peers to fulfill your commitments. You must let the baby die.

Now, hate yourself for agreeing with a philosopher who wants us to let a baby drown and  Jewish child die. Infanticide and genocide! We fell for literal infanticide and genocide. We became dirty complicit deontologists and we didn’t even know it.

How foolish we are. How wrong. We’ll never fall for anything again.

Until we talk about John Stuart Mill and fall for utilitarianism. We are faced with yet another reference to both Nazi Germany and a dead baby via a mutation of the now-infamous trolley problem. A mother is hiding with several others and her baby while the building that houses their secret hiding spot is raided by murderous authorities. The baby starts to cry and will not stop. To smother or not to smother? If she does, everyone but the baby lives. If she doesn’t, everyone including the baby dies.

And so the cycle continued for three academic years. I graduated an uncertain and more broken person. Gotcha!-style ethical discourse didn’t make me that way, but it strengthened my resolve to never be duped again. The only way to do that is to accept nothing and find the flaws in everything, starting with yourself.

You can only be utterly wrong so many times about what feels like everything before you give up on trying to be certain about anything. You don’t so much view the world as survey it for threats, existential and otherwise. You don’t actually build arguments, you counter the counter-arguments before they are even said. You appear impressively psychologically resilient and intellectually nimble to others. You even believe that about yourself for just long enough to hold it together.

The Chorus Speaks

You are Socrates, knowing only that you know nothing about everything.

You are Zeno, never actually successfully moving from one point to another — though your eyes constantly rove in search of the vulnerability in everything.

You are Zarathustra, come to tell them all of the Good Word of Nothing by gibbering about everything.

You stand for nothing. You speak with uncertainty of everything. You are nothing.

The Beginning

Was it that bad? Did he mean anything by that? She didn’t actually say… ? They mean well. Ignore them, they mean ill. Listen to criticism. Ignore the haters. Be humble. It all starts with self-confidence. Work hard and keep your head down. Defy expectations and reach for the stars. You can be like Khadija. You’re going to be like Aisha. Learn from the past. Live for the future. I hurt you because I love you. I love you, so I couldn’t have hurt you; stop feeling pain. Islam is simple. Religion is too deep and you’re not capable of understanding it. Grow up. You’re not an adult yet no matter how much you try. You’re so mature. You’re not fat, you’re beautiful. You need to lose weight. You’re our good girl, we brag about it to everyone. You can’t do anything right. Don’t take everything so seriously and so personally. Listen to me when I’m talking to you, look me in the eye.

Reconciliation complete.
Resulting overriding principle: Be vigilant. Keep moving. Don’t let anything stick. You’re going to be wrong. You can’t know who else is wrong. I said move along, sir/ma’am/whatever the fuck you are.

Everything Is Fine

Is it that there’s always something in my life, or is that I can’t help but see things because I’m scanning darkly through a lens flecked with the inevitable philosophical detritus of a life where there is always something? Is everything flawed intrinsically, or do I create the flaws through the act of tapping and prodding everything about everything in my quest to find the flaw?


These drugs help even though they take the fun out of other drugs I used to like. I’m going to delete my Twitter in favor of Pokemon Go. I like TV, and this show is fun and funny. I can watch it as a treat after Friday therapy — which is hard work, I tell you what. Then I’m going to pet a kitten and tell him about how he’s the greatest kitty in the world, just like every other cat.

Eventually, we all end up needing our spaghetti Westerns. Or do you think you’re better than Wittgenstein or something?

The Good Place, Gotcha-Style Philosophy, & Me
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