I wrote this article back in 2008, soon after comedian George Carlin’s death. Many readers of The Daily Dose of Reason have not seen it. Comedians are sometimes philosophers in disguise, and I still miss George Carlin for this reason. Given the intellectually dishonest and increasingly unhinged times in which we’re living, how refreshing his wit, sarcasm and, yes, his anger would be in 2012!
I was sad when George Carlin, veteran comedian and (as far as I’m concerned) astute observer of the human condition, died earlier this year. He actually improved with age as his humor moved away from shock value and more towards serious thinking. Though Carlin may be considered part of the left-wing establishment of American entertainers, I think he was much better than that. His humor touched on themes much more timeless and important. Most notably, in an age of rising political correctness, he became a voice—a humorous voice, but a voice nonetheless—for freedom, independent thinking, and even rationality.
The best way to support my claim is to remind you of some of his more memorable quotes:
‘Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?’
‘The reason I talk to myself is that I’m the only one whose answers I accept.’
‘Religion is just mind control.’
‘I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.’
‘I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.’
‘I think people should be allowed to do anything they want. We haven’t tried that for a while. Maybe this time it’ll work.’
‘I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.’
”I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?’
‘It’s never ‘just a game’ when you’re winning.’
‘May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.’
‘Electricity is really just organized lightning.’
‘Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.’
‘The only good thing to ever come out of religion was the music.’
Carlin was clearly irreverent—but, by and large, about the right things and for the right reasons. It was interesting to see him perform live, as I did several times. He clearly attracted an audience (not unlike myself) with a deep-rooted distaste for and rejection of religion. I know that the basis for MY dislike of religion is my love of reason, life, freedom and independence. Others might dislike religion for different reasons—reasons I don’t share—such as a desire to tear down any attempt at idealism.
For all I know, this attitude might have informed some of Carlin’s cynicism and negativity, but my overall impression is that he had a more thoughtful approach than that. Perhaps this is why the government, and other self-proclaimed moralists, tended to leave him alone, especially as he grew older.
Carlin’s popularity did not diminish as he grew (and came to look) older. Like his humor, it seemed to deepen.
Among other things, I loved the way he could philosophically bottom line crucially important points via the use of humor—making it all so obvious, once said. For example: ‘Religion convinced the world that there’s an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. [At this point, he stands on his toes, gets a maniacal look on his face, spreads his arms and peers down as if all powerful.] And there’s 10 things he doesn’t want you to do or else you’ll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. [He pauses, then gazes ruefully at the audience.] But he loves you!’
‘And why is it that He always needs money? He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!?’
The following quote provides a one-two punch to both the sanctimonious mysticism of the ‘religious right’ and the politically correct left, all at the same time:
‘This is a little prayer dedicated to the separation of church and state. I guess if they are going to force those kids to pray in schools they might as well have a nice prayer like this: Our Father who art in heaven, and to the republic for which it stands, thy kingdom come, one nation indivisible as in heaven, give us this day as we forgive those who so proudly we hail. Crown thy good into temptation but deliver us from the twilight’s last gleaming. Amen and Awomen.’
When an individual believes in gremlins or ghosts—not as fantasies, but as actually part of reality—he’s appropriately considered psychotic or schizophrenic. But when another individual believes in mystical spirits who inhabit and control major aspects of human life and activity, he’s elevated to the highest status of wisdom and reverence. It’s beyond conception, but even in today’s highly advanced scientific and (partially) capitalistic world, this is as much the case as it ever was.
Carlin seemed to grasp the enormity of the hypocrisy and logical fallacy contained within such a state of affairs. He chose to express it in humor.
For example: ‘I’ve begun worshipping the Sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the Sun. It’s there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the Sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.’
‘Here’s another question I’ve been pondering. What is all this s**t about angels? Have you heard this? Three out of four people believe in angels. Are you f****g stupid? Has everybody lost their mind? You know what I think it is? I think it’s a massive, collective, psychotic chemical flashback for all the drugs smoked, swallowed, shot, and absorbed rectally by all Americans from 1960 to 1990. Thirty years of street drugs will get you some f***g angels, my friend!’
‘What about Goblins, huh? Doesn’t anybody believe in Goblins? You never hear about this except on Halloween and then it’s all negative s**t. And what about Zombies? You never hear from Zombies! That’s the trouble with Zombies, they’re unreliable! I say if you’re going to go for the Angel bulls**t you might as well go for the Zombie package as well.’
It’s true that George Carlin said some cynical things. The error of cynicism is the failure to appreciate the ultimately greater power of the rational and the good, when asserted unflinchingly over evil. He also seemed to suffer from the delusion that capitalism—including even private property—were bad things. I never got the impression he advocated socialism, but he did tend to condemn capitalism. At first glance, it could be a carryover from his upbringing in the 1960s, but I suspect, from what I heard in his humor, that he so disliked what mankind has done with its potential, that he blames mankind’s failures on what he sees as materialism.
Like others before him, Carlin talked about how the cynic is actually the ‘disappointed idealist.’ This seems an admission, even through humor, that there is an ideal. I don’t think Carlin quite knew what that ideal was.
But, to his credit, he knew there is one—and he furiously and intelligently railed against its opposite. It’s also to his credit that he grasped, much better than most, that religion is NOT that ideal, not in any way, shape or form.
For that, and for the fact he made me laugh so hard, I am permanently grateful to the forever funny and enlightened George Carlin.
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