Dennis Hardin

The Randianesque Quasi-Nihilism of Penn Jillette

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On another thread, I argued that Penn and Teller are essentially nihilists because of the callous disregard they demonstrated for the truth in their Bullshit episode disparaging Nathaniel Branden. Here is Penn Jillette, talking about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. Can you care deeply about something and spit on it at the same time? He appears to give it a shot.

The difference between Penn and any other nihilist is that he pays cynical, patronizing lip service to some of the values that he sneers at. Every apparent nihilist is necessarily a quasi-nihilist, since he cannot live without values of some kind. Frankly, I doubt if Penn has the slightest clue what his real values are (other than grossly offensive behavior and principled irreverence for everything). No doubt he would try to piss on them if he did.

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Thanks for the additional information. Though I'm not a big follower of the duo, I enjoy receiving odd facts about anything. I feel like my evaluation of this guy has been made more accurate. In my opinion, at the very least, the clip you provided shows that if catering to his audience in the manner he does, for entertainment and to make his living, is an expression of some kind of nihilism, then I agree with you. I can't tell what's in the guys' heart or mind just from one clip. Again, if he's just "acting" for his audience he's certainly catering to an awfully cynical element. My impression of the guys, at least till now, was that they were pretty straight.

Thanks for the clip.

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Dennis,

The impression I got was not nihilism so much as tribalism of the first order.

Penn lifted the tent flap for an instant at the end of this clip so we could see this light. Here is what he said:

You don't have to respect a club you don't belong to.

The whole driving motor behind comedy is to highlight weaknesses, inconsistencies and lapses. This can be done benevolently or it can be done with malice. In other words, you can laugh at others (and yourself) in a sense of joy at improving and/or the mental difficulty we all have of keeping the more important values in focus, or you can laugh at something (including yourself) with the intent to destroy it.

I think Penn does both. And he gets really nasty with the clubs he doesn't belong to.

It would be interesting to become a Penn Jillette insider, one whom he came to love, then walk away from him and start "disrespecting" him ad his club in the manner he disrespects others (since you are no longer in his club). I don't imagine he would find any of that funny. In fact, I expect he would become surprisingly viscous and hell-bent on your destruction as a response, i.e., demonstrate hardcore tribalism.

Michael

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bottom line: do you think Penn's schtick is funny or not. I found it hilarious.

I like destructive humor. Humor that cuts and kills is the best humor.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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bottom line: do you think Penn's schtick is funny or not. I found it hilarious.

I like destructive humor. Humor that cuts and kills is the best humor.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Ba'al:

He is a genius and Teller is also, in the Harpo Marx mode.

Yes he is incredibly funny.

Adam

What's another 500 years in Objectivist Purgatory - well worth it for Truth, I say!

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Penn has a lot of appeal. So does South Park, I think there’s a connection there. They depend on shock value, they’re rude, crude, and crying all the way to the bank over criticism. You can always change the channel, or vote with your feet.

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Viscous is a particularly apt malapropism here.

Malapropism is a particularly apt malapropism here.

Michael

It is a little thick though.

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You don't have to respect a club you don't belong to.

I have the feeling that Penn would not respect a club he does belong to, either. :D

For he just seems to be a disrespectful type in general (and isn't disrespect a vital ingredient for comedy as such?)

I found what Penn said hilarious, and also share his opinion about Mel Gibson.

On another thread, I argued that Penn and Teller are essentially nihilists because of the callous disregard they demonstrated for the truth in their Bullshit episode disparaging Nathaniel Branden.

Just because someone has callous disregard for someone or something he/she does not agree with does not make this person a "nihilist".

I get the impression that Penn is no nihilist a all - he seems to enjoy life far too much to be one.

Edited by Xray

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Thanks for the additional information. Though I'm not a big follower of the duo, I enjoy receiving odd facts about anything. I feel like my evaluation of this guy has been made more accurate. In my opinion, at the very least, the clip you provided shows that if catering to his audience in the manner he does, for entertainment and to make his living, is an expression of some kind of nihilism, then I agree with you. I can't tell what's in the guys' heart or mind just from one clip. Again, if he's just "acting" for his audience he's certainly catering to an awfully cynical element. My impression of the guys, at least till now, was that they were pretty straight.

Thanks for the clip.

Rodney,

I think that's a fair analysis. Glad you found the clip instructive.

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Dennis,

The impression I got was not nihilism so much as tribalism of the first order.

...he gets really nasty with the clubs he doesn't belong to.

It would be interesting to become a Penn Jillette insider, one whom he came to love, then walk away from him and start "disrespecting" him ad his club in the manner he disrespects others (since you are no longer in his club). I don't imagine he would find any of that funny. In fact, I expect he would become surprisingly vicious and hell-bent on your destruction as a response, i.e., demonstrate hardcore tribalism.

Michael

Michael,

I really like your last point. I wonder how he would react to some prominent critic trashing his Bullshit series on Showtime, calling him a "whack job" and joking about the content as genuinely worthless and depraved "bullshit." We might get a glimpse of his serious side, if he has one.

I'm sticking to my assessment of him as a nihilist. He clearly implies some sympathy with Objectivism, but forbids himself from translating this into anything resembling respect.

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Dennis,

Thanks. In my own words, a nihilist would be someone in whom "hate" and "tearing down things" were a large part of their makeup; coming from their basic outlook on life. The people in the world are very sick, in my opinion, for their mental processes are very screwed up. I think that in most people we can see several bad games being played concurrently, if we know what to look for, with it being difficult to tell which one is the principal one. Sure, I see what you saw in the clip. I agree that it's probably a very fine line between being a nihilist and merely a bad example of entertainment for what might be some people with poor taste in entertainment. I believe that mild, or not sot mild, nihilism is more common that is realized. Needless to say, I was not entertained by the skit.

And again, I had not seen that side of him before, so that was new to me.

By the way; I seem to have saw some poster of the Atlas movie. What's with the gun in Galt's hand? Would that be the image we are looking for?????? I don't think so.

Edited by rodney203

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Yuck! I didn't recognize Atlas Shrugged in there at all. There's a strange virus that attacks Hollyweird types. Anything they say is OK as long as it's edgy.

Jim

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Yuck! I didn't recognize Atlas Shrugged in there at all. There's a strange virus that attacks Hollyweird types. Anything they say is OK as long as it's edgy.

Jim

Penn's connection to Rands ideas is, upon information and belief, his take and belief that she is a radical for individualism and capitalism. My guess it stops there. He is very supportive of the Bill of Rights because they protect individuals and stop government from intrusion in our personal lives.

I would place him as a radical libertarian and possibly an anarcho-capitalist. He is a big second amendment advocate. He has seriously argued, quite well for liberty.

His argument that you should have the right to carry a gun on an airplane is fascinating. I for one think that a well armed citizenry would seriously retard violent crime after a nasty six (6) month shake down period. More guns, less crime.

Adam

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Another way to describe my experience of the clip wast that I was somewhat disturbed. He came across as ugly, to me.

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On another thread, I argued that Penn and Teller are essentially nihilists because of the callous disregard they demonstrated for the truth in their Bullshit episode disparaging Nathaniel Branden. Here is Penn Jillette, talking about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. Can you care deeply about something and spit on it at the same time? He appears to give it a shot.

The difference between Penn and any other nihilist is that he pays cynical, patronizing lip service to some of the values that he sneers at. Every apparent nihilist is necessarily a quasi-nihilist, since he cannot live without values of some kind. Frankly, I doubt if Penn has the slightest clue what his real values are (other than grossly offensive behavior and principled irreverence for everything). No doubt he would try to piss on them if he did.

Dennis:

Jerry Biggers stated below:

Many of us were amused by Penn Jillette's recent take on Atlas Shrugged as a movie project. Probably some of the Peikovian/ARI types were not so amused, due to Penn's signature irreverence. Personally, I found Penn highly amusing, but I would not call it an endorsement of Objectivism. Based on many of his previous programs, including that one on Atlas Shrugged, why would we expect him to treat Branden or his concept of self-esteem with respect? It is not even clear that Penn or his staff have even read much of Branden, since what they presented is a caricature used to support their send-up of the whole California "self-esteem" movement. That was the whole point of the piece, Branden was just convenient to use as a prop along the way. Whether or not they correctly described Branden's views (or even cared about being accurate) is obviously not important to them. Parenthetically, their apparent attempt to use Branden's fountain as an example of excess and garishness is ironic, when compared to Penn's own house that he has just constructed outside of Las Vegas. It (and of he) were recently featured in a segment of a program on one of cable TV's "home improvement" channels (I think it was HGTV). Penn was extremely proud of the design of his house, using unusual shapes (for example, a "silo") and loud colors and garishness to the extreme. And he was right to be proud of it, since it definitely expressed his personality and his desire to be as outlandish and controversial as possible, and to use his house to advance his career. Good move.

Penn Gillette is a fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a self professed Libertarian. He has not, to my knowledge, indicated that he is an Objectivist. However, he is absolutely not a nihilist. I thought that Greybird soundly crushed your nihilism argument, however, I was apparently wrong.

Nihilism is defined in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy as:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated with antifoundationalism.

Ayn dabbling with Nietzsche did not make her a nihilist either.

Seems like you are raising this very dead and decaying horse for another reason which I do not see. Repetition does not make your argument more valid.

Here, in this Glenn Beck clip, I believe Penn is quite clear.

Adam

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Yes, everyone knows there's a huge difference between a mere nihilist on one hand and a raving, sex-crazed, whim-worshipping coke head on the other. A huge one.

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Yuck! I didn't recognize Atlas Shrugged in there at all. There's a strange virus that attacks Hollyweird types. Anything they say is OK as long as it's edgy.

Jim

Penn's connection to Rands ideas is, upon information and belief, his take and belief that she is a radical for individualism and capitalism. My guess it stops there. He is very supportive of the Bill of Rights because they protect individuals and stop government from intrusion in our personal lives.

I would place him as a radical libertarian and possibly an anarcho-capitalist. He is a big second amendment advocate. He has seriously argued, quite well for liberty.

His argument that you should have the right to carry a gun on an airplane is fascinating. I for one think that a well armed citizenry would seriously retard violent crime after a nasty six (6) month shake down period. More guns, less crime.

Adam

Adam,

So I might agree with certain positions Penn Jillette takes and I don't think he's a nihilist. I can understand how someone can satirize Ayn Rand, she had foibles and some of them could be the object of humor. However, what Penn Jillette is doing here is making fun of her genius and doing it by bait and switch. He's taking every easy personal potshot and passing it off as a humorous commentary on the making of the Atlas Shrugged movie and her book in general.

Jim

Edited by James Heaps-Nelson

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Yuck! I didn't recognize Atlas Shrugged in there at all. There's a strange virus that attacks Hollyweird types. Anything they say is OK as long as it's edgy.

Jim

Penn's connection to Rands ideas is, upon information and belief, his take and belief that she is a radical for individualism and capitalism. My guess it stops there. He is very supportive of the Bill of Rights because they protect individuals and stop government from intrusion in our personal lives.

I would place him as a radical libertarian and possibly an anarcho-capitalist. He is a big second amendment advocate. He has seriously argued, quite well for liberty.

His argument that you should have the right to carry a gun on an airplane is fascinating. I for one think that a well armed citizenry would seriously retard violent crime after a nasty six (6) month shake down period. More guns, less crime.

Adam

Adam,

So I might agree with certain positions Penn Jillette takes and I don't think he's a nihilist. I can understand how someone can satirize Ayn Rand, she had foibles and some of them could be the object of humor. However, what Penn Jillette is doing here is making fun of her genius and doing it by bait and switch. He's taking every easy personal potshot and passing it off as a humorous commentary on the making of the Atlas Shrugged movie and her book in general.

Jim

Jim:

No argument from me on the vid that Dennis put up. I frankly did not find it very coherent, or funny, so I will go along with Ted's perception that he was wired.

My objection was to Dennis' nihilism accusation which was defeated once before. Penn just does not fit the mold.

We agree on the cheap Rand bashing.

Adam

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Yes, everyone knows there's a huge difference between a mere nihilist on one hand and a raving, sex-crazed, whim-worshipping coke head on the other. A huge one.

Beautiful, Ted. I love it.

“Penn can’t be a nihilist because he is kind to his mother, blah-blah-blah….”

I have no intention of wasting my time spelling it out to you, Adam. You’re obviously too busy yukking it up to give a damn.

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Yes, everyone knows there's a huge difference between a mere nihilist on one hand and a raving, sex-crazed, whim-worshipping coke head on the other. A huge one.

Beautiful, Ted. I love it.

"Penn can't be a nihilist because he is kind to his mother, blah-blah-blah…."

I have no intention of wasting my time spelling it out to you, Adam. You're obviously too busy yukking it up to give a damn.

Dennis:

Excuse me? "Yukking it up." Where does that come from?

Adam

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Yes, everyone knows there's a huge difference between a mere nihilist on one hand and a raving, sex-crazed, whim-worshipping coke head on the other. A huge one.

Beautiful, Ted. I love it.

"Penn can't be a nihilist because he is kind to his mother, blah-blah-blah…."

I have no intention of wasting my time spelling it out to you, Adam. You're obviously too busy yukking it up to give a damn.

Dennis:

Excuse me? "Yukking it up." Where does that come from?

Adam

Your prior post. I guess you have a short memory.

Ba'al:

He is a genius and Teller is also, in the Harpo Marx mode.

Yes he is incredibly funny.

Adam

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Dennis:

I remember quite distinctly that I think they are hilarious. As I think George Carlin is brilliant.

However, what does either perception have to do with the salient points that I made, or Greybird in the post you linked to, or Jerry Biggers, or Jim?

Adam

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