Arts and Culture

Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre: Two figures in philosophical opposition

It's been almost a week since Charlie Sheen went off the fucking chain on the Alex Jones Show, where the insane rant he went on -- in which he (among so many, many other things) called Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre "a contaminated little maggot" who "can't handle my power" -- led to the cancellation of that show. At the end of last night's episode of Mike & Molly, another show he produces, Lorre finally responded in the form of a vanity card -- basically a little "deep thoughts" moment Lorre has a habit of including for a few seconds at the end of all of this shows in which he shares whatever's on his mind -- and though Lorre's thoughts were considerably more measured than Sheen's, both points of view, it seems, have well established philosophic precedents.

Before we get too far into it, here are a few of Sheen's original remarks:

What does this say about Chaim Levine [note: Chaim Levine is Lorre's given name] after he tried to use his words to judge and attempt to degrade me. I gracefully ignored this folly for 177 shows ... I fire back once and this contaminated little maggot can't handle my power and can't handle the truth. I wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels, especially if they wind up in my octagon. Clearly, I have defeated this earthworm with my words -- imagine what I would have done with my fire-breathing fists. I urge all my beautiful and loyal fans who embraced this show for almost a decade to walk with me side-by-side as we march up the steps of justice to right this unconscionable wrong.

After you take a moment to imagine what Sheen could do with his fire-breathing fists, here's Lorre's response (all of these vanity cards, by the way, are cataloged on Lorre's website):

As an endcap to Mike & Molly, it's weirdly cerebral, but as a riff on the Buddhist philosophical concept of the Ātman, it's impressively succinct. For the Buddhists (and this is a pretty gross oversimplification, but it'll serve here), the Ātman is the consciousness of self, the "I" which separates us from the "we" that is the Godhead. When he talks about "an oceanic state of unifying transcendence," he's talking about the Buddhist anatta, or "non-self," which is paradoxically the dhammakaya, which is the "true self" -- beneath our conscious perception of ourselves as individuals (which, as Lorre notes, separates us from others), we are in fact a Greater One -- and conversely, it's our self-imposed separation from the Greater One that causes our pain; pain which we ironically exacerbate by trying to avoid it through obliteration of consciousness. Lorre's dig at Sheen, then, is his postulation that Sheen is philosophically lost, that his folly is his inflated sense of himself, or self in general.

For Lorre, the rejection of self is -- as he explicitly states -- the condition of grace; we find meaning by subverting our individuality. Of course, for the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the rejection of self is a form of passive nihilism -- basically the idea that nothing has any inherent meaning or value -- "a will to nothingness, succumbing to the void. To Nietzsche, this is weak. For humanity to transcend the inherent meaninglessness that faces it, the responsibility of assigning value falls to the individual.

To clarify, Nietzsche's nihilism is more a phenomenon than a philosophy. At a certain point, he observes, all philosophical codes (like Christianity or Buddhism) break down based on their presumption of intrinsic value; these codes are how we shield ourselves from the despair of meaninglessness, but when we realize that they are in fact codes, they too become meaningless, which ironically leads to further despair. And like Nietzsche, Sheen (in the same rant, actually) rejects the systems of value imposed on him -- he called Scientology "the church of the Martian idiot," for example, and referred to Alcoholics Anonymous as a "cult" that "brainwashed my family and friends."

It's also important to note that Nietzsche was not a proponent of static nihilism -- that things should mean nothing -- his nihilism was rather an acknowledgment of the phenomenon; in fact, to Neitzche, to succumb to meaninglessness was "the danger of dangers," and to do so as a society would be akin to mass suicide.

If things have no inherent value, then the necessity is to effectively ascribe them meaning, and if the weak form of nihilism is to passively observe a flawed value code's decomposition, then the ideal form -- which in Thus Spake Zarathustra Neitzsche describes as the Übermensch, or "superman" -- would be to actively destroy our flawed, existing value systems in order to impose our own values onto the emptiness that remains. The Übermensch, then, is the ultimate form of self, the ultimate individuality, the ultimate will.

The essential theme of Sheen's rant is that he is rolling out fucking magic, bro, and nobody's going to stop him ("I only have one gear: Go" sums it up pretty well). And while he may or may not be the Übermensch, it's certain he'd relate when Nietzsche recasts the "overman" as the spirit of the Lion: "The spirit of the lion says, 'I will.' 'Thou shalt' lies in his way."

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte