In this semi-serious post, I seek to compare two of my favorite philosophers: George Carlin and Alan Watts. Now, I say semi-serious for many reasons. First, George Carlin is a comedian, not a philosopher. However, as a social critic I do think he had a distinct outlook on life that could be labeled as a philosophy. Second, while there are some similarities that I will outline with this post, the two men would probably disagree on a wide assortment of issues, and their range of topics only overlapped to a very limited degree.

Yet while this post will be only semi-serious, I do think it will be one of my most original and (hopefully) thought-provoking posts for a long time. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will enjoy writing it 🙂

It would probably be prudent to explain who these men are for those who do not know. George Carlin, as I mentioned earlier, was a comedian and social critic. He had a sort of black humor that bit into the heart of modern society and made us laugh at ourselves. In doing so, I think he also did a great deal to make us actually think. Not just about ourselves, but of our society and the real problems it has. Here’s a video clip for a taste of George:

Alan Watts was a philosopher and theologian. (What? RR likes a theologian!? B-blasphemy…?) He was most famous for explaining Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions to Western audiences. It might be better to just give you a taste of Alan rather than try to explain him:

So you may be wondering how these two people could have anything in common. Carlin seems to be a very cynical, skeptical, sort of person, while Watts is very mellow and perhaps high. However, though the two seem at first glance to be quite different, I think their philosophies complement one another quite well.

To begin our analysis, let’s compare two videos, one of George and one of Alan:

They seem, in these videos, to be talking about roughly the same thing. Namely, that modern society in this country is a sham, a hoax, a game meant to benefit those at the top. Carlin focuses much more on the “conspiracy theory” of it, insinuating that things are they way they are because those with the power want it to be so. This reveals in him his not-so-secret distrust of government. Watts, on the other hand, puts the attention on how we delude ourselves into buying into the system. He holds a more idealistic view of humanity, claiming that we are only stuck in this mess because we have been tricked into it.

Both, however, clearly label the system as rigged. Carlin said in that last clip “the table is tilted, the game is rigged.” In this next video, Alan joins George in brining “them” (those in power) into the mix:

In that video, Alan says “they are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say everyone must play.” And at the end of the video, he says of people who choose not to play the game that they “give the community great strength, because it tells the government in no uncertain terms that there is something more than government.” Watts and Carlin come together again to lift up individualism and nonconformity as virtues in this society in which conformity is the norm and anything else brands you as an outsider.

Now, because this view of society as being against us is somewhat depressing, especially as George describes it, George was asked how he manages to see the problems without having his mental state negatively affected. His answer, as outlined in this next video, shows yet another similarity between himself and Alan.

Carlin suggests that if you want to stay sane while keeping your mind going, seeing the problems in the world, you should “become a spectator.” He later says “I look at it as a show. It’s a big circus, it’s a big parade, whatever metaphor you wanna use.” Little does he know, however, that taking the attitude of a spectator is a very Zen, a very Eastern, way of looking at the world. Carlin used the the words “circus” and “parade,” while Watts, in the video above, called life “a musical thing.” Watts also preferred to call life a “theater.” In this video (8 minutes in) Watts, describing the Hindu concept of God (Brahman), says it is “the actor of the world, the player all the parts, so that everyone is a mask… in which the Brahman plays a role.” And that we, incarnations of Brahman “like an absorbed actor, the divine spirit becomes so absorbed in playing the role, as to become it.” He then mentions another term for our society, saying “and this is all part of the game.”

While it is obvious that Carlin’s suggestion is driven by a sense of practicality rather than mysticism, it seems clear to me that they are both on relatively the same page. Both in the same chapter, so to speak. Carlin says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in the outcome of things such that you become infuriated with the impossibility of your plight. Watts says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in such things because deep down the problems are simply what you make of them. They are problems because your are looking at things from the wrong angle. Carlin agrees, and to him the world with all its problems is the “freak show.” For him it is entertainment.

So there you have it. How interesting that two (seemingly) completely different people would have so much in common. I was very surprised the last few days, as I had been watching YouTube videos of both of them, how their messages overlapped. What do you guys think? Am I reading way too much into this, or do great minds think alike?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂