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Top 40 Philosophy: Coolio (ft. L.V.), “Gangsta’s Paradise”

Posted in Friendly Philosophy, Music, and Top 40 Philosophy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should always talk about music from twenty years ago. Since it is now 2015, that means we should take as our theme the songs of 1995.

The #1 song for 1995 was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (ft. L.V.). It was the #1 rap song for eleven straight weeks (that’s almost three months!), and even was #1 on the Hot 100 chart for three weeks. A post-gangsta-rap-revolution song (not a cheesy early-90s white boy rap song), was being played in Caucasian-soccer-mom-and-dad-populated offices across the US. (I find this idea delightful.)

The song, as you will remember, was most closely associated with Dangerous Minds, which Rap Genius refers to as “sort of a poor man’s To Sir, with Love.” The movie and the song, then, are both about whether or not people are determined by their environments, or can be saved through outside intervention.

Star Trek and the Stoics

The ancient Greeks believed in fate, and thought that even the gods were controlled by it. No matter what choices you made, some things were just going to happen to you. (The J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot exemplifies this philosophy. No matter what changes you make in history, Pike is always going to end up paralized, Kirk is always going to end up captain of the Enterprise, and Spock will always befriend Kirk as his First Officer.)

The later Stoics, in contrast, believed the universe was itself deterministic. It wasn’t just particular events that had to occur, no matter what; everything that happens has to happen, no matter what.

Nature and Nurture

Many modern scientists came to the same conclusion as the Stoics, but a debate arose among psychologists over whether people were determined (i.e., controlled) by their environments or by their genes. Do we end up the way we end up, and do what we do, because of where we grew up and the people who influenced us? Or do we end up the way we end up, and do what we do, because of the fact that we were born with a particular set of DNA molecules in our cells? You will recognize this as the “nature (DNA) vs. nurture (environment)” debate.

Coolio sides with the proponents of nurture. We are what we are and do what we do because of how and where we were raised. The only hope for us to change, then, is if something from outside our environment intervenes. That is, the only hope for us is if something new comes along to nurture us in a different direction. There’s nothing we can do for ourselves.

We Need an Intervention

But if everyone is determined by their environments, that means someone else’s environment will have to determine her (Dangerous Minds) or him (To Sir, with Love) to intervene. Two different environments will have to “bump into each other,” as it were.

But if each individual environment is part of the Universal Environment, then this really isn’t an intervention. It’s just two arts of the Whole interacting with each other — i.e., it’s just the Whole interacting with Itself.

That’s really depressing. Thanks, Coolio. I’m going to go read William James’ A Pluralistic Universe now, to make myself feel better.


The Hidden Track

Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?

A: Ontology (or Cosmology) and Ethics (or Philosophy of Human Nature).

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  1. […] covered “Waterfalls,” (which argued — against the year’s #1 song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” — that you can escape the environment in which you were raised, but doing so would be […]

    January 15, 2015

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