Christian Long

Felix Dennis: Odes to Vice and Consequences

In TED Talks on April 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Felix Dennis:  Odes to Vice and Consequences

The most important questions to ponder while watching a TED performance: What is this person’s purpose and why is this person speaking to us?

Granted the presenter has the goal to simply get people thinking about their message, they have to successfully deliver their speech in an intriguing way which sparks interest and makes people wonder and thirst for more knowledge. Many speakers on the TED website execute this goal, or surpass it. However, this particular performance didn’t do it for me.

I’ll start by saying how Felix Dennis is an interesting character. While watching his presentation, I felt as if he belonged on stage in California accepting his Oscar for best actor; I didn’t find him real. His voice was compelling and succeeded in displaying profound emotion, but in between his poems I wasn’t given enough human to suppose he knows what he is talking about. Which leads my to my second mechanical point.

Dennis briefly goes off on a poetic tangent about human nature, and how “it never changes.” Although I do believe this to be true more or less, I found it odd coming from a man who vaguely speaks of his dramatic experiences which, in the way he portrayed them, sounded like they belonged in the script of 90210. From what I gathered, Dennis believes that humans are irrevocably evil until a force of enlightenment is acted upon them. We fight for basic survival goods, we ring the necks of rivals and we bash in the head of our enemies all so we get what we want. Of course, Dennis only spends a moment or two to explain this belief, so frankly I don’t know if human nature is the underlying theme in all his odes or not; its just what I gathered.

Of course human nature, like all philosophy, is only conceptualized from personal point of view and experience. For example, my mother is an optimist and assumes all people to be good until they prove immoral, whereas my father is unquestionably a pessimist and assumes all people are moronic and corrupt until proven moral and intelligent. Granted that, we can assume that from Dennis’s point of view, humans may be by nature savage and vile until, like him, someone shares their love and support (or one comes to realize the love and support others have been displaying for a period of time) or another act of kindness or goodwill is expelled.

To revisit Dennis’s quote “human nature doesn’t change, mate,” I do follow him up until he starts talking about how his ancestor got his hands around the last Neanderthal and choked it so he could have no more rivals. Until there, when he starts about the dark side of humans and how he views them as naturally squabbling and merciless, I followed him.

After this point, though, Felix Dennis brings up an interesting truth. He says that our ancestors hunted down and killed everything inch by inch (in a more poetic way, of course) and underneath Dennis’s compelling language lays the suggestion that the human nature is nasty and hateful. His language suggests that we mercilessly climb our way to our desire no matter how many heads roll; despite how immoral the means may be we fight for the ends. He then continues to say that we are still this way, and don’t get me wrong, I believe this until a certain level. The modern human has adapted their language and action so that they may not physically kill anyone for their dream job, but they will crush the opposition so horribly that they might as well be dead. The strive for perfection is a bloodbath; a gruesome path that if not followed, will not lead to success or material happiness*. The people whose stories about lucky success are televised and we misperceive them to be true and accessible paths, later to find that the way to ultimate success may be dirty and grimy and might leave other people as good as dead. Still we carry on, all the while lying to our immoral selves that we are happy but can be happier and all of our actions aren’t hateful or unethical. This is the un-televised path to success and “happiness,” the path that, once again if I perceive correctly, Dennis warns us about.

In his last poem performed, “Our Lady in White,” Dennis tells of the dark moments in his life, and how thinking of his mother’s judgment and 22 godchildren’s judgment shamed him. This shame was a potent emotion which led to better choices, relieving him of the grim nature of humans.

Personally I believe that Newton’s laws of motion apply to human nature. For those of you who aren’t science buffs so much as literary enthusiasts, Newton’s law is basically that an object is stationary or in free, constant motion until a force is acted upon it. To translate: human are neither born sinister or pure of evil, but are made evil or good by a force which can be an experience or influence.

Felix Dennis has a compelling passion for poetry, which is clearly displayed to full content in his presentation. His captivating writing and reading style mesmerize the audience, and this helps to convey any point he tries to make, as opposed to a dull presentation. I believe that Dennis has a good lead on human nature but unfortunately no human can calculate the exact natural behavior of humans, for they themselves are biased.

And so we end with the troubling cycle of philosophy…


*if you are interested in “happiness” and how to attain it, watch this video and read my response to it, found here.


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