The American Ontology

I subscribe to the American Ontology, which can be stated as follows:

An entity can be said to exist, if and only if, and to the extent that, it is, or pertains to, a celebrity.

Places, material objects, and animals exist to the extent that they are the places, material objects, and animals of celebrities.  Events don’t happen unless they happen to celebrities.  Entire regions of the world don’t exist, because they don’t contain celebrities. 

The American Ontology can be seen as a logical consequence of Berkeley’s famous esse est percipi: to be is to be seen.  And therefore, the more seen something is, the more it is.  Everyone else can be dismantled, and used for spare parts.

In turn, the American Ontology has its own logical consequences: celebrities only exist because of their relation to other celebrities. 

For instance: Jordyn Woods is famous (i.e. existent) because she was living with Kylie Jenner.  Kylie Jenner is famous because she is the sister of Kendall Jenner.  Kendall Jenner, the world’s highest-paid model, is [famous] because she is the half-sister of Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Rob Kardashian, and the daughter of Caitlyn Jenner.  Kim Kardashian is famous because she is the wife of Kanye West (who became famous producing songs for Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, and others), the stylist of Paris Hilton (the daughter of Richard Hilton of the Hilton Hotels family and his wife Kathy Hilton, who was the “best” friend of Michael Jackson; Paris became famous through a sex-tape, originally reported as underage, released by Rick Salomon, the ex-husband of Shannen Doherty; after the Hilton sex tape he married Pamela Anderson, who had previously been in a sex tape scandal with Tommy Lee; Kim herself became famous through another sex tape, this one with Ray J, who is the brother of Brandy, and the cousin of Snoop Dogg) and friend of Nicole Richie and Ivanka Trump, and most importantly, the daughter of Robert Kardashian.  Robert Kardashian became famous as O.J. Simpson’s lawyer - simultaneously, Kato Kaelin and Judge Ito blipped into and then out of existence (sadly, Ron Goldman came into existence only at the moment he died).

This relation, is, however, reciprocal: just as Jordyn Woods only exists because of her relation to O.J. Simpson, in the same way, but perhaps even more so, O.J. Simpson only exists because of his relation to Jordyn Woods.

Similarly: Paul Tillich had an affair with Hilde Frankel, whose best friend was Hannah Arendt, who had an affair with Martin Heidegger.  Susan Sontag became famous through her association with Allan Bloom, who is famous for his connection to Leo Strauss, who is famous for his connection to Martin Heidegger, and also Leo Strauss’s connection to Walter Benjamin, who was friends with Gershom Scholem and Reiner Maria Rilke.  There are many people who are famous because of their connection to Walter Benjamin, from Adorno to Habermas (and Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus would certainly not exist without him), while Benjamin himself owes his fame to Berthold Brecht - who worked with Kurt Weill, who also worked with Gerschwin; Brecht & Weill’s “Mack the Knife” owes its fame to its cover by Louis Armstrong, and, later, a moon-faced Ray Charles look-alike in a McDonald’s commercial.  Even more people owe their fame, and thus their being, to Martin Heidegger, like Gadamer, Löwith, and Jonas, while Heidegger is mostly famous for his influence on Sartre and Derrida, by way of Levinas.  Meanwhile, G.E.M. Anscombe and Rush Rhees became famous as students of the ultimate celebrity philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein - not to mention the Vienna Circle - and Wittgenstein was famous partly for his association with Russell, Whitehead, and G. E. Moore, but mostly for his wealthy, famous, and troubled family, its connections to Friedrich Hayek, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt, and other luminaries, and their constant drama - his father’s drivenness, his 3 brothers’ prodigy-like successes and then suicides, and so on - and of course, Ludwig’s own legendary eccentricities.

We can characterize these relations as having reciprocality without reciprocity.  That is, a celebrity is only a celebrity (only exists) to the extent that she or he relates to another celebrity, and likewise the same holds for the other celebrity; but this does not mean that the relations between the celebrities are in any way even or fair.  For instance, a current celebrity may only be a celebrity due to his or her relation to a celebrity from the past, and similarly the celebrity from the past may only be a celebrity due to her or his relation to a celebrity in the present.  But this in no way implies that there is a kind of equality between the past celebrity and the present celebrity - if the past celebrity will continue existing, the past celebrity is completely dependent on the current celebrity in every way, and has no control over the situation - especially if the past celebrity is dead.  These relations are, besides, always in flux and changing.  Many historical personages have simply dropped out of history and entirely ceased to exist because they no longer are connected to a current celebrity.  The past is more dependent on the present than the present is on the past.

Thus there can be directed edges between these vertices going in both directions (so, up to 2 potential edges between them), but not necessarily.  Just because you know a celebrity doesn't mean that they know you.

The more edges are directed at a particular node, the more it can be said to exist. In this sense, there are degrees of being, as in Plato’s philosophy, in which empirical reality exists, but the realm of forms “partakes of being” far more than mere empirical reality does.  The stars - the nodes towards which millions of edges point - take the place here of the realm of forms.  Other people and things may exist, but not as much as them.

Note that this applies not only to people, but to entities that are not people, as well.  Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus exists, because Walter Benjamin talked about it, as does Michael Jackson’s glove, and even Led Zeppelin’s mudshark (though not the groupie, because no one knows who she was).

A node that is known by many other nodes (fig. A), also known as a star, exists much more than a node that knows many other nodes but is not known by them (fig. B), also known as a fan.

We might say that the American Ontology is the most recent iteration of a series.  It is the secular version of the Protestant sola scriptura, where in place of the Bible as the sole determinant of what does and does not exist, we consult the authority of what is trending on Google.  In turn, we can see earlier predecessors: the Catholic veneration of saints, and pagan myths of gods and heroes. 

Existentialism is often expressed in the pithy phrase, “existence precedes essence”- an inversion of classical philosophy, in which essence had metaphysical precedence over mere existence.  Similarly, the American Ontology is the inversion of theological models of reality (such as those of Leibniz and Descartes) in which the knower exists more than the known.  In these old models, one can doubt the existence of the contents of one’s experience, but not the fact that one is experiencing: “I think therefore I am.”  In this quaint old way of seeing the world, this table before me exists because I see it, thus my inner consciousnesses is of a higher order of being than the table.  And I only exist because God sees me: the highest form of being is that of the Unknown Knower.  With the American Ontology, just the reverse is true.  The unknown knower exists least of all.  It is the people that are known who exist the most.  If God exists, He only exists because celebrities like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and Chris Pratt know Him.

One consequence of this is that the set of all things that exist (that is, the set of all celebrities, and things that pertain to celebrities) depends for its existence upon the much larger set of those who do not exist.  And yet this is not a matter of free will: we know our celebrities.  They are like songs stuck in our heads.  We cannot not know them.

One day, capitalism will end, but then a new class system will form, based not on the ownership of the means of production, but on popularity.

See also: The John Candy Joke that Still Makes Steve Martin Cry


  1. Unless I missed it, you left out the connection of Hannah Arendt and Heidegger. I think Husserl is in there somewhere. And de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren.


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