Monday, February 22, 2021

On Eyes Wide Shut

warning: written hastily and poorly.



First a disclaimer: the rated vers. of this movie is an abomination. don't see it.

What stands out in Eyes Wide Shut, and seems to evade most, is the fantasy element in the movie. That it's based on a novel titled Dreamstory should give that away. It's not just fantasy in storytelling but about the subject of fantasy in its characters. Most get hung-up on wild theories and absurd extrapolations.

Still, it's a personal story and Kubrick's only love story. Its personal having recreated Kubrick's NY apartment home, with the walls adorned with his living wife's artwork. It's personal in that the intimacy shared on screen by its protagonists was real, being a then-married couple, and this choice seems to blend reality and fiction. They even slept together on set in their for-cinema bed, for the on-time during the longest movie shoot in history. The personal nature of the film and its dissection of intimate matters puts you in a strange sort of comfort, along with the theme of Christmas permeating most every aspect of the film. Despite its strangeness and often unnerving imagery, the main thing I take away from the movie is an overwhelming warmth. It did not surprise me, and I felt this beforehand, that many critics can now recognize Eyes Wide Shut as a surreal Christmas movie. It's a strange movie I will argue celebrates the normal.

All this is backed up by the nudity of the opening scene. The "realness" is made more real when the thumping movie score is turned off on screen via an on-set stereo. Sure it is about fantasy, but as with any Kubrick movie it's grounded in reality. The main arch of the movie is in the sexual hangups and issues of jealously that can keep couples apart, but also about the secrecy of individual desire and its ability as a potent source of drive, potentially inciting even Alice to leave her family behind. It's about the suppression of those desires, the suppression of lust that Dr. Bill experiences particularly. This is one reason why I believe the edited version of this film to be one of the greatest sins of all of cinema. The entire film is about dead-end sexual frustration and failed conquests, and the movie climaxes in the middle of the film with an orgy, but the sex while completely decadent counterpoints his quests with its complete lifelessness and emotional detachment. The entire movie is a case of blue balls and the one release is so graphic yet cold, the images of sex are as meaningless as everything else. In the crime against humanity that is the edited version, you are denied the feeling of seeing humanity stripped naked in a stunted release, essentially neutering the entire message of the movie.

Kubrick seemingly throws in so many subliminal messages into the movie it's impossible to spot them all. The most obvious ones come with the hooker, with the 'introducing sociology' book and the newspaper that reads, 'lucky to be alive.' This is something Kubrick seems to have added to movie the movie fun and add to the opacity which is in line with its theme. Kubrick seems to want to you to play into the crisis of mystery his characters are having. This leads to the basic interpretation I've always had of the movie.

While deliberately ambiguous, I believe the story is as follows: Alice talks about art, which Sandor mentions he can help with. Though Alice is faithful to Dr. Bill at least on paper and in his eyes, she gives away a bit early in the movie by answering Sandor with a vague "maybe" during his attempt at sexual conquest. The dream she tells to Dr. Bill is also oddly specific. I believe she was at the party and possibly participated. A nanny is established in the movie, as well as Helena's mention of a watchdog which means her mom could have left her frightened and alone. Dr. Bill is unique in his trusting nature where as Alice sees this is a point of contention and jealously. She does not believe he does not have the same fantasies she does. This could be why she is crying at the end when Bill comes clean, where his misadventures and fantasies are still relatively quaint. Alice's friendship with with Ziegler could also give a plausible explanation for the mask on the bed. Adding to the weight of this, the acting in the sacrificial scene is so over the top I don't think Kubrick would allow it.

Thee picture ends fittingly reiterating the theme that the totality of their relationship and life experience is not defined by a night but also that fantasy (or dreams) are not necessarily meaningless and can be indicative of a person's true character. If the theory is correct I think it strengthen the film, outside of fun ambiguity, because it undercuts the fantasy elements and you're left with the raw emotional drive of its characters, with the rest of the happenings as an interesting backdrop. It could be about removing the barriers, removing the mask and simply seeing things as they are. Of course, you never know for sure, whether its a high powered sex cult or your significant other. But at the end of the movie it's well understood they're awake now. They're normal people but desire is strange motivator that leads you to the doorstep of a hooker with some crumbcake before the splash of water to the face that is hearing she has AIDS and seeing that maybe monogamy isn't the worst. And maybe the mysteriousness of the cult is curious enough without needing a murder story.

Asides

I love the woman with the recently-deceased father who attempts to throw herself at Bill, mainly for marrying a teacher who looks like a poorer, soap opera version of Tom Cruise. The scene is even lit like a soap except for Bill, who of course is only there to provide the perfect words and comfort to deal with loss that her boyfriend cannot.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Do Christians Enjoy Sex?

Andy Answers
The biggest lie Satan ever convinced us of was that he doesn’t exist. The biggest lie the atheist establishment ever sold was that us Christians don’t enjoy sex. But I’m here to convince you outside of The Word, it’s the thing we most enjoy. They call me square, and sure, as a cisgender male I prefer hetero-normative sexual behavior, raw-dogging only one female-born woman per marriage. This does not however mean, just because Christians are known for the rigorous missionary work, that our entire sexual realms are spent in the missionary position (though equally rigorous).

After a troubled youth, I graduated from youth group to youth group leader. It’s there I met ...let’s call her Claudette. For once, the tables were turned and I changed myself by vowing to change others in positions before me. After weeks in apprehensive silence, Claude confided to the group a most dark affliction, her desires and actions of a nymphomatic nature. The group gasped and groaned in horror. After the meet, I made it my specific duty to help her with this terrible illness. I took her aside and said, “Claudette, I know about your incredible lust and I personally am going to help you through this, day-by-day, inch-by-inch, minute-by-minute, I will be by your bedside. Or kitchen-side, or public park-side, or reststop-side.” She was a lovely lady only 17 years my junior, meaning that when I could be legally charged as an adult in my state, she was nothing more than a single spermatozoa creating the glint in her father’s eye. We decided to wed that very evening, vowing our love for each-other, and vowing change. A quick 26-hour round-trip road trip to Vegas later, we were spiritually and legally safe to copulate before the eyes of the lord.

But even before marriage, certain biological urges do persist. Claudette, before our engagement, was a prolific wearer of pants presumably from India known as “Yoga.” This is why we save ourselves for marriage. The first time I saw her butt, with the curvature not unlike the moon scenes in Kubrick’s 2001, I knew I had to be the First Man on it. I had to plant my stake in it. I had to go over the event horizon in through the blackhole and contemplate god’s grace enveloped in her specific clock in spacetime. And lost in the infinite blackless, of space and of its fabric, of those uber-black pants, I had this compulsion to make Space Jam. Her magnetism held great gravitational pull. There it stayed, ever-ready for a wormhole. Is that not how the Starchild is born? This great desire, burning, yearning, bubbling in the loins, ready to expel its baby-creation elixir like a white snowfall. Through divinity it melts hot unlike snow, and through the friction of passion, vaginal villages burn in embers as if lit by vicious vikings. It is no sin to consummate our marriage as such, forcefully love-making and pillaging the city of gold inside your wedded servant.

Yes, I am Christian. But if I am cut, do I not bleed? If I see butt, does not blood coagulate inside my pelvic hose as if it were bitten by the most potent venom of the deadliest rattlesnake? I was bitten, smitten with ordinary lust. All the repression, saving yourself for marriage. It’s there for a reason. Like a slingshot, you are spring-loaded, even literally, for the fateful night marked as ‘wedding day,’ marred by deep-seated psychological scars. Heathens, what they see in others is simply base sexual properties. Me, I have pure desire, I want to stare at a butt, disrobe it, photograph it, videograph it from every angle finally putting those geometry classes to use, inside and out, I want to view a livestream of a colonoscopy and feast my eyes on its rectal character similar to creatures and locations in Dune. I yearn to view firsthand with macro-mode photography and microscopic view the dreamscapes of porous hills with Claudette’s tiny blonde hairs enlarged and looking like the radiating waves of light emanating from the most saintly portraits of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Beads of sweat cover these dual moons, there as wet proof there is indeed life on Mars. I want to make my way to the crescent valley, the fireswamp of a darkness so deep you can see the stars of the night sky from there - even during the day. These are the images you get in a single instance in a moment of abstract sexual thought, when you have desires fully realized as they’re meant to be, not spoiled and gluing you to your bedsheets after your sixth consecutive Ariana Grande music video (Thank U, Next).


Women are not meant to be objectified. The ideal number of partners is one, or un-ideally for widowers, two. Only disgusting pigs need to bed several woman on Tinder like a meat market, those spoiled, past-due bratwursts disguised with spices of cheap perfume and Louis Vitton cellphone cases few straight men can resist. But resist we must, we salvage an eternity in the process. We are not womanizers like Christian Bale because never would a Christian Bail. Women were not meant to be passed around like buffet tongs. They were meant to be played like classical music, works of art, like a tuba, mouth on the bottom-hole and out comes the melancholic exasperation of ecstasy through the top hole. That’s love. That’s respect. Helping your wife put on her underwear after you make her temporarily unable to walk. That’s love. Making 69 Shades of Grey, because your home video project doesn’t need approval from E. L. James, and as long as there’s consent, you can have subject matter that would make Marquis De Sade blush. That’s respect.

Square Andy is a Christian, journalist, and recently unemployed

Monday, January 25, 2021

Christopher Nolan: The ‘That’s Clever’ Director

Christopher Nolan is the epitome of the That’s Clever director. Everyone knows and most acknowledge his strengths, so I’ll get that out of the way before this critique: he and his brother make a solid writing team, he’s visionary, his visual world-building and technical expertise is nearly unmatched, this all makes him one of the best prolific directors of the last 25 years, and his movies are interesting even when they fail, as they’re aiming high enough to make an engrossing spectacle.

Chris is brilliant but also boring, seemingly suffering from the same sort of issues as Alfred Hitchcock, in that his technical expertise didn’t necessarily correlate to strong story-telling. In Tenet, often called the most “Nolan” Nolan film, clearly all but his most devoted fans are going to have a problematic viewing experience. I wonder what motivates him. No one doubts Christopher Nolan is clever and can make a picture. I wonder if it’s as obvious and opaque as intellectual vanity. I question if Nolan’s real talent doesn’t lie more in marketing, not only of his movies, but of himself. Most care less about the movie promo than the fact he’s directed it, some refusing to watch trailers at all and having faith in the brand itself.

It’s clear from the critical and fan response people are less interested in his latest films. Tenet and Dunkirk’s most impressive accomplishment might be their exclusion in the IMDb top 250. If in the general population it’s well-understood Nolan is the holy grail, it stands to reason Nolan’s only remaining competition is Nolan, and hence the “most Nolan” praise (or criticism) is the natural conclusion as we reach Total Nolan: a Nolan film only Nolan himself, if that, can appreciate. It’s a real possibility. Tarkovsky, often touted as Russia’s Kubrick, created an almost entirely personal and autobiographical film titled The Mirror—it’s meditative and visual qualities make it a curious watch but the disconnect of the performer-audience relationship makes it vacuous. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nolan’s next project is similar, to try to tackle the lack of emotion and sterility of most of his films and try to capture a personal story and nostalgia through his rigorous use of time manipulation and precision. Undeservedly, he’s overlooked by the Academy, but also I understand a reluctance toward movies that appear indifferent to and detached from audiences. Part of this is explained in a brilliant YT video titled “Christopher Nolan’s Exposition Problem,” pointing out the dialogue in his movies often deadens the story-telling, leaving you nowhere to wonder, spelling out every minute detail before you can question it yourself.

 There’s often a missing human element. This divide is the pronounced difference between story-driven and character-driven movies. In being exercises in cleverness, I don’t care for the characters in The Prestige, Tenet, or Inception. They are no different than human set-pieces, the machinations necessary for enabling more stunning visuals. Even in Dunkirk there’s a detachment, each character and their motivations seems randomized and anonymous, and I recognize some value in depicting the valuelessness and facelessness in a war story. Do you care about Cobb seeing his kids, or Cobb seeing his kids allowing you to see some cool shit? Most people are so immersed in only the spectacle they fail to see the target in Inception is actually Cobb, years after its release. And yes, in that there’s a depth of cleverness, but that’s it. It doesn’t enhance the characters themselves or nor does it hint at anything profound. It simply makes it a better crossword puzzle, a better celluloid escape room, a better $10,000 puzzle box to solve on Youtube.


If Chris Nolan films were Youtube videos

Of course, any mention of Nolan that doesn’t acknowledge his material as next to godliness seems to inspire groveling fanboy backlash. But this criticism’s only aim is to offer alignment in how his work is perceived. The Kubrick comparisons are ludicrous. Yes, in a world with an increasingly diminished capacity for attention span the appeal is understandable. But this surface-level reaction does seem for people who haven’t seen a lot of films. You can’t have seen the story-telling efforts of Kieslowski, Kurosawa, Bergman, Miyazaki, Tarkovsky, and look at them in the same way. The antithesis of his work is probably 80s Albert Brooks movies, seeing the world through small subjects and keen insights on interpersonal relationships—an atomic approach to story-telling which is somehow more ambitious and telling. This is the counterpoint to Nolan’s galactic, bigger-picture approach where characters are tertiary. Perhaps that’s why they don’t completely work. When humans are secondary, and the zoomed-out, cosmic take of story-telling is in the foreground, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s so much we don’t know the only acceptable substitute might be the mysterious. So, by comparison, in 2001 you have the ambiguity of the stargate and the starchild, and with Interstellar you have the incredible tesseract setpiece and visual experience juxtaposed with the unfortunate voiceover of a robot explaining everything, an otherworldly sequence with the human element shoehorned in. This accessibility also placates the human desire for easy answers. It’s almost as if Nolan would be better if he picked a side, instead having a foot in either world. But with this pretense there are such high ambitions, the risk of failure is equally high.

To paraphrase James Watson: In order to break new ground you are almost by definition unqualified to do so.

And that’s my main criticism. With Tenet all his flaws become ever-more apparent. I mean, it’s so bare-bones and indifferent to anything but story mechanics the main character is simply called protagonist. That’s my takeaway for most Nolan films: "Well, that was clever." But that’s it. And that’s fine. But I would love to see his technical expertise in conveying visual events applied to psychological mood and human emotion like Scorsese did in Taxi Driver, or Demme in Silence of the Lambs, or Elem Klimov in Come and See. This too is a relevant factor in technical mastery. Or the use of subtlety and ambiguity like in 2001, the films of P.T. Anderson, Blade Runner, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, etc.. And as I’ve seen the director in recent times since lockdowns swept the world, he’s moving away from Amish attitudes toward media and embracing fans through podcasts and delving into the joys of cynicism by bashing HBO Max and fighting the death of cinema. I await him conspiring for artistic control and against the studios and finally being the fully-realized, god-tier director decades of hype have crowned him.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The media-industrial complex

With the possible exception of access to nuclear codes there’s no greater threat than the media-industrial complex. It’s the commodification of the exchange of information. When you introduce a profit motive into speech it becomes tainted from a negligible to an incalculable degree. Whether it’s a dialogue about morals or objective relaying of factual information in journalistic reporting, a profit motive adds compromise. Some are driven to do the right thing for their own well-being and for social currency. This social currency can also be a compromised form of exchange. 

Much of the mainstream media left long ago from subscription models to advertising models. Television programs then required strict oversight and plotting. Opinions and topics got reduced to bite-size bits of vitriolic information that could be consumed in five minutes between eight commercials. This also means generally a program couldn’t insult the hands that feed them or even their sensibilities. This meant the subjects of adverts could not be criticized, and speech was generally watered down to avoid vulgarity and controversial topics. Eventually this became the online model.

The other aspect to this is social media. Of course it’s not seen as media, but it is. Everyone with a camera has become a citizen journalist. News stories break out on Twitter before legacy media has a chance to cover them. Much can be said over the endless polarization and contention found on said platforms. But this makes sense. In a world where 20 years ago mass communication was non-existent, now people video conference with others halfway around the world regularly, compete with each other in video games, and hangout together in virtual reality as it is monitored under the deafening faps of Mark Zuckerberg. Of course there were meant to be some growing pains during the meeting of the minds of billions of people, a stark contrast of violent opposition before the inevitable homogenization. That’s not even its biggest problem. 

The problem is work life and private life used to be separated. Social media brought about a social credit score, and a literal one in China. What people believe privately, socially, is now under the influence, too. Unbeknownst to many, algorithms are designed to maximize engagement, as social media platforms also exist because of a profit motive in advertising revenue. This leads to polluted opinions that tend to echo chambers and even more far-reaching extremes, and this subsequent vitriolic rage exists in a symbiotic cycle, of personal opinion, citizen journalism, and mainstream media, all driven by the limitless need for revenue generation. These social media monopolies of course have a legal obligation to create profits for their shareholders under the false assumption of infinite growth. This horror is further exacerbated and corrupting by the subliminal use of influencers. 

The things that can be so easily ruined by money can be solved when we value them. Until then I believe we’re in a dangerous fog, clouding our judgment and creating an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia that pits people against each other. I don’t see an impetus for #integrity to trend or go viral. Generally, that happens after the disaster it could have prevented. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

What’s at the End of the Rabbit Hole?

..
This is the answer to all life’s questions and the meaning of life. You took the red pill and thought to yourself, maybe actors aren’t the moral arbiters or the shaman of our time. But that’s the start. What is there at the end of the rabbit hole, the very end of that long, winding, and darkened road. Let’s say at the end of everything there is a room toward the back with a wall of black static, or a well that echoes infinitely, where you will never hear your coin drop nor have its wish come true. It’s an abyss where as Frederick Nietzsche stated, if you gaze into it long enough it will gaze back into you.

You have some trepidation about approaching the void, touching it, putting on the godhead and experiencing its infinite wisdom. Is it a black hole, is it enlightenment, do you become God herself? Philosophically, it must exist... an answer.

You wondered how it all began.
“Maybe it always was.”
You ask the purpose.
“There isn’t one.”
You ask the meaning.
“But that’s a matter of perception and you are to ascribe your own.”
Is it God?
“No, nor would it matter.”
Then why?
“Why not.”
“So what should I do?” you think.

You go back to the best words ever written: “I think, therefore I am.” These are the words that define consciousness. It’s how you are aware you’re alive. It’s how you were able to contemplate your own existence. And what better way to contemplate your existence than to consider it in light of its opposite. Life is brought into contrast by its opposite of death. The only question philosophers Albert Camus and Alan Watts believed important to ask is whether one should live or not live. Or as an oversimplification of Camus puts it, the choice between suicide and having a cup of coffee. This is the ground floor of the nature of reality. Those reading this are enjoying their existential cup of coffee. If life is a good thing, you’re healthy enough to enjoy contemplating it. If it’s a bad thing, you’re deranged and distracted enough to read these words instead of a more noble pursuit like jumping off your local water tower.

Why

So you’re alive. You currently inclined to live and to stay alive for the immediate future. Not only that, as we have established, you are conscious. Lucky you. Then the next question you might have is how to live. But what causes consciousness to operate. That relates to why you are. That brings up the question of free will. Are your actions your own or are they predetermined? Nature and nurture come to mind first. Biological nature is deterministic to some degree. If you have blue eyes, or red hair, or black skin, or you’re 5’11”. Genetic predisposition to certain behaviors have been shown to exist. You can inherit behavioral modifiers such as sleeping habits, addictive behavior, or mental illness. And maybe this makes sense. We often separate body and mind. But the mind is the brain, a physical part of the body to be formed through genetic happenings like the rest of you, and if your parents have some defect perhaps that is encoded within you through the replication involved in biological reproduction. If this is a hard sell, consider someone with a fear of heights or snakes. The nerves of those instincts are predetermined and point to a wide implication of genetic influence over behavior. The other aspect of who you become is nurture, where you are a product of your environment. So far as we know, we are born without choosing our environment, our parents or lack thereof, or our surroundings. Our experiences are very much shaped by all the people around us and the inventions and actions of people the world over. The free will question may never be answered definitively, but keeping this perspective on nature and nurture in mind, we can deduce our actions are in the least highly influenced by our environment and our genetics.



What I’m trying to say is if you were born into an Aboriginal tribe in Australia, it seems very unlikely you would end up in a life trajectory that closely resembled that of Amanda Bynes, and that’s probably a good thing. If you were raised by militants to be a child soldier from birth and taught all the world’s problems were because of a particular race of people, it seems to reason that sort of conditioning is not easily overcome. Genetics and the influence of other people hold a big part in how someone sees the world. You may see yourself as individualistic, and believe even that in same position as a child you would think for yourself, put down the gun, and reject evil. But this would assume figuring how to live wouldn’t be predicated on the foremost instinct which is survival. This comes before you can even have that cup of coffee and contemplate the validity of life at your school’s Think For Yourself workshop. You must ensure your survival, and here you are a young child soldier holding a Kalashnikov rifle and all you know are your elders were smart enough to survive thus far, taught you to apply Band-Aids, and now they’re telling you that the Jews are a huge existential threat. Now if you kept that same child in a single room from birth and only showed him Harry Potter films and told him they were documentaries, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to believe wizards exist. And this applies to people’s belief in gods, absurd conspiracies, or generally anything where evidence is absent. Sometimes misguided beliefs have dire consequences. This implicates it’s counterproductive and wrong to blame the wrong. This isn’t to say doing wrong should be absolved, rather understood.

“Everything people talk about with regard to magic is absolutely true, as long as you understand it is happening inside people’s minds.”
Alan Moore

How

The other driving force in the how people live is their basic necessities. That is simple. Food, water, sleep, and safety. The rest are conveniences. But as a conscious person, are there social and mental needs? You don’t need to reproduce to live. You don’t need socialization to exist. You don’t even need to be mentally sound to be alive if you are in safe circumstances... such as a mental asylum. From the nurture perspective, infants are said to die without physical nourishment, though I’m not sure who would conduct such an experiment. After their infancy humans are capable of being emotionally self-sufficient, although stressors of social isolation certainly have a negative impact without some proper form of stimulation. There is also the questions of how well humans could survive alone without the comforts of human invention and entertainment, as its easier to pass the time with electricity, books, and music. Safety could mean shelter or clothing to protect from the elements, what keeps your body functioning, or anything that would impede your ability to get fed. Still, it raises an important question. As a mentally sound, physically healthy, conscious person on an infinite timeline, in a safe, stresser-free environment, with limitless food, water, and sleep, what would be the motive to do anything after breakfast? After accounting for the obligations and social relations unique to your life, the only answer is boredom. That is the burden of the conscious mind. The baseline for its alleviation is thought. That is the same need for stimulation spoken of before. Maybe you wake up in the morning and you don’t yet have thirst or hunger, or maybe you do: “I am awake. I think, therefore I am. Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” Boredom is the one disease there is no cure for. It is only placated and sustained in the long-term by novelty. It wants an infinite wave of things to see, sense, hear, taste, smell, consider, or otherwise experience. I believe the motivator of boredom is another key to understanding human behavior.

Sigmund Freud coined the pleasure principle which generally described people as moving toward pleasure and away from pain. It’s easy to think of counter-examples when you consider why people trek Everest or suspend their bodies from piercing hooks. But this is too can be described and dismissed by a less precise and understood pain known as psychic pain. Most people are familiar with the many types of psychic pain. There’s sadness, anger, frustration, humiliation. There’s a pain in anxiety and feelings of futility. There’s a pain of not knowing and even a pain in knowing. The person at the foot of the mountain may be driven by a lack of accomplishment. The person pierced by hooks may be driven to overcome their fear of physical pain. Boredom is the ever-present and most benign psychic pain. Again it’s alleviated only by thought, or distraction, or that other survival essential: the mystery that is sleep. A more extreme form might be the kind which drives a person to a career of physically-risky deadly stunts over a more safe but potentially more psychically distressing dead-end job.

Now that the essentials of survival have been described, what could go wrong and how they interplay needs to be examined, because those factors can influence how you live. Your need to eat can be challenged by scarcity of animals or crops. Your need to drink is predicated on access to fresh water. Both can lead to difficulties if you are competing for food or water with other people or tribes. You can guess your safety is going to be compromised, which it is already by your need for shelter and clothing to protect you from the elements. Even doing nothing can challenge your physical health by putting it into a state of entropy. You need a sound mind to navigate this to avoid injury or illness and ensure your survival. You have a lot of work cut out for you often times, depending on how you fare in the birth lottery, before you even have the privilege of the great luxury of thought that is as boredom. So imagine you are in a pre-civilized environment where food is scarce, and the locations for freshwater are rare and contested by others, with volatile elements that trade between frigid cold and smoldering heat, where the threat of death looms from other people, wild animals, and invisible infectious disease. How you behave under these conditions may be affected. In light of survival in some situations, notions of good or evil and right and wrong may become secondary or superfluous considerations. Of course in Western societies, today the equivalent might be a retail stampede on Black Friday where two people barely removed genetically from bonobos fight over a discounted coffeemaker. The reality of the scarcity is different, the survival instinct is the same.


It seems many people consider themselves distinct from cavemen and the animals they’re ancestors of. Perhaps at our best we are comparatively as gods in what we can accomplish. We have people who can create the general theory of relativity and then we have people who marry their cousins. To my point, Einstein did both. We elevate ourselves above animals for inventions like nuclear energy with the potential to aid and sustain life, while ignoring the dangerous by-products of this supposed progress like nuclear weapons that threaten to end all life. We champion modern lives of separation, relative containment, social sterility, and mental illness over the tried and tested archetypal environments of tightly-knit, self-sufficient communities. We take pride in dominion over the animal kingdom when we don’t have dominion over ourselves. We’re the only animal species so far threatening the planet’s habitability through the misuse of chemical elements or the destruction of the atmosphere. And that’s not a stance on either nuclear weaponry nor climate change, rather a critique of our meddling and experimentation in those fields when the growth in our ability to reason is far outweighed by our growth in increasingly unwieldy technology.

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”
Edward O. Wilson

Choice

Again under the presumption of free will, your behavior is further curtailed by social pressures and customs. Your rights end where another’s begin. This could range from personal harm to the view of a skyline from your patio window. They are cultivated by legal ramifications. What you say or do can get you fired and hence cost you the ability to provide you and your dependents with basic necessities. This is all being said in service of the idea that if free will exists, at best, it has enormous caveats. Your behavior is not wholly your own. Even the freest man is subject to circumstances beyond his control. The hobbies and interests you hold generally are born of things that came before: from cars to careers, to the language and oil paints you use to express your rugged individualism.

The most essential determining factor in how people live can be reduced to binary. What’s being alluded to is choices. You can weigh the ins-and-outs of choices indefinitely, and sometimes you are chosen for by inaction. Decisions are generally brought on by the aforementioned pleasure principle and how it relates to a personal cost-benefit analysis. Many assume morality plays a big role in the decision-making process. This sounds true enough. But there’s more to consider here. Certainly there are circumstances which would lead a person to do things immoral because of considerations out of their control. A simple example is a lack of education. If you lack an education you might connect dots and force correlations that don’t fit, as a stopgap measure may be preferable to nothing. It could be something as simple as not trusting the powerful, or as complex as believing in a god-like entity who is greater than yourself. This missing, incomplete, or completely misguided information could lead to wrong or immoral decisions.

A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
Hunter S. Thompson

But why would someone have an inclination toward good, anyway? Perhaps your inclination is the result of living in a bubble. You were raised in a healthy society by loving parents and you found people to be generally agreeable and kind and trustworthy, so your environment caused you to respond in a way that was reciprocal and mutually rewarding. Now imagine you are the child soldier born into a war-torn country, with the menace of invisible drones raining destruction, where survival is day-to-day, and theft, deceit, animosity and violence are the generally accepted forms of social exchange. If you experience predominantly pain and despair, to you the idea of generosity and morality may seem like a foreign concept or a sick joke. This is the inverse view of the way of the cooperative world, where people of peace are weak victims ready for the taking, and anyone kind is naive, gullible, and delusional. In the societies that operate this way misbehavior is good behavior, and it is not reprimanded but rewarded.

There seems to be a misguided notion of an innate human propensity to love or do good, where in a world without scarcity of survival mechanisms there is no motive for conflict. I would argue this would still not be the case, as conflict would occur for the sake of novelty if nothing else. People get along in large part as a function of self-preservation. If you rock the boat, you yourself might get knocked overboard. Self-preservation is often conflated with some innate camaraderie among men. It is a function of survival and safety. There are certainly clear distinctions between what is moral and what is immoral and how those words are taken and examined. What is yet to be seen is whether this matters. As a person raised in a loving environment and kind society, with enough free time to contemplate the grand implications of my actions, immoral behavior is revolting. Had I been raised in a society where human life was not valued however, or brainwashed by extremists, I could see myself as the nihilistic child soldier shooting indiscriminately and dispassionately. Imagine going up to the child who has suffered the loss of family and friends, who has seen unspeakable horror and the destruction of his community, who has been taught to hate “the other” since as long as he could comprehend, where no kind of future exists, and saying, “Just do good and good things will come.” It sounds almost sadistic. Hope and good are not part of vocabulary of the dispossessed. For some who have lived a horrible reality most couldn’t imagine, physically and psychically, who’s to say rehabilitation is even possible.

Of course there’s a massive distinction between right and wrong. Right means to end wrongs. The problem occurs in defining what is right and what is wrong. One could argue, all life invariably leads to suffering, and therefore the moral and just thing to do is to end it and promote the destruction of all life by any means necessary. It’s probable humankind inevitably finds its way to another genocide, famine, or ecological ruin. Is that worth it so you can scroll YouTube comments and listen to the Taylor Swift in the interim? Possibly, but who’s to say. Maybe the right thing is to listen to those television shows we love so much and walk hand-in-hand into one final midnight. Who’s to say consciousness isn’t a needless nuisance with no inherent meaning, an interruption to the comparative slumber and guaranteed peace of nothingness. Now this is taking it dark turn, but you read the title. This is merely the product of excessive thought and an examination of life in contrast to death, and a contemplation of the potential rational conclusions. It may not be pretty to modern and sophisticated sensibilities. As Albert Camus said, “It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end.” To not acknowledge the human desire for the end of all things may be the delusional privilege of the fraction of society who dance on the platform the rest of society maintains and carries, if it exists at all.


What do you do when you’ve thought enough and you find yourself at the end of the abyss, where you find a well and wish your hopes and dreams upon it and it whispers nothing in return? You can’t avoid nature. You can’t avoid nurture. Free will as we know it is dubious at best. All the immoral people you disagree with are all products of circumstances out of their control. Yes, even Karen. Well, you should do good whatever the total sum of your upbringing and life experience have bestowed on you. My answer is more dark, or perhaps more forgiving. I believe people collectively decide. If people want war, let them have war. How can the combined total collective life experience of the earth be wrong? How could any one person have the audacity to hold another person’s life experience as invalid? But this applies to every individual and the inverse is also fair. This applies to the proportionate or disproportionate response your actions inspire. If people want peace, let there be peace. All one can do is push society not in the right direction, but in that direction your life experience has led you to believe is most acceptable to you and your personal sense of what’s just, equitable, or simply entertaining. If the moral majority is a silent and inactive majority, unwilling to act in their own interest for social, financial, or safety fears, their effective output remains inline and favorable to their opposition. Some believe their being on “the right side of history” is so self-evident, it’s self-fulfilling and does not require their skin in the game.

Duality

The people who choose coffee over suicide seem to often wonder out loud how to be about their person. They may aim to be their best selves. I’m reminded of the myth of Sisyphus, more importantly its interpretation by Camus, and the only solution sounds fatalistic. You don’t try too hard and fight the fates life bestowed upon you, and find pleasure through scorn if fate has forsaken you. The fate of Sisyphus was being sentenced to the endless repetition of pushing a boulder up a hill. It echoes of daily life, its basic, simple needs, left with the freedom of thought and freedom from boredom as we cope with our daily burden. Achieving contentment through hell is more a success than inhabiting heaven itself. To quote directly, “The higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks.” Because if Elon Musk is a genius, why doesn’t he realize all things are ultimately futile and take the enlightened path of sleeping all day? If we all become capable of space travel it will be awe-inspiring, but inevitably it wouldn’t be impressive anymore, just like airplanes don’t much impress anyone now as they’ve always been around and they’re omnipresent. Once we crossed the ocean, we wanted outerspace, when we conquer outerspace, we’ll want to see outer-outerspace. Everything finds an equilibrium. Again, Camus, “One always finds one’s burden again.”

In civil societies those who gravely misbehave are put into prisons. Ideally, they’re not for punishment, rather to impede their antisocial behavior so people are safe to pursue their pleasure-seeking lives unhindered. The health of a society might be most well-judged by how it treats its criminals. People put into solitary confinement are said to lose their minds. But if you lose your mind in solitary confinement, that sounds like a mind that is working properly. You would be insane to behave normal in such a situation. This scenario seems to point out in stark contrast the situational and reflexive nature of the mind. In a sick society, the sane are sick, and in what’s broken there’s no frame of reference for what’s fixed.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Another thing that said about prison is inmates get used to it. If change is possible, normality is malleable. As people fluctuate between states they can reach what is a “new normal.” It seems many believe some achievement can be obtained from which the rest of their life will be satisfaction. This is false. And in this sense, heaven is another prison you get used to. How many harps can you listen to before you need a second and a third, or to reinvent the harp itself? What’s the best buffet in heaven? How much ecstasy is too much? Is it still heaven if I can’t stand the color of my neighbor’s cloud? There would be no reason to think, do or feel in a permanent state of complete satisfaction. Part of what sustains joy is the endless pursuit. There’s always a new want. A new milestone. High-minded individuals at their most ambitious claim to want to explore the stars. When all the planets are inhabited and the stars explored, there will be a new far-reaching set of things to know and learn. The most truly remarkable thing we could find as the result of discovery might also be the most unfortunate, an end.

This all plays into the dynamics of social behavior. There is a pattern. Author John Gray believes Western Civilization is heavily predicated by the liberal philosophies of Socrates and Plato, that put forth a faith that progress will lead to some inevitable virtuous end. He correctly identifies the myth of progress. Perhaps he understands things don’t progress so much as they transform, and the conception of what’s “better” always has trade-offs and is subjective and opaque. Intelligence and wisdom is framed around rationality. But how do you gauge what is the intelligent action to take in a reality where rationality and its counterpart of purpose are thin? For example, even if one wholly disavows religious belief, it could still be rationally understood and justified as a meditation, a resignation to the unknowable, without the delusion of scientific progress that eventually some distinctive answer will be found.

It can’t be denied though that the interplay between what’s rational and what isn’t creates odd conviction in people. It’s understood many want what they can’t have. What you can’t have has intrigue and value. What you know you can have generally doesn’t have the satisfaction of anticipation. It speaks to the satisfaction of struggle and the potency of desire. It speaks to an indifference to destinations, where instead of means to an end, there’s more value in the means. “The pursuit of happiness” is an important phrase because it implies there is no end, and that happiness is in the pursuit. That abstract idea of happiness could be nothing more than bearing witness between feelings of hope and despair, that even an endless bout of gains itself could invariably become unsatisfactory in its grey repetition and lead to a limiting mental entropy.


In other words, opposing ideas can both be right. It certainly is apparent in irony, which when done right appears to evoke the richest response in the human spirit. Progress is a myth because it implies a singular destination we are to arrive at, because the narrative fallacy is simpler to understand, our imagined destinies and lives become a story instead of seeing the world as a system of processes. For what purpose for your life could there be, brought on by your own belief or by God, that wouldn’t be completely anti-climatic?

What to do

It always returns to existence and non-existence, coffee and suicide. Even coffee is bitter. When weighing the scales how does not one see the futility and give in to the toxic allure of pessimism and the nihilism? Some suggest that the proper way to be about the world is to find what you enjoy, become addicted, immerse yourself totally. To the extent one can shape an honest narrative to life, a healthy one might be to see it as a playground of experience. If you have a life of cynicism with a laser focus on the inevitability of loss, and the death and destruction that comes with it, this position is no less valid. It exists. Yet all true nihilists are dead. To continue to exist itself justifies life’s usefulness. The error many make is confusing a purpose to life with a great purpose to life. The latter doesn’t exist. But having a meaning to existence is as simple as knowing one person or thing that still has meaning to you.

Yet all the meaning in the world doesn’t erase the cognizance of the dichotomy between the appreciation of even the mundane aspects of life and accepting of the irrationality and ultimate futility of a continued existence. The ebb and flow between what is depressive and mania describe the polarities in bipolar disorder. Their likely isn’t a narrative or a secret to a fulfilling life. Yet if you understand the polarities you may be more likely to approach it from a place of peace. By the same token, the true use of wisdom and rationality could be a full and complete embrace of the irrational. It’s easy to call the schizophrenic shaman taking drugs in a South America jungle “crazy,” but there’s a chance he uses the same term to describe an insurance salesman in Iowa who spends 40 years of his life filing claims.

In addition to human duality, the companion piece for understanding is the arguably grotesque notion of tolerance. Good and evil, love and hate, are admittedly words with baggage and of a supernatural quality. While fair use for expression, they don’t take into account what is, if not a lack of free will, the completely impressionable nature of human beings and the permanency of their genetics. This includes an objective understanding of unwelcome behaviors, as well as the responses to them which might include incarceration or a disproportionate retaliation. People isolate those who would do evil unto them or others they care about, ideally dispassionately. This is not a suggestion, this is what humans do under government. We are tolerant of criminal behavior, in that we have made no preemptive measures to stop it and are forced to accept it. Vengeance is always an option, but that starts a tit-for-tat retribution cycle that only exacerbates, continues, and amplifies harm. It may be helpful to look at all people the same way, with tolerance, understanding their misbehavior in proper context, and meeting it with an aim of justice instead of hostility.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The minds darkest recesses are illuminated by the terrifying and seldom-used willingness to question. Many go on about freedom and yet refuse to exercise it in the one place it’s possible: their own minds. Outside, it’s akin to a current, the movement convincing us our actions are useful and unique, but at most contributing to a general sway. If life can be ground to the binary of black and white, people should be understood for their decisions without ceding consequence, whether it’s considered progressive or regressive, mean or kind, whether they are victims of coffee or suicide. In death, one should agree it’s paramount the individual has final say in the sum result of their psychic and physical pain. In life, those with a perceived net-benefit, awareness involves the recognition of duality and extreme contrast, understanding this balancing act is the most fulfilling.

In meaning, whether your inclination is a religious one or not, its hard not to argue religious stories and philosophy as well as myths at the very least began in the spirit of scientific discovery, ways to understand and explain the world and our surroundings. In a world where the more progressive nations are increasingly secular, there is increased confusion and cognitive dissonance. Some would chose to disavow society’s building blocks for what they’ve gotten wrong, or how they’ve decayed, instead of the right impulse, which in most cases is to build upon and reform as needed. But this is all under the pretense that the collective wants what it says it wants. What we truly want is what we stand for with enough tenacity to make into reality, or what we accept through indifference and passivity. What we ultimately decide will be forgiven, forgotten, celebrated, or hated all the same. Although progress is myth, myths have guided us before, and it is most entertaining route thus far.

Myths are comforting, but if you can afford it, in navigating the rabbit hole, the abyss, the pit of self, the heart of darkness, there comes a visceral, renewed appreciation. Its the difference between taking comfort from a system versus knowing how a system works and how to repair it. There is peace even through terror if you understand its machinations. For those who take interest in life, they are served best riding the wave between hope and despair, the rational and irrational. Even a scientifically-inclined mind won’t have a fully crystallized picture of reality without too equal parts engagement and deference to the absurd.

* *

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Actions and opposing reactions (What I learned ca. 2016)

What I learned ca. 2016 is a lot of my opinions, like so many others, are not fixed or static, they are reactive or oppositional. This sounds like a flaw. For most it is a flaw. For those who understand this one simple trick, it can be a feature.

At a root level I cannot trust anyone who says they’re aware they have biases. Political commentator Ben Shapiro is one of these people. Sam Harris believes he’s aware of his biases and has hence conquered them. If you’re aware of a bias however, and yet you make no attempt to change your opinion or instead establish a non-opinion on a subject, you are arguing in bad faith. Unfortunately nuance doesn’t sell as well, but claiming bias will not absolve you.

Reactionary takes are a key attribute in bad faith arguments. So many times political parties exhibit behavior that enters into the territory of a role reversal. Liberals were proud hedonists arguing hard for the free expression of art as little as 20 years ago, now they are near Victorian in their policing of people’s mildest sexual behaviors, and conservatives are carrying the torch in favor of free speech. The reason for this, and it exists on both sides, glibly put, is they are not real people, as much as they are people who’s characteristics are defined by the actions of others, what they disagree with, and what they are not.

There may be a good excuse. 2016 was a peculiar year for Americans, and an illuminating one for anyone willing to look beyond the narrative. Many were surprised by a reality TV star being elected president. There were a key indications then to a more informed observer for his viability. There was no signage, support, or enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee. The fact an entertainer was polling or even nominated. The echo chambers and bubbles keeping cities detached from more rural areas. The telling signs of a political shift in Europe and Brexit specifically.

And in the aftermath of November 9th, comedians became politicians and politicians became comedians, both unintentionally and both incompetently. What I learned as someone who had written much satire and absurd comedy was, around that time, comedy became uninteresting. Certainly it wasn’t good from Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, all these comedians turned political hacks. But even the people who were actually funny didn’t have much to say. You cannot satirize a society that satirizes itself. There were too many bumbling headlines of governmental irony and failure to consume. You could just read a headline from reality that sounded like it was written by The Onion but were the genuine actions of a political system ran by a celebrity reality entertainer, those dumb enough to get behind him, and the endless whines of his opposition. All the opposition needed to do to beat the Republican administration was to state their alarm, and then continue reporting objectively, even if what they saw as a clown show occasionally got something right. This turned out to be too much of a task for persons posing as journalists. Instead, they cried wolf every time someone that they didn’t like even misspoke, which is the real world equivalent of the person online who points out typos. Comedians blamed Trump for behaving in the very way their ideas and culture enabled, and pundits overplayed their hand of a having a half-inch of moral high ground.

What I learned is what much of what is comedy is predicated on subversion. Comedy became uninteresting when reality becomes more scary, but especially as that simultaneously approaches the absurd. I doubt there were any good routines when the guards weren’t looking at Auschwitz. And amid this insanity and incompetence of leadership and equal incompetence of journalism, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, someone being funny is never as funny as someone being serious and failing.

In 2015-16, & the timeline and events leading up, led to a switching of interests and saw the podcast of this website rendered largely defunct. It learned me an important lesson on reactionary behavior and how we behave in society’s context. Society is very sick when what’s funny isn’t funny anymore, when people doing group therapy sessions are called comedians (I won’t name Hannah Gatsby or Chris Gethard), when even the best comedians can’t seem to remove themselves from social and political commentary, and when comedians can’t make a joke with good faith from an audience who will separate the subject of a joke from the target of a joke.

Everyone relatively funny knows political correctness kills comedy, as comedy is the only artform capable of amplifying and thriving on failure, but also the most difficult to craft to perfection with its razor thin margin of error on the tightrope of irony. It kills comedy because so much of comedy is merely thinking out loud, and the failures and perverse incentives of the reptilian brain that come with it. Places like Twitter and Reddit are cesspools of taking the least generous interpretation of an opinion or a joke because, unfortunately, in writing you lose the comedic cues that comes with inflection. And if you write /sarcasm at the end of every joke, you’re not doing comedy well enough and cushioning the blow. Further muddling things is the inclusion of a social reward system for virtue or only its signaling with no checks and balances.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton


What I learned is how deeply everything is context-dependent. If a system is running perfectly you’ll be bored and want to shake it up. If subversion is mainstream, the then subversive will become square. If the social current of society and its functions are innately and unintentionally hilarious, comedy is for the unimaginative. And this even may to some degree explain the seeming cognitive dissonance of hack reactionary political opinions and positioning. In the absence of any other inputs, the prime motivator for human action will be boredom. In people who view the world in binary terms, in the absence of a target for their tribal rage, or a competitor in which to contrast their own beliefs, they are no longer able to define themselves and have no self-identity.

So simplistic is the black and white thinking of some, they cannot function not only without creating an enemy, but without creating their own personality traits in tit-for-tat exchange with those persons. These people are human paper who in the absence of enemies will create enemies where none exists, failing to see the enemy in themselves. They are made human and only the illusory sense, exhibiting self-righteous anger receiving a high from slaying their made-up villains not much different from Star Wars Kid. The more sophisticated will understand this societal sway, and push back without a reform of an opinion, and exhibit a reactionary change only to the extent new attitudes inform theirs.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

An Analysis of 1stPersonApproacher: The Internet’s Favorite Creep

Meet First Person Approacher
Believe it or not, there’s a person on the internet who uses it to engage in ethically questionable behavior. His name is 1stPersonApproacher. His platform is YouTube. He’s informed by pickup artists. His goal is women. He arms himself with only a bike, a helmet, a GoPro, and his heart on his sleeve. He appears to be a middle-aged man in a small, somewhat quaint town located within the United Kingdom.

It’s all in the name: he makes videos of himself in first person and he approaches women. His approaches are both uncomfortable and hysterical. Uncomfortable in that social awkwardness, forced conversation, and silence usually is. And as Michael Cera’s career would inform this can be funny. And funnier still, because a pre-planned, pickup artist template of, “I know this is spontaneous...” to open up dozens of contrived conversations with strangers is viscerally ironic. His woeful repeated attempts are meditations on failure. He is often featured and the focal point of Reddit’s Cringe forum.

The man is at least somewhat self-aware. He knows he may come off as a creep and he plays into it. He knows he’s not good. But he’s trying. They say to try. And try he does. And fail he does. Perhaps he has a troubled past. Perhaps he’s on the spectrum. But I’m not sure he’s actually doomed or rather a victim of self-perpetuating doom, who, having convinced himself he can’t win, creates these performative interactions instead of trying to create real connections with people. It’s almost as if he’s outside himself. The irony of 1stPerson is that he interacts and sometimes refers to himself in the third person.

Then there’s the question of ethics. Many people on comment threads seem unnerved by some of his behavior, including myself. They write about him like he’s Joker evolving into power. And there are  undoubtedly red flags. But a friend brought up good points:

He’s trying to pick up like you would in a pub
Unlike a pub, both people are 100% sober
The entire interaction is basically on bodycam
He does not persist when rejected
He does not touch
He’s not salacious
He does not catcall or harass
He does this in very public places

The worst he does, aside from being pathologically awkward, is post the videos of his interactions online. It is legal to film in public. Posting the images of strangers is morally questionable if not legally. Unfortunately, when captioning the videos he also uses a lot of the lingo and the terminology gleaned from the pickup artist community. For example in Robert Greene’s book Seduction he often refers to his romantic conquests as prey. He also runs with the negative descriptions of him with what appears to be a morbid sense of humor.

It seems his real sin is he is an anxious, socially inept, neurotic mess who decided, however disastrously, to throw caution to the wind and catalog and scientifically analyze his social fortunes and failures. The thing about the Cringe subreddit and seeing someone at their worst, through pain, rejection, and failure, is if nothing else, it does tend to humanize them. Sure, 1stPersonApproacher is robotic and freezes up during social interaction, but similar are many of the bog standard, NPC-like reactions he receives. But people aren’t unique, they’re mostly predictable in their behaviors and desires. And in that space of uncomfortable interaction they are made real, real human, and these social car crashes are made real compelling to watch.

Generally I’m of the position we should give people the most generous and charitable interpretation of their actions when insufficient evidence to the contrary is available. And with that said, I am not with a chorus of content-hungry persons who want cringe and carnage, who may want this human being to have a psychotic break. Rather, I want to see him win. Like someone beginning a new hobby they’re terrible at. If it’s archery, get a bullseye. If it’s pottery, make a nice vase. If it’s women, I want to see him finally talk to one who understands his idiosyncrasies and helps and turn them into strengths, and they grow together in a way that’s not superficial, like most his interactions are, or like his intentions may be. Or if he’s incapable, I hope he comes to that understanding and moves on.