Movie review (caution: spoilers)

I just saw “World’s End” again. It’s the third in a trilogy with Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It got mixed reviews. To me, the critics who didn’t enjoy it seem to have missed the overall message – which is quite clever and some food for thought.

At first blush, it’s just another “aliens taking over the planet” story like so many others. You have to examine it more closely after seeing it, to appreciate all the subtle nuances. It’s actually quite deep.

I will warn you again that there are spoilers here. If you haven’t seen the film, and you’d like to see it, please don’t read any further until after you’ve seen the movie. I don’t want to ruin your experience.

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If you’ve scrolled down this far, first let me first say that I’m amazed you’re reading this. You must be very bored! Now please remember that below is my own personal take on the movie’s true meaning. Here’s what I think the overall statement might be. Others, even the filmmakers, may disagree.

Outline: The move is about five middle-aged men who used to be teenage pals in a small town. The ringleader (Simon Pegg), called Gary King, decides to get the gang together and go on a pub crawl called “the golden mile” – twelve pubs, twelve pints. His four friends are all married and professionally successful, while Gary is having trouble.

Along the way while doing this pub crawl, they begin to discover that most of the townspeople have been replaced by humanoid-like creatures which are physically identical, but which are very easily busted, yielding blue goo instead of blood. A few other people are still human, but they are hush-hush about what’s going on. The mystery deepens. As an aside, the characters discuss how the replacements which look like people are NOT to be called robots, because “robot” actually means “slave” and is therefore a misnomer.

When night falls, the replacements emanate blue light out of their open mouths. And they’re coming to get Gary and his pals.

Gary is determined to finish the pub crawl, however, despite all the dangers. At Pub #12, called “The World’s End”, the whole thing comes tumbling down. Two of their friends have been replaced – there are only three left. One of the three left, however, is missing. So we’re down to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Of course.

And then the movie gets into a plot device which some people don’t like: a narrator-like character explains everything. An unseen  “head alien”, with a booming voice, explains the entire plot to Gary King and his buddy. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do, in the Hollywood-blockbuster genre. “Show, don’t tell!” admonishes the disappointed critic. You aren’t supposed to just explain it all like that. As one disgruntled viewer put it, you aren’t supposed to “just shove the message right into everybody’s face”.

The thing is, there’s a ton of sub-text, which is perhaps lost on the non-discerning viewer. The sub-text is so subtle and nuanced, it isn’t apparent until you’re finished watching, and you sit and think about it. Because while the movie is going on, you’re too distracted by the special effects and the characters to really get what they mean. So you have to think about it later. Perhaps there are people who don’t want to do that. They don’t want to have to think; hence, the disappointment from all those who didn’t like the movie.

Here’s what the booming, unseen head alien tells the two buds:

  1. There’s an inter-planetary association of civilizations, comprising the galaxy – and the other planets are very disappointed with planet earth. Humans keep killing eachother off, and overall, we’re very immature. The other planets are all “up here”, while earth is “down there” (the alien shows a diagram with the earth located well below the other civilizations).
  2. The other planets all want humans to improve themselves, and join the interplanetary association as equals. So, these aliens are here to improve us.
  3. The only “small sacrifice” necessary is that any humans who do not comply and refuse to improve, have to be destroyed and turned into mulch, replaced by identical units. But it’s a small price to pay, for all the advantages of joining the interplanetary association.
  4. The benefits that the aliens have brought to earth are very good and are in fact necessary, such as communications and all other technology. They get the credit for all of that.

Gary King responds with anger. He says, “All we humans want, is our freedom” and “Go back to your lego-land” and “Don’t come here and tell US what to do!”

The head alien asks if he speaks for all humans. Gary says that yes, he does. He knows that everybody else on earth feels the same way that he does – he’s a real human. All humans want is freedom. And nobody wants to be told what to do, especially not by a bunch of aliens who don’t even belong here.

The alien then says, “F__k it” and indicates that they’re leaving. They pull out. Everything explodes, then it all goes dark. In the end, all of earth’s technology is gone. Nobody can communicate with anybody else. Nobody knows how many people have survived. Planet earth is back to the dark ages.

Now, here’s the sub-text, at least from my point of view.

The aliens are total arseholes. They are, in fact, well below us, in all the important ways. They have no integrity whatsoever. Just because they’re clever and they know how to make technology, does NOT make them better than us. In fact, there’s ample proof that they’re much worse than the best of humans. And they’re about equal to the worst of humans. Here’s why.

  1. They’ve quietly embedded themselves all over our planet, allowing us to believe that we’re the ones who invented all the technology. We think it’s ours. But it’s apparently not. And they’re prepared to withdraw all the tech, if we don’t do exactly as they say. That’s nothing short of blackmail. It’s manipulation.
  2. They never told us that they’ve been here at all. They just quietly integrated themselves, without letting on. That’s completely dishonest.
  3. After integrating and embedding themselves with all their tech, while completely misleading us by hiding themselves, they give us a choice: “improve” yourselves, to the way that WE want you to be, or else, it will all go “kaboom” and you’ll be in the dark. Some choice! They’ve eliminated freedom completely and have backed the human race right into the corner. That’s aggressive.
  4. The worst part of all, is that they allow Gary King to speak for everyone. Gary King?! That’s not a fair process. He is not representative, and nobody else on the planet chose him. This means that these aliens have no concept of what “justice” means at all. Therefore, they’re the ones who are uncivilized. Not us. They don’t even know how to conduct a trial properly. Their methods are completely unfair.
  5. Finally, not only have they hid themselves and secretly backed the human race right into the corner, and then allowed Gary King to speak for the entire planet, they don’t even TELL him that if they go away, it will all explode and then go dark. They don’t even mention these consequences. They don’t give him all the information that he would need, in order to make an informed decision. They keep all the crucial bits of information from him and allow him to choose, without even realizing what he’s choosing. This is worse than unfair. This is amazingly corrupt. These aliens are complete jerks, even though apparently they are clever.

So, the upshot is, while you’re watching the movie, you become fooled. You think, oh no, Gary King blew it. He said the wrong things. It’s HIS fault the earth went dark. Wow, it might have been nice to join that planetary assocation – it sounds cool. But no. He blew it. Interesting – planet earth is still so primitive, while all the other planets are so advanced.

But then, if you think about it later, it’s THEM who are really the primitive ones. Look at everything the aliens have done, how they treat us. Even though the technology they “gave” us (while letting us think that it’s ours) is pretty neat, and has become necessary, they’re corrupt, dishonest, aggressive, unfair, and clearly they have no morals at all.

Conclusion? In this film, humans are, in fact, much better than the aliens. The planet is their victim. It was never Gary’s fault. The end.

(There are also biblical / religious overtones as well. The head alien, unseen with booming voice, smacks of what some people have as an image of God. This alien is about as nice, kind, and benevolent as the God of the Old Testament. As an aside, notice that the New Testament God is much nicer. Maybe the Gary King figure is supposed to be Jesus. This would mean that the filmmakers want us to think about this: what if Jesus actually tamed God, who was kind of a jerk, into being nicer? This could be the reason he was adopted as a “son” by the almighty. The fact that everything goes dark in the film, because Gary pissed off the head alien, is kind of like the great flood in the Noah story. Just food for thought there.)

P.S. I like how Simon Pegg wrote in a reason to show off his washboard abs. They didn’t go unnoticed 🙂

 

Nightmare City

A severely dystopian future was trying to unfold, but luckily it got stopped in its tracks.  People weren’t aware of how they were each unwittingly contributing to this horrible reality actually occurring … they thought that they were just into tech.  They thought that they were hobbyists, who enjoyed new cool toys.  They didn’t realize.

It all started with “self-driving cars”.  Innocent enough – “saving lives”.  But to allow these machines into urban areas involved so many necessary changes, eventually rendering cities into wealthy-only enclaves in which “the poor” were not only unwelcome, they were physically excluded.  How did this all unfold?

The insurance companies underwriting self-driving vehicles decided that pedestrians and bicycles needed to be strictly forbidden on the same roads with the automatically driven cars.  It was just too dangerous.  The risk of claims was too high.  The cars could be hacked and pushed into cyclists or pedestrians, at will. Yes, there were automatic safety features on each of these cars, so that they couldn’t crash into eachother – but people who were walking and cycling were still free to make errors and step in front of a vehicle.  So … it was then just better to keep everybody else off the road.  Unless you were an occupant of a self-driving car, bus, or truck, you simply were not allowed to be there at all.  Roads were lined with high, electrified fences.  Entries to the roads were gated – and you could only open the gate if you were in such a vehicle.  It was all tech.  And dry.  And sterile.  And oh, so clean.  And safe.  And boring.  The cars didn’t move very fast, and nobody was allowed to drive them.  The manual cars had all long since been destroyed, by law.

This “evolution into safety” resulted in car-only roadways, with nobody driving.  Sure, there were “pedestrian-only” areas within the cities, where everyone was walking around … but sadly, it wasn’t really “everyone”.  It was only the vehicles’ occupants walking around.  You see, you would have to take a self-driving car into the city, and be delivered to a pedestrian-only boulevard.  There, you would get out of the car and be able to walk around – and the only people you’d see, were other vehicle occupants who’d been delivered there too.  And then, when it was time for you to leave, you would flag down a driverless taxi, or else summon your car if you were very well off.  And off you’d go.

No bicycles.  No motorbikes.  No other way of being transported around on those roadways – too dangerous.  And no pedestrians, other than in these well-marked, fenced off “walker only” areas.  The only people you’d encounter in these walk-around areas, were other people with money.  Because only by having money, could you flag down a driverless car or bus or taxi.  You’d need a pass to get on.  And those passes were expensive!

Finally – no visible poverty, anywhere in the city.  Because if you didn’t have money, you simply could not physically get there.  There were people employed as “guards” at all the city’s gates, ensuring that nobody other than vehicle occupants could enter.  Too dangerous for anyone else!  Yes, visible poverty had finally been eliminated.  Emphasis on the word “visible” … you wouldn’t have to see anyone who was poor, anymore.  So, you’d never have to think about it.  Everyone around you would be “in the system”, just like you.  If you wanted to go into a city, you’d need cash for that.   And so, the exclusion of “others” would be complete.  You have your nice, neat, clean, tidy, wealthy enclave in each urban area, where these driverless cars took priority over the former “messier” ways of getting around.

Sterile.  A one-note nightmare.  And ultimately, uninteresting.  How do other people live?  Who knows, and who cares?  We finally have our enclave.  And the tech-loving types got us here.  Lucky us!  And so, poverty would never be resolved, since large groups of people would simply be forced into their own neighbourhoods, where the wealthy would never enter.  Out of sight – out of mind.

And now, back to real life.  The nightmare is over – I woke up.  Yes, currently if you have a bicycle, you can go anywhere.  You can walk anywhere, too.  We trust eachother to be sensible in cars, and at intersections.  Occasionally, some driver does the unthinkable, sometimes seemingly on purpose (?!)  Sometimes, somebody gets behind the wheel after rendering their brain useless with drugs or alcohol.  It happens.  Something needs to be done!  What was this nightmare solution again?  Oh yes, a gate, to be opened only by a driverless car, would block your access to the downtown core if you were walking or cycling.  There might be areas where you could still bicycle or walk around, without being delivered by a car or bus – but in those places, there would be no cars.  And there would be nobody with any money.  In those areas, people would barter for what they need, and they would forget about what they want.  So, in order to achieve safety, you must either buy into the system and get a real job, having enough cash on the system to buy a car, or a car-card to go into the city — or else you can forget about ever setting foot in there again.  Just stay where you belong, and don’t bother the elite with your presence any more.  There!  Poverty solved!  Hopefully, the “non-city” people will never organize themselves and try to take it by force.  But then again, they’ve thankfully been rendered mostly mentally useless with invisible, poisonous gas, and toxic food and drink.  Phewf!!

Do we want this kind of city?  Who wants it?  Not me!  Me, I would do anything to prevent it.  Anything.  I want to keep my city just as it is.  Lively, integrated populations, variety of people, and variety of transportation.  No gates.  No electrified fences.  Thank you.

(My apologies if the above blog was loose, disjointed, or otherwise not very readable.  Nightmares will do that to you.  You wake up feeling all jangly and upset, and hardly able to write.  And I’m sorry if you wasted your time reading about my nightmare.  Merry Christmas.)

The girl who wouldn’t do math, part 2

MWs (math wizards):  Well!  It’s about time!  Do you have the answer yet?

G (girl):  Hold on there.  This is just an exercise, right?  You haven’t really put me in charge of this life-and-death decision, have you?  And by the way – yesterday I spoke to one of you.  But today there are five of you.  Why is that?

MWs:  We have decided to gather the council of elders in order to deal with you.  We use the number five, so that there will be a majority when we render judgment.

G:  Judgment?  I didn’t realize that I am being judged.  Would have been nice if you’d told me.  Am I on trial?

MWs:  We realize that we have made an error.  We never should have put somebody like you on this mission to take down the “beast”.  This is not a job for somebody who does not understand math.

G:  I understand math, you silly old men.  I love music – music is based on math.

MWs:  (muttering all at once)  Not all of it.  Not all music is based on math.

G:  Don’t tell me I’m dealing with complete idiots here?  Did we not agree yesterday not to allow our discussion to become bogged down with abberations or exceptions?  Well?

MWs:  We did.

G:  Then …. how is it that one small sub-set of music, modern jazz – which seems to be independent of math – renders my point about music and math null and void?  How would one small subset of music be AT ALL relevant to my point?  Are you going to do that every time I say anything, or can we actually have a lucid intelligent discussion?

MWs:  All right.  Point taken.  Music depends on math for its rhythm.

G:  And that’s not all.  I am good at mathematical problems.  I’ve been tested at quite a high level, and I passed with flying colours.  And that’s almost 40 years since I studied math in school.  So don’t tell me that I don’t understand math.  This seems to be a deliberate misunderstanding of me.  Why would you do that?  Never mind.

MWs:  Fine then.  What is the answer to our question about the “beast”?

G:  I will answer that, once I’m done with my trial here.  Or will you judge me without even letting me know the charges against me?  Do you really need to cheat like that – is your procedure really so flawed that you can’t even let me know that I am under scrutiny?  That seems so very weak.  So, then, you are indeed as weak as you look. (surveys the panel of white-haired, pale, overweight or skinny men)

MWs:  There is no need for insult.

G:  Not when you’re the target of it anyway, right?  But you feel quite entitled to level insult at me though – is that right?  Well – fire away.  Allow me to defend myself at least.  Now it’s out in the open.  What exactly is your complaint?

MWs:  You have demonstrated within your personal life that you do not follow a logical budget.  You set a poor example for other people, with the unsound decisions you make.  And your personal appearance makes it obvious that you do not take life very seriously at all.

G:  Just how did you come upon factual details of my personal life?  Have you been breaching my privacy?  What entitles you to do that?

MWs:  Well, it’s important that we know exactly whom we are dealing with.

G:  Will you allow me the same advantage?  What about YOUR personal life – and yours?  And yours?  What are the details?  Do you follow a budget?  Prove it!

MWs:  (silent)

G:  Now, let’s not bother ourselves with private lives, shall we?  Hmmmm, well all right – I will give you one thing.  Have you ever heard of Gone With The Wind?

MWs:  Some of us are slightly familiar with it.

G:  Are you aware of the “drapes” scene?  Scarlett O’Hara needs money, because her entire way of life has been destroyed in the civil war.  She was born and raised as a landowner and this is her skill set.  But she has had to let her “employees” go, and now she fills their tasks as well, working in the fields.  She has had to learn their jobs.  This results in a very different physical appearance than she is used to.  She tries to preserve her former appearance, and lifestyle, by sewing some clothing out of drapes.  And she goes to meet with her old flame to ask him for a loan.  He tells her – “You are a sight for sore eyes!” and he is almost fooled by her drape-dress.  But not quite.  He sees that her hands bely her, and that she has had to do work with which she isn’t accustomed.  He realizes that she is even worse off than she claims.

MWs:  Is there a point to any of this?  Get on with it!

G:  I am wearing drapes.  They are green.  I am doing what I can to reach the best outcome possible, for myself and my family, while insisting on a physical appearance which suits my personality – to preserve my sense of self.  Yes, this is not easy – but I am up to it.  The decisions I make, are the best decisions for my future.  So how dare you judge me?  And how dare you pry into my personal life?  You certainly are despicable.  But since we are here, I will answer your question from before.

MWs:  Finally.  If you are done acting like a hysterical woman, let’s examine the issue.

G:  Hold on – when I object to YOU, I am hysterical.  But when you object to me, you are being rational.  I need you to see all the different ways that you are a bunch of hypocrites – and there are so many.  Shall I list them all?

MWs:  No, just get to the point – we have things to do.  You have said that you refuse to be backed into any corners, and that you reject “binary” “either/or” thinking.  Well, which is it?  Do you reject binary thinking, or do you embrace it?  You must choose one.

G:  (laughing)  Oh, that’s a good one!  You’ve given me a binary choice, involving binary thinking.  You’re wrong.  I can choose when and where to employ binary thinking.  Sometimes it’s suitable – sometimes it’s not.  This depends on the arena we are working in.  This is a public discussion, being disseminated using binary data – do you think I don’t know that?  Please.  I use binary every single day of my life, of course.  It’s quite useful.  But when you seek to understand me using binary code, then you will surely make serious errors.  Because I am of course a living being, with a living brain – changeable, shifting, constantly growing and sometimes reducing.  You will never pin me down, nor any other living being.  Whenever you do, you make mistakes.  And you’ve made a whopping few.

MWs:  Fine – whatever.  You pick and choose when binary code suits you.  Now, what about the answer to our question?

G:  You already know my answer.  I’ve given it to you – several times already.  The answer is, change the “beast” or wait for it to change.  Because change, it will – as long as you allow that and facilitate it.

MWs:  That has been tried, and failed.

G:  Did you try to use threats, insults, judgment, assumptions, and binary while attempting to change it?

MWs:  (silence)

G:  I thought so.  Has it ever occurred to you that this so-called “beast” is a living being, with a conscience?  Did you ever consider that maybe it’s gotten wound up in this web without meaning to?  And perhaps it’s looking for a way out – a dignified way out, with honour?

MWs:  That thing has no honour.

G:  How do you know?  Are you just assuming that it has no honour?  You are the kings of assumption, after all.  In fact – the entire problem that you posed yesterday was absolutely filled with assumptions.  You assume that people can’t extricate themselves from this web.  You think too little of them.  You assume that the “beast” will always remain the same – but that’s because you expect it to stay unchanged.  You assume that the only way to help the situation, is with violence.  And finally, you assume that your choices are A – take down the “beast” with its web, or B – leave it to devour everything.  I reject those choices.  I say, we choose C – allow the “beast” to redeem itself.  Redemption is very powerful.  People almost always choose it, when given the chance.  Have you even tried facilitating redemption for those involved in this situation?  No – I thought not.

MWs:  We will consider your words, thank you.  But we are unlikely to change our minds.

G:  I know.  And that’s why I dislike you so much.  You are static beings – are you even human anymore?  You’ve been here far too long.  You’ve become jaded and dried out.  You’ve fogotten all about your hearts.  I tell you what – I’ll give you a lesson in “heart math”.  You really need it.

MWs:  What is “heart math”?

G:  It’s basically “un-math”.  It’s a calculation, which doesn’t calculate anything.  It’s an equation which isn’t equal.  It’s a procedure which has no process.  It’s alive.  And it can only be created “heart to heart” between living creatures.

MWs:  (glancing at eachother in confusion)

G:  I’m going to have to use numbers to illustrate this point, even though it really has nothing to do with numbers.  Let’s take two groups of people.  One group, group A, has “detached” from other beings and from one another, as their “guru” has instructed.  They instead embrace a nebulous concept called “universal love”, of which their “guru” is the recipient of course.  They carefully guard themselves from “attachments” or true affection, caring, for other people.  They relate to one another at arm’s length, even though sometimes they do bizarre rituals which involve physical contact.  Are you with me?

MWs:  (nodding, looking guilty)

G:  Now, let’s talk about group B – this is a family unit, with parents and children, consisting of healthy people who deeply care for one another.  We can say that they relate through their hearts.  They connect with their hearts.  They embrace being attached to one another, without fear.  Every day, they do things to support one another and express their love.  They don’t know “universal love”, which really has no definition – but they do know love.  And they love eachother.  I don’t suppose any of you are familiar with that.

MWs:  (shaking their heads, looking sad)

G:  Here’s the un-math.  First, group B.  Let’s say that your personal efforts, your actions, your acts of service, by which you care for the others in your immediate group – and others – carry a sum.  We’ll call it 25.  So, we have a small group B consisting of only 2 people.  One, the parent, brings 45 today.  The offspring brings 25.  Is the total 70?  No.  The total is something more like 7,000.  Because the energy that is created by loving service, kindness, respect, and attachment, is like a living being which multiples by itself, showering the group members with as much energy as they require – shielding them from damage, healing them when they are damaged, and giving them hope.  Now let’s look at group A – the sad group which only relate to eachother on a superficial (and sometimes bizarrely physical) level.  Let’s say it’s a group of 3.  If each of them brings 25, they should have a pool of 75 from which to draw energy, correct?

MWs:  (nodding)

G:  Wrong.  There won’t be 75.  There will be less.  Because the energy that’s created by such a group, becomes a consuming creature which feeds on them – rather than nourishing them, as in group A.  They will find that what they create together is hungry, rather like a cranky orphan.  It won’t be very much use to them at all.  As a result, they will all become defensive, and they will guard what they have from one another, rather than sharing.  That’s un-math.  Do you see?

MWs:  Well thanks for coming out today.  Obviously you have nothing to offer us.  We have a meeting in five minutes – gotta go.  (scurrying out the door)

And so ends the girl’s trial, quite abruptly.

 

The girl who wouldn’t do math

Once upon a time, there was a girl who refused to use math in order to understand life.  The math wizards tried all kinds of ways to force her to think in a mathematical way.  But she insisted on defying them.  They had many conversations together – here are a few:

MW (“math wizard”):  We have created a dilemma for you, which will force you to choose either Option A, or Option B.  Sorry to back you into the corner, girl, but you are an enduring mystery to us.  In order to figure you out, we have devised a series of corners to back you into.  Here is one.  Now, there you go.  See?  Your back is to the wall.  We stand in front of you, blocking your way forward.  We have a series of choices for you.  First choice:  do you want to remain in the corner, or come out of it?

G (“girl”):  (silent)

MW:  Aha, see?  You have chosen to remain there.  Life is a series of choices.  It’s always this, or that.  It’s like math.  Add up 5 plus 5 and you get an answer that is either right, or wrong.  10 is the correct answer.  Either you got it right, or you got it wrong.  See that, girl?  Life is binary in nature.

G:  (still silent – and then she vanishes)

MW:  HEY – whoops!  Where did you go?

G:  I’m up here.  I just floated.  You gave me a choice of either staying in the corner, or walking forward to get out.  I decided to screw your binary choice.  See that, clever wizard?

MW:  Well, then, we can fix that.  They back her into another corner, and this time, they place an inescapable ceiling over her.  Now, are you going to stay, or come out?  And IF you choose to come out, are you going to choose going left, or right?  It’s a two-pronged choice.  Let’s see what you do.

G:  (vanishes again)  Hey, you smart ones – I’m back here.  I decided to just melt backwards through the wall behind me.  Once again, I chose Option C – the one that you did not provide me.  I refuse to bow to your precious binary way of thinking.

This goes on for quite a while – in each case, the “clever” math wizards foreclose her escape route, and back her up once again into the corner.  Each time, the girl comes up with a new way to defy their binary choice.

G:  Have you had enough yet?  This can go on forever.  Because my mind is not binary, and I won’t play your game.  Take your math, and shove it.  Get it, old men?

Here is another conversation between the math wizards, and the defiant girl who would not do math.

MW:  All right, we are done backing you into various corners now – you’ve made your point.  Now look at that group of people, protesting – either they are right or they are wrong.  Which is it?

G:  That’s just a different kind of binary thinking.  I refuse to make a choice, without further information.

MW:  Aha, this means that you think they are wrong.  Because if you aren’t with them, you’re against them.  If you don’t speak up on their behalf, then you automatically have joined the ranks of their enemies.

G:  No, that is not true.  I have elected to with-hold my opinion until further notice.  I am neither with them, nor against them.

MW:  Sorry, little girl.  Those people do not agree.  They have decided to sort all people into either Group A (supportive), or Group B (non-supportive and therefore, enemy).  This is their choice.  And if you do not speak up and audibly support them, you will have identified yourself as the source of blame.  You will have helped to cause their problems, if you don’t speak now.

G:  I disagree with your definitions and your way of understanding this situation.  Guess what, old men?  Being blamed for something, is not the same thing as causing it.  If I am said to have “caused” their problems, by refusing to speak up until I have more facts, then the sun in the sky has also caused their problems.  Their mothers, in giving birth to them, have caused their problems.  Their teachers, in leading them to this moment, have caused their problems.  Because if you want to widen the circle of causation to include me – a non-actor in this scenario – then your circle of causation is going to catch a whole host of things, not just me.  Either you broaden the circle of causation, or you don’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  Also – the way that this group defines me, does not define me.  I still have my own free will.  They can’t force me to do anything.  I am not their enemy.  In time, they will come to learn this.

And now, another conversation between these old foes – the old math wizards who insist on reducing LIFE to binary calculations, and the girl who continuously defies them:

MW:  And now we come to a moment of reckoning, girl.  Yes – you have caught some attention, this much we admit.  Your defiance is interesting.  However, there is a great beast at the centre of a vast web – a web which has caught up many innocent families.  Look here – there are children involved.  This beast is slowly strangulating everything around it.  Those caught in its web are like hostages, innocent parties.  This beast will eventually devour them too.  What will you do?  We have decided to put you in charge of the take-down operation.

G:  Me?  Why me?

MW:  Because you have an imagination – but we want to teach you that not everything has a creative solution.  Sometimes, it REALLY IS a choice between A, or B.  Sometimes the situation IS binary in nature.  This is one of those times.  Math is here.  Math wins.  You can’t deny it.  Because either you do nothing, and allow this beast to continue devouring, jeopardizing everybody on the entire planet, OR you take it down.  Unfortunately, all of those innocent families, including children, who’ve gotten caught up in its web, will have to come down with it.

G:  Why?  Why do they have to die?

MW:  Because they are there.  Look at what this beast has done – it is so intricately wound up in this web, that there is no way to extract it without destroying the web itself.  Look here – these people are also inextricably caught up.  The beast has ensured this situation, to preserve itself.  It knows that die-hard, bleeding hearts like you will stop its destruction – simply to save these innocent folks.  These hostages grew up in this web.  It is a part of them.  You can’t extract them, either.  It’s either take the whole thing down, or else, leave it up.  If you leave it up, everything will die.  If you take it down, yes – those innocent families will have to die.  But they are “sacrifices”.  This has to happen.  It’s very unfortunate, yes.  They have to die, to save everybody else.  Their lives are worth the same as everybody else’s lives.  Do the math, girl!  It’s binary.  See?  Either/or situation here.  The ultimate corner – no way out.  Either choose Option A, and minimize the loss of life, or else choose Option B, and do nothing, eventually causing the loss of ALL life.  What will it be, girl?

(The drama of this moment, this situation, is so vivid, that the answer will not be posted just yet.  It will be posted tomorrow.  In the meantime, if anybody has any ideas as to how to handle this situation, they are more than welcome to weigh in here.  To be continued ….  Think, people.  Think.)

A Frank Discussion (in ancient Greece)

A:  I’m the man.  I’ve been hired by your rulers, to convince all of you why you should be ruled.  They give me room and board, good food, and all the boys I want.  It’s great.  Now, listen up.

W:  Wait a minute – if they’re paying you, isn’t it obvious that you’re obliged to come up with reasons for why they are “better” than we are?  Why else would they be paying you?  You aren’t doing any hard work and come to think of it, neither are they.

(Crowd begins booing and hissing at W, who is a woman, shouting things like “Go back to your kitchen!  You aren’t allowed here!  Where is your veil?  See how ugly she is!  Shameful!  I heard that she has relations with horses – it’s true!  She’s crazy!”)

A: (with a generous sweep of his hand) No wait – let her speak!  She has no husband to defend her or feed her.  So the least we can do is hear her out.  And keep your hands off of her.

W:  Thank you, sir.  I have been listening to you.  It’s true that I have no husband, however I work hard to support myself, doing the best I can.  I am beholden to nobody.  I sew clothes for a living, working from sunrise to sunset. (She holds up bloody, scarred, bruised hands.)

The crowd goes silent, except for a few younger men who are shushed up by the others.

A:  You were saying, woman?  What is your name?

W:  I am Naomi.  I have been listening to you through my window over there (she gestures to a nearby hovel).  I have heard your words and your wisdom.  I have a few things to add – may I?

A:  (smiling)  Of course you may.  I am nothing if not generous when it comes to matters of the mind.  The more I hear, the more I think.  And “I think” is my personal motto.  I am paid to think by the King.  He thinks that I think real well.  Now go ahead, sewer.  (this is pronounced “sow-er” rather than “sue-er”, denoting that she sews clothing)

W:  You have said that all humans are inherently selfish, and that if the aristocrats and their progeny did not rule over us, then we would all destroy one another through fighting.  But I have seen quite the opposite.  With my own eyes and ears, I have seen that this is not true.

(A begins to frown, crossing his arms … a few men begin shouting again, but he gestures them abruptly to be quiet.)  A:  I said to let her speak.  It is not often that we hear a woman speaking – I find it fascinating to hear.  True, all women are inherently stupid, childish, and emotional, which is why we have them locked away in our homes and out of public view, and which is also why we do not allow them to vote.  However, this one seems to be an exception.  Maybe she is a man in disguise.  (At this, men begin chattering excitedly to one another.)  I said be quiet!  Maybe she is an oracle.  I have heard of such things – a blind, stupid woman can sometimes access the dream world, and bring back wisdom.  If she is such an oracle, and we refuse to listen to her, this might be at our own peril.

(A does not look happy – he has painted himself into a corner, without realizing it … this woman must be a sorceress!  And now he has no choice but to let her speak.  He does not like where this is headed, but there’s nothing he can do.)

W:  I see many people, both men and women, throughout my days as a seamstress.  They all have several things in common:  they all, without exception, take pride in their work and their contribution.  They all strive towards co-operation, and most of them abhor conflict.  They all care deeply for their families, except for those with mental problems – and those people have been traumatized, explaining their aberrance.  We should not occupy ourselves with aberrant people, but instead focus on the majority, when formulating theories about the nature of humans.  Will you allow this point?

A:  Of course.  We should not focus ourselves on aberrations, when discussing the nature of humans.  On this I agree.

W:  Well then – the only people I ever encounter who seem to be selfish by nature, are the aristocrats themselves.  It seems that the more they have, the more selfish they become.  They tend to cause conflict wherever they go, unlike the common folk.  And they tend not to look after their own families, instead enlisting other people to do this for them.  In fact – all of the good qualities that I have seen in each and every common person with whom I have dealt, are completely absent in the aristocrats.

A:  What is your point, woman?  We have things to do here.  (Many of the surrounding men begin to walk away.  The crowd thins out.  People have stopped listening.  They have been made uncomfortable by her truths, and they worry about being caught listening to her.  They worry that they will be punished for listening.  So, they disperse.)

W:  My point is that you, in asserting that people are inherently selfish by nature, are simply doing what you’ve been hired to do – rationalize the aristocracy.  In fact, it is not possible to prove that all people are inherently selfish.  That is an unproveable fact, which you have however stated as fact.  Then you rationalize your arguments, coming to the conclusion that since all people are selfish, therefore the aristocrats are necessary to keep order and prevent people from fighting.  Your argument simply goes around in a big circle, and really goes nowhere.  And the entire rationalization is based on one single, unproven, unproveable fact:  that humans have a bad nature, and therefore must be told what to do.  I find your arguments are not only unpersuasive, they are in fact ridiculous.

A:  GUARDS!  Take her away!  Put her in that tower, lock her up, and throw away the key.  She has no husband anyway, so there’s nobody to miss her.  (He backhands her across the face, hard, breaking her nose and causing her to lose two teeth.)  Nobody will ever hear from you again.  You’ll be lucky in you don’t die of starvation.  You have now officially disappeared.

And so ends the discussion.

Disagreeing with Neitzsche

Agreement rarely fosters creativity, while disagreement can really get you rolling.  This I found to be the case when reviewing a summary of Neitzsche’s (“N”) philosophy – which is steeped in despair and angst.  N never really strays from the established ways of understanding human relations, and he therefore doesn’t invent anything new.  He does come up with new ways of slagging people and what he sees as inevitable human tendencies.  It’s as if he searches for ways to explain negative choices – either, he argues, we don’t have any choices at all, or if we do, we are simply reacting to what’s been done before us in inescapable ways.

Where I disagree with N is in how he understands human interaction and human nature, in relation to the existing distribution of resources.  He seems to be resigned to the fact that the way that material things have been divided between people is the only way; and therefore, given that this can’t change, we are bound to see the world as either masters, or slaves.  It’s buying into the historical ordering of things as if this is the only way that it can ever be done, while despairing that whether one is a master or a slave, it’s never going to be very good.

I researched this because I am trying to figure out if there is another way to understand the concepts of “wealth” and property.  Currently, ensuring that there is the possibility of inherited material wealth is the only way to provide future support for your offspring.  But there is starting to be a different way of understanding how to provide support:  providing emotional resilience.  This has arisen due to the seemingly random nature of what happens when you work hard all your life and gather up property – you might be lucky and get to keep it, or else, you could experience random misfortune and lose it all through no fault of your own.  Here I am envisioning what it would have been like to own property and then run into a serious health problem in pre-insured America; or, work your whole life in a factory town, only to see the only gig in town close up and move shop somewhere else, leaving everybody unemployed.  Material wealth can evaporate in an instant in today’s global economy, and so there needs to be an alternative way of ensuring the survival of your kids.

Arguably, the most valuable asset that we can impart, as parents, is emotional resilience, the ability to cope or “roll with it”.  Creative imagination is also valuable these days, as people need to come up with alternative ways of making a living, since the days of lifelong, secure employment might be behind us.  Of course, there are many people who have accumulated so much material wealth that their kids needn’t ever really worry.  That is certainly one way of doing it – however this option is foreclosed to most people.  Millions find themselves in the other boat, wondering what to tell their kids about how to get through life when the boat is rocking so hard.

So perhaps the new way of understanding wealth, given all of these harsh realities, will be to say that one is “rich with contentment”, or that you are “loaded” if you are well able to pick up, dust yourself off, and move on in the face of misfortune or disappointment.  Maybe in the future, you will be said to be “well off” if you are very sure about how best to support yourself emotionally in rough times, and if you have a good support network of friends who have all pledged to help one another out if need be.

A word about “how”.  Young parents might ask, how will I do this?  How will I ensure that my children are resilient emotionally, mentally strong, and creative?  The only answer could be: “Only you know best how to do that”.  There are infinite ways of ensuring emotionally healthy kids – as many different ways, as there are parents.  This has to be an individual formula … but as a parent, I might add that the key core components would be understanding them or at least making it obvious that you’re trying to, paying attention, showing your interest, caring about the little things, being available to listen, and sharing what you know – about anything and everything.  You’re a team.  And all of that can start in infancy.

What does all of this have to do with N, the philosopher, you might wonder?  It’s that he writes about an “either/or” type of existence which seems to be now becoming obsolete.  His definitions and concepts as to what position you are in, seem to be based on an old order which, although still existing, isn’t the only way to think about life anymore.

There are alternatives, but I do not espouse “crashing” anything.  People rely more than they think upon the current systems that we have in place.  There are aspects of daily life which are hidden from us, due to the seamless way in which developed regions are administered; in other words, it would only be by virtue of its absence that we could ever really appreciate what governments provide us.  “Crashing the systems” surely isn’t the only way of working around what seems to be the intractable, unchangeable divisions of material resources.  For example, finding a way to swap goods and services in challenging circumstances doesn’t mean that you are bent on trashing the economy.  The old can co-exist with the new – and I would argue that this is the only viable way to achieve change, while avoiding the kind of damage that would ruin all of our comforts and security.

I’ve written before about how it’s important to avoid “either/or” thinking, if we are to create progressive change without unduly hurting ourselves and our way of life.  The better way to think about it is with the word “and”.  Keep the old ways AND invent new ones.  Use the existing systems AND skirt around them, when necessary to keep afloat.  Opt out of the “grid” AND use the roads and sewers which are funded by your taxes.

Keep both the baby AND the bathwater.  This is definitely doable.

Problem solving Part 2

It’s difficult to solve multi-faceted problems with multiple, complex causes – but it’s not impossible.  If many people work together, each taking one small aspect of the overall problem, co-ordinating their efforts with good communication and avoiding in-fighting and one-upmanship, then solutions can happen.

Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize the location or “locus” of the complexity involved.  In the last blog I used two examples:  1) algae blooms, and 2) unpunished domestic violence.  Algae blooms have remarkably complex causes from multiple sources, and each of these causes has multiple sources of blame or fault.  The key in solving such an issue would be to divide the problem into its numerous parts, and concentrate on tackling your own small part of it, in co-ordination with others.  It’s also important not to become overwhelmed by the scope of the overall problem, but that’s easier said than done.  Focus is key.

Unlike algae blooms, however, the analysis of domestic violence going unpunished is slightly different.  The locus of complexity is in a different place and this changes the visualization of the problem.  When a woman is abused, hurt, killed, or imprisoned in her own home, the immediate cause is obvious.  Somebody is doing this to her.  That somebody is easily identifiable – likely her spouse, father, or brother.  So the immediate cause is not complex at all.  The immediate cause is apparent.  But if you back up one step and examine why this is allowed to happen, without charges or prosecution or censure of any kind, this is where the complexity occurs.  The cause of the impunity is multi-factorial, i.e. social, cultural, religious, political.  The various causes of the lack of legal consequences for abusing one’s wife, daughter, or sister, are many and would vary depending on the country or region.  But there’s no mistake about who is doing the abuse.  That’s easy.

If you were to make a diagram about how or why a problem is happening, at some point in the causation analysis you would be looking at a vast network of players in various capacities.  That is true for both examples (algae blooms, and violence against women).  But the place where the complexity happens differs substantially between these two examples.  This is why I hold that violence against women should be easier to solve.

It’s interesting how much more attention climate change gets, than violence against women.  Not only does gender violence lack the same amount of attention as climate change, not as much of a cause celebre, arguably being swept under the rug and largely ignored – but it is very common for anybody who tries to fight gender violence to be victimized themselves.  Human rights defenders are targeted routinely, again with impunity.  Here, our two examples do have similarities in that environmental activists are also targeted for violence.  But in this case, again, the locus of complexity is not within the immediate causation.  When an activist is hurt or killed or threatened, the immediate cause is another person doing this to them.  With vigorous rule of law, and enforcement, this problem could be solved.  There’s no complexity there.

In Canada, you don’t just get away with killing your wife.  We have criminal laws here and these are enforced.  In other countries, the cause of each such event is evident – i.e. whoever did the violent act, is the cause.  But again, when you back up a step (i.e. why does this genderized violence happen there so often?) you will encounter complexity and multiple factors, perhaps with multiple players.  Religious leaders condone it; politicians refuse to implement policies against it; societies ignore it. But all of that could be solved in one fell swoop, with a pledge to implement the rule of law, and enforce it.  Violence is a criminal act and this is a universally held value.  It just needs to be reflected in the law.

You can also duplicate this analysis in terms of human rights.  It is arguably everybody’s right to enjoy clean air and water – but when pollution happens, exactly who is responsible for denying you this right?  Who should specifically be held accountable?  Who should we punish?  The obligation to prove guilt makes the enforcement difficult.  But when a violent act occurs, with somebody abusing or hurting another, we know who is responsible – the individual(s) who did the act.  It’s more of a simple analysis so, by the same token, the solutions can also be fairly simple by comparison.

The point here is that violence is a relatively simple problem to solve, unlike climate change which has complex, multifactorial causation.  The way to solve violence is to stop condoning it, stop ignoring it, and develop vigorous rule of law all over the world with tools for enforcement.  And if individual countries won’t do this for their own citizens, then perhaps the international community should step in.