Stranger Things – Season 1 Review and Analysis: the 80’s – when everyone knew their societal roles.

The 80’s… Where the kids of Generation X came of age.  The forgotten younger kids of the baby boomers.  The product of the 60’s free love and the 70’s hangover.   When the nuclear family and patriarchy were still the dominant societal building blocks remaining from the traditions of the 40’s and 50’s but were badly damaged from the two previous decades.

Ed Harcourt sums it up best in his song born in the 70’s where half way through the song as he melodically sings ‘born in the 70’s’ over and over again and a high refrain of ‘No we don’t really give a F@#$ about you‘ is heard answering him back.

And because no one gave a F@#$ about us and there was not as many creeps around, we rode our bikes everywhere and stayed out all day.   No cell phones. No tablets. Maybe just a few video games

Stranger Things is a nostalgic foray for Generation X and anyone who grew up with the movies of that especially creative decade. From narrative driven thrillers from King (like Firestarter) and epic adventures from Spielberg (like Goonies).  Stranger Things tries to recreate the optimism created by the dead cat bounce after the 70’s and the expectation of the technological 90’s.  Big cars, big hair, big plots – this series does it all but with an interesting twist.

You see the 80’s movies didn’t have the luxury of having the perception of the next 30 years of history to reflect on.  So when they were made, it was cool to be a rebellious mouthy teen  – a way of ‘sticking it to the man’ because there still was a man to stick it to.   Religious traditions were still there to make movies about that ‘shocked’ everyone because people still had religious beliefs.  Now, its 30 years later and postmodernism has infiltrated our culture (kinda like the upside down).  We have seen every horror, sex and violent act with every special effect in 1080p high definition detail.  ‘Everything is permissible and nothing shocks us anymore – let alone 80’s ‘horror’ movies with marginal CGI graphics.

Then why is this series popular?

It is because it captures a time when there were fewer options, but the options that existed – were real (or at least believed to be real).  Conservationism, the gender roles,  the boys chasing the girls, the nuclear family, the pursuit of the white picket fence – that is the twist I am talking about.  It used to be assumed that those things existed and misfits and outsiders struggled with them.  Now, it is assumed those things don’t exist and it is oddly fascinating that there was a time they once did.

Look at Hopper – Aggressive, male, domineering, the ‘Father’ figure of the series, protector, capable, knows how to use a gun, knows how to punch yet is human enough to be devastated by the loss of his daughter.  Where has this character been the last 30 years?

Look at the distinct line between good and evil – the normal peaceful town and the mirror image – upside down.  The upside down is evil (there is no good there).  The upside down is chaos, it is the abyss – it is Milton’s hell.  It is a picture of what the town could be metaphorically.

It reminded me of one of Jordan Peterson’s lectures in which he talks about how someone feels when they are betrayed.  Their whole world which they thought was good has now been ‘turned upside down’.   Even the house they live in becomes like a tomb to them – like the upside down.

In other words, there is a psychological state that matches that upside-down metaphor and resounds subconsciously as an archetype.  In a Christian sense it is the spiritual dimension – the ‘Prince of the Power of the Air’.  Millions feel they are in this dimension.  Some call it mental illness.  Some go in to save a child from an eating disorder.  It is a warped reality.  Reality and goodness can’t be found there.  You only rescue from there.

In a philosophical sense the beast – well the beast is Nietzsche’s beast – Nihilism.

In 2017 we now know that beast well. Quite possibly we are a society in its clutches.  All traditions (religious included) deconstructed,  we now search for a purely existential meaning.    We destroyed belief and in so doing opened the gate to destroy all belief.  Now, the beast of nihilistic depression and anxiety hunts us as a by-product.

But let’s look at what the series writers say the upside down is and where it came from.  For the enlightened 2017 audience you can no longer use demons and supernatural powers (Christian language).  Instead, you go to your science teacher (aka the new pastor), and he gives a very convincing argument called the multiverse, (Endorsed by Bill Nye) that is not scientific at all.  It is science fiction, however,  but it has a weird feeling to it…like it is a metaphor for a spiritual dimension.

“When these scientists talk about the multiverse, that’s actually their way of talking about theology! It’s their way of doing metaphysics without using the G– word!’

There is not one experiment that comes close to proving this of course, and philosophically, it does nothing to solve the beast of nihilism.

A more philosophically reasonable cosmological argument by far is the uncaused cause.

I mean, look at how the gate was opened to this multi-verse.  A ‘scientific’ experiment using  psychokinesis, the gateway drug to spirituality.

Achetypes and Biblical References

The ‘perfect’  Indiana town of Hawkins invaded by demon looking creatures from another dimension. Or…  A peaceful village invaded by ‘demonic’ outsiders.  If you want to read the original version pick up a copy of Dostoevsky’s Demons.

Eleven is the ‘sacrificial lamb’ who in sacrificing herself saves them from the beast.   There always has to be a sacrifice of goodness to defeat evil.

Did you notice the David vs. Goliath theme as Lucas has 5 stones that he attempts to defeat the beast with.  Yet it was El’s supernatural power that ultimately defeats it.

David?
David vs Goliath

I am sure there are tons more and feel free to mention them in the comments.

This series has been a pleasant surprise for me having been born mid 70’s.  The director’s nailed the childhood freedom and feeling of the decade and the smartly inserted philosophical elements did not ‘break the metaphor’.  They learnt well from Steven King   

I just finished binge watching Season 2 and it is interesting to see how the writers developed the characters and maintained the quasi-spiritual themes.  Will write a blog about that next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Son – By Jo Nesbø, Discussion and Analysis

 

I was given this book from a friend at work who recommended it.

I make it a point that if someone I know recommends a book to me out of the blue to read it.  It is only because very few people I know read let alone recommend books.

I have to be honest, I probably would never have picked this book up otherwise.  Not that I don’t like modern fiction.  I have read my share of Lee and Hussler as guilty pleasures.  After reading the dust cover I thought I was pretty much in for more of the same.  A protagonist that kicks ass, suffers just enough to make you respect him, gets the girl(s) and  moves on to the next set of baddies in some other situation.  The idealized version of Nietzsche’s uberman.  No PTSD, no remorse, no real nightmares, NOT human.

So, to my surprise I find Jo playing with philosophy and psychology and not just that people do crazy things but why. 

You mean humans are not just one dimensional creatures who are either good or bad?

It is like the difference between James Bond and Jason Bourne.

Nesbø plays that line right down the middle of this book.  The line between what corrupts humans and what redeems them.

That humans are a product of their upbringing yet they can make their own choices. (He spends a whole page pontificating on if free will exists or not.  Haven’t seen that in a novel since I read War and Peace)

That bad things happen to good people but we all have the devil inside.

Existentialism vs. Meaning

“She shuddered as she watched the thin steel blade glide across the soft skin on his neck.  She watched as the hairs were cut and fell.  The thought announced itself spontaneously:  How little it took.  How little separated life from death.  Happiness from tragedy.  The meaningful from the meaningless.”

He flirts with meaning in religious beliefs and human relationships and even promotes the notion that sacrifice atones for sins.

I think Jo might have been trying to figure some of these questions out himself when he wrote this book.

Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

Logan Movie – Psychological and Philosophical Review and Discussion.

Gentle Logan
Gentle Logan

Saw Logan last night.

Haven’t seen that much blood in a movie since ‘The Passion’. This movie could be used for an online course for butcher school.

It has the feel of a horror movie especially in the first act. The music and camera angles are meant to make you anxious and even the fight scenes have a level of angst about them that you don’t usually see in the genre. Even though you know old Wolvie is still going to win it has a different feel right from the first scene. I have always liked Wolverine. He has always reminded me of the character Samson (another childhood fav) in the Old Testament and this movie is Samson, in the temple with his eyes poked out chained like a dog to a pillar.

Along with the blood comes an incredible amount of Christian imagery and existential philosophy. Sit back and start thinking about death because that is what this movie is about – the end of existence.

Like real life, no one in this movie escapes death. The wicked. The righteous. The righteous farmer. The righteous farmer who fights injustice. The righteous, black, Christian farmer who stands up to white oppression. His whole righteous hard working family. All the corporate white oppressors. The old man. The middle aged man. The shadow man. The nurse, The antagonist. The antagonist and all his henchmen. The symbolic henchman / inner demons. [Spoiler alert], even the hero dies.

Logan definitely has the suffering hero metaphor going on.

Heavy issues like depression and suicide drive the movie down the road like a runaway beat up old dump truck.

He takes no pleasure in slicing and dicing his victims. Doing it almost as a physiological response rather than an act of the will. Even the antagonist is not a formidable one. The true antagonist is Logan himself, his complete lack of meaning and his alcohol fueled depression. In the end, aren’t we all our own antagonist? He is the most human super hero yet I think.

It is a weird thing to say about a super hero movie because they are ontologically super human in that they are the embodied projections of the greatest good and the greatest bad human imaginations can think up. The greatness residing in their ‘powers’ simply amplify our mortal fight between good and evil.

Logan seems tired of this fight, though, seemingly understanding that there will always be another bad guy to skewer around the next corner. Why should he bear the weight of the responsibility of good any more? Like a lot of guys, he just wants to hide out in his garage, watch football, stay late at work and be left alone. Sisyphus has decided to not push the stone up the hill any more. He is duty bound to his ‘dad’, though. No man is an island, I guess.

Then there is the Biblical imagery. Logan is dying from being poisoned from the inside. Not unlike the concept that all humans are under the curse of sin. Poisoned, snake bitten, like the Israelites of old. Poisoned by what makes him strong, the Adamantium.   Mortals are poisoned by what makes us ‘strong’ – our free will.

Also, the idea of paradise, a place you go to. A very real place (it has a latitude and longitude). A place children believe in but adults don’t, can’t. ‘Unless you become like little children…’

I was honest when I said above I haven’t seen this much blood in a movie since ‘The Passion’. You can’t have redemption without blood and Logan’s redemption requires a lot of it. By Wolverine’s stripes he is healed, as it were.

Is it enough, though?

The final scene, flanked by a wooden cross, made by a kid, and a pile of stones, I was almost expecting (hoping) a claw to come shooting out towards the sky, one…last…time….just to complete the metaphor.

But no, Mangold had the ‘courage’ to keep him buried (thank you) but he didn’t have the ‘courage’ to suggest there is eternal redemption and essence rather than just existence and legend.

The Cross has become an X and we only live on in our children – if we choose to protect them.

There is no doubt the strong male stereotype has taken a beating in our postmodern society these days. The chaste, strong, roll model that protects girls (still one of my favorite scenes) and doesn’t exploit them. He is old and beaten down and in serious need of redemption.

Maybe Wolverine is a girl now like every other protagonist it seems, but I am going to miss the dangerous, brooding, hairy chested, muscle bound mound of adrenaline fueled male testosterone that is able to keep it in his pants, protect those weaker than him and take his suffering like a man.

RIP brother, you will be missed. In the action hero genre and in society.

The Christian Roots of Postmodernism

postmodernism
Resentful Cain and Righteous Abel

Review of Explaining postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault by Stephen Hicks

My attention was directed to this book by Jordan Peterson but I had first heard about ‘postmodernism’ listening to Ravi Zacharius on YouTube.

Although Stephen is not shy letting the reader know what he thinks of postmodernism from his ‘rational’ philosophical perspective I think that he is even handed in articulating at least where it comes from and its basic tenants.

The book is technical but comprehensible by anyone that has heard about postmodernism and wants to know more about it knowing on the outset that the author doesn’t support it.

If you are a Western, non-marginalized product of the enlightenment you will probably agree with him.  If not then you will probably write a review saying something like ‘no that is not what Derrida and Foucault meant’ but then you would have to use reason to prove your point which will be difficult and you will then instead resort to colorful language to express your resentment and ad hominem points.

Having said that, I was particularly interested in Stephen Hicks analyses of postmodernism’s roots in Kant, Hegel and even Kierkegaard.

The reformation created this idea that man doesn’t need an intermediary (pope, priest, etc..) to talk with God.  Through both revelation and reason the Bible could be understood and applied by anyone who took the time to apply themselves –  that every person can have an individual relationship with God. This simple idea arguably gave birth to the enlightenment and as Hicks points out many of the ‘enlightened’ minds in the height of the enlightenment were card carrying Christians (Newton, Liebnez) or at the very least deists (Bacon).

Exposing everything to the light of reason brought many advances scientifically which positively affected the common man but also had its own negative side affects.  Nietzsche points this out. He realized that since Darwin used enlightens reason to give an alternate understanding of how we all came about besides being created, essentially ‘killed God’ and even though he was by no means a fan of religion, he recognized that this was not a good thing for humanity.

The child that was birthed by the Reformation grew up and killed its Father in the Enlightenment. 

The problem was that a big black abyss of darkness filled where the Father used to be.  This was called Nihilism and everyone who is ‘reasonable’ has to deal with it and what everyone since then has been trying desperately to neutralize.

The reality is that it caused an existential crisis in the child because of the paradox that if your father never existed how can you exist?

It is the nuclear waste that is a direct result of reason.

I understood this before I read this book but what I didn’t know, and that Hicks points out, is that many of the philosophers of the enlightenment still had deep religious convictions and faith (of the Christian kind) and they all realized the threat reason posed on their faith but more importantly they became aware of this abyss called nihilism.  This can be summed up on the Dostoevsky quote Hick’s mentions “Even if I find out Christ is not real I would still believe in Him”  The alternative at least for Dostoevsky was too dire (and stressful).

It became obvious that ones reason when pitted against ones beliefs caused anxiety. Kierargaard realized this and pointed it out.  Hence, he became known as the first existential philosopher in that he reformulated Christian faith as an answer to the existential paradox reason created.

In their attempts to subvert reasons strangle hold on reality, the philosophers of old used their reasoning power to try and fight reason back and give a little room for faith or non-reason again (seems very ironic).

So, weirdly, according to Hicks, postmodernism’s long lost cousin, in a way, is Christian doctrine. 

Hick’s even goes as far to connect the two in the present day using the example of creationists wanting to ‘irrationally’ set up their theory as truth and silence all others (not sure if this is totally fair) with postmodern ideology of not listening to any rational argument against it since reason itself is the source of the problem.

Another historical observation that he makes that I found very interesting was when he juxtaposed the two paths enlightenments reason took and the two very different outcomes it produced in Britain first (and later America) and France.   The question that while they were cut from the same cloth of the Enlightenment, as it were, why did they have such different outcomes?  The bloody French revolution and the relatively bloodless British and American revolutions.

He traces this back to the two philosophers Voltaire and Locke and how really reason itself took two paths.

Almost like the child that was birthed as reason mentioned above was actually a set of twins and like all Biblical stories of twins – one is bad.

Locke embraced the reason of the enlightenment but did not throw out the ‘reasonable’ Christian ideals from the reformation (the good twin that didn’t kill the Father).  He did make a point out of using reason to chop off
the dead wood that the reformation started chopping, though, hence ‘separation of church and state’.  He did this not as a matter of hating religion and religious thought, though, as it is used most frequently today.

He did it rather as a reasonable conclusion that true belief has to be belief that has the liberty to not believe.

Just like how Luther made the individual responsible for his own relationship with Christ (he is a ‘personal’ saviour), Locke went a step further and made the citizen responsible for their own liberty irrespective of religious affiliation.  He did, however, go through great pains to show everyone that he really did believe that Christianity was a reasonable guide for the individual and key to a just, civilized society.

Just read the last of his three books (The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered in the Scriptures,  A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity, A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity). Maybe he wrote them to sell his brand of enlightenment rational to the Puritans and Quakers or maybe he actually believed it – only God knows.

So, what did Locke keep that Voltaire threw out?  Reasonable Irrationality I would call it. Others call it religion. Still others would say that there are some laws that are deeper than reason and that were set up as the very foundation upon which reason rests.  These ‘truths’ are across all cultures and people’s and are detailed out very well in CS Lewis’ Book ‘The Abolition of Man’.  These truths must be the foundations of any religion for that religion to have any validity.  These truths are the ‘light’ and only where they are absent is the ‘darkness’.

The best example of this is the infamous line in the Declaration of Independence copied almost verbatim from Locke by Jefferson.

The original unedited Jefferson version goes:

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;

This idea of human equality and subsequent human rights is not a rational idea.  The idea that all are ‘created’ equal does not drop out with reason.  If there is one thing that is certain, it is that people are not born equal. 

Some have higher and lower intelligence.  Some are stronger.  Some are born with diseases. Obviously, we are not equal.  This was and is an irrational statement.  Yet, all human rights pivot on this fulcrum. Where you do not have it you have atrocities and inequalities way worse than where you do have it.  Where it is the foundation of the laws of a land you have liberty, freedom and unrivalled success.

It is important to note that at the time it was implemented it was an experiment.  No civilization had ever tried this before.  But, if it didn’t come from reason where did it come from?
Sounds a lot like Romans 14, possibly?

Or as Tolstoy put it in War and Peace:

“And it occurs to no one that to admit a greatness not commensurable with the standard of right and wrong is merely to admit one’s own nothingness and immeasurable meanness.
For us with the standard of good and evil given us by Christ, no human actions are incommensurable. And there is no greatness where simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent.”

The Reformation’s affect on Locke is corroborated by Francis Schaefer in his book How Should We Then Live?

This combination of reason and reasonable irrationality unleashed an incredible amount of good and human advancement. It gave room for the ideas of universities and hospitals to flourish and almost all of them were religious (reasonably irrational) institutions to start with.

Like Hick’s points out, the average life of every person at least in the countries that adopted Locke’s brand of reason has become unthinkably better.  What used to take a whole legion of slaves to keep a house warm and well supplied is available to pretty much everyone in the Western world (not using slave labor of course). There are exceptions, but the mass majority have more food, faster and more comfortable transportation (even if you are just using the bus), fresh water, heat or AC that only kings and nobles could have had less than 150 years ago (and most times even better). Refrigeration alone completely transformed food for society.  Now you can eat meat and fruit all year long.  Can you imagine 200 years ago telling someone this?  They would think you were nuts or a magician.

That alone should make you happy whatever situation you find yourself in.  Go to your local McDonalds and have a Big Mac – just because you can.

The other path?  Reason only.  Well, like Hicks suggests, this is what Voltaire advocated for and led to the bloody French Revolution and Marxism led to communism (socialism based on the state) and national socialism (socialism based on race).

Both of these nihilistic philosophies tried to eradicate any reasonable irrationality and both brought unprecedented suffering and spilled blood like never before in the history of the world.  So much so, that it was ironically irrational.

When Nietzsche said “God is Dead” what he really said was:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Nietzsche almost had it right.  There will always be lots of blood. The question is just whose blood.

It is true that God’s blood was spilt by humanity but way before Nietzsche wrote this.  Was it not of the same motivation, though?  That eternal blood that was spilt was enough for all humanity and when embraced by the Lockean’s was enough to pay the price.  Juxtapose that with the 100’s of millions of gallons of blood that were spilt under nihilistic regimes and anyone with a shred of ‘reasonableness’ has to admit that reason alone – Simply – Doesn’t – Work. The sacrifice just was not enough to pay the price of paradise.

You need to choose which twin to follow and in that regard Hicks speaks well when he states postmodernism is nihilistic.

Postmodernism is the reincarnation of the resentful twin-brother.  Resentful because God didn’t die forever. He survived in liberty and freedom of choice (belief) and the world is a better place because of it.  He wants to poison everyone, to make them turn on their liberty and accuse it for any problem that has ever happened to them rather than their own responsibility.  He is only a skeptic, though, with no real answers. He is the Grand Inquisitor saying that the weight of liberty is too heavy for the average person to bear.

He is irrational like his brother but not reasonable.  He is Cain and his sacrifice was not worthy and we are watching with our very own eyes as he tries to kill Abel.

The good news is that there is a wave of new philosophers that have room for reasonable irrationality of faith claims again and you see it in folks such as William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantiga and Ravi Zacharias. The unfortunate thing is that their contempories, the so called ‘New Atheists’ sound a lot like the postmodernists.

I am filled with hope with folks like Jordan Peterson, though. Liberal folks who recognize the beauty and value in the traditional beliefs and work to synthesize them into arguments palatable to the hopefully post-post-modern mind.

 

Guardians of The Galaxy 2 – Lots of Jokes, Philosophy and Psychology with a hopeless ending. Analysis and Discussion.

So, I went and saw the latest Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

After listening to a few reviews on-line everyone pretty much was saying that it wasn’t as good as the first one. I went in not expecting much and I must say for most of it I was pleasantly surprised.

Peter Quill, aka StarLord and the Guardians are a little more established as a team, aka family, now which means they have something worth living for. ‘Meaning‘ is a very prominent theme in this movies architecture with an underlying idea that existence, even for sexy rouge mavericks, is more bearable if they have someone to love and care for. The movie even opens with a masterful scene of alien carnage heavily peppered with tender paternal interactions from each member of this motley crue showing their love for the Baby Groot.

This ‘Meaning’ theme was propped up by a fair amount of existential philosophy supplemented with Freudian psychology. This surprised me as this appeared to be the driving force of the plot.

At one point, the antagonist Ego rambles on and on about finding ‘meaning’ and somehow concludes that the meaning for his existence is destroying life on a whole bunch of planets by spreading his life blob(?). Seems he is a Celestial (‘god with a little g’) but really as PluggedIn writes he acts like the big G for all intents and purposes who becomes human so that he can have a son like him to rule over planets and galaxies he has ‘subdued’.

Hmm, where have we heard a version of this story before? But wait, it is all upside down like the gnostic version of the story. Tom Bacon does a good job of explaining this I think.

Mustafa Vasar  has more of a postmodern, SJW take on it,  or is it Rousseau’s   Noble Savage take?  Who can tell? At least the Guardians are diverse (A green girl, a talking trash panda, a white superhero (argh again),  a big grey guy and a shrub)

Anyway, Ego, who is immortal and can create something out of nothing, begets a son of similar power. Ok, but then he also causes Quill’s mom to die from cancer and needs his like-powered son to spread his ‘Love’ throughout the universe in true narcissistic (his name is Ego) and malevolent fashion.

Is this a critique on the Christian God? Does He implicitly allow evil and suffering in the world somehow looking for consciousnesses that are like Him? That He can use?

This is all well, trying to flip archetypes and hijack metaphors but the real issue lies deeper, at least philosophically.

You see this in a little blurb where Quill talks about his ‘soul’ or ‘whatever it is’ when he finds out about the ‘light’ that makes him up and that by it he can create ‘actual’ objects.

Not willing to give into either side, the plot takes a postmodern turn obliterating the difference between essence (immaterial eternal soul) and existence (material finite reality). This makes sense if you look into the history of the celestial’s which basically were originally written as god’s created throughout the many multiverses.  In case you didn’t know, ‘Multiverses are an actual scientific (science fiction?) theory to explain the scientific fact that the universe had a beginning. In other words, the multi-verse couldn’t explain away nihilism and consequently Ego is a nihilistic maniac.

Ego: Death will remain a stranger to both of us, as long as the light burns within the planet.
Peter Quill: I’m immortal?
Ego: Mmhmm.
Peter Quill: Really?
Ego: Yes. As long as the light exists.
Peter Quill: Like, I could use the light to build cool things, like how you made this whole planet?
Ego: Well, it might take a few million years of practice before you get really good at it, but yes.
Peter Quill: Well, get ready for a 800-foot statue of Pac-Man with Skeletor and Heather Locklear…
Ego: Whatever you want.
Peter Quill: I’m gonna make some weird shit.

So the huge philosophical question presented is If Ego, who can make anything and be anything, has a problem finding meaning in the material world then how can mere mortals find meaning? Think about it. It is a pretty heavy question.

Reason (material)  destroyed faith (immaterial) and Neitzshe declared ‘God is Dead’, Dostoevsky took it a step further and applied it by saying if there is no God and immortality than all things are permissible. But, I guess not all things are permissible. It is still wrong to wilfully kill someone with cancer.

What Ego’s character is suggesting is that immortal evil could exist (at least in our minds) and that even though it is immortal it is still evil. So wouldn’t mortal evil also exist then?

To me that is the main question because if you answer ‘yes’ to it then you have to ask well what makes something evil and what makes something not evil?

Why is Yondo’s self-sacrifice ‘noble’ at the end? Why is it good and seems to atone for trafficking children and a life of despotic tyranny and hedonism (Can you fault someone for exchanging their existence for as much pleasure as possible? [no robot hookers were emotionally hurt in the making of this movie])

Yondo’s death is eerily existential. He gives his life for Quill but then he disintegrates in space – he is no more. There is only sad death. His existence has ended. He has no essence. No hope. He becomes non-existent.

Of course, that harsh reality was a little too blunt and the pilot of one of the ships looking on resolutely states “I will see you in the stars.” Really? Where? How? It is almost as if you can hear the Highwaymen  singing in the distance. The cold space-like rational that Yondo is now non-existent is just too much. His sacrificial death has to mean something (please…?) Dying nobly must mean more than living selfishly right? Yondo bet the remainder of his life on it.  Otherwise, it would have been Quill dying on the planet.

These are the real philosophical questions that are being presented.

There is also mixed in a good dose of Freudian psychology. The idea that it is our nurturing that is the cause of our anti-social ‘evil’ tendencies. Every one has a story and a reason for being the way they are. They are all victims. Every single member of the Guardians has a horrible back story that they are struggling with.

Abandonment issues. Abuse issues. Guilt Issues? Even the two antagonist from the first movie, Yondo (the blue guy) and Gamora’s sister Nebula (the angry, blue half robot, half girl) are no longer ‘evil’ since now we know ‘why’ they act how they act. I mean you would act like them too if you were them (wouldn’t you?). Nature versus Nurture? Seems Mr. Gunn has put his cards down heavily in favor of nurture. Pygmalian anyone?

Rocket: You people have issues.
Peter Quill: Well of course I have issues, that’s my freaking father!

Interesting that Quill is the hero figure and somehow he is able to overcome the same horrible back story but emerge a moral, loving, likeable guy (much like Chris Pratt himself). Maybe, that is the true message that no matter what you have been through you can still take responsibility for who you are?

The good thing is, though, that all of these heavy themes were punctuated with slapstick humor and self-referential postmodern jokes most of which I thought were pretty funny.

Rocket: Are we really saving the galaxy, again?
Peter Quill: Yeah.
Rocket: Great! We can jack up our prices if we’re two-time galaxy savers!

Plus, all the references to 80’s pop culture…

Conclusion:

Here is what you could learn from this movie – sacrifice is important for meaning.

Atonement requires sacrifice which gives existence meaning.

To gain meaning from a relationship it requires forgiveness (a form of sacrifice) since no one is perfect and we all have issues.

Love is sacrifice as you have to give a part of yourself to the other person (something Ego couldn’t do)

Don’t believe me?  Look at how the first movie ended. Groot, the last of his kind, gave his life and was destroyed only to be reborn as a seedling. The greatest good being a friend who gives himself up for others.

That sacrificial act gave birth to the ‘family’ that is Guardians 2.

Groot literally was the grain of wheat that fell in the ground and died.

Thoughts about Beauty and the Beast and Tale of Two Cities

Napoleon Meets Beauty

I followed War and Peace with I think the next best book I could read – Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Seems I went back in time and read the preface to the Napoleonic rise.

Beside that, “A Tale of Two Cities” is important just for the fact that it is the second-best-selling single-volume book of all time (200 million approx. sales). In other words, everyone should read it.

It is always interesting for me to try and find out what it is that makes a story so popular and not just popular for its own time but popular for generations past, present and probably future.

Like a fairy tail or a parable, the story must contain some archetypal themes that activate the parts of our souls that have a similar substance.

This is why reading and discussing another actual fairy tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast‘, at the same time is a great companion to A Tale and Two Cities and could be a preface to the preface as it were. (Disney thought so, more on that later)

Each gives cadence to the other and helps to expound the other.

One – they both are set in France and have similar characters and classes of people.

Two – they both have a similar over-arching theme – self sacrifice which brings about the redemption of someone else. (Carton for Crosby, Beauty for her Father)

Fairy Tales, tend to be a warning or give a moral reasoning why one way should be preferred over another. Seeing as Beauty and the Beast was written 40 years before the beginning of the French Revolution it seems the warning was not heeded.

Let’s look at the characters of Beauty and the Beast first:

Beauty – she is not just a beauty in her looks but she is one in her heart – ‘who she is’. She is naturally beautiful, pure, smart, enlightened, full of kindness, goodness, high in openness and conscientious. Even when her sisters (her enemies) despise her she doesn’t just tolerate them but loves them wholeheartedly wishing their best and giving more to them than she takes for herself. She is super human in her love. Very few people can love like she does. It would take a certain type of genius to think up a character better then her. (I think she is better than Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel). She is the true lady liberty. She is a Christ figure.

She is best summed up in

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

She represents the ideals of the reformation and the human race. She is smart, logical, brave and at peace with her Father.

The Father – Like another fairy tale, Pinocchio, Beauty’s Father represents a common theme – traditions and beliefs. That, what has kept us from anarchy so far. That, what is good and what works which has been passed down through the generations. True religion.

The father is kind, magnanimous and generous.

The Beast – Ugly and stupid. He has a special kind of ugliness, though, that type that causes dread. He is dangerous in that he has power to imprison the Father and give full vent to his anger. The beast represents the French culture of the day. The Monarchy specifically – brutal, ugly, beastly. The church was its prisoner. The only hope for it was progress, the only hope was love. Only Beauty could see some redeeming characteristics through the ugliness. Only love could change the beast.

Chesterton was spot on when he wrote:

“Beauty and the Beast deals with a very deep idea: that love creates beauty.”

The question and the warning is: Will the Beast embrace love and will the Beauty have enough love to overcome his ugliness? Could the ugliness of the French monarchy and the nobility be transformed into something beautiful? Could he be tamed? Could it have ‘checks and balances’ put on it?

How ugly is the Beast? Well Dickens helps us with that – Pretty ugly it seems. Ugly and wicked.

Fast forward 40 years… A Tale of Two Cities.

The brutal scene of Evrémonde running over a child in the street and nonchalantly throwing a coin out of the window as payment.

The same Evrémonde and his brother raping and then murdering two members of a peasant family and sending the doctor they commandeered to help to life in solitary confinement for telling on them. This is the reality of the beast. This is why he is hideous.

We see no signs that he is being wooed by lady liberty and so, in her place, another mistress arrives. Revenge, justice, jealousy, blood thirst – Defarge. There is no doubt in my mind that Disney added her to Beauty and the Beast as Gaston. The mob, anarchy, attractive at first but ultimately arguably uglier than the beast. Nietzsche’s ubermensche.

Complete lack of liberty for all but a few – ‘Citizens’ or ‘Comrades’? Complete and utter tyranny, and guess who stepped into that void? The first dictator instead of a King (Or Handsome Prince) – Napoleon.

The first in a long line of wicked, military dictators. (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot). For all of the beasts problems he was just a shadow of the atrocities which were to come.

Notice how there are no kings on the list of leaders who have killed the most people.

Even the unique horror of the guillotine has been dwarfed by the gas chambers of the Holocaust, the organized brutality of the gulag, the mass intimidation of Mao’s cultural revolution, or the killing fields of Cambodia – Doyle 
You have to appreciate how Disney’s changes incorporated the eventual French Revolution and modified it just enough to ‘Disneyify’ it.

– The rose dying signified the time running out for the French nobility in its beastly form. Will it be reformed?

– Gaston mortally wounding the beast just like the guillotine mortally wounded the French nobility.

But then Disney switched back to the fairy tale happy ending and didn’t follow how history actually went. They let the beast’s death and resurrection provide the proverbial grain of wheat dying and rising to life producing good fruit in the end. True Love, True Romance, New Life, Salvation, Happily ever after. They hijacked the metaphor.

Napoleon Meets Beauty
Napoleon Meets Beauty

The real point is that revolution (personal and societal) requires sacrifice. Someone has to die. The Reformers in the The bloodless revolution of 1688 in England decades earlier based their revolution on the sacrifice typified by the Beauty and by Carton – a freely given, self-less act birthed out of love. That sacrifice rooted in love turns into something beautiful, something noble, something approaching perfection. This idea that we need to be reformed. That we (every one) is beastly and the loving thing to do is to place checks and balances on us.

It is not an accident that Dickens was a British writer writing about the difference between two cities (London and Paris) but really the difference was what blood would be used as the sacrifice.

Nietzsche put it best…

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto”

We did kill God but long before Nietzsche wrote this. What Nietzsche prophesies here is that either you use God’s blood or you use the blood of the masses. No matter how much human blood is split it will not atone for humanities ‘beastly’ sins. Only eternal blood as irrational as it sounds truly ‘washes’ us in the Nietzschean sense. It is an easy and profound thing to accept but difficult because of it simplicity.

We all are beasts sentenced to the guillotine and each of us needs a doppelganger to go in our place. It has been finished.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”

Reference:

 

 

 

We Did Not Choose to Exist But We Can Choose to Not Exist

Was there a choice involved in you being born?  I know that when my wife and I wanted to have kids we ‘chose’ to try and have them which basically meant that we removed any kind of birth control and tried to increase the chance of getting pregnant.  Still it took awhile and there were a few tense months when we asked the question ‘Can we have kids’.  Thank God, we have three healthy children now, but it is not that easy for many people.  In fact, it is down right hard.  Infertility affects a lot of people. Some say 1 in 8 (12.5%) others say up to 20%. Now by all accounts that is a huge number. Especially, if you consider that there are two people who make up a couple.  That means that at least a quarter of people in the USA deal with infertility on some level.

Now these are people who do not have a choice.  I have seen this first hand with my sister and brother in law who had a hard time getting pregnant.  In fact, it took a couple of years.  Every month that they didn’t have a baby was like a jack hammer that drove them down deeper and deeper. It was heart wrenching to watch.  You wouldn’t want to talk about someone who got pregnant around her and especially if someone got pregnant that wasn’t trying.  Then, just to make life especially cruel they got pregnant! Yes, only to lose the baby.  Now for people who ‘choose’ to have kids this is what it can be like.   Your choice is superseded by some other ‘choice’ be it natural or supernatural.  You are at its mercy.

I only tell these stories to illustrate that the word ‘choice’ is not conclusive. Whether someone chooses to bring a human into the world or not does not necessarily mean they will.

Another way to think about it is that we have a choice because someone else had a choice.  Our choice is contingent on the fact that someone else chose to have us.  If they would have chosen to not have us then logically we would not be able to choose to have someone else. So, the fact that we can choose is not because of a choice of ours.  Your choice belongs to a long chain of causation of many, many choices either virtuous or nefarious.  Whether you would like to admit it or not you very well might be the product of a rape 20 generations back.  Either way if that did not happen you would not be who you are (this of course does not make it right but that is another discussion).

Looking at it this way can also be very sobering because logically the children you don’t have also means the end of that chain of causation.  Your ‘choice’ is not just ending the chain for your children to be but also their children to be and their children to be.  You essentially have eradicated a whole bunch of future people.  Now this argument can also go to people who decide to not have more children.  I myself am haunted by the fact that I was a fourth child and what if my parents had decided at three children (like me and my wife) that they had enough? Well, thank God they ‘chose’ different (I assume they chose).

The only religion that I can tell that indicates that a human can decide to be born is Judaism.
Unless I am wrong every other religion seems to indicate that you are born into a body due to some Karma calculation or that you begin to exist somewhere around conception.  Atheism believes that you are product of chance so no decision there, you are a lucky accident.  Really, from the naturalistic viewpoint, not only are you lucky, you are also a winner because your genetics have beat out other competing chains of causation (That rape 20 generations ago was a good thing for your evolution)

It is as if the world’s family tree was started by one domino (a couple) falling and that one domino knocks down a number of other dominoes with each one of then knocking down a bunch more.  Hence, the tree metaphor.  All human existence could be recursively iterated through like the directory system on your computer (if we had all of the data).

Essentially, all of that data does exist in our DNA in a form since it is passed on from generation to generation always changing yet staying the same (we are all humans)

You can think about it even more granular than that though using the domino illustration further. Any individual human life can be thought of a time dependent series like dominoes lined up , one for each minute of existence, ready to be knocked down and all that is needed is a push to the very first domino to cause the sequence to start.  Now, the only rule is that two series must converge to start another series.

There is no limit on the amount of times two series can converge (and they don’t have to be the same series logically)

Now, unless you believe in Judaism you don’t have a part to play in what starts your series. Every minute goes by and another domino falls, crashing into the next minute to start it falling. Now, none of us know exactly how many dominoes are in our series but we are all time dependent which means that you cannot take any one domino away from the series without stopping it (some would say killing it).  In other words, every domino in the series is as necessary to the series as any other.  You could not remove a minute from your life when you were, for example, two and continue being a human (a second, a millisecond, a microsecond, a nanosecond etc.. for that matter).

All of us, every living thing, in fact lives in this exact way.  The act of living means that you are existing in the present (your domino’s are still falling).

From a logical point of view then, an event that stops the sequence anywhere along the sequence would be considered something that stops that life, that kills that life.  You can’t have the second minute without the first, the hundredth minute with out the ninety-ninth minute…

Every minute, second, millisecond, microsecond, nanosecond… is as necessary as any other and cannot be considered any less necessary than any other, logically.

I am not talking about when a so called soul is attached to its body here.  I am strictly talking logically about the sequence that we call life.  If life is valuable at all, it is valuable continuously and consistently.  At different stages of development in any kind of life it may require different resources to facilitate its continued synchronization with the present.  But, by its nature, to be alive and to continue being what it is (human, dog, fish, plant) its point in development in the now is as necessary as its point of development in any point in the past (or the future).  Although its usefulness and functionality (value) might change with its development, since its usefulness and functionality are dependent on the antecedents of prior less useful and functional development times those prior times have absolutely the same value as the subsequent times should there be any value at all.

Which then of course leads to the real issue – Do any of us or does anything really have any value at all?    Now talking about value is hard because it is one of those words that can mean different things.  For example, value can strictly mean what amount of money someone will pay for something.  It also can mean how much money a person might have; like “His personal fortune is valued at” or “My Net Worth is”.  Or, someone’s value might be by what they can give to a society; their productivity and utility.  Or, we can have value to each other, like how I value my family or I am valued by my parents.  But apart from individual value based on quantitative and qualitative properties we may have do we have value by simply being human?

And, if we have value, do we all have the same value?  Because value is not necessarily a constant, it can change (as mentioned above).  You may be the love of someone’s life only to become their enemy.  Your parents may not have shown you love and affection as evidence that they valued you.

In America, a society that is the first of its kind in history, our founding fathers tried a radical approach to this human value question.  It essentially is the idea that every citizen has equal value and because they have equal value they intrinsically have equal rights.  (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)

So, no matter what value your parents, your friends or even you have of yourself, your country gives you value for just being human which is pretty cool (Yeah America!).  Just because you began to exist in America means that as long as you are human (that is the only stipulation) you have value and consequently civil rights.

What are those intrinsic rights?  Well, life for one.  You exist and since you exist you have the right to continue existing.  No one can take your life from you and not face severe punishment (lose all of their rights).

The right of liberty, which basically means that you are free to do what you want to.  If you want to move across the country you can.  If you want to color your hair purple you can.  Essentially, inside of the laws of not hurting others and decency you can do and believe pretty much what you want. You can pursue ‘happiness’ whatever that means for you.

Now, it was not always that way.  In fact, you had no value unless you were related to the royal family in some way or were useful to them.  In the 13th century one document called the Magna Carta  started to change all of that. The one thing the Magna Carta did was limit the value of the nobility and at the same time give value to normal people.  It, in effect, provided a solution to the paradox of humanity where there are people that seem to be worth more and rise to the top along with their family while all of the people underneath them are worth less and oppressed.  This has happened since monarchy was invented, which goes way, way back in human history.  Every truly free democratic country mimics the principles of the Magna Carta in some way with America being the first country to fully embrace civil liberty. Hence, the Statue of Liberty.

So, you have value and rights bestowed on you if you are American (or Canadian, or Australian etc..) Now, where does this wonderful concept of the basic concept of our intrinsic value and consequent rights come from?  You see one of the issues with people (call it a law) is that they start to act a certain way when they are in a position where their value is perceived to be greater than the value of others.  Throughout history this human law has been in effect.  It is the law of pride.  Whatever gives you an advantage over another person (strength, intelligence, beauty, wealth, religious piousness, family born into, what country one is from) can make you perceive (and believe) that you are more valuable when juxtaposed with others.

We all have an internal rating system that continually compares ourselves with other people on the properties that we comprehend are the most valuable to us  –  “I am more wealthy than him”  or “he is wealthy, but he cheats on his wife” or “I am hotter than most people I know”.  We size people up when we meet them to see if they are worthy of our time and friendship or if they are a threat (nothing worse than a genius who doesn’t have to work to be smart).  Are they friend material or a project?  Are they intelligent or a dumbass?  Do they know how to have fun?

That what gives us value can bring us together but can also isolate us.  A pretty girl might have lots of friends and companions because she is pretty until some accident takes her looks away and then those same people who valued her for her beauty find it hard to be seen in public with her.

My point is that human value to other humans is a setpoint on a sliding scale based on an aggregate of what is valuable to them (at that time in their life).  Ones own value is a recursive feedback loop to that same setpoint.  The writers of the Declaration of Independence came in and said “No, everyone has a base level of value” to put a low limit on everyone’s sliding scale but also “Everyone, has an upper limit to their value (and consequent power) as well”.  It is like it is a mathematical constant similar to PI or the speed of light in a vacuum or like how everyone gets the same amount of money in the beginning of monopoly.  Why? because human societies successful functionality is a phenomenon like any other scientific phenomenon.  Why do light photons travel the way they do?  Why does electricity behave according to certain rules?  They are phenomenon that can be hard to understand from a common sense point of view but that is the way they work.  When human society is run giving the lowest members the same value and freedoms as its highest members an odd thing happens – it works a lot better.  Call it forced humility or maybe forced pride depending on how you look at it.  Now, to be clear, this is not the same as communism that applies this principle to economics.

Chesterton speaks of this paradox of the “moral dilemma of balancing pride with humility” and our Constitution and Declaration attempt to balance that paradox with equality and civil rights.  They can only limit it, though, so that the system will not spiral out of control (and end up at something like Fascism).  It is each individual’s job to enforce that balance in their own life.

It is important to note that pride generally is not a choice where humility is.  All humans are born with a default sense of pride.  Pride, by its nature, is irrational.  I see this with my son who says ‘I am a really good at ‘ – FILL IN THE BLANK.  He is at the age where in his mind he thinks that he is good at everything even though he is not.  It is not that he won’t be but his pride is irrational. He thinks himself the best at something he really knows nothing about.

Now, I didn’t teach him this it is just how he is.  Kid’s (humans) are braggers by nature they have to learn (generally through losing) that they need to practice and work hard to get good and then as they continue to grow up, depending on their exposure, they learn that there are even more people out there that are better than them which continually provides humility.  Ignoring humilities lessons leads to irrational pride.  Irrational pride is dangerous because once reality sets in and one truly realizes that their value is based on a prideful mirage your value setpoint can drop quickly causing you to lose control.

Many people have to readjust their personal value setpoint when they start college and find out that even though they may have been the most popular, the best looking and best at sports in high school in reality they may be just average or a bit above average.  This can suddenly make you question your value.  A readjustment of what makes up your value setpoint is needed.

Which leads me to the choice to not exist. I think that generally most people commit suicide because they believe that their life is not worth living – that they have no intrinsic value.  Something has happened that causes them to spiral out of control and their personal value setpoint has gone below the low low limit where even the very value of their life is in question.  This can be caused by a number of things but usually it comes from the personal value property that is the ‘value we have to others’ or even worse ‘the value we perceive we have to others’.  The opinions (their value properties in relation to us) of other people (especially people that contribute lots to our aggregated value setpoint) can have a devastating effect on our own value.  That is why caring too much what people think can be very very dangerous.  Maybe you find yourself in severe debt or you made some really foolish decisions and now you are in a hole and are trapped because you don’t want people to know and be devalued in their eyes.  Or, you are depressed and don’t know why. Maybe it started from anxiety when someone of value to you died and you were faced with your own mortality.  Maybe one of your parents never demonstrated that they valued you and you can’t understand how they could do that.  Maybe you are stuck in a nihilistic loop. Maybe you have just been diagnosed with a disease 

Listen, if your country says your life has value then maybe you should too.  The Low Limit on your value needs to be in place that no matter what you have done or what anyone else has done to you or thinks about you or what is going on in your life – YOU HAVE INTRINSIC VALUE!

I honestly think this HI-LO Value Limiting idea came from Christian scripture. (Hint: the word ‘Creator’ in the DOI)

I have struggled with the concept that we are all valuable to God or God loves everyone.  It seemed like one of those things you always hear but that doesn’t really make any sense.  That was because I thought that if we all have the same value to God then really no one is valuable since value to me is a setpoint on that sliding scale biased by my own version of what is valuable.  This is irrational, though, and can only be possible because of you guessed it – my pride.

In reality, we all have a base level of intrinsic value to God that is the same Lo Limiter on your value but like the value and rights your country gives you – you can choose to believe in it or not (they are yours whether you believe or not).    It works in society and it works in the life of a single person as well.  Believe and focus on the fact that there is nothing that you can do that will bring you below that threshold of love and value God has for you and it will be a philosophical and emotional anchor that a weary, seemingless valueless mind may need.

Oh yeah, about my brother and sister in-law.  They ended up adopting a pair of beautiful twins (one boy, one girl) and just before the adoption was final they became pregnant and now have 3 beautiful children all within one year.

We Should Not Be Here But We Are

dubito ergo sum (“I doubt, therefore I am”)  – Augustine

We exist, at least we believe that we exist.  I am going on the assumption that if you are reading this (or listening to someone reading this) that you are a sentient conscious being that believes in your own existence.  I am sure that there probably is no dog reading this or dolphin or whatever else that we could think of other than a human.  As much as we would like to think there are aliens or other beings that could communicate like us, as far as we know, we are alone in our cognition.

So, if you are reading this you exist.  You are here – Congratulations!  Pinch yourself or give yourself a big hug, something to let you know that you know who you are.

For something (anything really) to come about there must be a certain number of sequential events that are time dependent.  The best illustration is your family tree.  If you are like me you might find it hard to trace back anywhere before your great grandparents.   Most of us are lucky to know our parents and even though we were there at our birth we don’t remember the event (hopefully),  we can deduce that our parents came from their parents who came from their parents who came…

So, just from that, logically you can see the twisted path that got to you.

Most educated people in college level mathematics have studied statistics and know its ability to predict that an event could or could not occur in the future.  If something has already occurred well then we are 100% sure that it did occur.  Like you are 100% sure that you exist.   Probability only matters for people who have not been born yet.  So when someone says what is the probability that I was born what they really mean is what was the probability that I was going to be born before I was actually born.  This clarification helps because that seems to be the main argument against this approach to finding value in a person mathematically.

Anyway, taking the mathematical approach you can see that the fact that YOU exist seems to be mathematically improbable (very very unlikely).

It gets worse than that, though. Remember how you came to be is a result of a series of events, mentioned above and illustrated by your family tree.  Well, the conventional theory is that humans evolved from many, many sequential events by chance from some single celled organism over millions of years.  The probability this happened cannot be truly calculated.
But, it did happen though. Humans did come about somehow (that is 100% certain) and unless the rules of mathematics have changed over time we can only use the tools we have been given and our intuition that this event is at the very, very least super extraordinary according to our limited scientific observation (we have only really been scientifically observing ourselves adequately in the last what – 200 years? maybe.)

But, it is more complicated than that.  The fact that the earth exists in a state that is even life permitting is incredibly improbable.

Now I know that there are many people arguing each way and really there is no way to conclusively prove either side.  At the very least, I think one should take a humble position on it.  Anyone that claims they can fully understand the math and can fully rationalize all of the factors can’t.  It is a paradox – a mystery.  Does that mean we stop trying to find the answers mathematically or scientifically – NO.

My point is that these situations exist and they force us to choose a side.  They force us to take a side in the paradox.  Whatever side you are on has a rational that supports why you are on the side you are on.  It is ludicrous to say, though, that you are on a side because you have proven it.  Some have been taught from childhood to be on a certain side and they have been told that you are crazy to be on the other side.  The other side has done the same.  Now some stay on a side because of faulty reasoning and that can be pointed out by the other side but many times that does not cause someone to switch sides.

Switching sides can only be done by looking into it yourself and weighing the evidence and what your own intuition tells you.  Now I am not even arguing for God’s existence here.  I am only arguing for the two sides of the paradox that ‘we should not exist but do’.  Some may say that the paradox is an illusion and made up and that really ‘we should exist and do’ but to me that implies that something is in charge of the ‘should’. At best, it just seems to boil down to ‘we do exist and aren’t we lucky’. So, we take sides on the ‘should’ and the ‘should not’ but the ‘are’ we are in agreement on.

All we know is that we are here and that we are complex, very, very, very complex.
When I was around 9 I remember I had a radio alarm clock with the numbers that flipped.
I remember that it stopped working for some reason so I thought I would take it apart and see what was inside.  I was curious.  I remember the blue of the capacitors on the circuit board and all of the parts and pieces that made no sense to me.  I remember that all I was left with were a bunch of pieces that ended up in the garbage.    I tried to understand it from books but could never grasp exactly what was going on.  Concepts like radio waves that are modulated sound waves traveling through space inducing electric currents in my little radio transforming them back to sound went right over my head. Even back then, though, I was fascinated by the engineering that allowed this thing to do something that seemed almost magical. There was something inside of me that appreciated the beauty of the science involved. I think many people feel that same feeling and it is a great motivator.  Whether it is trying to get code to execute the way you want it to or to get an old engine to run that hasn’t in awhile, creating something that works out of chaos has a rush to it.

Now, focus that on our body and especially our brain like many people have throughout history.  Think about the feedback systems.  The efficiency to take in vast amounts of types of food and adjust to multiple environments.  As a machine, our bodies are an engineering marvel. I think of the part in Terminator 2 where the chip left over from the incomplete destruction of T1 becomes the basis of the research done at Cyberdyne   (very paradoxical).

The point is that some technology beyond our comprehension has been dropped in our lives (we live in it) and we are only beginning to really understand how it works.  It is more complicated then anything man has created or probably ever will create.  It is the zenith that we try to reach.  We try to make mechanical, chemical, communication and computer intelligence systems all function together in ways that the multiple systems inside our bodies function, but all of these man made systems are rudimentary compared with even the more simplistic of earth’s creatures – let alone man.

We are like a 9 year old boy opening up a radio or Myles Dyson trying to figure out the technology of T1.

Or, look at nature from the engineering point of view and how ecosystems come together and symbiotic relationships and self regulating systems function. Out here in the Northwest US you can go to Mount Saint Helens.  It is humbling to stand on Windy Ridge and try and comprehend the enormity of what went on there.  The forces involved are massive and the destruction sobering. It gives you a tiny bit of perspective on the forces and the physics that are affecting our planet.  From the human scale these forces of weather, evaporation/precipitation, tides, natural disaster are massive and hard to comprehend.  Even though things go a little crazy sometimes  it is amazing it all works as well as it does.

Or, look at the cosmos and how our earth is positioned in just the right place in our galaxy to make the conditions on our earth ideally suited for life and especially human life. (Space is dangerous)

My point is that if you are a scientist or engineer and someone came to you with a device and said  ‘We don’t know where this came from (maybe it is alien technology) but we know that it does this and this and this. We don’t know how but it does it. Can you help us figure it out?’ Would we conclude that this thing came about by random events over a long period of time?  I don’t think so.  Our intuition says ‘no’ this device was put together using some sort of intelligence that is beyond ours at this time.  Why is this different for electromechanical systems than it is for biochemical systems?  Cells transfer and hold massive amounts of data using molecules way more efficiently than we do using electrical signals.  DNA is essentially a program that tells a cell how to reproduce itself in kind based off of a greater context of the organism as a whole.  It like creating an object from a class in programming but on an incredibly complex distributed scale with crazy amount of Polymorphism.

Like Myles Dyson we too look into the machine of our universe, or nature, or ourselves for clues on how to advance.  The technology has always been there as long as we have, hidden, waiting for us to find it.  The Universe has not become any more or less complex as time has passed.  It is like a giant puzzle that keeps giving and giving.

Maybe,  it is so that we are completely overwhelmed by science, by beauty, by scale and in that state of wonder we are humble and thankful.

War and Peace – Patriarchy versus Matriarchy

I finally finished War & Peace after 2 years of reading!  The wonders of Kindle and being able to keep your place across multiple devices.

I slowly consumed this grand novel like one would eat a small elephant. A little bite here and a little bite there;  on the train, on my tablet or at my son’s hockey practice on my phone.

One chapter at a time across many days not unlike the book itself.  This seems to be what every person who reviews this book says at first.

The problem with reading such a famous book by such a famous author for the first time is that you don’t know if you think the book is great because it is great or it is great because you think it is great.

With that in mind, what struck me first in this chronicle of life was that it could be set in any time with any characters and it would evoke the same essence.  In that way, it is timeless and still applicable.

Take anyone you know (or even yourself) and boil down the most dramatic parts of all of their relationships, thoughts, beliefs and actions along with 20 people in their sphere of influence across their whole life and you will arrive somewhere near this novel.

Many times I found myself saying, ‘Hey that is exactly what I think’ or, ‘I know someone that is exactly like that’ and then highlighting it on my Kindle.

You can only write like that if you are one thing – very honest.  Honest about yourself and those around you.  How else could Tolstoy write this unless he observed it and lived it?

Like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy’s genius let’s us into his character’s heads and hearts where the reader is able to pick and choose from a smorgasbord of personalities, tastes and beliefs that they personally find appealing. They may not like where they end up but if they are wise they will take heed.

So many novels (especially modern novels) fail to capture this simplistic honesty and paint a picture not of how people should or could be but rather how they really are. Ironically, in seeing how we really are we learn how we should be.

Sadly, no publisher would publish this book now a days (it breaks all the rules, way too many darlings) but even more sad is that no one could write it now a days.

The novel is a narrative about the Napoleon Wars on Russia starting in 1805 and climaxing in the war of 1812 which serves as the stage on which three leading and very different families are the main actors.

These three families are representative of all families and can roughly be broken down as:

Conservative  – Patriarchal, male dominated, totalitarian

Liberal – Matriarchal, female dominated, progressive

Broken – Complete lack of parental influence or family structure, chaotic

Now there are a ton of supporting characters with their own families and personality profiles but the entanglements of the members of these three families derive the bulk of the novel and the main characters.  They start the novel and they end the novel.

Conservative – The Bolkonsky’s

Marie and Andrew Bolkonsky’s father Nikolai is at the far end of the conservative spectrum.  Super conscientious and extremely demanding.  Almost no agreeableness or openness but oddly high in neuroticism.  Like him or hate him, he is very successful and his children are ruled by his relentless personality and they must fight its absolute power to develop themselves.  This is a patriarchal family ruled by a unbending, unaffectionate task master.

Prince Andrew is handsome, brave and conscientious like his dad and only slightly more agreeable.  A say slightly because he can’t stand his little agreeable, open, ‘chit of a wife’ who tragically dies giving birth to his only son.  His poor, pure sweet agreeable wife pretty much gets chewed up and spit out but this uncompassionate family (Take heed – A warning for all you super agreeable people).

This also a very good example of a family that has zero trait agreeableness and how the naturally occurring agreeableness and openness found in the female sex is completely disregarded as useless and even dangerous.  It is mocked, scorned and abused being seen as a weakness.  This is the type of family that produces a certain type of feminist, I think (a good type in my opinion).  It is no accident that Tolstoy gives the miserable Maria the name of Christ’s own mother because only one as pious and saintly as her could withstand this onslaught of the more ‘feminine’ personality traits.  One could argue that she suffers the most in this story and oddly she is the most religious.

After Prince Andrew gets horribly wounded by a cannonball and nearly dies in the first dust up between the Russians and the French and his poor ‘angel’ of a wife dies giving birth to their son he has a bit of an existential crisis which he desperately needs to keep him from completely turning into his father.  It is his ‘death’ and the question is whether the seed planted in this death will bring new life?  Will he change?  Will he ‘progress’?

Liberal – The Rostov’s

Natasha and Nicholas Rostov’s dad Ilya is the complete opposite of Nikolai Bolkonsky. Super high in agreeableness but severely lacking in conscientiousness.  Not really neurotic at first but he eventually becomes high in it in the end from his lack of conscientiousness (I think there is a lesson there for me).  He is servant to the whims of his wife and children and provides them a life that they can’t afford and that he is too afraid to reign in.   They are a matriarchal family.  Family life is dominated by the female members wants and needs and Natasha is the shining star of the family, bursting in life, loveliness and creativity.   Trait openness, agreeableness and neurotisicm reign and it produces creative but undisciplined children.  They are obsessed with the latest fashions, arts and social standings.  They are the Kardashians of their day (At least the Kardashian’s from 5 years ago).

It is by all accounts a good family, though, and it sticks together through tough times and all the neurotic ups and downs which eventually kill the poor father. Who, if he would have been a little more conscientious, might not have squandered the family fortune and if he would not have been so agreeable he might have reigned in the spending of his wife and daughter and for goodness sake at least got a little upset at his son when he came home and told him he just lost a ton of money in a poker game gone horribly wrong and needs him to bail him out.  The whole situation does have one positive affect on the Rostov boy Nicholas; he decides that he is going to dedicate himself to the discipline of the army.  This is the best decision he can make and stabilizes his lack of conscientious upbringing.  It will serve him well later in life.

For all of the Rostov’s faults there is love in this family mixed with passion and fun.  Almost all the characters in the novel are drawn to it like moths to a light and frequent the Rostov home throughout the novel.

Broken – The Bezukhov’s

Then there is Pierre’s dad, Kirill Vladimirovich, a wealthy profligate who has a slew of kids out of wedlock and decides to leave his fortune to the one son he likes the best but doesn’t really know because he sent him off to party in Europe. (Related to Fydor Karamozov maybe?)

Pierre’s family is not really a family at all and the reality is that his family has been his ‘friends’ who prove to be not very good choices for friends.  He can’t think for himself. He is a lost soul.  Because of this. he makes a horrible decision in marriage choosing an immoral person who had an affair with her brother (yep, that should have been a red flag), won’t have sex with him but cheats on him with any one she can find.  If there is an antagonist in the story it is her (and her incestuous brother).  He is in chaos and subsequently in hell and now he is married to the devil.

It is a testament of what happens when someone has no culture or tradition in their life to safeguard them from the evils of this world and their subsequent suffering (yes, there are evils in life).  He is ‘blown about like a rudderless ship on the sea.’ He is a man without an identity and so he is susceptible to ideologies.  He becomes a Freemason, he likes Napoleon, he disastrously tries to implement too liberal policies on the peasants in his care.

There is one very redeeming quality about Pierre, though, which seems to make up for everything he lacks and that is that he knows his state in life.  He is honest and humble.  He is trying as well as he knows how to make sense out of the chaos of his life and he desperately wants to change and find stability, acceptance and love.  He is the tax collector, “standing far off, not even lifting up his eyes to heaven, but beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

His only good friend is Prince Andrew.  They make an odd couple and he is just the person the conflicted Prince needs.  Unapologetic of his state of constant repentance and searching, Pierre is not a competitive threat as he spouts off his theories on how Russia and himself should change.  His honesty is disarming and welcome in a private setting but alarming and alienating in the public setting.

Pierre loves the Rostov family and its shining star Natasha.  He observes and craves the love in that family like a kid looking through the window of a candy store.  He doesn’t believe he is worthy of it, though, no matter how rich he is.

Push Play

So, take these three family types (somewhat like every one of ours) and then watch how the kids turn out when Tolstoy pushes the play button.  Watch as the opposites attract and collide and how once the storms settle where all the pieces have fallen.  Add a war to create stress and watch as that stress transforms the individuals and how they show their true personalities and character because nothing shows someones character like stressful times.

The brilliance of Tolstoy is that he tells the same story twice at the same time.  Once in the micro (the families) and once again in the macro (the countries at war)

The two stories are parallel and timeless.

This idea of progress versus staying the same.  Liberal versus Conservative.

The micro climax of the novel is the clash of the two opposite family cultures (personalities) in Natasha and Prince Andrew.  There definitely is love there in a Romeo and Juliet sort of way.  But alas, Prince Andrew is too cautious, too conservative, too unwilling to take a risk and do something for the sake of emotion, to break free from his father and change his culture (you need to be at least a little liberal to do that). All law and no grace is a road to hell and Natasha, poor Natasha is led down it.  It breaks her and only proves to her that she is unlovable and not worthy of being cherished.  It is her turn to die, spiritually, emotionally and almost physically.  She attempts to commit suicide.  She is at the bottom.  Will she be reborn like the seed of wheat that falls in the ground?

The two extremes when brought together are like a hot and cold front meeting each other creating a massive thunderstorm.  There is a lot of electricity but also a lot of violence.  The damage done by this storm is irreparable.  The resultant chaos surrounds Natasha and she, like Pierre, makes a deal with the devil to escape it (At least her and Pierre had that in common).  Lucky for her, her culture and family work against her to rescue her from the arms of the devil.

Eventually, Prince Andrew has his epiphany and ultimate new life change of heart but it comes like it came for his father, on his deathbed.  Some people are so low in openness and so stubborn that it takes the inevitability of their death staring them in the face before they realize that they are a miserable creature that needs to see they are wrong and finally open themselves to what really matters – love and affection.
The macro climax is the battle of Borodino. Liberal, progressive French versus conservative, serfdom, Russia.  Arrogant, flamboyant Napoleon versus patient, boring  Kutuzov.  Like Natasha, the French are defeated in this battle but like Prince Andrew the conservative Russia is dead.  The heart of what was old Russia has died, Moscow is lost.  She is broken.  She is Pierre.

After Prince Andrew dies closing the door on that possible train wreck of a marriage, Pierre awkwardly makes his move.  Natasha, her ideals dead along with her Prince, submits to his undying, safe but real love on one condition – she must rule him, never again will she not be in control. She continues in the matriarchal manner she grew up with.  Pierre, sick of chaos, readily agrees to the terms and submits fully to her slavery.  There is matriarchal tyranny too! But even that is better than chaos for him. Natasha, in my opinion, embodies the negative type of feminism or as some call it – Marxism or as it later became known, communism, the nanny state. A prophetic warning from Tolstoy perhaps?

I think Tolstoy hinted at the direction he thought Russia should go when you examine Maria and Nicholas relationship.

They are the antithesis of Pierre and Natasha. Nicholas, with the assertiveness and discipline he gained from being in the Cavalry and fighting battles becomes what his dad never was – conscientious.  Maria, used to strong patriarchal men, admires him from a far with a certain amount of fear (respect) but he is not like her father or her brother.  She finds that he is not immune to her feminine traits like her dad was and her suggestions and requests do not fall on deaf ears.  When she is upset at his violence against the peasants it deeply affects him and he changes his behavior. He loves her and it grieves him that she is upset with him.  He also turns out to be a great dad,  I imagine he recalls his own agreeable and open childhood as he plays and loves on his own children. To me if there is a protagonist it is Nicholas because he is the only one who truly changes and balances his personality traits.  I also think that Nicholas most closely resembles Levin in Tolstoy’s  novel ‘Anna Karenina’ and pretty much embodies Tolstoy’s own thoughts on how the peasant’s should be treated and how a husband should act.

They are the perfect balance between Conservatives and Liberal.  The State and the Church.  The Secular and the Spiritual.  War and Peace. The Old Testament and the New Testament.  God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Maria’s feminism is a liberal, guiding force to the conservative, structured masculinity of Nicholas.

For society to work, religion needs to be a liberal guiding force and the state a conservative force.

Lessons

Tolstoy has given us a mirror and it is up to us if we will ‘forgot what we look like’ after we walk away from it.

The micro lessons?  Work on your weakest traits. Not very conscientious? Work harder at disciplining yourself.  Not very agreeable?  Try to have compassion even when people doesn’t deserve it.  Not extroverted? Try talking in public.  Why?  Why go to the trouble in this futile existence to endure the uncomfortableness and pain of changing?  Because you either suffer now or you suffer later.  And it is not just you who will suffer but everyone in your family and then every one in your country. Also, guess what?  It resets for every person no matter what family they are born into.  You have to make your own way and fight your own monsters.  Don’t believe in original sin? Hang out with a 2 year old for a day.  Countries are just a sum total of its families and yesterday’s successes as a country can be erased by the next generation or improved on.

“As the sun and each atom of ether is a sphere complete in itself, and yet at the same time only a part of a whole too immense for man to comprehend, so each individual has within himself his own aims and yet has them to serve a general purpose incomprehensible to man.”

 

The macro lesson? You are not always right.  You need others.  You have a huge log in your eye that blinds you from your own deficiencies.

Admit that you don’t have all the answers and all the perspectives if you deem yourself conservative or liberal.  Admit that even a ‘genius’ like Napoleon cannot control history, only God can do that. Show some humility.  You are but a small character in a massively complicated story and it isn’t about you.  That definitely doesn’t mean that you don’t play an important part, though.  You may be the ‘hair that breaks the camels back’ or you may not be but every part of that load is just as necessary as the hair.

Heed these words..

“C’est grand!” say the historians, and there no longer exists either good or evil but only “grand” and “not grand.” Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand is the characteristic, in their conception, of some special animals called “heroes.” And Napoleon, escaping home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish those who were not merely his comrades but were (in his opinion) men he had brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is tranquil.

“Du sublime (he saw something sublime in himself) au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas,” said he. And the whole world for fifty years has been repeating: “Sublime! Grand! Napoleon le Grand!” Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas.

And it occurs to no one that to admit a greatness not commensurable with the standard of right and wrong is merely to admit one’s own nothingness and immeasurable meanness.

For us with the standard of good and evil given us by Christ, no human actions are incommensurable. And there is no greatness where simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent.”

Replace “grand” and “not grand” with “equal” and “not equal” or “diverse” or “not diverse” and you can arrive at the same sublime argument.  Liberalism and social justice only work when they aim at the ‘greatest good’ to overcome conservative societies where “simplicity, goodness, and truth are absent.”

Tolstoy’s own views and philosophy on the ‘greatest good’ are decidedly religious as related in the story within a story told by the peasant Platon Karataev to Pierre about a man wrongly convicted of a crime.  Tolstoy believed this to be the greatest story he ever wrote and he expanded it into the stand alone short story ‘God Sees the Truth, But Waits’

This story is so powerful that it is the basis of the highest ranked IMBD movie of modern times.

Why is it so powerful?

Because it is the story about the best, most good, most loving person that arguably the world’s best imagination could ever think up.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” An even greater love is a man who gives up his whole life for the salvation of a man that is his enemy.  The only love greater than that is a man that gives up His life for everyone.

Many, many human imaginations can think up the most wicked, the most perverted, the most twisted person that could ever exist (just ask Steven King, or refer to the whole horror genre) but it takes a genius to do the opposite.

As far as Tolstoy was concerned, Christ is the answer to the paradox of Liberal and Conservative.  The joining of the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The eternal and the finite.

Or, as Chesterton put it:

“But the cross, though it has at its head a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because is has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing.”

Just like society.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that this book is epic.  It is up there with ‘Paradise Lost.’  It has no equal in the 20th century and definitely not in the 21st.  It may take 100 more years until we will get another like it.

Burn all the religious books of the world but leave this one and it will lead you back home.

It warns you of how you should be and what you will become, but most of all, it tells you to die to yourself to save yourself like that great city of Moscow and in so doing you will defeat the ‘Anti-Christ’ within.  Your death is the only thing the devil in you cannot survive.

Russia Burns

You think you have Daddy Issues? – A look at Dostoevsky’s TBK

For me there are two types of fictional books.

Book’s that entertain and give you a shot of adrenaline from either a fright or some plot thrill; or a dose of dopamine from some romantic encounter.

These types of writer’s are in a sense drug dealers. They provide a narrative that causes your imagination to get worked up enough to trigger your glands to give you your ‘hit’. A sort of mental masturbation as it were. (Isn’t that what the whole romance genre is?)

And like all drugs, they are very good at distracting us and numbing us from our reality for a little bit – That we are lonely. That our lives will never live up to the characters in our books. That we are anxious and depressed and we don’t know why. That our family sucks. That life is futile. Not to mention the gnawing knowledge that we are but specks of dust on a speck of dust hurtling through space.

And then there are books that come at you in the disguise of entertainment but really they are meant to open your mind to the big questions.

Why are we here?
What is the point of things?
What is the meaning of life?
Does anything matter?
What is the greatest good?

Books, that once you have read you can’t unread them. Books that are actually honest about what it means to be a human and not just portray one dimensional heroes and villains.

The Brother’s Karamazov by Dostoevsky is one of those books.

You can come for the sordid love triangle and the whodunit parricide but underneath the covers is the Magnus Opus of a writer that drank fully from the crucible of human vice and suffering and then poured it into his characters.

Just to name a few of his very own real life sufferings and ‘shortcomings’ that are in various characters in the book:

Had a toddler that died.
Had horrible seizures.
Had a horrible addiction to gambling.
Was a womaniser and adulterer.

Here is a great biography detailing this: YouTube Biography

And as for the reasons for all of these questions he argues both sides – atheism and theism (Christianity in particular) and both sides point to this book (especially Book 5) as reference. And both sides should read it to find out what they actually believe.

Not to mention:
Philosophy profs,
Gregory B. Sadler

And psychology profs
Jordan B Peterson

Pretty much if you want to understand existentialism you don’t need that 4th year PHIL course – you can just read this book.

The whole thing boils down to one big question – what are you going to do with your existence and the freedom of choice that being human affords us (if such a thing exists).

According to Dostoevsky, being human means at its heart two things.
1. There is suffering (everyone suffers)
2. You can decide to be irrational (being irrational is distinctly human)

What character in TBK do you most align yourself with or are most drawn to? It can reveal a lot about yourself. It is sort of a Myers Brigg test for your soul.

His biggest philosophical statement comes from the famous line given by Ivan

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted”

It is a heavy argument because logically if this life and reality is all there is and you become non existent after you die what difference does it make what kind of a person you were alive – If you were noble and kind like Alyosha are a complete ass like his dad Fyodor. It is within this wonderful juxtaposition that all the other characters fall and must navigate in this most brilliant of books.  A must read if you are human.

Come for the entertainment but leave with some philosophy.