Table of contents

Interstellar 3

A few notes on love, by way of apology

I have tried to say a few things about how we tend to get the question about wisdom wrong – we sell men of action short, we are too easy about trusting scientists to know what to do. But the contest is not merely about knowing what to do to bring things to a good end. How to think about people & how to live with one’s people are also concerns.

It’s obvious at first that the lies scientists tell each other & mankind have to do with not understanding love. One of them abandons a lover at least; another shows little love for a father. All of them pretend they are alone already. Trust these creatures with the fate of mankind? Will abstract thoughts on species prevent the very real thoughts about one’s own good? Science rules out sacrifice & miracles, anyway…

Two women scientists learn what love really means. Dr. Brand, Jr. first makes a terrible mistake in her arrogance & an arrogant man dies for it. Then she chooses love, presumably, because she is really scared & does not care about the men actually with her on the mission. Her excuses should tell us just how self-serving our democratic idealism really is. No wonder she liked to believe the silly professions of selflessness of the scientists.

She does get to the planet she wants to see, only to bury the man she wanted to see. This is right – her love was a phantom at best. But she has the chance to see the part of love that matters – sacrifice. Among the dead, one guilty, another innocent, only one man willingly dies for the good of someone else, to whom he is not obligated. Only after this can the woman be trusted.

Murph learns about love another way. She grows up angry that her father never listened to her: She really wants to believe it could have been otherwise. It is inevitable that a child throw a tantrum or become hateful. How could she understand that necessity may overcome will? The child knows that it is owed love – knowing this is knowing so little that the child cannot even tell that she’s being paid what’s she’s owed. Her brother shows you how angry men can get when they feel life didn’t give them what they were owed.

Murph learns to love her father by learning to be like him, to face evil & despair without madness. To sacrifice her own wishes for the good of other people. To do more than justice requires or can offer. Thinking about her father & doing his work both show love. Happily, a theoretical problem & self-understanding come together in her case.

Interstellar 2

The proof of heroism in story through crisis
Some notes on the meaning of wisdom

Cooper has to deal with a number of scientists who lie to him. All these people show you the problem with the tyranny of the wise – it requires abandoning consent as a political principle, which means it requires a grand lie, which makes it impossible for the wise tyrant to think of himself as a human being anymore. If you make it your business to predict the future & see it through, you cannot distinguish between your good & the good you mean to achieve in the future. The consequence is that conventions replace human reasoning & everyone is trapped in the grand lie. The lie may conceal naked self-interest or hopelessness, but it is not fit to rule human beings either way.

Brand Sr. lies to him about saving mankind, because he needs Cooper to believe in his family. He thinks himself immune to such needs, but what he really does is condemn mankind. His failure as a scientist is the failure of our physics: It is both too practical & too theoretical, because it does not know it is the work of humans. Don’t let’s put it in charge of our lives…

Brand Jr. lies to him about her love. This could have prevented great trouble, but it would have ended mankind. She thinks of love as self-interest & has no understanding of sacrifice. She seems to have learned from her father to think she is superior to anyone she can deceive. She soon learns about death & loss… It is fitting that she should try to mother mankind, because she is not corrupt, just arrogant.

Mann lies to everyone about the future just to save his life. Mankind’s future & murder right now are ok with him, because he has convinced himself that whatever weakness is in him is worse in others. His certainty that science predicts the future & gives the scientist control over the world made him completely unable to face the thought of death. This guy’s the only monster, so he’s the only one who really gives you justifications – he says, no one should judge him who was not tested like him. Suddenly, morality & experience take precedence of science!

Cooper shares in the arrogance of science, which seems to be a part of manliness. It is partially a mistake, but without it, there is no knowledge, because only manliness makes men take seriously their perspective & its predicament. That’s a start to thinking about humanity.

Cooper’s willingness to serve as farmer shows endurance & self-control; at a different level, this is the prudence that guides him in his daring adventure. Unlike the scientists, he understands suffering & sacrifice. He shows nobility they lack.

Interstellar 1

A story about how heroism means caring about what’s good for people
Some notes on the relation between manliness & hope, & how science might be compatible with piety

Sci-fi stories are imaginations about the future of mankind, whether good or bad. – Survival vs. destruction. Happy end or not. Hope vs. despair or resignation. – We know the end, & we know that all human things are about changing or staying the same, all human powers are powers to change for the better or to fight against change for the worse – like cosmetics. Science is the means.

So, we ask Nolan: Does science create radical change – transforming humans into gods? Maybe; & maybe people want it. What would it mean for human beings to become gods? Apparently, disembodied timelessness – the inability to act in the here-&-now. Scientific progress gets us there eventually. Abandoning home is just the first step. – Think about beings reaching into their human past to make themselves into the gods they have become. It’s like eternal recurrence of the same.

The planet stops growing us food. We have to turn to the skies. If science is a divine gift, you could say a miracle makes it possible for people to go about populating the skies rather than starving to death on the earth. Or maybe we have to learn to stop thinking that the world is good for us, because it makes us careless about securing our own good. Generation has to be replaced by art.

Some obnoxious liberal looks back on the 20th century in disbelief at the excess & pride of civilization. He would rather mankind suffer than survive. The most audacious fighting faith we know, liberalism, ends up with suicidal types showing affection to kids. They have learned that man is fated & will coddle kids into the same, one good kindly thought at a time.

Our hero, Cooper, is his son. He cannot complain because the burden would cripple him. He decides to abandon home & family to go into the stars. Manly daring, for once, is fully in the service of a man’s duties as father & leader. If love is a home for the homeless, this man might defend humanity after all.

He faces scientists who seem to think pretty much the way the liberal fogey does: Intellectual superiority creates no responsibilities in the few to protect the many. Human beings cannot live without hope in something good, but the possibility of the good forces us to reconsider the relation between what we could call intellectual excellence & moral excellence. Witness the conflict between the scientists & the manly hero. He always judges whether caution or daring is more prudent. He shows us something we find hard to believe, that reasoning is a practical business available to human beings – not the power of some superior bureaucrats of life who enslave us.

Christopher Nolan’s story about mankind’s future & the closest he comes to a happy end. This year’s Hollywood movie, in fact the Hollywood movie for a number of years…


A story about what can keep men from turning into beasts

Fury is the proper reaction to Nazis. American soldiers kill whatever Germans they can in the fights; they do take prisoners, except that they hate SS troops especially, who hang children, among other things. Germans are hateful because they cause Americans to do & suffer hateful things. The doing of hateful things is necessary for survival, & therefore for justice – America’s cause is just.

The Americans would rather not be there – the tank commander says he’s been killing since he started & means to kill everyone who needs to be killed before it’s over. When it’s over, he’s done killing; he does not kill civilians. It does not matter to him where he was asked to kill Germans, although he senses progress in killing them in their homeland, for the defense of which he does not blame them, nor for their fanatical commitment.

Wardaddy is hated by his troops, who thank him – they owe their lives to obedience. He has kept them alive when so many others die. They are extremely competent. But he has made them do what was necessary to live. You look at them in fear of the monsters they threaten to become – in wonder at their nobility in face of horror. As they are bringing the end of the world to Germany, the end comes for them; in their hopelessness, they turn to God & act like men.

This natural captain says, ideals are peaceful, history is violent. Is that entirely true? Maybe compared with history, ideals are peaceful. This is the only theoretical or pedantic statement in the story – it is addressed to the only musical type. Wardaddy means to say the American ideal of equality is peaceful; he has learnt things since he started fighting wars – what it takes to defend that ideal. Men cannot have peace, although they believe in equality.

Wardaddy knows many things, which he only deploys by necessity, whether German or the Bible, good manners or an appeal to nobility. He asks his newcomer, a soft boy, to kill a defenseless man. Innocent men get real soldiers killed because they are unwilling to kill children. The boy would rather suffer than commit murder. This has got to stop. He must abandon all thought of peace if he is ever to see it again.

It is not easy to say in what these men put their faith who abandon humanity. Fury is a good name for a tank; the boy is nicknamed Machine. These men have a lot to be angry about & maybe anger can save them, their bodies or their souls or both. It reminds them they are who they are. When they can, they look for happiness.

David Ayer follows his powerful story about brotherly love among policemen–End of watch–with an even more powerful story about the brotherly love of soldiers. This is not a movie for women.

The grandmaster 4

A note on the possibility of theory in the martial art

The aristocrats of the old regime were not productive creatures. They enjoyed life’s pleasures at the expense of others, as if they deserved pleasure & not toil. Their very importance put burdens on others people, for the sake of convention. The consent of the many to any such arrangement may be doubted. Are these men anything but tyrants? They are not dedicated to rule & do not mean to impose their will on others. They are paralyzed by piety, let’s say.

These men are peculiarly aware of the limits of humanity & of human action; they know the need to fight against change, the forgetfulness that necessity imposes on us, which robs us of our awareness of what is really important. Perhaps this is their justification for putting limits to what everyone else can do.

The different styles of fighting are different ways of dealing with what the rulers have to do – defend the political association. Great men, therefore, do nothing but contemplate death & bring it forth. They come to fight – there is no way to practice their art without the risk of death. The severity & the seriousness of these masters have no counterpart in our common experience. Men should not live with death, we seem to think. But someone has to think about how men kill each other & what that says about mankind. We may say such people are part of the ceremonial or dignified part of a regime, but not fit to deal with life.

Grandmasters must educate the young who will dedicate themselves to defense as well, so they can only live in a regime where war has some privilege. If no one worthy of the teaching is there to learn it, it cannot be preserved.

The master is naturally impressive, which suggests that people who do not care to imitate him nevertheless defer to him. This is because the master is no slave to necessity. Primarily, it is a matter of courage, which shows aloofness of a kind, independence. The master stands apart in standing out & people recognize this. A lot of this has to do with fear & shame, very little with pleasure. Those who take pleasure in his activity might imitate his life. Possibly, they will learn about the community in which he lives.

For all this, the master has to prove himself. Fighting is serious & simple; the goal is to destroy your opponent, for there is no other way to defend yourself. Does the martial art require an orientation of man from peace to war? Do the powers of art & war change the man? Does the master defend humanity in a theoretical sense, holding on to striving?

The grandmaster 3

A note on tradition

The purpose of the story is to offer a sustained look at the life of a master. Such a man is rare & on him much depends. The society we see before it is destroyed is based on inequality. The justice of inequality depends ultimately on the figure of the master. This is the man who has learned things & is capable of doing things which other men are not capable of doing.

The motion in the story from the public to the private, with different consequences for different people who could make some claim to mastery, suggests that this truth about human inequality might not work out as a regime. But is not the community of master & students a political association, perhaps the best, if the criterion for good government is taking care of the good of all, not only of the one?

The chaos of war & the tyrannies that are bred in this turmoil are an attack on mastery. Masters depend on poets, we are told implicitly, for awareness of them. But there are limits to what poetry can achieve. The martial art must be transmitted by students, even if its reputation is made & defended by poets, especially after its political power is destroyed.

The necessity for this defense reemerges today, is the poet’s silent teaching. We are about as likely to wipe out the truth about masters, the martial art, & the tradition which they further or perpetuate as cruel tyrants once were. Tyrants have a reason to destroy martial artists – removing competition. How about us? The truth to which the movie points is that masters end up looking anonymous & uninteresting. This is because not many are impressed with them & those few who are no longer can afford to dedicate themselves to a great achievement – the perpetuation of a great tradition.

The poet’s position shows some sympathy to his democratic audience & remarkably little nostalgia for what we may call a pre-democratic past. His focus on the master reveals a man who is not tormented or humiliated by the possibility & the fact of a new social state, equality. Perhaps for him, inequality is spring, equality in misery or in prosperity is winter. But the master does not fight against necessity.

The obvious difference between pre-democratic & democratic society is beauty. The world was remarkably beautiful, crowned by creatures so dedicated to formality that their lives were poetry. This has passed. How to appreciate the full extent of the change? How to understand the martial art? It, too, is about formality, & exploring the problem of form for human life, caught in the changes of life & death.


A show of the weakness of the middle-class

In the time of Romantic writers, novels were written about women who grow so bored with their bourgeois husbands, that they would rather live lawless lives of adultery – looking for love in all the wrong places, no doubt – & then die. Times have changed; nobody would be ashamed of adultery & it is not wives, but husbands who grow weary of the burdens of the bourgeoisie, if not bored.

Joel is a self-made man. He grew up from a kid who liked eating the dough better than the cake into a college kid who figured out how to make a synthetic extract that doesn’t evaporate in the cooking, which he turned into a business he owns. He can afford a pretty wife, a lavish house, & an expensive car. The wife won’t have sex with him, though.

This leads to a crisis – Joel turns to crime. His evil genius tells him, take drugs, pay a whore to make an adulteress of your wife, then you can have an affair without feeling guilty. Being reasonable has not made Joel happy – it certainly cannot persuade his wife to have sex with him. Unreason gets a chance. The stupidity of the plot reflects this; the very ugly moral insight is that Joel tortures reason & decency to get what he wants. Then things run away from him.

Joel has no way of solving this crisis. If he works for a living, his wife ignores him; he wants to sell his company, whether or not this will improve things – he feels he has been working for nothing. What is his reward? Before we look at how much worse his difficulties are going to get, let us note, he is childless.

An accident leaves one of his workers castrated, which shows the difficulties of managing his workers, & then turns into a lawsuit that might bankrupt him. No one wants to buy him now. The workers, fearing they are being taken advantage of, decide that they should take advantage of him instead – now he faces talk of unions. He tells his workers they should seize the means of productions & deal with the difficulties. He confesses his misdeeds to his wife, who wants to confess to him, & now he has to leave the house.

Does he deserve this suffering? He cannot make crime pay. It seems, once he breaks the laws, he becomes defenseless; but the laws still cannot make him happy. At the end, his marriage & his job have a chance to improve, for fear of what he has to lose. Dear-bought wisdom. The only unmitigated good, his obnoxious neighbor’s death, whose reaction to the wife’s outraged honesty is a heart-attack.

Mike Judge’s comedy about how corruption threatens the non-vulgar


A world ruled by desire

Mike Judge asks us to consider a future in which people can no longer tell that you need to water plants in order for them to grow. All awareness of nature could be wiped out from us, apparently. What is man in that future? A perfect consumer, that is to say, a consumer who does not discriminate between various options. Consumption does not in fact imply choice, but objects to consume. In this future, the desire to eat leads to starvation.

Mankind in this future has become idiotic. The extraordinary civilization we still see around us has collapsed without war or catastrophe. People do not know this. They are not aware that there is something wrong with the way they live. They have lost all skepticism & cannot find any reason to disagree with anything, which is anyway unnecessary. Obedience is the consequence of thoughtlessness.

Judge shows us the origin of this problem: A very clever couple, obsessed with control over their lives, who cannot have kids because of fear; & a debased male who impregnates willing females ceaselessly. Mind & life are separating in our time. The consequence is that the vulgar will win &, in winning, debase themselves beyond what is today imaginable. The future is full of garbage. Sex is replaced by masturbation, which is less uncomfortable.

The question here is how we decide to live our lives, or what guides us in our actions. If we do not want to disagree with other people, if we do not feel justified in rejecting popular opinion, then we must eventually abandon reason, that seems to be the implication. The consequence is a world where elementary grammar is disappearing, let alone sophisticated reasoning.

The alliance between the power of science & the power of food & sex over our souls depends on understanding desire as essentially unlimited. This implies that there is no natural limit on the pleasures of the body & no natural power to reject them in favor of something less mindless. But of course we use our minds in order to satisfy our needs & desires. That use, apparently, includes its own debasement & must lead to turning the world into garbage, an ugly reminder of the downside of consumption.

Our hero is a mediocre man of no ambition, who never strives, & whose humility limits his vulgarity. He is not corrupt. The profit earned by serving base desires & the kind of democracy where mutual recognition of screaming vulgarity is the home of man do not appeal to him. This very kind view of Americans is the comic poet’s way of pointing out that the future of corruption is not clever selfishness, but self-mutilation.

Mike Judge’s vulgar comedy about the corruption of the vulgar.

Office space

office space
The knock of opportunity

Peter Gibbons realizes after a series of trying events that man was not made to live in a cubicle. He proceeds to lead a conspiracy to embezzle funds from the corporation that employed him. He eventually gets a job as a construction worker, which he seems to enjoy. He prefers it to becoming a software engineer. Clearly, all he needed to do to land his dream job was to challenge himself & his coworkers – to break out of the endlessly recurring routine of modern life.

Peter briefly rejects the asceticism of modern life. No better way to do it than by not deciding – one day, he stays home, uninterested in achieving anything. This becomes a habit, his natural laziness overcoming the pointless striving of modern life. Other people who are harassed by the moralism of work come to admire him or fear the wrath he will of course incur.

Corporations require productivity, which is a bit like prophecy – the corporation that pays him his check sends experts to learn whether the people it is paying are worth the money. The people are asked to justify themselves against the standard of productivity. Their failure is quite depressive. Similarly, the waitress Peter starts dating is asked to express herself by a vulgar joy in serving her costumers. The food or the manners will not do – flair is also required.

Peter rather asks himself whether the job is worth his time. Somewhere down that road is an awareness of his mortality. Peter, of course, knows people work for the sake of money – we are money-makers, after all. He turns to stealing, which is also work & can be technological or scientific, to satisfy this need. Then will man be free. A coworker achieves the same goal by the simpler, if less intriguing route of insurance after his body is destroyed in a car accident.

For a while, the efficiency experts are in love with Peter, whose newfound immorality makes him insightfully honest. How else to learn how better to exploit people? Efficiency is about realism – not about looking to what employees ought to do, but what they actually are doing.

Meanwhile, people turn out to be interchangeable, reduced by technology to creatures whose only sense of individuality comes from fear. The city has become great; men are mere slaves. The waitress notes, nobody likes their job. People have to work anyway. Judged against productivity, people are successful or not. This modern life takes away people’s humanity, which it did not give them. Whether the successful or the failed are more deluded is unclear. Always, the possibility of popular revolution looms at the horizon. What holds people back is comfort & family.

Mike Judge’s comedy about the trouble of cubicle dwellers

Ray Donovan i.12

How family comes back together

This is where Mickey loses his family – Bunchy says, it’s just a lot of bad things have happened since you’ve come. Abby finally has had enough of him, too, because of what he let happen to Ray. She says, Ray was right, you’re the wolf. He kids her around, but leaves. In a way, Abby was right – she has learnt more about Ray now that his father has returned. But she wants family to survive the bloodshed. Now she wants to trust Ray.

Ray has his talk with Mickey. Mickey asks, why did you want to have me killed? Ray blames him for everything wrong with all four kids. Mickey says, well, what else was there? You did ok & I did the time. But Ray knows that he told his father about being raped & who his father is. Ray has learnt something about himself, too, or at least has told us. Forgiveness is no way to live. One wonders whether you need to kill everyone who betrays trust…

Mickey tells Ray he has a problem clinging to the past. Ray also has a problem disposing of the past, which he endeavors to solve, for profit, maybe for faith, too. Happily, Mickey has a chance to betray some more people & save his life. You can say he learns to be patient. He’s back with his boys, at least. It turns out, evil is something you learn to live with, & the hard way.

Ray’s kids learn about the importance of family & what they might want themselves to become as adults from his Jewish secret agent – who joined the army to escape the community of the kibbutz, then went into special operations to escape the community of the army, but who seems comfortable taking orders from Ray, which is riskier & less obvious than being a mercenary – & his lesbian agent, who had a bad father & was saved, anger issues & all by the Ray Donovan job program. Finally, someone does something good for Ray.

This all sounds remarkably stupid, but it is not. Ray & his two workers do trust each other & take risks that do not make sense from the point of view of self-interest. They are like family, with the same complicated combination of equality & hierarchy. How far can you stretch family to keep people together?

The question, though, is, what can replace justice? Terry shouts at his woman, the Donovans are loyal to each other, & murder is part of that. It is indeed – family is no respecter of laws & will sacrifice any laws for survival, it would seem, or at least any laws we have encountered in the story.