How evil works for the greater good
You get the sense that everyone Ray’s helped is busy trying to destroy him. Well, people need a lot of things & neediness they don’t take lightly. Or it might all work out once people realize that he’s always giving them a choice & his example is enough to show that you can fend off despair. Or maybe they see that & want none of it.
The brother who was raped by a priest doesn’t want to rob the Church of money – Ray can persuade him to take the money, but not to give him power of attorney. This teaches him nothing about what happens when you play God. At least, it’s a full time job & that Ray does not need. Bunchy, this drunkard, says he’s being treated like a kid. Does he want to be anything but a kid?
Back to the devil – Mickey tells the group therapy group that they’ve all been abused, but they should toughen up – he of course could teach them a few lessons, & they might even survive his education: His kids did, mostly…
Terry, the other brother, is no better – he also likes the devil too much & resents Ray playing God. Well, someone has to run their lives, & Ray sees it as his duty: That’s why he betrayed his father, after all, to usurp his title. It has not worked, because this is not politics. His father coming out of jail has not taught him politics has failed finally – failure to send him back for murder is not doing it, either. Ray learns the hard way, it at all.
Ray is for slaves what John Wayne was for free man. Now, he’s saving a black kid from his addict mother, who makes her excuses for selling the kid – & Ray’s partners call it buying the kid. The boy is given in the custody of a singer who loves his talent. We’ll see whether he loves the kid or is just another guy trying to exploit whoever he can. The kid starts hitting on Ray’s daughter.
His wife jumps to conclusions for the same reason babies scream – before you get clever, you have to be tough. Ray is tough; he refuses to jump to conclusions because he needs to be thorough & precise. This is a man chasing an elusive image of the whole – family – one part of at a time. He excels at crime & intrigue. He tells every hysterical half-immoralist to wait, he’ll deal with the devil. This he seems to believe, although he has a temper of his own. The wife hides behind the kids, the partner behind his dead wife. They all fear punishment & justice.
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How the family went to hell, & why they’re rich
Ray’s father, Mickey, is out of jail. Apparently, Ray put him there & his Jewish partners were in on it. The man’s a monster, what manliness looks like when individualism is no longer checked. He teaches his drunkard boy to snort cocaine. He teaches his crippled boys to hide his kid with a black woman from Ray. He teaches Ray’s wife to lie to him.
Ray says, don’t let the wolf in the gate. She does. To a man, this must look like the madness that comes over women, a destruction wrought of resentment. Beings made to suffer ought to suffer well, but they don’t… – But Ray loves his wife & may have done a lot of things in his life thinking of her good, or at least her dreams.
But to a woman this may seem normal. She wants to believe the devil is not the devil. She wants the family to come back – so does her daughter, who wants to know about the family for her family tree project. Ray knows it is better not to know – but that’s because he already knows too much, though obviously not everything.
Ray’s wife wants to control him through his family & wants to drag out his past so he cannot have secrets anymore. God will forgive, & so will she, she thinks. Why is Ray’s power in his secrets? Does she really want to know how come they’ve got it so good she can keep asking for better? Or is his power secret? Can she really understand how come he’s got so much for so long? He alone is the source of their trouble & their wealth. He runs two families, & badly. They are going to unite against him therefore.
Ray quietly threatens everyone & no family is going to stop that. Family also requires being ready to kill everyone who is not your family. He is exactly like his father, except he is not a monster. Mickey deserves worse than jail, & it used to be that women knew that men like him often enough get far less than they deserve, although it takes some time from some of them to learn.
Maybe Ray is just smarter; maybe Mickey did not expect his son to betray him – which may come down to Ray being smarter. His others sons still obey Mickey – & Ray, who has been ruling them in loco parentis, & badly, loses his authority now, so they can finally go to hell. Ray does not give anyone the moral satisfaction that accompanies the family & the city in their different ways. Like God, he asks far too much of people. Who’s smarter now?
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How evil does the work
Ray is the man to call if you have a dead hooker – cocaine – in your hotel room & you can afford it. He saves a basketball player’s career, or at least prevents a messy scandal. Probably the hotel management wants to know about it as little as the team management – but you can blame them, because we sure do want to know. What is it like to deal with all this tragedy?
Ray turns black into white. He knows enough about life to know that a dead hooker might save your career sometimes. There is an action hero who cannot afford to know that he might like men better than women – not entirely shocking for manliness, but not an American way of thinking – so he goes with transsexuals; problem is, he cannot afford anyone else to know, because his audience would frown on perversion in a way they do not frown on tragedy.
He can afford to let Ray & his management know. Ray likes to bring order to the more disgusting kind of chaos, but maybe that’s all the good you can do these days. Do not let the ugliness of this world fool you – Ray believes in doing what’s right, in the nobility of order. This shows in his pride – he is better than everyone else because everyone else is weaker than the times.
Ray will teach us to know the devil. I promise you, that’s the difficult part – afterward, you can stick with the devil you know. Ray finds a girl he’d helped – her family exploited her singing career, like Americans & the world like to exploit pretty young girls – & learns she needs more help. She’s an epileptic who takes drinks over doctors. That probably says something about prosperous democracy – the only way to be a democrat, really – but this girl today would be left at saying she has daddy issues.
She wants to be helped & she wants control over her life. If you think she can get to the point where she can get a good look at herself without becoming suicidal, you should probably be watching comedies. You could call Ray a comedy producer – he makes happy ends happen.
The man she’s living with only wants to get rid of her – like the dead hooker, she’s a problem, because men like him cannot pay women like that to leave. It does not matter what would make a woman so desperate. The only question is how can deal with them when they cannot. Ray is the answer to all their prayers. Ray can solve problems because he could have prevented them in the first place. Then there’s Ray’s family & their problems…
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A few notes on faith & fear
Ray Donovan offers people salvation. At first glance, this means that rich people can buy their way out of the ugly consequences of their ugly actions. Getting what you want is trouble, it keeps you busy sorting out what that is. You do not need a conscience or soul, you just need connections & money. Fear of evil is replaced by calculation. Is this the few ruling the many or corrupting them? Do the many want to be corrupted?
But Ray also helps poor people, even & especially criminals. He does not judge about excellence, but about something like genuine human need. He does not save souls & he does not teach or help moral virtues. But he does give people what they want. Is this what you get when you replace God with something that works right here, right now? Ray seems to be at his most Christian when he does for the least of them.
But Ray’s an American, so he knows about pleasure & the good things in life, how to get them, & that it’s trouble keeping them. Ray’s wife talks as if she wants respectability even more than wealth, which is not unheard of among the wealthy. Ray’s wife also wants to know about his unspeakable past. & she wants to believe the devil is not all evil. Don’t we all – isn’t that why we hope to even learn a bit sympathizing with the devil?
If Ray’s the devil, the woman wants what his business gets, & she wants him because he is the manly man who can get it, but she hates not having enough of him & not being able to deal with him. So much about the many & the few.
People confess to Ray. Rich people who need help need to come clean so they can stay dirty. That’s science for you: The devils trying to solve the political problem through rationality. But fearful people confess, even when they’re not rich. People who think they own Ray confess as much as people who think he owns them. One of them notices – it’s the silence that keeps him mysterious. Ray is the future we’re all trying to predict, we suspect. You can hope, but you’ve got to fear. What about his past?
Is the faith that drives these people the American faith, famously building fortune through endeavor, & rebuilding it when squandered? Is it the Christian faith that teaches you that you will pay for the evil that is necessary to our unjust world? Is it the faith of the family, which you cannot escape & which shows you the price to pay for loving people who are not under your control?
The best drama on TV, perhaps, & on the of the ugliest.
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The imperative of productivity & the possibility of the new
Richard faces up to the problems created by technology. It’s not enough to love to study, to think, to learn, or even to make things. You have to make a product that people want, for whatever reason. If you cannot understand what they want, you have to understand how to help them get what they want. Science does that. It will not educate your musical taste. But it can get you lots of music, cheap, or free.
Although this conference about disrupting technology was supposed to be Erlich’s moment to shine, to prove his usefulness in wowing the audience, a change occurs. There is no way people will choose excitement over advantage, or they shouldn’t – Richard concedes that the Google way of doing business is unbeatable on its terms. Our vulgarity is served so well by this business, that we cannot say no. We like to think we are masters of all the things Google promises us.
Where is man’s nobility then? Richard must prove that Google is about learning from other people – & of course then maltreating them – but that he himself is about learning by himself. His chance at making a profit out of his mind depends on forcing himself to think farther than previously thought possible. That is the truth about capitalism: Productivity really is unpredictable. It is not enough to think in terms of efficiency. & efficiency might require injustice or baseness. Merit includes a part of nobility that is an attempt to escape that baseness, a living alone with risks the rules hide. This is the difference between tech innovation & lying to people about the future.
This is connected to the psychological solution of this story. The girl that Richard fearfully admires shows an unusual patience with his cowardice. Presumably, a woman who works in technology does not have much love for the exciting things America has to offer. Still, this woman is almost a Jane Austen character: She knows people, she is patient, she thinks about management not productivity. No wonder the comic poet sympathizes with her.
That said, the long joke about the most efficient possible way of one man masturbating 800 people is worth grappling with – this shows the vulgar shamelessness of science, which is implied in thinking of the world as problems that need to be solved. Science shares this with comedy – & with all thinking about happy ends. This is not merely about hope. This is about optimism or rationalism or confidence in power.
This also shows that problem solving may be dangerous. Some problems had better not be solved. Taken fully seriously, these guys could abolish marriage & therefore the family! & Richard works alone to solve problems.
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How technology is going to save democracy
Two of the programmers are persuaded by a pretty girl to write code for her. This is a democracy, so she is willing to have sex with the Pakistani boy – he’s a very nice guy. But he enters a crisis regarding eros. He is very attracted to the girl & part of the last social class who deeply desires, but is not able to persuade, women to have sex with him. This, he must confront with his admiration for his geeky fellow’s work.
The meaning of eros is at stake here. These geeks are devoted to their work because it is attractive, whether it is a matter of understanding or of control. Discovery & competition are both connected with eros in the sense in which eroticism is involved in friendship. This is most obvious in men.
The massive crisis in which eros has been destroyed is revealed here; this may be important for understanding our city. Sex with pretty girls & the interest in what it is that we really want are so far separated, that neither is capable of furthering self-understanding. In Silicon Valley, man teeters on the brink of humanity. Richard’s cowardice, the way incompetence is scared by unkindness, & Erlich’s vulgar promiscuity threaten to destroy their project at the very moment they are supposed to unveil it.
They are not ready to face the city in which they do not know that they live. Jared fights the woman over who is going to cater to the needs, wants, & worries of the programmers. The mothering involved in care emerges only here, because this is not merely a matter of doing business, but also of protection. These creatures are not fully human & unable to protect themselves. Even business is sort of womanly, compared to the manliness of focus & progress.
The contest is about who is in love with whom. Various creatures who have devoted themselves to technology compete over who should get money & prestige in order to turn their ideas into technology. Erlich thinks he is naturally beloved – or that art can supply what nature failed to provide – such that he wants to be the object of worship. Mankind, or at least the geeks, should look upon him in awe. They are bored & technical. They are willing to be wooed & wowed. They are learning life is not about staring at a screen.
But all the clever presenters think the other way around, flattering philistinism promiscuously. They are there to promise to America & the world that they are doing good. They are new, exciting, & beneficial. They only want to help, serve, make themselves useful – if only they are allowed to do so.
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The curse of individualism
Jared is off to get some signatures & learns that the reclusive libertarian billionaire is building his own island. Ah, lonely freedom. He is offered a ride in a driverless car which, he learns to his surprise, takes him to that island. There, he sees the machines building a new world of technology, always telling him to take care, lest he get in their way. This man is unusually well situated to see just how weak man is. This is the story of Robinson Crusoe – but technology is not the result of man fighting the island – technology is the island.
Erlich slaps a kid around, threatens to kill his mother & rape his father, then coerces him to give him his drugs (legal amphetamines). Richard had been humiliated & deceived by those kids, whose leader saw the weakness of the geek & acted fatefully.
This is a lesson libertarians had better learn – presumably, it is this lesson that led the billionaire to build his own island. Why is that going to fail? Because the man does not like walking. How in hell is he going to take striving seriously?
Richard hires a kid who is apparently a tech genius to solve his problem: He cannot master cloud computing. This is the future, whence the problem. Why cannot he master it? Well, no tech genius is technology embodied. This is why the boy takes amphetamines to help him work. This is why the boy makes Richard feel ashamed of his body, including his age. This is also why Richard could not admit he needed help.
Then comes trouble – Richard must sort it out – in a moment of weakness, he had delivered himself into the boy’s hands, who promptly destroyed his work. Apparently, confidence & a reputation are not science. Whenever you cannot know something yourself, trusting other people to know is dangerous. Trusting that science is a benevolent tyrant is also dangerous. For example, science & capitalism have put every one of the actors in their precarious position – they are poised between barbarism & God, & very, very alone. Happily, they’re working on a deadline, so success & failure are there to distract them from the question of mortality. Richard is surprisingly willing to say, in effect, the body is weak, but the spirit is willing.
Then there’s the joke about the Satanists, who like the fast food made by Christians – they hope their dark lord would understand. Presumably, this is a problem Harvard liberals would not have to face. In America, Satanists are not serious – perhaps nobody is. Maybe this is the origin of libertarian individualism, the abandonment of the religious opinions which caused civil wars among America’s Founders’ ancestors.
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World War III
This movie includes two references to the World Wars. The strange one is to the battle of Verdun, one of the worst, most pointless slaughters of the Great War, where Teutonic pride & French civilization were both destroyed, one of them forever. Who would even know about Verdun anymore? It is the woman soldier who is called the angel of Verdun as what today would be called propaganda. In the story, Verdun means that you get a chance to fight again, but at the same time that you are forced to fight again. This may be called hope.
The other reference is to D-Day – an invasion like the Normandy invasion is on display endlessly. The chaos is the same, but nothing else. Eisenhower’s greatness & the well-deserved success of American arms are missing. This is a shocking thing for Americans to see, if they see it at all.
The poetic conceit forces the story into repeating this doomed repetition of Normandy. Presumably, if war were endless, it would have to be chaos. It’s good & proper for man to want to escape war, even at the price of victory. Perhaps, however, man today lies to himself & dares not see that peace also cannot last forever – it is the revenge of the last war that brings the next war.
The poet punishes the democratic audience for its impious forgetfulness as much as is prudent. Everyone has learnt from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan that there was no great cause nor any justice except small-town living in World War II. The only heroes hated the fact that they had to be heroes. In this story, the hero threatens a general with destroying his reputation just to get out of war. The general sends him to the front, either because he cares about reputation or because he does not.
Spielberg’s education is surprisingly popular. Band of Brothers & Pacific taught us that the hell of war steals upon men who do not know it &, even if they survive, they will have learnt nothing, because there is nothing to learn. Without a great cause, nothing can defend the justice of men, not even victory, it seems. World War III is both impossible & inevitable because we have not learnt anything about the World Wars that must precede it.
Everyone knows that the Europeans are a race of cowards. But now the Americans have nothing to say about the World Wars, although the news reminds us it’s 100 years since the Great War started & 70 years since D-Day. What is it that makes it impossible to make poetry out of history? What do we fear would emerge as typical out of the accidents?
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On eternal recurrence
I think I’ve seen this movie several times before. So have you, or you could have. I’d like to try to get a hold on the problem that these movies are supposed to answer. This is what Nietzsche called the eternal return of the same. You are supposed to live your life as if it were an eternity – what would you choose if you had to do it forever? This means to ask about mortality without thinking about immortality.
Without God or reason, there is no way to understand what it is to be human. This means that you cannot decide what to do with your life – not that the decision might not be wise. In a world haunted by nihilism, you have to have some materialist – not idealist – answer to the question, what is the human being? How can mortal life be anything but chaos?
The story relies on the theory of causation embedded in all modern science: You need to know every particular detail & that helps you predict everything else. Consequently, there is no human freedom, except ignorance. Consequently, the human being is not important or unique – it is another body in motion among the many bodies. The human insistence on individuality is shown to be a delusion by the theory of causation meant to serve that individuality.
To talk like the vulgar, this is the irony of modern science: It makes a monkey out of man. This is not obvious to the hero, who moves from a desperate attempt to survive to the prevention of evil to this woman who is his only hope – he wants to believe that she has powers beyond science.
Eternal recurrence is supposed to teach man that possibility is more important than actuality – & necessity, by implication. This is meant to save man from science, to reclaim man’s dignity. But the price to pay is to abandon any notion of immortality or imperfection. In short, any awareness of man’s neediness, which would cause him to look for remedies beyond man’s powers. Only a man who is a god or waits on gods could achieve this – but perhaps gods without the power of science to create.
Finally, I have a brief explanation for why the alien is always a collective consciousness & wants to exploit planets: Science is the enemy. We have created science, but science is our master. Heidegger taught us that we live in a world of technology, which moves from exploiting the world to exploiting us, turning us into resources. This is the age of nihilism, of coming destruction. Of course, neither Nietzsche nor Heidegger would have taken seriously the notion that eros is any kind of answer.
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On love & strife
A man who got into war because his P.R. business failed – presumably, because war made people less interested in lies – finds himself thrown into the frontlines when he threatens a general’s reputation. We are moving from speeches to deeds, from the images of things to the things. Soldiers turn out to be surprisingly talkative, but when the war starts, there is no more talking. War speaks without all that.
Promptly, the man finds out that terror is followed by a peculiar kind of immortality. Talking is even more useless now, because no one will believe him. Later, it becomes even more useless – because everything that he can say he’s already said.
The things, however, compel the man to acquire knowledge. Knowledge is embodied in habits one acquires through experience. These turn into craft & science. Witness the life of war. Knowledge is also knowledge of particular, unique facts, on which life & death depend, which make the future predictable & therefore collapse time into will. Then there is the kind of knowledge said to connect alpha & omega, which is also called a vision, which can be true or false. That is shown to be the true master, for which the others are properly servants. But this knowledge is not predictive nor scientific. It recalls soul & God.
One thing the man learns is politics: Learning secrets about people cannot get them to change their opinions – reputation is more serious than any detail. With this, he learns that he also needs people & cannot use his knowledge to get away from them. Knowledge of things & of people is useful to get what you want. The suggestion that knowledge of people is not meant to exploit them is far more difficult to argue than the facts of sacrifice for the common good suggest.
This is why the solution to the plot is erotic. There is no way to create an army without facing the problem of justice. This man does not belong with the troops for that reason – as the sergeant tells him, the deserter is the man who prefers his life to his comrades’, which is quite reasonable.
That solution creates its own problem – it blurs the distinction between eroticism & camaraderie. The man is not attached to the war or the warriors – just the woman. That brings back speeches & images – in a sense, he created her, because he created her story. The men believe that story. He does not, because he loves her. This suggests he can only live his life if he can save her. Can human powers overcome necessity? The problem of justifying human action emerges this way – love is man’s attempt to overcome mortality.
Tom Cruise’s best movie in years. See it.
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