Resist The Algorithms

You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.

Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.

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STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later

This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.

Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.

I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective. 

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BODIED Is The Movie 2018 Needed

Joseph Kahn is a provocateur, a bomb thrower, a shit-stirrer. On Twitter he almost consistently trolls pitbull owners, retweeting and sharing stories of the breed mauling babies and other innocents. But it’s clear that Kahn isn’t just fucking around, he also believes what he’s saying (even if I fundamentally disagree with him on this topic)… although he’s also fucking around. Both of these things are true at once.

If you know that about Kahn, you’ll get Bodied, a movie that is about the battle rap scene but that is also about race and free speech and the consequences of your words. Kahn is capable of coming at a subject from multiple angles at once, and while Bodied may begin like a juvenile exercise in profound verbal offensiveness, it eventually becomes something weightier, more meaningful and more interesting.

What’s more, while the film seems to be on the side of gleeful irreverence and begins almost like a pro-triggering manifesto, by the end it gets way more nuanced. Bodied isn’t telling us anything, it’s asking us things, and in today’s binary woke vs ‘free speech’ online culture that’s absolutely revolutionary. Bodied isn’t walking up to you and making statements of fact, it’s presenting you a lot of different arguments and sometimes pulling the rug out from under you in terms of whose argument it finds most convincing. But in the end the movie gives you the space to come up with your own ideas and beliefs, rather than finish up like an After School Special with a tidy moral lesson.

Kahn is throwing bombs here, but he’s throwing them with tactical accuracy, trying to blow up the barriers behind which we’re all crouched. He’s trying to get a conversation started.

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BLACKkKLANSMAN Is The Year’s Most Important Work Of Film Criticism

The first image in Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is a scene from Gone With the Wind. The last is a memorial to Heather Heyer, murdered one year ago while protesting racism in Charlottesville. In between is a movie that, as much as it is telling a true story, is also meditating on the ways that the images we consume of ourselves and of others impacts us. Blackkklansman is not just a great piece of filmmaking from one of America’s finest filmmakers, it’s a great piece of film criticism from the man who might be America’s best film critic.

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Grappling With My Own Racism

How to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr? There are many options, plenty of them ways of making white people feel better about themselves. Ways that allow white people like myself to look at the most egregious examples of racism – Bull Connor, the KKK, our sitting president – and compare ourselves to those perfidies and feel better. By defining racism only as extreme examples of acting out on racial bias, we get to let ourselves off the hook, and tell ourselves that we are part of the solution just by our very existence as woke, enlightened people.

I won’t be commemorating this day by patting myself on the back for thinking the descendants of slaves deserve reparations, or that cops should stop shooting unarmed black men in the streets. I’m going to be using my mindfulness practice to interrogate my own conditioning and biases, and I’m going to spend it grappling with my own racist tendencies. Because like all white people in the United States of America in the year 2018, I’m at least a little bit racist.
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