Monday, January 9, 2023

Avatar Absurdium?

After fourteen years John Carpenter's oversized blue aliens return to the big screen once more in 3d. The three hour Way of Water journey seeks to entertain and refresh its advocacy for planetary health. Still one would have hoped for something other than a rehash of the first movie. 

Avatar 2.0 delivers its technicolor fantasy tropes that defy physics, exchanges the energy potent Unobtanium for the immortality elixir Amrita, and amps up the violent heroics between the aboriginal and colonizing forces ad nauseam. Add in some sideways references to Moby Dick and you have a blockblusterish experience that merges Jurassic Park with Saving Private Ryan.

If Carpenter was going for an environmental awareness PSA he is sending at best a convoluted message.  Aiwa, the entity that unifies Pandora's sentient beings, fails to fend off the Sky People infection/invasion, which, I guess , is plausible, given it evolved without any prior exposure to the human/techno virus. But sadly disappointing is the reinforcement that the Navi, ostensibly moral beings, are no better than their human counterparts. Aiwa's guidance has permitted the tribes to develop multiple cultures of  warfare and has done little to discourage prejudice among all its intelligent races, land and ocean roaming. In particular I disparage Carpenter's repeated celebration of the father/son bonding of torturing fish by stabbing them with sticks when plenty of plant food surrounds them in their lush forest home. Such barbarism essentially cancels out the attempt to make the invading humans the destroyers of all things natural. 

I suspect in subsequent sequels Aiwa's overlord control will battle it out less subtly with the capitalistic driven protocols of Earth. In the end Avatar oversells a battle between two absolutist moral codes, rather than showing how advanced beings can leverage critical thinking and emotional compassion withing their societies to peacefully settle conflict while meeting the existential challenges of the moment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Royal Growing Pains

The British Queen has died, her successor awaits coronation, the latest season of The Crown floods the Netflix stream, princes and princesses galore add to the Disney deluge, Wakanda kings and queens the most recent examples. 

Why does the royal meme persist so in American culture?  

Royalty carries with it an impression of prestige and power. The entertainment industry has dressed it's kings and queens is exceptional garb, draped in gems and crowned in gold. For some reason there is an atavistic draw to leadership that comes from high society with the blessing of the god or goddess of the moment, ostensibly blessed to pursue noblesse oblige for the good of the people. To be sure there are many flawed royal characters as well highlighting the humanness of their rule and personal struggles, but still our daydreaming minds too often put these bloodline rulers on a pedestal.

Perhaps it's as simple as yearning for a simpler governance in a time where democratic institutions are being infiltrated by those who wish to maintain their own inherited privilege. As our local leadership is challenged to ally with others toward global stability, a loss of past privilege is inevitable. There are bound to be tradeoffs if we seek to reduce carbon, corruption, aggression, and suffering. These challenges will be expensive and should be paid for by those who reaped the windfalls of the past on the backs of others.

Royalty worship seems to be a wish for to attain elite status embedded like the wish to believe in a god that will take care of everything for us. Unfortunately, we the people, the true stewards of this planet, must step forward to achieve goals working together that kings and queens could only dream of.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Sensor of Oblivion

Evolution analytics rain down upon the canopy of the Endless

Data tentacles undulate through the forest of space-time

Each sinuous being sports an eye and a maw devouring information 

Agency, the abstraction that emerges, radiates purest curiosity

Sentient feedback loops reseed the septic garden, hermaphroditic

Spitefully defying chaos and order, an archetype consciousness implodes while it celebrates

Sensor of Oblivion 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Overcoming The Natural Fallacy

 Too often people cite truisms to explain behaviors they find too inconvenient to contemplate and change. "It's the cycle of life," "everyone has a right to their opinion," and "it's natural so it must be good," are among the most. The religious will fall back upon "god works in mysterious ways," or "it is god's plan."

All these are aphorisms deserving of elimination, as they simply equate to "I don't have the time to think about the horror, and I don't want to take time out my life to address it." Billions of humans have become part of a society which compartmentalizes our lives away, in part to cope with the egregious damage we are doing to the planet and to other sentient beings.

To be sure, we are as imperfect as the matter we are made from and we need to cut individuals and society a little slack for needing some time to parse the information. Still, it's important to realize we are on borrowed time and each day we should make an effort to understand the world a little better. Human beings are the apex predator and apex occupier of planet Earth, so we should also be the apex contemplator and apex steward as well.

Of course, each of us can do our own part in our own way, but only when the masses unite under a flag of progress does anything significant get done. The cycle of life may indeed happen, and yes many will be hurt in the cycle, but we as individuals can ameliorate the suffering. Others may not deserve persecution for sharing their opinions, but bad opinions should be put in their place as misinformation and malevolent when the facts contradict their arguments. Nature may be a starting point for stable existence, but human ethics should overrule nature's cruelty when it can and when it makes sense. There is no holy plan, only human plans that can be rethought and adjusted over the long-term to better outcomes, the goals of which also need constant refining.

In the end, reason, compassion and desire are the tools of humanity we need to strengthen to get the ever-changing job done. Perhaps a better aphorism to start with is one Temple Grandin suggested: "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be." 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Goodness Guideline

 As discussed in previous essays, The Golden Rule, though pithy, is horribly flawed at its core. It endorses the infliction of ones ideals on another, no matter what those ideals might be. As such it is really a rule bent on proselytizing. I defined the Platinum Law (do unto others as they would have done unto them) is only slightly less pithy, but is superior in that it encourages explicit empathy, considering others feelings, before acting. Both of these ethical guidelines, when implemented with sufficient context, are fine as far as they go, but too much is left implied permitting a range of corrupt interpretation. Indeed, the Golden Rule can easily be reframed to be oppressive, while even my Platinum Rule is blind to external circumstances or the others' misinformed personal ethic.

A guiding ethic should encourage us to first suss out (both think and feel) about a situation, gather the best available information, and then act in pursuit of a good outcome that seeks flourishing and minimizes harm while (importantly) being open to new information and adjusting the inititial behavior.. Not so pithy, but oh so flexible. 

Let's term this the Goodness Guideline, partly to be alliterative, but partly to emphasize any ethical rule can only be a rule of thumb, and never can be a black and white, unfailing principle. Sorry, if you were expecting perfect insight then you are probably yearning for advice from a source of perfection, of which none exist. Gurus, gods, and any alleged source of perfect wisdom are inherently suspect, if only because they claim to be perfect in their insight. As mortal beings with abstract thought processes we have an imperfect understanding of ourselves and our surroundings, so we need to flexible in how we live. To be inflexible is to be oppressed no matter how much we want some ultimate truth to make it easy for us.

The Goodness Guideline is an honest ethic which can help not just individuals, but also families, communities, governments and societies improve their behavior. In a way, this guideline is an extension of the scientific method which seeks to improve knowledge of the universe by refining our suspicions endlessly. Similarly, doing good in the world is an interactive process that no single religion, creed or ethical treatise can ever fully describe. We humans, as the planet's dominant species, have a special place to be stewards of global health, external beauty and personal flourishing for all sentient creatures. 

No entity but ourselves can truly judge us for what we do, but the Goodness Guideline can also be focused inward to help us self-evaluate and self-correct our thinking and behavior. It is not an easy path, this journey we choose for ourselves, but together we can aspire to create a thriving world.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Tampopo, The Passion of Eating

Having just watched the forty year old Japanese film Tampopo I recognize just how much the consumption of food is integral to being human. The innovative film explores many facets of food with zany humor and primal romance mixed in like a rousing stir-fry. The characters are both down-to-earth and stereotypical of people across the spectrum of society. At the heart of the plot the visceral passion of eating overlays numerous scenarios highlighting just how key to living eating is. 

Now, Tampopo is not easy to watch for a vegan (that would be me). Numerous animal products are consumed to accentuate the passion of sex, courtship, professional connections, and even death. The killing of a turtle on screen would never have passed even Hollywood's regulations 40 years ago. But Tampopo is honest and looks that killing of a wild animal in the eye and says this is what our ancestors did, they didn't buy saran-wrapped rectangles of flesh distanced from the act of taking a sentient animal's life to feed oneself and their family. It underscores just how very distanced we have come from our food supply's origin and circumstances.

The film also captures well the immersion in consuming food, again an atavistic honest look at the pleasure we receive while eating. Surely, an animal part of ourself still resides in each of us that savors flavors, textures and the very act of taking nutrients into our body. Yes one could say we have evolved to sense the spectrum of characteristics each food gives to us so that we can continue our mortal existence. 

One could say many of the world's cultures celebrate the human psychology of being dominant, of playing the role of apex predator in the world That celebration is primal and joyful, while also being based on a fabricated imagining of our ancestors. In fact, humans evolved to be foragers. The latest evidence indicates human digestive systems and dental layouts did not evolve to support a carnivorous diet. We probably scavenged from the kills of true carnivores and eventually when humans developed hunting tools adopted the bloodier behavior of killing other animals for food. 

As modern civilization transitions toward to eating ever more ethically and ever more sustainably we will need to confront our eating behavior's origins. Only by recognizing how our actions impact on the world can we make better choices. Tampopo is a hilarious, touching, and harrowing reminder of just how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Biggest Lie, Unveiled

Here we are in 2022 preparing for election midterms with candidates still claiming the Big Lie, that the 2020 election was rigged. Tens of thousands of people are still dying annually in our country from Covid and gunshots, yet vaccines and meaningful firearm legislation are shrugged off as dangerous options. Football coaches coerce students with prayer while subscribers to zygotes possessed by souls have pushed theocracy on the rest of us. Somehow we have raised the banner that "everyone has the right to their opinion" with the subtext being The Biggest Lie, that each opinion has equal merit. With this doctrine held high, tons of misinformation is sold to the public at large, often as youth indoctrination and part of an inhumane political power grab.

How have we arrived at this moment, where unsubstantiated claims receive so much attention? In short, we have been raised to believe lies without questioning them. Sure, your parents eventually came clean about Santa, the Big Bad Wolf and the Tooth Fairy, but God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, Vishnu, etc. continue to plague the minds of grown adults. I'm sorry, but there is NO GOOD EVIDENCE that any of these supernatural beings exist. The choice to continue believing in these fairy tales is at best child-like wishful thinking, but mostly is residual indoctrination of falsehoods meant to simplify a complicated world rather than attempt to understand it.

We lie to ourselves because we don't want to face the painful reality. In fact, so many humans subscribe to these crazy beliefs that we fail as a society to intelligently address the real challenges that exist in maintaining a healthy world. Only by living authentic and evidence based lives can we achieve our highest potential and improve cultural tolerance, environmental health, the quality of life for sentient creatures, and pursue ever better explanations of the world around us.

Sure, no one practicing nonsense religion should not be persecuted. Nevertheless, we should recognize supporting the unsubstantiated tenets of all these contradicting, supernatural-based religions hurts our society to the core. Religious belief peddles weak thinking and an emotional connection to the unreal. If we are to improve as a people (and we are, all too slowly) we need to look our beliefs, opinions, and emotions in the face and retire the ones that don't make sense. A world without gods may lose its imaginary safety net, but it also frees up resources and clears the global mind so we can come together and confront reality toward the most joyful of ends.