Category Archives: Uncategorized

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

I’ve seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the top of several MCU lists on Letterboxd and I’m inclined to agree. Despite being another piece of entertainment which wants you to abandon the notion of moral absolutes, it’s one of the best examples of the mental prison which defines the dialectics of the modern era.

Using a character like Captain America to make this kind of statement is effective in this case because the Cap is a superhero who embodies a certain kind of moral absolutism: Americanism. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers lives in a world where the moral fault lines were plainly delineated. America and SHIELD represented liberty and HYDRA represented tyranny. Service, duty, honor, loyalty, honesty and yes, patriotism were the highest virtues. But these virtues had to be subordinated to the expansion of human freedom.

As the Cap tries to adjust the 21st century, he finds himself at odds with a world that exploits ethical grey areas and the ability to compartmentalize. When the Cap learns that the recovery of the Lemurian Star from pirates was really a pretext for an intelligence operation, he’s none too pleased. Nick Fury reveals that Project Insight is billed as a national security initiative which could diffuse a global threat before it materializes. Not only is Cap appalled that he’s being sent on missions with SHIELD agents operating under covert instructions, he doesn’t want to live in a world in which the preservation of liberty is upheld through global surveillance and the omnipresent threat of being executed.

As we’ve seen in other Marvel films, there are subtle historical references mixed with fiction. Cap eventually learns that SHIELD conscripted HYDRA scientists through the Operation Paperclip program and this allowed HYDRA agents to infiltrate SHIELD all the way to the top. Subsequently, Operation Insight could be deployed by HYDRA to orchestrate a mass genocide. HYDRA correctly surmised that people wouldn’t willingly give up their freedom if imposed by force, but if you sowed seeds of chaos and promised security in return, people would willingly surrender it.

I’ll let you decide for yourself if you think that this attitude only exists within the minds of the boogeymen promulgated by the establishment.

Nick Fury: These new long range precision guns can eliminate a thousand hostiles a minute. The satellites can read a terrorist’s DNA before he steps outside his spider hole. We’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.
Steve Rogers: I thought the punishment usually came *after* the crime.
Nick Fury: We can’t afford to wait that long.
Steve Rogers: Who’s “we”?
Nick Fury: After New York, I convinced the World Security Council we needed a quantum surge in threat analysis. For once we’re way ahead of the curve.
Steve Rogers: By holding a gun at everyone on Earth and calling it protection.
Nick Fury: You know, I read those SSR files. Greatest generation? You guys did some nasty stuff.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. This isn’t freedom, this is fear.
Nick Fury: S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be. And it’s getting damn near past time for you to get with that program, Cap.
Steve Rogers: Don’t hold your breath.

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Star Wars Prequel Roundup: The Empire Strikes Out

Like millions of others who were lucky enough to see it for the first time on the big screen, my world was rocked by Star Wars back in 1977. It wasn’t simply that it was the most incredible sci-fi spectacle I had seen up to that point. It’s that I never had a cinematic hero quite like Luke Skywalker before Star Wars. He was the pop culture hero I never knew I was looking for. The emotional void of never knowing his parents resonated with me at a deep level. His yearning for a greater sense purpose and meaning seemed a mirror image of my own. His frustration with his surroundings and the determination to escape the provincial shithole he grew up in felt identical to mine. It wasn’t simply that I could relate to Luke Skywalker. I felt at some level that I was Luke Skywalker.

When George Lucas announced his intention to tell the story of Darth Vader’s slide to the Dark Side, I was intrigued but somewhat perplexed. Return of the Jedi ended on such a triumphant note. Does Star Wars even work as a Shakespearean tragedy? Does it make sense to recast the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a Star Wars film? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is a resounding No. I realize this isn’t a particularly new or controversial opinion, but I wanted to put down a few words about why they’re bad films as well as why I believe they’re toxic pieces of social engineering. As much as I am tempted to attribute all blame for the corruption of the Star Wars franchise to Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, JJ Abrams, and their minions at the Disney Corporation, George Lucas managed to hasten that process completely on his own.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Yes, it’s a turd. I know.

I still think the most persuasive case for the prequels is Nick Gillespie’s piece which casts them as an allegory for the moral collapse of the Boomers. This story had potential for being coherent and good, but it would have required too many risks for someone as entrenched as George Lucas.

When he finally enlarges the Star Wars lore and attempts to deepen the story of the Old Republic, the less sense it makes. Whether it was ideological possession, laziness or myopia, the sheer quantity of bad choices he visited upon this screenplay boggles the mind.

  • Midichlorians? WTF, George. When Obi-Wan first describes The Force, he says it’s “an energy field created by all living things”. Now access to the Force is determined by the quantity of microscopic cells. So that means the Jedi quest is only accessible to people who are blessed with the right genetics. Very progressive, Lucas.
  • The inexplicable ineptitude of the Jedi Council. This was supposedly the Jedi at their peak, but they were blindsided by the reemergence of the Sith? No one picked up the fact that Palpatine was the Phantom Menace? Obi-Wan knew that Alderaan had been snuffed out, but not a single Jedi felt a disturbance in the Force? Really? Not even Yoda? Speaking of Yoda, he actually laid down some deep shit in Empire, but in every scene with the Jedi Council they just seem like effete dumbshits. Even Qui-Gon’s pronouncements are lame. Yes, it has continuity with Kenobi’s teachings to Luke, but it made more sense inside the larger context of Jedi ethics. This just seems like the wrong message to impart to the youth.

Qui-Gon Jinn: Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts.

  • Tatooine’s gangster/slave economy. This was the Pax Galactica before the Fall, and you’ve got an entire world that’s run by slave owners and gangsters? How does anyone make an honorable living on this planet? This was the period of peace and freedom before the iron fisted dominion of the Empire that we’re rooting to see restored? Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a multi-planetary democratic imperium.
  • Pod racing as gladiatorial sport. I realize Lucas is reaching for a Ben-Hur parallel here, but at a basic level, they’re allowing a kid to compete in a life threatening competition. This was a sort of proto-Hunger Games scenario.
  • War as video game. This criticism is hardly limited to this film, but the battle scene between the Gungans and the droid army felt like an ad for the LucasArts game. You are supposed to make a cursory effort to portray the danger, fear and carnage so that the audience perceives the gravity of the situation.

When you combine the plot problems with the character problems and your bad guys sound like they have Down Syndrome, picking on Jar Jar Binks just seems pointless.

Lucas wants you to empathize with Anakin, but there’s not much to go on. You knew this was his wunderkind period going into it, so there was no real growth arc with which to identify. At no point do you ever sense that you’re actually watching a child. He performs amazing feats of technical wizardry and displays virtuosic piloting skills without fear. His final farewell to his mother reeks of falsehood. I realize he’s the Chosen One and everything but this is exactly why Rey was so unbelievable too.

Neeson and McGregor come out the most unscathed overall. I don’t particularly love Natalie Portman in the first place and this is easily her most dreadful performance.

Good lightsaber fight though.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Though almost unseated by the abysmal dungheap known as The Last Jedi, Attack of the Clones still holds the dubious distinction of being the nadir of the once glorious Star Wars franchise.

Pointing out the flaws in AOTC feels a bit redundant at this point, but I think the biggest Jedi Mind Trick of this film was Lucas’ attempt to make you believe it’s not itself a piece of propaganda for global Empire.

The heroine of the film is a monarch and a functionary in the Old Republic? Her world was invaded and occupied as a consequence of bureaucratic inertia in the last film and she remains a true believer in “democracy”? Star Wars celebrated the restoration of a monarchist aristocracy, but the emergence of a secessionist sentiment is a calamity that heralds the onset of tyranny? Granted, the Separatists were controlled opposition, but still. There weren’t any grassroots planetary sovereignty movements?

We’re meant to see Anakin’s slaughter of the Tusken Raiders as an act of barbarism that foreshadows his moral collapse, but why should we feel sympathy for Tusken Raiders? He may have taken things a bit too far, but come on. They kidnapped his mother! They shoot podracers indiscriminately! They attacked Luke! Fuck the Sandpeople!

I am beginning to think the epic cringe of the Padme/Anakin affair was a cinematic act of demolition on heterosexual romance itself.

The subplot surrounding the clone army presages the advent of gene editing and suggests the potential for Brave New World-style eugenics and dysgenics.

And there’s just no excuse for this, George. Come on, dude.

Anakin Skywalker: I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

It’s the most tolerable of the three prequels, but this doesn’t compensate for the outright malevolence of its underlying message. Lucas undoubtedly wants this to be perceived as a space opera reinvention of Julius Caesar, but a more sober analysis suggests that this film represents a grand scale act of vandalism on the heroic male archetype.

What we see in Anakin is essentially the caricature of the impetuous, impulsive, romantically challenged dudebro/incel dumbshit that is now omnipresent throughout the culture. In short, I believe the story of Anakin Skywalker’s submission to the Dark Side was a Trojan Horse for the vile and idiotic “toxic masculinity” meme. Just scan any article or blog post by a feminist and I guarantee that her baseline assumptions about men can be mapped to some aspect of Anakin Skywalker. Part of me thinks this is why Lucas chose an actor as unlikable as Hayden Christensen and then gave him such a turd of a role to play. The goal was to make him awkward and unsympathetic.

Despite the negative archetype he represents for men, the film is also by extension a stealth commentary on one of feminism’s sacred cows: single motherhood. Anakin Skywalker may have singlehandedly ushered in the “toxic masculinity” meme, but let’s not forget that he was raised exclusively by a woman prior to meeting Qui-Gon and Obi Wan. What mother would just hand over her son to a couple of occultist/spy warrior monks she barely knew and show so little anguish? Whether this also suggests the manner in which children are groomed for Hollywood is yet another angle to consider.

Anakin’s perfectly natural desire for a father figure is also subverted and sabotaged. The Jedi oath of celibacy seems virtuous in a world of profligacy and indulgence, but it’s never explained well. Obi-Wan’s advice to Anakin amounts to little more than “Stop getting a boner”. His allegiance to the Jedi pits his natural urge to have a wife and a child against the Jedi code. He has no role models for traditional chivalry, courtship or fatherhood. No wonder the Naboo frolic scenes are so painful. When Palpatine dangles the possibility of preventing death through knowledge of the Dark Side, it speaks to his natural urge to be protective. Of course he would find that power tempting. He’s in love. Men will do anything for the women they love. But Lucas wants us to see him as this man who had allowed himself to be corrupted and manipulated by pure evil.

What we have in Anakin Skywalker is a man who sought what men have fought for centuries to preserve. A sense of duty and honor. A sense of pride and purpose. A legacy to hand down to his progeny. A desire for peace and order. The love of a woman. The joy and fulfillment of a family. What George Lucas did in this trilogy is portray the pursuit of those virtues and ideals as a path to moral degradation. He took the best attributes of manhood and perverted them into something to be shunned and condemned. Utterly reprehensible.

On the positive side, Lucas is giving us a subtle and valuable lesson in managed geopolitical dialectics. The Jedi are properly viewed as an occult/espionage organization roughly analogous to the CIA. Just as in real life, the CIA have controlled assets in the criminal underworld as well as vast intelligence gathering networks. Lucas’ clever cinematic trick is to portray the Jedi and the Sith as the two presumably opposite sides of this dichotomy. One Good and the other Bad. Marvel uses the same device with SHIELD and HYDRA. The Bond series also uses this device by portraying SPECTRE as the shadow cabal who stands in opposition to MI6 and our beloved 00 agent, James Bond. Palpatine was, in essence, the Manchurian Candidate/double agent who kept his true identity as Darth Sidious hidden. As a Sith, he was controlling the Separatists and as a politician, he was able to exploit the chaos to secure greater power. Does this have a real world analogue? You bet your ass. The way these films always navigate the moral conundrum of absolute power is simply by saying that it must never fall into the Wrong Hands. That’s really all Lucas is saying by this film’s conclusion.

By the end, we don’t really understand why Padme dies. It just seems like another arbitrary script decision which brings the film to its predetermined conclusion resulting in two infants without parents. Because they’re children of elite pedigree, they remain in the care of elites. Luke gets the shorter end of the stick, but his CIA handler/Jedi Master-to-be sets up shop on Tatooine just to keep tabs on him and initiate him into Skull and Bones/the Jedi Order when the time comes.

I believe that Nick Gillespie was fundamentally correct when he argued that the prequels marked the Boomer generation’s embrace of Empire. They came of age promising revolution, peace and freedom, but in the end, they left a legacy of war, bureaucracy, and social unrest papered over by the most vacuous platitudes. The only thing I’d add is that final film embodies the sheer contempt the Boomers hold for the younger generations. The Original Trilogy made Luke heroic. If you were a boy, you wanted to be him. Anakin is not given the same treatment. How many boys are still going to walk out of Revenge of the Sith wanting to be Anakin just because he looks cool with a lightsaber and bagged Natalie Portman? Whatever your guess is, I guarantee it’s higher.

Anthony Sutton: America’s Secret Establishment

Understanding how the cultural climate got to its current place has been a central preoccupation on this platform, and I suggest that Anthony Sutton’s analysis of the influence of Skull and Bones on global politics and social consensus, America’s Secret Establishment, provides a plausible thesis. You don’t need an advanced degree to know that the range of acceptable opinion narrows with each passing day. While libertarians hold to the premise that this is still a free marketplace of ideas and all that one needs is libertarian historical revisionism and a dogmatic adherence to the Non-Aggression Principle in order to win the day, Sutton’s analysis of American history is far more credible. Sutton holds a right leaning libertarian view of both American republicanism and the primacy of the individual which locates his own thinking within the spectrum of conventional thought. This should not preclude a serious engagement with his analysis of the evolution of American institutions under the hidden hand of the shadow elite he refers to as The Order.

Christian monarchists hold that this socio-political order is upheld as an ideal because it corresponds to the metaphysic of the family outlined in the Bible. In other words, the patriarch is the head of the family. By having a hereditary monarchy, you have an institution at the center of the sociopolitical order which mirrors the family itself. By contrast, the democratic order places a network of institutions and representatives who have no connection to one another and no hereditary connection to their successors to bind them to the larger extended family of the nation state. Despite the founders’ best efforts at creating an organic aristocracy, the executive ends up being a de facto monarch surrounded by an impossibly byzantine bureaucracy which is captured by corporate interests. In short, it’s a sociopolitical order which lends itself to shadow government and secret societies. This is the core idea behind Sutton’s thesis and his book walks you through the formation of all of America’s institutions.

The irony is that the collection of elites to whom Sutton refers as The Order are in fact a sort of hidden aristocracy. Hidden in plain sight that is. Sutton asks at the outset something that I believe is a perfectly reasonable and rational question. “If there can be conspiracy in the market place, then why not in the political arena?” (pg. 3) Of course, nowadays, there is acceptable conspiracy theory (i.e. Russiagate) and there is unacceptable conspiracy theory (e.g. 9/11, moon landing, JFK assassination, Sandy Hook, etc). Espousing belief in the former will never draw a word of reproach whereas any inkling of sympathy towards the latter conspiracies will get you drummed out of the public square.

The entire collection of presumptions that comprise the bedrock of classical liberalism is stunningly effective because you grow up accepting that these ideas represent the pinnacle of human thought and the end of history. All that remains is the continued perfection of the institutions and the process. If we just continue to accord unquestioned deference to the continued expansion of “human rights” and “democracy”, a glorious future of human cooperation, prosperity and equality surely awaits. Sutton’s book suggests that every sphere of American thought from economics to medicine to the arts has been intentionally colonized and molded to conform to a narrow range of acceptable ideas. More specifically, he posits that the Left-Right dialectic was an idea appropriated from Hegel in order to engender servitude to the State and shepherd a process of perpetual change. Contrary to popular belief, capitalism and communism are not the diametric opposites we’ve been trained to believe.

Libertarians and conservatives are correct to oppose socialism and communism, but the error of both positions is the belief that the pure advocacy of free markets represents a view that stands in opposition to global progressivism. Russell Kirk makes a similar case in The Conservative Mind, but Sutton makes a compelling case that it is in fact the shadow aristocracy comprised of capitalists that have financed global communism. Not only have the mustach twirling Randian übermenschen historically aided and abetted leftist and communist regimes and social movements, but they continue to fund these groups in media, academia and the arts. The obvious #NotAll caveat certainly applies here, but the larger point is that the framework of the debate creates the illusion of two irreconcilable ideological poles. I’ve often found myself perplexed that the institutions and individuals I believed to be ideologically opposed to leftist political collectivism are the very people sounding the loudest bullhorns for these ideas. I found myself repeatedly playing defense when presented with the idea that wealthy capitalist donors and foundations were the ones so generously underwriting PBS, NPR and all the other media companies who openly promulgate progressive politics. Sutton argues that by funding and promoting two sides of seemingly opposed sides of a Hegelian dialectic, the shadow elites are able to manufacture crises, purchase the levers of cultural consensus and weaponize culture to ensure that the populations are debased, atomized and subservient only to the proliferation of the gospel of global liberalism.

America’s Secret Establishment focuses on the one secret society whose members bear the largest footprint of influence on American life: Yale’s Skull and Bones. For my money, the most revelatory claims pertain to The Order’s funding of both National Socialism and Bolshevism. Oh, but these are polar opposites! How can this be? That’s exactly the point. It’s a managed dialectic. After you’ve divorced concepts like “nation”, “liberty”, and “social welfare” from any larger theological or metaphysical context, they can be politicized and set in opposition to one another. The entire system is designed to produce conflict and opposition. The politicians are the self-appointed saviors who are charged with bringing people together under the banner of “human rights” and “democracy”.

Discussion of Skull and Bones and the influence of secret societies has long been regarded as the province of conspiracy theories. While I’m certain these ideas will continue to draw derision from the gatekeepers of GoodThink, that’s exactly the response I expect. In 2006, Robert De Niro made a film called The Good Shepherd which portrays the life of a Bonesman and his journey through the creation of the OSS and eventually, the CIA. Not only does it confirm the descriptions of Bones rituals and initiations Sutton describes, it basically says that these people are the true Masters of the Universe. So if all this is just a bunch of idle conspiracy theory, why would De Niro put these words in his script?

Richard Hayes: This whole wing will be your part of the world: Counterintelligence. Take a look around. I’ve got an oversight meeting. Can you imagine? They think they can look into our closet, as if we’d let them. I remember a senator once asked me. When we talk about “CIA” why we never use the word “the” in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word “the” in front of “God”?

Revisiting the Argument for Atheism: Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian

Updated 1/23/2019

Given that atheism appears to be a rising trend in the US, it’s worth taking a look back at one of the seminal arguments against the Christian faith to see how well it holds up. Besides his numerous contributions to mathematics, history and philosophy, Bertrand Russell’s contribution to the modern atheist movement is significant. Russell comes from a long line of religious skeptics which goes back to Immanuel Kant and David Hume and finds modern expression in Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris among many others. Mr. Russell may have been a gifted intellectual in many respects, but his 1927 essay, Why I Am Not A Christian, is logically inconsistent, poorly argued and uncharitable towards Christianity. Besides inculcating an orthodoxy of negation, it also reveals a contradiction at the center of the atheist worldview which, in my opinion, few atheists have acknowledged let alone sufficiently addressed.

By staking a monopoly claim on scientific rationalism, and by extension, the entire realm of scientific discovery, atheists have essentially positioned themselves as the new arbiters of morality. While atheists have busied themselves dismantling the edifice of religious morality using the tools of logic, they have simultaneously claimed that a new secular moral order can be constructed from these tools alone. Of course, there is no coherence whatsoever to today’s woke pieties. The most honest secular atheists will openly acknowledge that consistent moral principles don’t exist, but will simultaneously argue that gay marriage, taxpayer funded abortion and feminism are unassailable, ironclad truths from which no deviation is permitted.

The core conceit of Why I Am Not A Christian is that Russell presupposes the existence of the very metaphysical phenomena to which he applies his skepticism. However, Russell has an advantage that atheists have been exploiting for decades. He is mounting an attack on the Thomistic arguments for the existence of God and these arguments use classical foundationalism as a starting point. In other words, things like the laws of logic and fixed moral principles are assumed to be a priori truths. They’re an attempt to reason backwards to God from a scholastic viewpoint that posits that all of creation are effects of an absolutely simple divine substance which makes no distinction between energy and essence. Once you divorce concepts like telos, logos and ethics from their theological underpinnings, the skeptic can set the whole philosophical enterprise against itself. Subsequently, the reigning orthodoxy of our time can be summed up in a single, self-detonating contradiction. There is no truth. Just a collection of disparate individual truths vying for conquest. And this confused, nihilistic worldview is exactly what has taken root in the Western world. Think I’m exaggerating? What would you say to a young person considering a philosophy major at college? The honest ones among us would tell him that it will be viewed very favorably as he applies for work as a barista at the local Starbucks.

But this is exactly what Russell intended. Along with other Royal and Fabian Society globalist social engineers, Russell has claimed the mantle of science and rationalism for the express purpose of hastening their destruction. Russell has written extensively on morality and ethics, but no one gives a shit what he has to say. The point was erode the Christian faith. It was to inculcate a posture of radical “skepticism” that would eventually be picked up by new generations of establishment shills and catapult vacant dittoheads like Jaclyn Glenn and Matt Dillahunty to YouTube celebrity status. The punchline is that a condemnation or a “logical” refutation of faith isn’t a sufficient replacement for a system of morality and ethics that’s been conserved over centuries. Nor does it dismantle the mechanism of belief itself. Russell merely shifted the focus of faith and pointed it towards new gods called Reason and Science. And global technocrats like himself would be in a position to write and rewrite the catechism as often as they see fit.

Russell’s essay is worth reading because it represents a sort of ur-script for the contemporary skeptic and atheist scene. Fred Copleston and Bertrand Russell hashed out this argument in 1948 and atheists have been running roughshod over the argument for contingency ever since. Outside the YouTube sphere, these debates are mostly absent from the contemporary cultural discussion, and I suspect that’s exactly what the social engineers intend. The recent Sam Harris/Jordan Peterson debates don’t really count because both of them are essentially secular liberals who remain safely within the confines of post-Enlightenment acceptability. As long as the plebs don’t get too caught up in some abstract philosophical debate that argues too rigorously for Christian theology or objectivity, it’s all good, bro.

The default assumption amongst atheists is that Christians are knuckle dragging, anti-science mouth breathers who have neither a willingness or ability to engage in formal debate. The latter may be true, but the former assumption is ironically thoroughly acceptable despite their own admonitions to police unconscious bias. Since the argument has already been fought by the likes of Russell, atheists generally take it as given that the debate is over, and engagement with these arguments is unnecessary. Conversely, Christians have largely retreated, been ignored, or simply failed in the intellectual arena against the likes of charismatic and intelligent atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. But the irony is that the Transcendental argument for the existence of God using Orthodox theology is a more powerful argument to which I’ve yet to hear a compelling refutation from an atheist. Regardless, let’s examine a few elements of Russell’s case to show how radical skepticism creates illusory certainty about reality and inculcates a religious belief in negation for its own sake.

The First Cause Argument

That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity.

Yeah, man! Who needs a First Cause, amirite? When divorced from revelation, nature is reduced to a descralized, impersonal set of forces which only appear to have order, meaning and purpose. Subsequently, there’s no reason for a secular atheist to accept that God is the First Cause. Russell’s denial of the necessity of a First Cause is fine in an impersonal, mechanistic universe of flux and chaos, but it does little to provide a sense of certainty about how we began as a species. Subsequently, the secular scientific priesthood dangle the promise of ever expanding scientific knowledge to eventually answer the Big Questions of Existence. Maybe it’s an oscillating universe and we’re enjoying this tiny blip of cosmic expansion in an endless cycle of creation and destruction. Maybe we’re one universe among an infinite number of universes. Once the geniuses at CERN open up that transdimensional portal, we’ll finally climb the Great Cosmic Pyramid and meet the engineers we saw in Prometheus!

Who knows for sure? More specifically, who really fucking cares anyway? These questions are too deep for your puny minds anyway so just retweet this Neil deGrasse Tyson meme and pass the bong in the meantime. All you need to know is that all matter and energy in the universe was compressed into a single point at time zero and then BOOM! The universe just started organizing itself into increasingly complex material and biological forms over the course of billions of years! Everything just arose from nothing! It’s #SCIENCE man! Not that silly ass religion shit!

Coincidentally, what came to be known as the Big Bang Theory was introduced the same year he made this speech. Russell’s argument against First Cause was simply replaced with its scientific equivalent: the causeless cause.

The Big Bang Theory lends itself to the First Cause argument, but in a world of chaos and flux, why wouldn’t a skeptic argue that this also poses a problem of infinite regression? Who caused God, bro? Betcha never heard THAT ONE before! After all, God is at best an unknowable, impersonal force that’s subject to the same material forces we observe. It’s a reductio ad absurdum that’s deployed to this day.

If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.

Even if you concede that God is the First Mover, who’s to say it’s the Christian God? Maybe it’s Xenu. Maybe it’s Allah. Maybe it’s Satan. Maybe it’s Isis and Osiris. Maybe it’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There’s no reason a skeptic would arrive at Christian theology using this line of argumentation.

Thus far, the scientific community has nothing definitive to say about what preceded the Big Bang. And it doesn’t need to. It’s a cosmology that reinforces Darwinian evolution and keeps the grant money flowing into the coffers of CERN and other scientific institutions determined to unlock the ultimate secrets of the universe. And to everyone who considers it a given that science and faith are incompatible, just remember that the most significant and widely accepted scientific theory explaining the origins of the universe came from a Catholic priest. Theories of cosmological origins can’t be observed, but it’s little surprise that Mr. Lemaître’s conception of the beginning of time mirror the metaphysic espoused by Aquinas. An absolutely simple, undivided monad and everything that proceeds from it are the created effects.

The Natural Law Argument

Russell’s argument here is essentially that it is too simplistic to say that the phenomena of the natural world or the cosmos can be explained away by saying Goddidit. He expands by citing how Newtonian laws of gravitation were overturned by Einstein’s more complete theory of General Relativity. “Natural laws are really human convention” he says.

How can you have a worldview which simultaneously produces ironclad scientific knowledge built from fixed principles while also being subject to the vagaries of ever evolving human caprice?

Scientific law gets called law because it explains phenomena that are constant, immutable and unchanging. A more comprehensive theory that fits the observations more completely doesn’t nullify the existence of invariant natural phenomena. Nor does it nullify the invariant and unchanging nature of the various numerical systems by which these phenomena are measured. There isn’t a single scientific law that has been invalidated or overturned since the time Russell wrote this piece. Whether we’re talking about the Laws of Thermodynamics or Newton’s Laws of Motion, scientific law gets called a law because it reveals the machinery of the natural world expressed as a mathematical equation and can be reproduced under controlled conditions. Except for climate scientists on government payrolls, scientists who study the natural world proceed into the scientific enterprise operating from a set of assumptions about how the universe is ordered. In an honest scientific endeavor free from pressures of political conformity, hypotheses extend from the limits and boundaries of what is already known and are subsequently tested for their validity. These form the foundations of a body of scientific knowledge from which technological innovation arises. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Needless to say, Russell’s malleable view of natural law is entirely consistent with the politicized state of the sciences which we currently face. Of course we’re going to have gene edited babies. Of course there are more than two genders. What are you, some transphobic dinosaur or something? All that crap about sexual dimorphism is just bourgeois patriarchal nonsense. Why do you object to hormone treatments for dysphoric children, you bigot? Why are you questioning climate change, you backwards Trumptard? Do you want to kill Mother Earth?

The Argument From Design

Russell takes a dim view of the Teleological Argument because if he accepted it, he would have to affirm that there is inherent goodness in creation. As long as it remains random, arbitrary, indifferent or hostile, it is easier to promote the promise of a scientific utopia that will provide an ultimate conquest over this abortion of a world. It’s a gnostic conception of the universe and he even suggests his sympathies for that view later in the piece.

Russell goes completely off the rails and starts sounding like a proto-SJW in the remainder of this section. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why did we get the KKK or the Nazis? Oh snap! You just got #PWND, theists! The obvious rebuttal is that humanity is in a fallen state but was given free will. Evil is the privation of the good. It is entirely up to us to distinguish right from wrong and choose accordingly. That is the challenge of being alive. In his gnostic, scientistic conception of the world, there is no good to affirm in the first place.

The Moral Arguments For Deity

This is the core failure of Russell’s argument, and by extension, the entire atheist enterprise in my opinion.

I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question.

The atheist argument poses a deep conundrum because it is either implicitly or explicitly a call for a secular moral order. The irony is that there is nothing in the empirical framework of the pure observation of the natural world which offers any moral prescription whatsoever. Yet the atheist, by and large, most definitely presumes the existence of right and wrong as some self-evident truth. Not only would any atheist seek punishment for the murderer, rapist and thief, atheists mostly busy themselves lambasting the evils of religion. If the atheist attacks a religious moral tenet in favor of a secular moral advancement, he is positioning himself as an arbiter of morality. If the atheist rejects the idea that faith is the foundation for moral realism, then you have consigned the entire realm of morality to the relativistic world of political ideology, or worse, scientism and utilitarianism. The atheist that claims a belief in science is somehow superior to religious faith is peddling a ridiculous fallacy. Good science does not require belief in the first place and he is glossing over the larger issues of morality and ethics. How can you claim there is individual moral rectitude or ethical virtue in a world of materialism and perpetual flux? One cannot have sound science without sound ethics, and I would contend that it is a precondition for any serious quest for scientific knowledge. The sciences of the natural world are neutral on morality and ethics. Few people would embrace it today, but eugenics were once considered cutting-edge science. On the other hand, the modern social sciences make no effort to hide the fact that they are both normative and subjective, but affect a pretense of being the engines of modern moral progression simply because they live under the broad banner of science. Gender studies, critical race theory, and climate change “science” now form a de facto secular moral order from which any dissent is met with censure and opprobrium. Committing violence in service of the advancement of political goals and being a self-appointed judge of who deserves to be punched for having the wrong political opinions are not only explicitly sanctioned by the progressive political class, academics and celebrities, but they are evidence of moral virtue.

At its core, the atheist argument is nothing more than a negation of belief. It’s a religious belief in the perpetual embrace of non-belief. It also falsely asserts that faith and reason are mutually exclusive faculties, and the existence of one automatically short circuits and precludes the exercise of the other. If this doesn’t lead to a state of pure nihilism, it creates an inherent cognitive dissonance with respect to positive engagement with humanity itself. By and large, humans generally strive towards a very general notion of Doing the Right Thing and Making a Difference. Happiness, love, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness and charity are all abstractions which cannot be quantified, and yet, these abstractions are the mythical sky wizards that every atheist presumably chases in his own life under the guise of “science” or “reason”. Every act performed which carries an expectation of positive good, whether it’s money donated to a soup kitchen or a vote cast for a politician, is its own act of faith. If an atheist truly has any hope for humanity, he must, at some level, have belief in humanity’s capacity for good. This all by itself is an act of faith. It is the Golden Rule in practice. Cynicism and nihilism are easy. Finding reasons to be hopeful about humanity is a far deeper challenge which pretty much requires some level of faith.

The yearning for justice and righteousness; more specifically, the desire to do right by for our fellow man and leave a positive legacy for posterity is hardwired into the human consciousness at some level. However, it is not a forgone conclusion that any given human will make choices that will expand and spread virtue, and it is entirely possible that many will be actively constrained and thwarted in their ability to exercise it.

As Thomas Sowell argued, the world is roughly divided between those who subscribed to a “constrained” vision of humanity which posits that human nature is fixed and unchanging or an “unconstrained” vision which asserts that humans can be molded by social forces and institutions. Atheists mostly belong to the latter camp. Sadly, no one gives a shit about “a rational proof for secular ethics” or any other lofty philosophical disquisition on morality and ethics. Bertrand Russell wrote a bunch of stuff, but who reads it except for philosophy nerds and academics? The study of neuroscience in hopes of uncovering the “moral landscape” as Sam Harris describes it seems like little more than a recipe for pharmacological and technological micromanagement of the human will. The yearning for justice appeals to human emotion, and subsequently, humans tend to respond more positively to narrative and allegory when it comes to formulating notions of morality and justice. This is why mythology and pop culture have been far more effective vehicles for the transmission of moral lessons than philosophical dialectic.

I further contend that it’s far easier to denigrate the Christian faith and morality than it is to proffer a positive alternative. There are no consequences to proclaiming yourself an atheist. It takes no courage to heap scorn and ridicule on Christians as the enemies of Real Social Progress© and scientific discovery. According to the contemporary progressive orthodoxy, the only real moral transgressions are “bigotry”, white on black police brutality, climate change “denial”, the absence of consent in sexual relations for white, middle-class female college students, saying anything negative about Islam, and pretty much anything uttered by a conservative, libertarian or Christian. But the outrage is strictly confined to the narrative as it’s defined within the walls of academia and the media echo chamber which dutifully parrots every bit of brainless tripe dispensed from the social justice priesthood. And by and large, this is where the yellow brick road of atheism has lead: to the sanctuary of the Church of Progressivism. Few atheists would admit it, but political rhetoric and social “science” have replaced the priest’s sermon.

Atheism has become a new orthodoxy which has largely ceded moral authority and agency to the leftist political class, their agenda and apparatchiks in academia. There are exceptions, but this is the trend. It seems like little more than a license to condescend to Christians, denigrate Christianity as the font of subservience and totalitarianism, and generally be miserable, nihilistic curmudgeons. Like all progressive thought, it’s not edgy, contrarian or new. With few exceptions, it’s just a standard accompaniment to a predetermined list of progressive political goals.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about making this argument since I grew up mostly secular and generally considered atheists the cool kids in the class. But if this is the quality of the argument from one of atheism’s greatest thinkers, color me unimpressed.

The Mule (2018)

Every now and then, the fanfare surrounding a film is warranted and I suggest that the praise heaped on The Mule marks such an occasion. While Earl Stone’s journey from horticulturalist to drug mule drives the top layer of the storyline, the emotional undertow of his parental and marital failings packs the hardest punch. Beginning with Unforgiven from 1992, Clint Eastwood has leveraged his storied career as an onscreen badass par excellence to limn the depths of his personal travails like no other actor. This dramatic heft is satisfying on its own terms, but like a piece written by a great jazz musician, his performance has many additional layers that are equally praiseworthy. Aside from the numerous threads of commentary on the drug war, The Mule touches on immigration, veterans affairs, the toll of globalized e-commerce on local economies, the dissolution of intergenerational wisdom, the challenge of aging in America and the corrosive effects of political correctness.

Even when he’s playing a badass, Eastwood’s characters are never one dimensional and Earl Stone is no exception. Like Ellington or Mingus, Eastwood lays out the contours of Earl’s character with clean phrases but repeatedly plays them against dissonant harmonies. When we first meet Earl in 2005, he’s a model of geriatric charisma and swagger. He is quick witted, well dressed and still knows how to charm the ladies. Earl is a law abiding citizen, appreciates old fashioned verities and is a Korean War veteran to boot. Irrespective of the personal failings in his family life, Earl Stone is a model citizen. He is the guy with whom everyone wants to have a beer and shoot the shit. When he eventually turns to smuggling drugs, your sympathies do not diminish. Earl’s ill gotten economic gains are used help finance his granddaughter’s wedding and the rehabilitation of the VFW Hall. He puts the money to work out of a genuine desire to mend fences with his estranged daughter and ex-wife as well as to uphold a place of community and refuge for his fellow soldiers.

These qualities endeared him to hardboiled gangsters, Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent and his immigrant gardeners while making the unvarnished edges of his personality go down easier. When he sternly admonishes his Mexican staff to fix their car so that it won’t be a “ticket to deportation”, you’re disarmed by his honesty. When he tells his cartel handlers they’re getting dirty looks because they’re “two beaners in a cracker bowl”, it comes across like a straightforward observation rather than a hateful epithet. And the fact that he’s willing to say something that risky to the faces of armed thugs is also pretty funny.

Like clockwork, the puritanical screeching over Earl’s politically incorrect coarseness has come from the SJW corners of the mediasphere. Sadly, these insufferable scolds will never grasp the point that Eastwood was making. When Earl offers to help a black couple change a tire, he refers to them as “negroes”. Instead of being thankful for the help he offered, they spent all their time being triggered and butthurt by his words. They inform him that it’s against #WOKE protocols to say such terrible things, but Earl smiles and proceeds to help them. Eastwood is cleverly pointing out what everyone outside the progressive bubble already knows. The Left has indoctrinated a posture of perpetual offense and a pathological desperation to enforce to a set of ever changing rules. “Negro” was once perfectly acceptable and Earl’s usage of the term did not carry a tinge of racial animosity.

Speaking of PC scolds, Eastwood’s demolition of progressive puritanism isn’t limited to his willingness to piss off the racism cops. He gives us something that feels increasingly rare in today’s era of hypersensitivity: unabashed Latina pulchritude. When Earl successfully completes a record run, he’s treated to a proper celebration that only a drug lord could host. Earl is flown to the Mexico compound where Andy Garcia’s Laton throws a party that’s overflowing with liquor, drugs and tons of scantily clad chicks. Eastwood’s camera lingers on their curvaceous asses as they gyrate to salsa jams. It’s a lovely sight to behold and the fact that some harpy from the online feminist stasi is seething with rage over its inclusion makes it that much more glorious.

Though somewhat softer than the grizzled hardass he played in Gran Torino, Earl is perpetually bewildered and perturbed by the fact that he lives in a world that’s increasingly disconnected from the traditions with which he grew up. “Didn’t your daddy teach you to change a tire?” he asks of the couple in distress as the man flails about haplessly searching for network connectivity. For Earl, the idea of a father not teaching basic automotive care never crosses his mind. Let alone the possibility that either of them might have grown up without a father. The #WOKE intelligentsia will probably chastise Eastwood for this attempt at cinematic paternalism, but I’m inclined to think this was also Eastwood’s stealth commentary on illegitimacy in the black community.

While Earl feels the walls closing in on the destructive trade in which he’s inserted himself, he never stops seeking redemption, grace or a few minutes to stop and smell the roses. The pressures of the cocaine trade should never supersede the opportunity to enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich in the Midwest. Just because you’re being tailed by the FBI doesn’t mean you can’t impart hard earned wisdom with the agent who has you in his sights. Even as he basks in Laton’s decadence, he counsels his handler Julio to abandon the thug life. Earl never has to face the destruction his drug running exacts on the social fabric he wants to see preserved, but he never loses sight of his culpability in the consequences of his choices.

A cynic might say that casting Alison Eastwood in the role of Earl’s daughter was an act of nepotism, but in this case, it was a masterstroke. There’s no doubt in my mind that Iris’ resentment towards her father came from a genuine place, but like Earl, Iris goes through a growth arc of her own that feels equally genuine. Dianne Weist is brilliant as Earl’s ex-wife, Mary, and the mixture of emotional anguish and love she holds for Earl is palpable.

The Mule is making some very obvious points about how the media spotlight creates perverse incentives for federal law enforcement, but I suggest that Eastwood giving us a glimpse of something even more profound. This isn’t just a skillful adaptation of a real world story. This is a window into a tightly controlled network of forces that’s been deployed and managed by the establishment. Hollywood is the propaganda arm for two sides of a dialectic that appear opposed but are more intertwined than they appear. Eastwood may have the trappings of a successful Hollywood career, but I believe Earl’s fate is a metaphor for Eastwood’s life in more ways than one.

Hollywood’s pathological fixation on youth has fueled a culture of narcissism, vacuous moral preening and increasingly impoverished filmmaking. The mere existence of this film amidst this sea of fame seeking hacks and soulless technicians feels as precious Earl’s day lillies. With The Mule, Eastwood has risen to the stature of the jazz greats he admires. This is work of an artist who breathes life into every line and frame. The entire film feels like Eastwood’s lesson in filmmaking to the up and coming generations. I can only hope they’re paying attention.

Contact (1997)

Generally speaking, cinematic science fiction goes one of two ways. Either it goes after big ideas and weighty philosophical questions or it goes after CGI mayhem and hot chicks in body suits. Sometimes it succeeds at both, but more often than not, a science fiction film falls into one of these two camps. Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 adaptation of the famous Carl Sagan novel, Contact, is unequivocally a Big Ideas sci-fi film which manages to pack a lot of meaty content into a popcorn blockbuster presentation. Though it does boast its own spin on the legendary Stargate scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the final act, the film is propelled almost exclusively by solid performances and a fairly robust dramatic clash between the forces of scientific materialism and religious belief. No Hollywood sci-fi film comes without an agenda or esoteric symbolism and the various ways it smuggles in its messaging is especially sly. Contact is somewhat more charitable about theism and the entire realm of metaphysics than you’ll find in just about anything secular these days, but ultimately, it is itself a work of scientistic hermetic theology. More specifically, Contact is a very clever piece of propaganda which promotes the theosophical ideas of HP Blavatsky, Alice Bailey, UNESCO, and the Lucis Trust. Virtually every component of the NWO global agenda can be found in this movie.

Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, we’ve been taught that there is an irreconcilable schism between science and faith. In both the cinematic and literary form, the modern science fiction tradition is replete with stories which dramatize this conflict. With very few exceptions, the forces of scientific progress are in perpetual struggle against the forces of religious belief. The scientists are always portrayed as infinitely resourceful master technicians who are likeable, quick witted and can kick your ass if the story demands it. By contrast, the faithful are authoritarian dolts and mean spirited tight asses. Or as The Omega Man and The Chronicles of Riddick demonstrate, they are embodied as fanatical, vampiric cultists whose sole motivations are enslavement, conversion or conquest. In Contact’s case, the religious characters include a suicide bomber, a status seeking bureaucrat, a vacuous Catholic priest, and a cross between Jeff Spicoli and Joel Osteen. In other words, yet another mostly uncharitable Hollywood portrait of religious people. Since many of the prime movers of the sci-fi genre were themselves globalist technocrats, it makes sense that we’d eventually get a film which reconciles these seemingly opposing forces into an alchemical union to grease the wheels for the dystopian hellscape glorious global techno-utopia that awaits us.

On the surface, Contact presents itself as a sophisticated science fiction story which believably posits the possibility of contact with a higher extraterrestrial intelligence. Though Steven Spielberg has given us two different versions of the benign alien visitation in E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact is following in the footsteps of the loftier speculations of Arthur C. Clarke. Instead of a kid friendly vision of Crowleyan entities you find in Spielberg, you get to watch the whole world build a dimensional portal which does real science-y shit like “folding spacetime” but is really just the most expensive VR machine ever built.

Every character represents an archetypal ideal, and the heroine of the film, Ellie Arroway, is modeled after Hypatia, the Alexandrian martyr for science. For those who remember Cosmos, Sagan lavished mountains of praise on Hypatia in the series despite having no substantial record of achievement in the history of scientific thought. This choice makes sense when viewed through a gnostic lens because she represents the illuminated Sophia. Eleanor is Greek for “shining light” and Arroway is a play on Voltaire’s last name, Arouet. Her nickname is “Sparks” to signify the fact that she possesses Luciferian flame. Right away, Sagan is signaling a connection to gnosticism, Freemasonry, and by extension, the Hermetic roots of modern science. Played with heartfelt vigor by Jodie Foster, Ellie is a paragon of determination, grit, tenderness and the passionate thirst for discovery. She is the fearless seeker who is willing to persist in her quest for extraterrestrial life despite constant rejection and doubt from all corners. She remains steadfast in her convictions when facing the ridicule of the vapid, self-aggrandizing and conniving David Drumlin. She is also the radical empiricist who demands proof of God’s existence when probing the faith of Matthew McConaughey’s Palmer Joss.

This brings us to one of the film’s clever sleights of hand. Ellie is essentially a female version of David Hume or John Locke. In the wake of her second greatest tragedy, all her Catholic priest could offer was a few perfunctory words about how it was “God’s plan”. Pfft. Piss off, religion! She doesn’t believe in God because she needs empirical proof! Not mealy mouthed platitudes! Checkmate, conservatards! Bet you never heard THAT ONE before! Of course, this is by now an insufferably tiresome cliché. Materialism and empiricism is the bread and butter of the entire New Atheist community. For them, there is no valid knowledge outside the peer reviewed science or what can be observed in the realm of sense perception. But what the film doesn’t want you to notice is that this premise is in and of itself an article of faith! To Zemeckis’ credit, he makes this point explicit when Ellie is called upon to provide evidence that she actually did traverse the galaxy. There is no empirical evidence for the claim that all knowledge claims must be subject to empirical evidence. Furthermore, Ellie embodies a set of virtues. She is a heroic archetype. She’s tough. She’s conscientious. She’s honest. She’s principled. She’s loyal. She spends the bulk of the film asking people to believe in her quest for extraterrestrial life. The natural world has nothing to say about prescriptive ethics, duty, honor, integrity or morality. To ground an entire worldview in nothing more than a posture of skepticism and an unquestioned belief in the scientific method leads to either to nihilism or the substitution of politics for religious faith. Humans build and strengthen the architecture of morality through storytelling. We must ultimately subordinate ourselves to a hierarchy of authority which starts with the family and reaches its pinnacle in the nation state. Because we’re imperfect, we crave stories which simultaneously speak to our flawed nature yet appeal to our highest aspirations. The progressive worldview mostly rejects metaphysics. Subsequently, virtue must be smuggled through occult archetypes and esoteric metaphysics and Sagan has very skillfully achieved that in Ellie.

It is also noteworthy that Ellie is initially presented as a child with a dead mother. She eventually loses her father too, and this marks her as yet another Hollywood portrait of a child without parents whose life choices are informed in part to fulfill a longing borne of a prematurely severed connection and in part to insulate herself from the emotional vacuum at the core of her being. It’s little surprise that when she has her encounter with the “alien” species, it appears to her in the form that she would find most comforting: her father. Her life quest is wrapped in the rhetoric of scientific inquiry, but it reads as a sort of spiritual calling. The liberal democratic imperium needs atomized individuals pursuing life ambitions that advance scientific or material progress in one way or another. Preferably, it’s a pursuit untethered from family ties and religious tradition. This is entirely consistent with the professed agenda behind the mythology of extraterrestrial life as Arthur C. Clarke is on record stating in Brenda Denzler’s book, The Lure of the Edge.

Her counterpart, Palmer Joss, presents a clever subversion of expectations. Just as we saw in the relationship between Mulder and Scully in the X-Files, Contact reverses standard male and female attributes. Despite the numerous studies which demonstrate a higher degree of empathy and social skills in women, Sagan wrote Ellie as the hard bitten scientific realist consumed with a need for evidence. By contrast, Matthew McConaughey’s Palmer Joss is the believer. Granted, he’s an earthy crunchy academic theologian who’s influential enough to be anointed the spiritual advisor to the POTUS. His real world analogues are establishment cucks like Rick Warren and Tony Campolo. He represents a form of toothless Christianity that’s been opportunistically coopted by the establishment to help politicize the churches and lend moral authority to political agendas. Once again to Zemeckis’ credit, Joss lands a solid blow against the edifice of Ellie’s scientific materialism when he asks for proof that she loved her father. It’s the only cinematic moment of which I’m aware when a secular rationalist is left speechless by a theist.

Contact isn’t just an apologia for scientific materialism, but a work of occult theology. When Ellie presents the decryption primer to the Security Council, she insists that the civilization who sent the message had benign intentions because it was presented in the language of science and mathematics. Unlike the dumb religious retards who follow divine revelation, the machine plans were proof of a species who had harnessed the power of science to evolve beyond their primitive tendencies toward self-destruction. Here, Sagan and Zemeckis presume that unchecked technological progress all by itself is a virtue that will elevate and unite humanity. It’s exactly the kind of belief that’s promoted by UNESCO, the UN and their theological subsidiary, the Lucis Trust. They are trafficking occult teleology. As Palmer Joss rightfully pointed out as she made her pitch, what she received was a message emanating from a “booming voice from the sky”. Sagan substitutes three dimensional engineering schematics embedded in a digital black cube of Saturn for the Ten Commandments. She wants people to believe that the construction of the machine will only edify the human race. What atheists like Sagan conveniently ignore is the simple fact that fetishizing the scientific method doesn’t capture the imagination. What does animate human spirit is the possibility that our man made ambitions might unite the world and eventually bring us into contact with a higher intelligence.

Of course, this also means that we must also deify the corporate aristocracy behind the democratic imperium. As industrial mogul, S.R. Hadden, John Hurt is the Randian übermensch who funds Ellie’s ambitions, decrypts the extraterrestrial blueprints, and subcontracts with Japanese company to build a second machine. Without rich industrialists to bankroll these moonshot ideas, we will never achieve our globalist utopia, proles. Though he is portrayed as a sympathetic character, he is another spin on a Nimrod archetype. Zemeckis wants you to see him as a benevolent old coot but as his name suggests, he is a representation of the Assyrian despot, Esarhaddon. He is more accurately seen as a David Rockefeller or George Soros. He is among the wealthy capitalists who fund NGOs, populate academia with cultural Marxists, finance every conceivable fifth column organization and function as a de facto shadow government. Throughout the film, Hadden communicates to Ellie using the most sophisticated technology and possesses more intelligence about her than you would think a private citizen can access. When James Woods’ hardass conservative proposes the possibility that Hadden has perpetrated a hoax on the entire globe, your sympathies are already with Ellie, and by extension, Hadden. Tough shit, you dumb Alex Jones loving conspiratards. George Soros did nothing wrong. So shut it.

What’s most stunning about Contact is the degree to which it blurs the line between fiction and reality. Actual footage of Bill Clinton commenting on the Mars meteorite discovery in which he stresses the importance of ascertaining “facts” has been seamlessly inserted. Actual CNN anchors are “acting” as CNN anchors throughout the film commenting on a fictitious machine which opens wormholes. A news highlight discusses a fake group of religious fanatics committing mass suicide, and it just happens to mirror the actual mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult just a few months before the film’s release. I guess it’s just a lucky coincidence that all these things happened in time for Contact’s release. All of which begs a key question. If “real” news outlets like CNN and real politicians who present themselves as the arbiters of truth are willingly inserting themselves into a fake story about a contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, why shouldn’t we assume that the “reality” they’re presenting isn’t every bit as synthetic as Contact itself?

While I disagree with his interpretation, Germain Lussier points out the ubiquity of telecommunications devices in the film. The fact that our contact with one another is now being heavily mediated, refracted and distorted through electronic media suggests this was subtle predictive programming. The internet may have brought the whole world together in ways that were unimaginable to previous generations, but the degree to which it has been a salutary force is debatable at best and detrimental at worst. I suggest that this film is tipping us to the possibility that the space program is ultimately about building and enhancing global panopticism.

Speaking of fictitious machines, Contact is basing its technological speculations on special relativity, but if we actually think about how the machine was supposed to work, it doesn’t add up. Resembling the classical model of the atom we learned in grade school, the machine was comprised of several interlocking steel rings. Presumably, with enough acceleration, the rings would convert to mass and tear the fabric of spacetime. Not to get all Neil deGrasse Tyson, but there is no known material that could withstand that kind of energy let alone an energy source to power it. But this came from the mind of Carl Sagan. A scientific mind, right? I don’t mind leaps of imagination, but when you’re presenting a speculative machine that’s linked to a very specific theoretical model that is itself unproven and unobserved, how is this different from theistic belief? Isn’t it interesting that the IMDB trivia page indicates that Carl Sagan wanted to ensure the “science” was correct and the word is bracketed in quotation marks? Isn’t it interesting that this very same visual idea was recycled in Event Horizon and instead of uniting us with benign entities, the machine in that film opened a portal to hell? Why should we presume that a dimensional portal will bring us into contact with benevolent beings as Ellie so fervently insists?

After recovering from her VR journey to the center of the galaxy, Ellie finds herself in the position of having to defend the veracity of her experience before an incredulous government oversight committee lead by a relentless James Woods. Without evidence, Ellie is forced to ask the country to believe that she traversed light years and encountered a simulacrum of her father. You should also believe that an Einstein-Rosen Bridge is legitimate science despite the complete absence of empirical evidence. Is it any wonder that Anita Sarkeesian and Christine Blasey Ford were able to weaponize #BelieveWomen so easily? The cool and dispassionate pursuit of the facts doesn’t hold when religious icons are being violated.

Ellie’s vision amounts to her burning bush moment. In that brief encounter, she was filled with a revelation of the preciousness of life that was so profound, she felt compelled to spread the Gospel of Intergalactic Gnosis with the world. As she descends the Capitol building stairs/Mt. Sinai, she passes through the pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and we behold the throngs of New World Israelites gathered together to pay homage to our gnostic savior. Having crossed the abyss on the Kabbalistic tree of life, she has reconciled the sky and the earth and attained Enlightenment. Joss’ profession of solidarity with Ellie doesn’t just signify a romantic happy ending, it’s the alchemical synthesis of science with divinity just as HP Blavatsky taught in her writings. No longer do we have to cling to the divisive notion that science is at war with faith. Scientism is an article of faith, but now, we can make common cause with religious people as long as they’re promoting a One World State God and don’t get carried away with any of that Jesus shit.

As shows like Netflix’s Maniac demonstrate, Hollywood is pushing the public closer to the idea that pharmacologically enhanced VR is going to provide people with the transcendent experience unavailable in our mundane existence. Even pop culture figures like Tom Delonge are going to great lengths to mainstream the existence of UFOs. Burning Man already has a cosmic temple to prep us for the new Cosmic AI God. Grimes has already written the first transhuman cyberpunk pop anthem. Science fiction films which posit the possibility of alien intelligence are a key component of this agenda. And Ellie Arroway was certainly among the most indelible characters of the modern era to illuminate the path.

Sam Harris’ Progressive Objectivism 

Besides being one of the so-called Four Horsemen, Sam Harris remains one of the Left’s most celebrated intellectuals. In his most recent talk with Ben Shapiro and Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris argues that reason is the only valid method by which humans can arrive at a common, universal, objective truth with respect to morality. Essentially, he argues that morality can be scientifically quantified simply by measuring actions that contribute to a general state of human “well being”. Though he has denied the connection and disparaged her thought in his blog, I contend unequivocally that Sam Harris is simply repackaging one aspect of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and presenting it as a unique epistemological proposition for the progressive, secular set. Also like Rand, he simultaneously rejects the idea of transcendent, a priori knowledge (i.e. revelation) or that his intuitions about morality emerged within a context of centuries of conserved hereditary knowledge where a spiritual worldview was the norm.

Ben Shapiro rightly pointed out that his pursuit of a “common humanity” not constrained by “historical contingency” and “religious provincialism” can only be obtained by accepting that humans possess free will and a capacity to reason. Sam Harris tries to dig himself out of the hole by making the asinine claim that reason is independent of free will.

Reason does not require free will. Reason requires having a mind that can follow an argument and can care about following it accurately.

Like all liberal utopians who preceded him, Sam Harris doggedly clings to the notion that reason is the one and only tool which will produce a transcendent, universal truth by which humanity can be governed. Ironically, Eric Weinstein makes a very good case that our intuitions about morality emerge from a more primordial place in the human consciousness.

There is some set of conserved platonic or prototypical religion that each of our religions are a particular instantiation of.

Despite his blithe dismissal of Eric Weinstein’s accurate description of the psychological architecture in which morality is housed, Harris persists in his futile and hubristic belief that a modern system of morality can be constructed through a process of reason. Like Rand and all of his secular predecessors, Harris is leaning on the psychological inheritance of religious faith and labeling it a collective delusion from which we must emerge. Far from proffering a meaningful substitute for these psychological archetypes, Sam Harris merely offers a half-assed suggestion that this utopia of progressive virtue can be gleaned from Ted Talks, podcasts, and of course, Sam Harris books. And naturally, voting for Democrats because nothing bad ever happened by politicizing morality. Right, Sam?

Isaiah Berlin: The Crooked Timber of Humanity

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made. – Immanuel Kant

If you’re interested in a contemporary philosopher who is able to put thousands of years into clear perspective, I would certainly place Sir Isaiah Berlin at or near the top of the list. Mr. Berlin’s vaunted reputation as an advocate for classical liberal principles and a first rate thought historian is entirely well deserved as The Crooked Timber of Humanity amply demonstrates.  As the title suggests, Berlin focuses on the origins of the movements that have led towards self-destruction and contrasts them against those which have animated modern liberal society. Specifically, he traces the origins of utopianism and demarcates the distinction between cultural relativism versus pluralism. He expounds upon his theory on the origins of fascism and concludes with a timely commentary on its ideological bedfellow, nationalism.

Mr. Berlin treats the ideas and subjects with great respect. True to the spirit of his other works, his central goal in this collection is to issue a warning against the encroachment of tyrannical ideas as well to provide as an intellectual antidote to illiberalism. Berlin’s analysis of these thinkers is incisive. When evaluated in light of current political movements, Berlin remains relevant and is often downright prescient.  One wonders if, with respect to universalism and managerial scientism, he has underestimated the allure and endurance of this doctrine.

Berlin opens with a broadside against the Platonic ideal and the accompanying pursuit of the utopian society.  The Platonic ideal is comprised of three components.

  1. All genuine questions have one true answer and all other answers are errors.
  2. There must be a dependable path towards the discovery of these truths.
  3. These universal truths are compatible with one another.

Human needs and the means by which to attain them could be discovered through same methods by which natural scientific law could be discovered. Once discovered, these principles could be codified and implemented through policy.  Berlin argues that this impulse is on the decline in the West, but if the arguments of the contemporary social scientists serve as an indicator, the hunger for pseudo-scientific micromanagement of human affairs remains undiminished.

Berlin contends that Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova (1725) and his doctrine of the “common nature of nations” as well as a later generation of German Romantics, including Johann Gottfried von Herder, pointed towards a “cultural pluralism” which provided a counterpoint and possible antidote to the empirical absolutism of the Enlightenment.  The cultural pluralism Vico and Herder espoused rested on the contention that there were, in fact, incompatible values between cultures which could not be reconciled to universal principles. Both Vico and Herder’s thought contravened the Enlightenment consensus that man was ultimately governed by universal laws.

In this current age of globalization where the watchword is multiculturalism, Vico and Herder’s conclusions certainly warrant further examination and pose very important questions. What constitutes culture in a multicultural society?  If culture is the product of the transmission of practices and traditions which were generated within a genetically homogenous society over the course of centuries, to what extent are these practices meaningful in a multicultural society to those who didn’t belong to the original culture?  Are individuals from different cultures being held to universal standards of conduct in a multicultural society?  Is it possible to have a multiculturalism which isn’t manufactured by social engineers or a Trojan Horse for hollow identity politics and globalist socialism?  Perhaps most importantly, if individuals from other cultures immigrate to a new culture in search of a better life, do they have any obligation to honor the culture into which they’ve inserted themselves whether voluntarily or by necessity?

Since this doctrine ran contrary to the cultural objectivist consensus of the day, Berlin contends that Vico and Herder’s pluralism should not be confused with relativism.  In other words, neither Vico nor Herder espoused a relativism of fact, but a relativism of values.  His emphasis on this difference is not insignificant in light of the current multicultural zeitgeist. In defense of Vico and Herder, he invokes a poignant quote from John Stuart Mill:

It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Commerce is now what war once was, the principal source of this contact. Commercial adventurers from more advanced countries have generally been the first civilizers of barbarians. And commerce is the purpose of the far greater part of the communication which takes place between civilized nations. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.

Mill’s quote refers specifically to commerce as the cultural bridge, but his underlying point about the difficulty of understanding a pluralism of values in the absence of commerce is what warrants deeper consideration. The multiculturalists, social engineers and globalists have attempted to manufacture such a consensus artificially by advancing an aggressive agenda of Tolerance™ with an ever diminishing set of results to show for it. It’s ironic that the champions of this doctrine have shown such remarkable contempt for the opponents of their agenda and remain unwilling to appreciate the relativism of values which run contrary to their megalomaniacal ambitions.  Once again, it begs the question of whether if it is possible to create a multicultural consensus which doesn’t devolve into a clinical and bureaucratic utilitarianism papered over by empty platitudes of Unity©.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the individual Mr. Berlin believes to be the architect of modern fascism, Joseph de Maistre. In light of the rising tide of nationalism which has engulfed America and much of Europe, Berlin’s discussion of Maistre’s thought is especially poignant given that this phenomenon is largely a backlash to the social engineering of the multiculturalists and globalists. While Greece’s Golden Dawn party certainly represents a rising tide of genuine fascism which contains the twin hallmarks of the movement in its various historical manifestations, racial purity and nationalism. Maistre’s thought reminds us that there is more than a little paranoia and manufactured hysteria in the bleating of the progressive Left when it comes to Trump, Brexit and the various nationalist movements on the rise throughout Europe.

Maistre was a true reactionary to every aspect of the Enlightenment project. While the egalitarians espoused a view of man in which universal truth could be attained through scientific inquiry, Maistre rejected this doctrine with absolute impunity. On every aspect of the Enlightenment consensus, from rationalism to individualism to liberal egalitarianism, Maistre regarded these ideas with pure contempt.  By Berlin’s reckoning, Maistre’s vision of social order demanded absolute subordination to the Cross and the Crown.

While it is not unreasonable to conclude that Maistre provided the ideological template for the fascism of modern times, it certainly prompts questions over the appropriateness of seemingly indiscriminate and ubiquitous usage of the term today.  Especially with respect to the Left and their positively pathological and cartoonish hysteria over Trump. The Trump agenda remains an open question, but there is little doubt that the Left is in the business of conjuring ideological boogeymen out of thin air and painting any opposition to their globalist designs as “fascism”.  If the perpetuation of the multicultural agenda hinges on denigrating the foundations of Western thought which allows the very pluralism they allegedly value, they assure a recursive loop of nationalist backlash which validates their own prejudices.

Berlin concludes with a meditation on nationalism which is prophetic yet cautionary in tone, but raises fresh questions all the same.  While there is little doubt that nationalism in its extreme manifestation when married to the machinery of the State has proven itself a destructive force, Berlin reminds us that there is a deep seated humanity struggling to assert itself from under the dehumanizing designs of the sophisters, calculators and acolytes of scientism. The pursuit of universalism animated the West, but also created a unfortunate desire to manufacture a stultifying and artificial uniformity.  There is little doubt that the primal urge of nationalism has been and can be exploited by demagogues and populists, but it is not unreasonable to conclude that some measure of nationalist pride has, in fact, paved a path for the multiculturalism and genuine pluralism so idolized by the Left.  While much of the Islamic world, Asia and Africa remain ethnic and ideological monocultures, the burden of multiculturalism has been placed disproportionately on Western societies. As this policy unravels by the day, is it any wonder that there is a nationalist backlash towards individuals who apparently have no desire to adopt the cultural values of their adopted countries?  Berlin was keenly attuned to this aspect of nationalism and his words presaged the collective rage of the Brexiters and Trumpians to a t.

There is a growing number among the youth of our day who see their future as a process of being fitted into some scientifically well-constructed programme, after the data of their life-expectancy and capacities and utilisability have been classified, computerized, and analyzed for conduciveness to the purpose, at the very best, of producing the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This will determine the organisation of life on a national or regional or world scale, and this without undue attention to, or interest in (since this is not needed for the completion of the task), their individual characters, ways of life, wishes, quirks, ideals. This moves them to gloom and fury or despair. They wish to be and do something, and not merely be acted upon, or for, or on behalf of.  They demand recognition of their dignity as human beings. They do not wish to be reduced to human material, to being counters in a game played by others, even when it is played, at least in part, for the benefits of these counters themselves. A revolt breaks out at all levels.

While some philosophers and academics seemingly revel in their ability to obfuscate and mistakenly believe that verbosity equals profundity, Mr. Berlin’s prose sings with clarity and actually serves the purpose that philosophical inquiry was meant to serve: to illuminate. Mr. Berlin has written a collection of thought provoking essays which prove that we are well served by understanding how the ideas of the past shape the present, and most importantly, that the contrarians of bygone eras have something of value to offer. Even if it runs contrary to everything we hold sacred. And through this understanding, we may ask the right questions and formulate the answers to the issues of the present and future.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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Before Rogue One, I had resigned myself to the reality that a new Star Wars film isn’t going to rock my world quite like it did in 1977. How could any new entry possibly match that experience? Star Wars certainly wouldn’t have become the global phenomenon it is without having some thematic heft and adult appeal, but it has always aimed to pluck the heartstrings of youth. To say that Star Wars transformed my youthful dreams and angst into a two hour symphony of pure cinematic magic which moved me to the core of my being at that time in my life is an understatement. Though my story is hardly unique in the vast universe of SW fandom, my love affair with the original series was indeed profound and deep. When Luke stares into Tatooine’s twin sunset and the music swells to a crescendo, the yearning for something greater was palpable. When Luke tells Obi-Wan that he wants to go to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, I felt that shit. Anyone who doesn’t understand that these scenes all by themselves formed the core of Star Wars’ primal and transcendent appeal doesn’t really get Star Wars in the first place. Sure, the lightsaber duels, battles and starships were awesome, but at a very basic level, Luke’s quest was my quest. This seemingly effortless fusion of the universal and the personal was the truly great feat of cinematic sorcery that George Lucas conjured.

I’m never going to be that kid again, but that kid in me simply hoped that the new gatekeepers of the SW legacy are going to remember that for all of the cinematic and visual effect innovations that have been the hallmarks of the series, what really made these films tick is that they gave you characters in which you wanted to believe. Star Wars gave you friendships and bonds in which you were deeply invested. It gave you characters whose motivations and foibles were sufficiently fleshed out that when the chips were down, you knew that each character was putting himself to the test and that made the ultimate triumphs all the more satisfying.

While the prequels failed miserably in this task, The Force Awakens also suffered from similar deficiencies in character development. It was enjoyable enough, but every character was paper thin. There was no real backstory to the characters and subsequently, no dramatic arc. These problems were only compounded by the stink of SJW agenda fulfillment permeating every frame. From the could-be-gay bromance of Finn and Poe to the cartoonish emotional instability (translation: toxic masculinity/male fragility) of Kylo Ren to the impossible Mary Sue-like competence of Rey, The Force Awakens had the unmistakable aura of a PC feminist/SJW checklist.

Despite this string of disappointments, I still came to Rogue One with genuine optimism. I didn’t care that Jyn Erso was very likely going to be another outrageous female power fantasy designed to flatter the egos of feminists and bolster a now deeply clichéd Girl Power/inverted stereotype hero narrative. I didn’t care that writers Chris Weitz and Gary Whitta were pandering to the SJW, multi-culti, Fight The Power progressive mindset when they tweeted out some moronic nonsense about the Empire being a “white supremacist organization.” I didn’t care that Disney demanded reshoots after Gareth Edwards presented his first cut of the film. Just give me some characters in which to believe and cheer. Give me a little bit of human drama to complement Gareth Edwards’ epic vision. I wasn’t worried about the eye candy or the mayhem. I just wanted to care about the people involved. I just wanted to have a small taste of that yearning to go to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force all over again, or in this case, root for the Rebel Alliance to dismantle the evil dominion of the Empire. Surely, a new Star Wars film could deliver this modest goal to my adult self and I believed that Gareth Edwards was up to that task.

If this is also your new hope for Rogue One, I can firmly attest that this film is absolutely the droid you’re looking for. Rogue One is hands down the most successful Star Wars film since the Original Trilogy and the most genuinely satisfying Star Wars film I’ve seen since 1977. I still can’t believe how genuinely good this motherfucker is. It’s the Star Wars film you didn’t know you wanted, but now that it’s here, you can’t live without it. It also succeeds in achieving a goal that eluded The Force Awakens by referencing the original series and mythology while presenting something completely contemporary and fresh.

Rogue One is the story of a team of rebels who manage to abscond with the plans of the Death Star which find their way back into the hands of the Rebel Alliance and Princess Leia. What’s remarkable is how effectively the film builds a compelling story around what amounts to a couple sentences of opening crawl in Episode IV. Since there’s no real Jedi quest, the film is able to be a full on war/espionage story set in the SW universe at the height of tensions between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. It comes across like a lighter version of The Dirty Dozen with a post-Battlestar Galactica grit to it and to my great astonishment, it’s a mix that works brilliantly. I believe it marks a distinct tonal shift away from the pop space opera vibe of the other canonical films, but this choice has given the series the new lease on life that has eluded every other post-OT installment. It is indeed a war film and it packs a visceral punch that is unmatched in the series.

I was concerned about the character development in this film since this has been the great Achilles Heel of every new installment in the series up to this point. While you don’t necessarily know a whole lot about any one of them, you learn enough to be invested. As Jyn Erso, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I believed in Felicity Jones’ transformation into a rebel leader and her bond with both her father Galen and the militant Rebel who raised her, Saw Gerrera. The scenes between her and Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso are genuinely sweet and give the film the emotional core that made the original films sing. Once again, we’re presented with a SW protagonist who had been snatched away from her birth parents and raised by a surrogate who happened to be a radical extremist within the Rebel Alliance. Subsequently, it’s not impossible to believe that she would be proficient with firearms and have the mental and physical fortitude necessary for combat. The Strong Womyn archetype who’s smarter and stronger than her male counterparts has become very commonplace in action and SF films for many years, and I was concerned that we were going to be given another variation on Rey. Thankfully, everything about Jyn’s development and the proficiency she exhibits was consistent with what we were presented. Although when it came to Jyn’s tepid attempt at channeling Henry V, I have to agree with CNET’s Ashlee Clark Thompson that it invoked “Girl, I guess so” more than it summoned the spine of steel one would need to face certain death at the hands of the Empire.

The remaining characters were surprisingly compelling despite how little we actually knew about them. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor draws you in through his confessions of the losses he faced at the hands of the Empire as well as the moral compromises he’s made in service of the Alliance. Nothing is really known about the origin of the friendship between Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe, but their affection for one another is never in doubt and when they meet their tragic end, it has more emotional weight than expected. Bodhi Rook’s defection from the Empire roughly mirrors Finn’s from TFA, but is remarkably more interesting and believable because unlike Finn, he was merely a pilot for the Empire and one could imagine him being persuaded to the cause of the Alliance by Galen Erso. The big standout of the film is actually Alan Tudyk’s voice characterization of Imperial droid, K-2SO. He brings some welcome comic counterpoint to the film’s grim tone and his lines are genuinely laugh out loud funny.

On the Imperial side, Ben Mendelsohn brings a sufficiently nasty sneering menace to his role as Director Orson Krennic. And yes, Rogue One marks the welcome return of the greatest Sith of them all and one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time, Lord Vader. Vader’s appearance in the film is limited to two excellent scenes, and only serve to remind you that neither Kylo Ren or young, tortured Anakin has managed to scale the heights of sheer Dark Side terror that Vader can summon in one line of dialogue or just by entering a room.

Perhaps being unshackled by the weight of the Skywalker mythology really freed up some creative energies, but Gareth Edwards deserves a vigorous round of applause for the feat of world building he has pulled off here. The film is filled with both new and old worlds that have that grimy, used future vibe of the OT as well as numerous classic vehicles and images. Mostly, Gareth Edwards managed to convey a sense of scale that even surpasses Lucas’ original vision at certain times. The Empire has never seemed more massive and imposing on screen as it does in Rogue One. The data storage facility at Scarif is what you’d imagine Qatar to be like had it been developed by the Empire. Jedha and Jedha City are equally impressive with obvious connections to Arabic citadels and architecture. Edwards even gives us Vader’s palace at Mustafar as a dark monument to the disfigurement he suffered at the hands of his former Jedi mentor.

My biggest gripe with Rogue One is the facile message and the refusal to confront the inherently political content at its center in an honest and meaningful way. The entire message of the film can be summed up as Be Hopeful, Listen and Believe (especially if it’s a womyn), and Down with the Space Nazis. Sure, it’s a Disney property now, it’s unrealistic of me to expect them to make anyone think too hard and Lucas’ message was arguably just as superficial, but when Disney’s Bob Iger says there are “no political statements” in Rogue One, I’m calling bullshit. Of course Star Wars is political! It’s about fucking WAR fer chrissakes, people! It’s about the struggle of liberty versus tyranny. There is nothing more inherently political than war or armed revolution. War is the business of the nation state. Revolutions organize themselves around a political philosophy. The Rebel Alliance were the just remnants of the Old Republic who want to preserve peace and justice by restoring “democracy”. The films never spell out exactly what the Alliance’s political ideals or principles are beyond “democracy” or “hope”, but the Rebels do aspire to reclaim the seat of power in their own right. Presumably, they’re just going to be better at it than the Empire.
The politics of Star Wars have long been a subject of debate throughout the geekosphere, but I suggest that’s because people want to be able to connect it more immediately into the world of the present and their own political worldview. Disney and Lucas undoubtedly tried to keep the political content as neutral as possible so that one could view the films though one’s own ideological lens, but it still leaves me wanting a bit more. The film presents a very easily digestible Manichean dichotomy: Rebels are Good and Imperials are Bad. This simplistic dualism doesn’t allow you to wrap your mind around which mechanisms of political policy the Empire exploited or the propaganda they deployed in order to accumulate such massive centralized political power in the first place. Edwards’ world contained mountains of untapped thematic potential. If there was an Imperial Labor Camp on Wobani, it stands to reason that this is where dissidents and thought criminals were sent, and subsequently, it was a missed opportunity to introduce the propagandists for the Alliance. Furthermore, there had to be segments of the galaxy that were pro-Empire and totally pro-Death Star. It was fundamentally a government program and by extension, a boon for lots of industrial interests throughout the galaxy.

Unfortunately, the political content doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when you inspect it closely, and more often than not, reaffirms a lot of dopey leftist clichés. How did the Confederacy of Indepent Systems, essentially the UKIP of the Republic, get to be the bad guys simply for embracing secession and opposing the excessive taxation and bureaucratic palsy of the Republic? That sounds pretty American and like the real rebels to me. And why is the Galactic Empire called a fascist regime? They weren’t promoting a racially pure ethno-state nor could they promote a unitary galactic racial identity. If anything, they were multicultural Space Communists, not Nazis.

As good as it is, I can’t help but wonder what Gareth Edwards presented to Disney executives initially. It’s a little ironic that a film franchise that cashes in on a sentiment of rebellion is ultimately subordinate to the aesthetic mandates of its corporate, Imperial overlords.

But don’t let any of this hyper-analysis deter you if you have even the slightest misgivings. Rogue One is the best thing to happen to the franchise since Luke Skywalker first brandished a lightsaber. Who knows if it is a harbinger of Episode VIII or if it remains a solitary bright light in a dying franchise? Regardless, Gareth Edwards has given us something that all of us OT OG’s have long awaited: a Star Wars film that’s actually fucking good. Enjoy it while it’s here.

Trumbo (2015)

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To say that Hollywood is inhabited by narcissistic egomaniacs is perhaps an understatement and self-evident. However, that’s not to say that the Hollywood creative class is without talent, skill or deeply held ideological convictions. If nothing else, Hollywood films are very good at promoting Hollywood’s own brand of self-righteous mythology. Specifically, that Tinseltown is inhabited by collection of pious crusaders who are On the Right Side of History.  Trumbo is unequivocally one of these films. 

Trumbo is a biopic which dramatizes the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. It also touches on issues of free speech, free markets, the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 50’s and the Hollywood Blacklist. This film is roughly analogous to Reds in that it dramatizes a figure of the American Left who had Communist sympathies and was persecuted for his convictions. It is far inferior because in contrast to Redsit utterly fails to pinpoint the failure of Marxist ideology. Nor does it acknowledge the reversal of roles that has taken place between the Right and the Left in contemporary society. In the latter respect, Trumbo is dismal bit of partisan hackery. It seeks only to reinforce the mythology of the American Right as corrupt, vacuous authoritarians who are Wrong About Everything. Conversely, it portrays the Left as the principled, virtuous rebels On the Right Side of History whose voices and spotless moral rectitude are under perpetual assault by dirty ReTHUGliKKKans. It’s refreshing to get a Hollywood film that wears its political stripes on its sleeve, but the solid philosophical points it makes are completely undermined by its partisanship.

Trumbo starts off on very shaky ground and only devolves. We’re presented with an extravagant poolside party with Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo arguing passionately in favor of the beleaguered proles whose labor creates so much surplus value for the greedy Hollywood capitalists. The soulless and indifferent Hollywood executive with whom he was arguing haughtily dismisses him as a Dirty Red and walks away leaving a cloud of contempt in his wake. This incident portends the ostracism to come. Principled, Compassionate Leftist is just trying to speak his mind and stick up for the Little Guy and he’s just shut down by an Evil, Heartless Conservative. Poor Comrade Trumbo. 

In a subsequent scene on the plush ranch he purchased from the earnings he made from the dirty capitalist system, Trumbo is taking his daughter Niki on a horseback ride. Niki nervously asks him if he’s a Communist to which he answers clearly and unequivocally, “Yes.” She asks him if she’s also a Communist. Instead of educating his child with history, economics, and sound reasoning, he lays out a half-baked, simplistic analogy which offers no sound foundation upon which to make an informed choice. Rather than expounding on why he was sympathetic to Marxist politics, he likens Communism as being exactly equivalent to sharing a sandwich with a student at school. This is the level of vile sophistry to which Hollywood has descended. Socialism is just charity and caring for your fellow man, proles. That’s all. Utterly contemptible and loathsome.

Anti-communist sentiment was on the rise, and Trumbo and his screenwriter colleagues banded together to oppose the ascendant persecution. Ironically, they proclaimed the freedom to assert their political convictions on First Amendment grounds. In another gathering of Hollywood elites, David James Elliott brilliantly channels John Wayne’s cartoonish patriotism and his anti-Communist bloviations. The roomful of executives and actors express their agreement with cheers, applause and laughter at every proclamation. Once again, we see the Dirty, Evil Conservatives in the thrall of patriotic groupthink and the Fearless, Intrepid Leftists who just want to assert basic American Constitutional principles. The gathering ends with a confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne in which Wayne is taken down a peg when Trumbo reminds him that his patriotism was only tested in the comfort of a Hollywood studio. Not in the trenches of the battlefront. As failed actress, gossip columnist, and all around contemptible bitch, Hedda Hopper, Helen Mirren giddily informs Trumbo that he will be ruined in the court of public opinion by her column.  The film’s attempt to attribute Hopper’s media Star Chamber to conservative/anti-communist ideology is yet another example of the film’s sheer dishonesty about the contemporary Left.  

Despite making waves for his political sensibilities, Trumbo lands a lucrative contract with MGM. As he’s about to sign on the dotted line, Louis Mayer holds up Hopper’s column and warns him not to make these kinds of headlines. He signs and simply advises him not to read the papers. His career lift is soon cut short as he’s served a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He is subject to an interrogation that most have come to associate with the term McCarthyism. He refuses to answer questions on the grounds that he’s not being charged with an actual crime. Trumbo is ultimately charged with contempt of Congress, and sentenced to time in the federal penitentiary along with nine others. The infamous Hollywood Ten are born. Once again, the film is placing all of the toxicity on one side of the political equation.

Hopper exerts her influence even further in a private meeting with Mayer. She pressures him into refusing employment to those on the Blacklist by threatening to tar him in her column and manipulating him with appeals to patriotism. Mayer tries to push back, but caves in when he realizes he’s cornered. She plunges the knife in further with a few choice anti-Semitic digs at him and other Jewish studio heads. Here, we see the filmmakers peddling the mythology of racism, Nazism, authoritarianism and fascism being the sole province of the Political Right. Never mind the Nazi’s application of Keynesian economic policy in the run up to World War II which mirrored FDR’s applications. Never mind FDR’s internment of the Japanese. The filmmakers clearly want the viewer to associate Nazism and fascism with the Political Right.

While in prison, he befriends a gruff and surly inmate, Virgil Brooks, who is in charge of prison supplies and happens to be black. Naturally, since Trumbo is a Leftist and Friend of the Dispossessed and Unjustly Persecuted, he is able to ingratiate himself to him sufficiently in order to obtain work typing up requisitions. Brooks offers him the gig, but reminds him that he will “fuck him” if he violates his trust at any point. During his period of incarceration, a former Trumbo actor colleague, Edward G. Robinson, is called to HUAC to testify. The inmates are able to watch the hearing on the communal television. Robinson confesses to being a liberal Democrat, but outs his own former colleagues as Communists just to avoid the ostracism that Trumbo and the remaining Hollywood Ten received. After the testimony, Brooks says that if anyone in prison snitched like that, they’d be killed. That’s right, proles. Truly ethical behavior and real human virtue can be found in the prison population of America. The American criminal justice system is surely guilty of being overzealous in prosecuting an ever expanding sphere of illegality, but this persistent effort to invert reality and attribute virtue to all things Leftist is positively odious. This phenomenon is due in no small part to activism from both the black community and liberals alike. You’re more likely to hear idiotic lectures about white privilege than you are admissions of their respective roles legislating these outcomes.

In another bit of blatant partisanship, Trumbo encounters fellow inmate and former HUAC committee member and interrogator, J. Parnell Thomas. Thomas was sentenced for corruption charges, and Trumbo takes a shot at him by reminding him that he’s the only real criminal between the two of them. Apparently, only conservatives are corrupt and abuse political power.

After serving his year long sentence, Trumbo returns to his family and attempts to revive his flagging career prospects. He’s forced to sell his plush ranch and the Trumbo family take up residence in the Los Angeles suburbs. His neighbors are aware of him and the persecution continues with threatening anonymous notes and vandalistic messages on their property. Desperate for work, Trumbo makes a deal with B-movie kingpin, Frank King and agrees to write scripts under a pseudonym. During this time, he secures work for his blacklisted colleagues and enters into a period of relentless output and perpetual solitude. In a family meeting in which Trumbo conscripts his family into his semi-clandestine script writing factory, Niki wonders how she will fit in time for her studies and her Civil Rights activism. Got that, proles? Leftists are smart, studious, industrious and of course, care deeply about Social Justice. Trumbo’s star is also quietly rising as he wins Oscars for penning Roman Holiday and The Brave One, but cannot claim credit due to his blacklist status. His relationship with his family is increasingly strained as a result of his punishing work schedule, and things come to head during Niki’s sixteenth birthday. She cannot believe that her own father cannot spare even a minute to share a piece of birthday cake on this momentous occasion. She storms off in a fit of frustration. Trumbo seeks her out in order to attempt a reconciliation and finds her fighting #PATRIARCHY and #RACISM at the racially integrated café. For once, the Hollywood film portrays the father as a positive influence on his daughter. Apparently, even Leftists have to affirm family values and the virtues of fatherhood every now and then.

Trumbo’s fortunes finally turn when Kirk Douglas asks him to work on the script for Spartacus. Douglas is able to win Trumbo over by telling him that Spartacus is the story of a man who stood his ground when the world was against him. Trumbo’s script catches the attention of filmmaker Otto Preminger and he’s offered another big opportunity to write the script for Exodus. Hopper’s defamation campaign is relentless and she attempts to manipulate and threaten Douglas for employing Trumbo, but ultimately caves in to Douglas’ resolve. “When did you become such a bastard?” asks Hopper. “I’ve always been a bastard,” retorts Douglas. What appears to be Spartacus’ Randian message of individualism against the tyranny of the collective is transformed into the facile collectivism of #JeSuisCharlie. The reign of repression is finally broken when Preminger goes to the press with an open admission that Trumbo is the writer of Exodus.

Trumbo is canonized with an award in the final scene, and here, the film commits its final atrocity of intellectual dishonesty and smug, self-congratulatory partisanship. In a speech, Trumbo asserts a hypocritical and contemptible moral relativism by claiming that there were “no heroes and no villains” during the anti-Communist purges. After two hours of demagoguery and demonization of the Political Right, the filmmakers just want you to believe that this was just a non-partisan slice of history without an agenda from which you can draw your own conclusions. It’s not as though the politicization of Hollywood began under FDR and has continued to push government propaganda ever since then. It’s not as though leftists have triumphed overwhelmingly in their legislative pursuits over the past century and those policies have contributed to any of the negative outcomes in America. It’s not as though leftists have overwhelmingly colonized academia and Hollywood and nearly all of the messaging reflects a solidly leftist ideological bent. It’s not as though leftist social justice activism has taken on the exact same characteristics as the McCarthyist witch hunts and people now lose their jobs and fortunes in the Star Chamber of social media. There are no failed leftist policies and there is no reckoning to be made with the historical connections to failed socialist states and contemporary leftist policy. Nope. It’s just those dirty conservatives and their nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, and dumb, selfish devotion to capitalism.

Trumbo is a an interesting story which touches on an earlier and highly politicized atmosphere in America from which important lessons can be drawn. Unfortunately, it’s just peddling the same lesson that Hollywood is almost always selling. As long as you’re a Leftist, you’re a Good Person. If not, you’re evil, racist and stupid and on the Wrong Side of History. Setting aside his socialist politics, Trumbo’s life stands as a testimony to the importance of free speech. It reminds us of the inextricable link between individual freedom and economic freedom that can only flourish under capitalism.  It serves as as a warning against the pernicious influence of politicians who exploit the power of the State in order to carry out political vendettas. Regardless of political affiliation, everyone can learn from these examples. It’s just too bad they’ve been papered over with the facile talking points of the Left.

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