Sunday, February 24, 2008

Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy

"Michael. Dear Michael. Of course it's you, who else could they send, who else could be trusted? I... I know it's a long way and you're ready to go to work... all I'm saying is just wait, just... just wait and please just hear me out because this is not an episode, relapse, fuck-up, it's... I'm begging you Michael. I'm begging you. Try to make believe this is not just madness because this is not just madness. Two weeks ago I came out of the building ok, I'm running across 6th avenue there's a car waiting, I've got exactly 38 minutes to get to the airport and I'm dictating. There's this panicked associate sprinting along beside me, scribbling in a notepad, and suddenly she starts screaming, and I realize we're standing in the middle of the street, the light's changed, there's this wall of traffic, serious traffic speeding towards us, and I... I freeze, I can't move, and I'm suddenly consumed with the overwhelming sensation that I'm covered in some sort of film. It's in my hair, my face... it's like a glaze... a coating, and... at first I thought, oh my god, I know what this is, this is some sort of amniotic - embryonic - fluid. I'm drenched in afterbirth, I've breached the chrysalis, I've been reborn. But then the traffic, the stampede, the cars, the trucks, the horns, the screaming and I'm thinking no-no-no, reset, this is not rebirth, this is some kind of giddy illusion of renewal that happens in the final moment before death. And then I realize no-no-no, this is completely wrong because I look back at the building and I had the most stunning moment of clarity. I... I... I realized Michael, that I had emerged not from the doors of Kenner, Bach, and Odeen, not through the portals of our vast and powerful law firm, but from the asshole of an organism who's sole function is to excrete the... the... the poison, the ammo, the defoliant necessary for other, larger, more powerful organisms to destroy the miracle of humanity. And that I had been coated in this patina of shit for the best part of my life. The stench of it and the sting of it would in all likelihood take the rest of my life to undo. And you know what I did? I took a deep cleansing breath and I put that notion aside. I tabled it. I said to myself: `As clear as this may be, as potent a feeling as this is, as true a thing as I believe I witnessed today, it must wait. It must stand the test of time,' and Michael, the time is now."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Into the Wild by Sean Penn

Ignore reality at your own peril. It is important to strip away the unnecessary in order to be simple. But in a zeal fuelled by books and idealism, it is also possible to go too far.

Reality of the "hateful" world exists at many levels.

Relationships and family: Ignore the emotions of others, and face the consequences of hurt all around you. It is a worthy challenge though.

Survival and Thriving: Ignore or scoff at the means of survival (food, clothing, medicine, protection from weather) and spend your days staving off illness and hunger on your own. Living simply and frugally is different from a complete rejection of what all human endeavour has made possible.

Education: Deride education knowing that the varied skills being taught are useful skills.

Money: Give away your money only to earn it later when you need it.

Identity: Burn it all only to want it when it is required by society.

Technology: At its very basis, technology is the formation of tools to do a task more efficiently. Where does one stop, if one wants to reject technology? Nothing but one's body? Nothing but tools found in nature? Nothing motorized? Nothing connected to the electrical grid? Nothing produced by the MNCs?

To live a life enabled and made richer by frugality and not one hampered by it is the secret of joyous independence.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Le Feu Follet (The Fire Within) by Louis Malle

The piercing eyes of a man looking for any sign of Love or Truth in the world. The eyes, the eyes!

The lonely awareness of the meaningless of social discourse, the emptiness of most art, the charades of a relationship, the hype of money and ambition, the ultimately futile struggle against a deep discontent and depression, and the tragedy of a life wasted.

A man trapped in the shell of his self, and aware of it, incapable of breaking through. Aware of his isolation, drowning within, wildly but silently flailing for a straw or a helpful hand.

Listen to these lines:
"You miss your youth
as if you'd lived it to the fullest.
"It was a promise. And a lie. ... I was the liar."


"I have no power over them. I was handsome at 20. They still find me fun and nice. But it's not enough. I have no hold on them. And yet, it's only through women ... that I've felt some hold on life."

Let me quote Acquarello's review, a gem of dense insight, in full:

"Alain (Maurice Ronet) silently observes his lover Lydia (Léna Skerla), struggling to decipher the elusive meaning beneath the wistful, attentive eyes, lingering beyond the point of reassuring tenderness to where the potentiality of the moment of connection has irretrievably slipped away, and all that is left is the inscrutable, opaque gaze. Confronting the awkward silence, the lovers continue in their polite charade of shared intimacy: clutching at empty embraces and impassive expressions of happiness, substituting a haze of cigarette smoke for a stream of unarticulated thoughts - the sentimental inertia of an indefinable fire within - that separates them. Having spent several months confined in the safe insulation of a sanitarium for the treatment of alcoholism, Alain is reluctant to leave the facility and face the temptations and uncertainties of the outside world again, despite the encouragement of his therapist who reassures him that he is cured of his malady and that his lingering anxieties merely reflect the normal process of psychological transition to adjusted wellness. But Alain is not so certain of his ability to return to his former life. Rejecting Lydia's proposal to return to his adoptive city of New York, away from the temptations of his self-destructive existence in Paris, he instead begins to visit each of his estranged friends in an attempt at reconnection: an intellectual (Bernard Noël) who has settled into a comfortable bourgeois existence pursuing mystical studies in lieu of searching for (and working towards) true knowledge and enlightenment; a bohemian (Jeanne Moreau) living in a squalid commune who has become resigned to a life of drug addition and suicidal recklessness; a pair of militant brothers (François Gragnon and Romain Bouteille) who, in the aftermath of the Algerian independence and brewing domestic terrorism, have decided to set their sights abroad towards joining the struggle and political agitation of other countries. Drifting through a seemingly alien and disconnected past, Alain retreats further into the emotional void of his self-imposed exile.

From the opening sequence of an immobile Alain studying the face of his silent lover as an off-screen narrator provides the contextual interior monologue to encapsulate the depth of his despair in his inability to connect beyond physical intimacy, Louis Malle establishes an intrinsic disjunction that reflects Alain's emotional inertia and ambivalence following his figurative catharsis and rebirth. Visually, Malle reinforces this sense of stasis through Alain's enigmatically encircled, handwritten date on his bureau mirror that commemoratively reads "July 23" and a string of photographic proofs tacked onto the walls of his private room at the clinic, documenting a logical progression of images (perhaps of his estranged wife) even as each representational frame is static and immutable. Malle further incorporates recurring imagery of relative motion as a near-still Alain is juxtaposed against people (and objects) in accelerated motion: navigating through a maze of speeding cars to cross busy streets, walking out into the unexpected sight of a cycling race that momentarily whisks by in front of the hotel, observing a crowd of people walking (and driving) past as he sits in the café, having been left behind by the Minville brothers as they plot to embed themselves for a covert operation in the Spanish underground. Through his figurative stasis and tabula rasa, Alain serves as an incisive reference point for the profound social and cultural turmoil of his environment, a foil for the carefree idealism of his generation that has transfigured into complacency, resignation, hedonism, violence, and self-destruction. It is this profound desolation that is inevitably captured in the film's haunted postscript, a desire to erase the tainted illusion and restore to the purity of the ideal ...the first gaze."

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Gurus and the Internet

There were gurus then, there are gurus now, there will be in the future. Gurus long past have been seen as godheads and faultless personifications of goodness and benevolence. Gurus in the twentieth century, less so. Gurus of the future will have a very hard time.

As for the gurus of the last century, their larger than life persona didn't assume wondrous proportions and didn't endure for long because they were exposed to audiences of various countries, various western and eastern seekers wrote about them and their original writings and reminiscences have been preserved, and in general, human thought has evolved in the last few centuries to be sceptical and scientific.

How many truly revolutionary, blemish-free gurus can one name in the last century? Maybe a couple, if assisted with a liberal dose of faith. The personal lives of them all are known and known to be less than stellar. Krishnamurti, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Osho, Mahesh Yogi, Sai Baba, Ramana, Meher Baba et cetera.

How many truly revolutionary or radical, truly serious and sincere, non-follower-seeking (even reasonably so) gurus can one name in the present time? I can think of none, actually. Sri Sri? Asaram? Jaggi Vasudev?

There is a reason for this welcome trend.

In the last few decades, advances in audio and video technology have enabled archival footage of the gurus to be viewed by anyone curious enough to know how they were in person, how they talked, answered questions, how they lived, walked and talked, ...

Advances in computing technology and search engines have enabled instant investigation of gurus' claims and teachings. This worldwide sharing of evolutionary or transcendental thinking is, to me, the greatest thing which will speed up human evolution.

Gurus can no longer hide. What one disciple knows will soon be known to the rest of the world. Their pseudo-rational claptrap, their charlatanism and "magic tricks", their miracles are now subject to instant and wide scrutiny due to the impeccable digital reproduction and communication technology.

One can discuss one's faith, beliefs, the teachings of one's guru with people from around the world as easily as with people in one's neighborhood.

Yes, gurus are also using the media to attract the followers. But the gullibility of such followers is now capable of being dispelled more easily due to the wider media scrutiny of these very gurus, and the easier ways in which the disciples can communicate with each other and with other groups.

Miracle tales, claims of flying and levitation, claims of healing and incision-less-surgery are fast going into oblivion because people expect recorded performances in this age of effortless video recordings and transmission. The writings and talks of gurus are easily available for anyone to see their rationality and logic (or lack of it). No longer have we to depend upon second-hand accounts and interpretative texts.

The horse's mouth was never so close!

Websites such as The Rick Ross Institute collect information on cult groups and gurus from around the world to be made available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.

Internet is the antidote to superstition, of blind belief in anything, and is the greatest aid to human intellectual evolution.

If you have been in touch with any technique of evolution, if you have been in contact with any guru or religious or spiritual group, if you have a tale to tell about your seeking happiness, put it on the internet. It's free, and really easy.

Start a blog, write a paper, an essay, an anecdote, a description of your experience, start sharing!

For the benefit of all mankind.

What a great time we are living in! What a stupendous phenomenon that any event immediately gets a billion inspecting eyes and ears and minds! What an opportunity for collating the immense volume of human thought, for trying out new things that one would never come across otherwise, for evolving, for going where ... man ... has ... gone ... before.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On "Cheating"

One often comes across the word "cheating" when reading about monogamy, adultery and extra-marital affairs.

Marriage is a union of two people. What kind of union is it?

Economic: They will pool their financial resources in the pursuit of common goals, including the care of their joint offspring.

Social: They will form a unit of hospitality and of social visits. They will engage together in social rituals.

Sexual: They can have sex with each other without anybody objecting or threatening that the intercourse is illegal, anti-social, not allowed, not possible etc. They can produce offspring which are considered first class citizens (i.e., having full rights) of the society.

Emotional: They provide companionship and living together to each other.

Legal: They are a legal entity for purposes of housing, parenting, immigration, taxation etc.

What are the biological and historical roots of this union?

The fundamental reason for this union is to pool the physical resources for taking care of the children who, in the human species, need care for an extended period. An average single parent can ill-afford to both gather resources for the household and to provide constant care for the dependants.

Sex is the vehicle for genetic propagation. It is a means, not an end. It can have psychological and sensual significance as an act in itself but this significance is nothing but a sophisticated incentive for genetic propagation. Humans can, however, disregard completely the procreative aspect and focus on the recreative aspect of sex.

Males of the human species have evolved in such a way that their goal is to attract as many females as possible and have multiple sexual encounters in order to ensure the maximal propagation possibility of their genes.

Females of the human species have evolved in such a way that they want to attract as many males as possible and to persuade the resource-rich males to provide for them and their offspring after the congress is over in order to ensure the maximal survival rate for their genes (in the form of their offspring).

An optimally evolved male will indulge in promiscuity only to an extent. Impregnating a large number of women without ensuring the survival of the resulting offspring is genetically futile.

This striving for maximal self-propagation is built into the very nature of genes. This instinct for maximal propagation results in the widely-observed promiscuous nature of human males. And since nature has clubbed together the psychological, genetic and the sensual in the sexual act, any one of these avenues getting satisfied in the act can fulfill the male's desire for promiscuity.

This promiscuity of the male makes insecure the female(s) with whom the impregnation has already happened. The implicit agreement, formalized in legal contracts in the modern age, is that in exchange for a female's childbearing capacity and other value-additions, the male will continue to provide for her. After all, the genetic propagation is of benefit to both of them.

But males will not stop being promiscuous, they are not made to be monogamous. They will seek to satisfy their promiscuous instincts with as many women as possible (within the social, legal, economic and emotional restraints).

The irony is that having a lot of sex with many women while ensuring that no impregnation happens (as is ubiquitous in this age) is a harmless perversion of nature's aims. It is to value the side effects of the act (the psychological, emotional or sensual payoff) over its main function (procreation). The sensible man will: (a) ensure the survival and wellbeing of current offspring, and (b) not engage in dangerous sexual encounters (comprising health risks or risks of emotional misery or social ostracism).

Coming to our main topic, what is "cheating"?

The charge of "cheating" is the charge of not upholding one's end of the contract after a sexual union is agreed upon. After all, the complicating factor is that propagation of genes in humans requires the cooperation of the male as well as the female. Not just in the sexual act, but also in the sharing of responsibilities of providing and caring for the offspring.

In case there is no contract (e.g. in a one-night stand), there is no notion of cheating as well.

The contract is (simplistically) as follows:

(Given by the male to the female)

Thank you for allowing me to impregnate you and to use you as a vehicle for the propagation of my genes. I promise to provide for you and for the offspring the resources and continued support necessary for your and their survival and well-being. I promise not to impregnate other women and share my resources with them. They will be used for us and our joint offspring only.

Signed, Male.

(Given by the female to the male)

Thank you for choosing me as a vehicle for the propagation for your genes as I will benefit from this impregnation too. My genes will also propagate through this offspring, who will be generously provided for by you for years to come. I promise to nurture and care for this offspring and enhance his/her chances of survival and well-being. I promise you that I will not get impregnated by other men and deviously ask you to care for their offspring through me.

Signed, Female.


Hence, what is the charge of "cheating" in a sexual union?

According to a female, the male is cheating if he impregnates other women and shares his resources amongst them, which "rightfully" only belonged to her. Since even a partial taking away of the resources might mean a lowering of the well-being of their joint offspring, and she cannot leave the male due to a breach of contract since she will be risking the offspring's well-being even more, she is understandably upset.

This cheating can be to the male's own detriment, if he does not have enough resources and his various offspring suffer due to too wide a distribution of his limited resources.

According to a male, the female is cheating if she is not caring enough for his offspring and is risking impregnation from other men while still holding this male as the primary provider for her current and possibly future offspring. (The male sees no value in providing for offspring of other males, which do zilch for his own genetic propagation. The only reason he might agree to provide for such offspring is if their mother is an outstanding genetic partner.)

If the female is thus cheating, the male cannot easily desert the female without risking the well-being of their joint offspring. Being thus trapped, he is understandably upset.

This cheating can be to the female's own detriment, if she produces too many offspring which she can possibly care well for, and if she alienates her loyal male provider(s).

I believe polygamy should not be illegal or socially taboo for males who can afford to provide for multiple women and their offspring, and for females who can afford to hire enough nannies. Even in developed countries, presidents and billionaires have to contend with having only one legal sexual partner at any time. They therefore have mistresses and indulge in socially-frowned-upon sexual encounters (e.g. the Monica Lewinsky affair). Their non-marital sexual partners have no legal rights. I find this unfair.

Now comes the interesting part.

If the "cheating" (as is common in today's times) is to engage in sexual encounters without any aim of impregnation or consequent resource-sharing, and with enough precautions taken to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, what exactly is wrong with it, again? How exactly is it "cheating"?

It is not cheating yet, but there is the risk, see.

The female can be hyper-sensitive to the risk that while being harmlessly promiscuous (so to speak), the male may actually impregnate his new partner, or get otherwise entangled, and stop providing for herself and their joint offspring. One of the valid criteria by which women judge this risk is the male's emotional bonding with them. If the emotional bond weakens, there is the very real risk that "their man" is now loving someone else.

In any case, it is a risk, and what is the best way to avoid this risk altogether? To control the promiscuous instincts of one's male partner in the first place, to keep an eye on him (so to speak).

The male can also be hyper-sensitive to the risk that in being harmlessly promiscuous (so to speak), the female may actually get impregnated, or get otherwise entangled, with the new sexual partner and stop providing value to himself and their joint offspring. One of the valid criteria by which men judge this risk is the female's flirtatiousness. If the flirtatiousness is alarming, so is the risk of impregnation.

In any case, it is a risk, and what is the best way to avoid this risk altogether? To keep an eye on her (so to speak) and to forbid her flirtatious behaviour.

Varied sensual pleasures, sexual encounters and flirtatious acts are therefore avoided or prohibited because of these fears. This leads to conscious resentment (it may be repressed or sublimated in the morally fastidious, "brainwashed with monogamy", puritanical or conventional amongst us). But the amusing thing is that these fears, prohibitions and resentments are the supposedly best way humans think they have of optimizing their genetic propagation.

Genetic propagation and its optimization is without a doubt important, but is living in suspicion and resentment a fair price for it? Nature seems to think so.

Do you?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Radical Honesty?

Well..., it's an interesting idea that stands "social" communication on its head.