Star Trek was never about spaceships exploding, laser fights, and huge action scenes. Originally it’s action was corny as all heck, and even as it matured in later generations (heh, see what I did there?) it was still never the focus. How were the Borg first defeated? Not by blowing something up (fuck-you-very-much writers of Voyager) but through intellect, curiosity, compassion, love, and sheer determination. Star Trek is an idea, and this nonsense that bears its name in the cinemas today is as much Star Trek as is Judge Dredd. The idea of Star Trek rests on the cooperation of all humankind; the inalienable rights of all beings; the strength of compassion and intellect over bigotry, violence, and despair; the possibility of a humanity devoid of the pursuit of selfish principles and greed. Star Trek is a vision of everything humanity could be - it is the slimmest glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak and terrifyingly antagonistic world.
Anyway, I just thought that I’d share.
I recently got asked the following question:
"how exactly is adam sandler racist? genuinely asking..."
So I thought that I'd respond to it. My response started out small and quickly blossomed into a full-fledged post, so I decided to put it here - it seemed like good material for my blog anyhow. Read it below.
Self-help books often bug me, which is why I was pleased to find that this was not a self-help book, at least not in the traditional sense. Dan Millman’s opus certainly can be used to help create changes in the life of the reader; what he offers in the book is often advice worth listening to - and at the very least it has the potential to help the reader think about things in a different way. But that’s not the solid core of what the book is.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a beautiful melding of factual events from Millman’s life, bold dialogs stripped and remolded from their (often ancient) roots, and made palatable for the modern generation, and a heavy helping of pure fiction (some possibly inspired by sixties counter-culture drug usage). In the end what emerges is a spiritual dialogue created in the same vein as Plato’s work in philosophy - adding some irony to the the main guru’s name in the book. Millman offers here not logic puzzles, but zen ‘anti-puzzles’, as well as a number of parables and occasionally even outright instruction.
Most of us have wanted, at some point in our lives, the Socrates-figure to enter our life and force us to reorder ourselves, and in this book Dan Millman stuffs a lifetime of lessons into a character who is perfect for the job, allowing his fictional counterpart and the reader, both, to experience the leadership of someone who knows more than we do, and believes in us enough to help us find our way.
There are some things in this book that I didn’t totally appreciate or enjoy - especially toward the end, we find Millman entering into more traditional dialog, featuring references of “God”, or using a dues ex machina to erase his character's’ memory - and thereby suggesting what I assume is his real-world experience of feeling like he, the real Dan Millman, had met his wife-to-be long before they actually encountered one another. Sweet, but somewhat shoddy writing, and unfair to the characters (I have something more specific to say about this, which I’ll get to in a moment). His portrayal of his younger self too is (to cash in on that annoying anger-culture word) ‘problematic’, at least for me. Remembering that this story is set in the sixties, when a vastly different set of cultural norms were in effect, helps me understand it better, but I still find myself personally at odds with how the central character views the world. Which is maybe the point too, who knows. As the fictional Dan explores his path, I definitely walked with him on the whole, but more than once found his voice difficult to identify with and instead found myself clinging solely to the parts where Socrates was at the center of the action.
*As a side-note, I watched the movie when I was about halfway through the book, and while I enjoyed it well enough, I can safely say that it is no masterpiece. In a way, neither is the book, but the material in the book offers up the sort of imagery that deserves a competent director. I would love to see the David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick version of ‘Peaceful Warrior’. If I ever get to the big leagues with film someday, I may come back and take the crack at this work that I feel it deserves..... ;)
Sliding back for just a moment though, what I really dislike about the scene [Spoilers ahead] where Socrates erases the memory of Dan and Joy, is that it was done completely for Dan’s benefit, and seems to be totally unfair to Joy. She hadn’t asked for that to happen, and had no say in it. Dan had made the decision to follow through with whatever Socrates threw his way, but we never get to see Joy given the same choice. It’s a minor quibble in some respects I suppose, but I dearly dislike the idea of anyone having their freedom of choice overruled in such a fashion. It reminds me too much of the modern discussions about roofies and rape. Not to say that this was the intention - I believe I briefly suggested above what I thought the author’s intent with that element was, and I could certainly be accused to reading too deeply into this one small part of the book - but I’d rather be accused of that than of being oblivious.
Still, once I get done with my main quibbles, I have to say - I found this book fascinating. An easy read for sure - it slide through my eyes and into my brain, and even just reading it sparingly I rolled through the chapters like a hot knife through butter. I feel that this is a book that deserves a second read-through however, in order to really catch the subtleties of the messages Dan is working into the narrative. Some of them are blatant, but even then, it might pay to take another look.
I personally liked how the Socrates character took a number of zen koans, and other traditional material, and altered them slightly so as to better fit the modern mindset. I think that people switch off a little when they’re introduced to certain messages, unless the message has been formatted for easy transfer, and that’s basically what Dan seems to have done with this whole book. Taken a lot of old ideas, and placed them within a medium that allows for easy transference (the aspect of this being based on a true story, his life story to be exact, is one such method. People love ‘true stories’).
Personally I think one of the best pieces of the book was the focus that Socrates made on pushing Dan to be more aware of himself. Of his surroundings. Of his friends, the food he ate, his goals in life, and the things he read or heard. This advanced focus on awareness is the first step to real critical thinking, and I also think is simply one of the most important lessons one can learn in life (and one that is unfortunately not often freely available to people, or stressed as important when it is).
Another point that’s grown on me since I finished reading the book, is that there was no absolute resolution. Obviously, as I’ve said before, this was not a classical narrative work, so a traditional ending wasn’t something I exactly expected (truth to be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the end of the book). [Minor Movie Spoiler ahead] Unlike in the film, the book does not provide an absolute resolution. Actually it’s unfair of me to suggest that the film does this, because it does leave things at a very open-ended juncture, but it also misses one of the most important parts (I think) of the book. That Dan Millman had to spend literally a dozen years before he came to his first major breakthrough in his training with Socrates, and in the book I was able to feel the frustration, loss, and pain of the ups and downs of life.
I find that all too often in our modern media there is an abnormal emphasis on getting to the end of things, finding fulfillment, reaching perfection, having a sense of completion… etc. etc. etc. These things only exist within a certain type of artificial narrative, life isn’t like that - and yet we’ve become so inundated with the idea that it is; we’re so constantly bombarded with the message that there’s a ‘quick fix’ that will lead us to ‘fulfillment’, that I think it’s become a bit of a social disease. In the book we’re given a sense of advancement - fulfillment of a sort, yes (after all, Dan Millman ended up being very successful at what he does, and there is surely some fulfillment in a life well lived like that), but it takes place under a much broader umbrella than we’re used to. It’s not a “whoops, the story is over, everyone lived happily ever after”. It’s more of a “whoops, life is strange and it’s more about being aware and comfortable with the ups and downs than it is reaching a plateau of fulfillment’.
Anyway, there is probably going to be more stuff I want to say about the book, and I might… but for now I’ll leave it there. Maybe in the future, once I’ve had a chance to go back and read it over again (or parts of it at least), I’ll be able to organize my thoughts on it better. For now I’ll simply close by saying that this was definitely a book I needed to read, and it just happened to arrive at the perfect point in my life for it to do some good. One book alone isn’t the answer, but in this one I think is the potential to guide your feet toward the road.
I’ve been reading a new book this last week. Well, it’s an essay technically, and I’ve been reading it in spurts during free moments at work, but that’s really not important to the story. I’m not sure why I decided it was important to write down. Or why I’m still writing about it. Gosh. It’s like a disease. I can’t stop!
Okay. Ahem. Anyway.
The book I’ve been reading is Lying by Sam Harris. It’s an essay on the subject of honesty - all facets of the subject, and let me tell you, it’s fascinating. What really caught me about it though, what really made me appreciate it, was that most of what he’s saying is stuff that I’d already arrived at on my own. Only he did it more eloquently, and actually wrote it down instead of just thinking about it.
I’ve long been focused on the issues I see people facing, and the issues that I’ve faced myself in life. I find the way people function fascinating, and I find the way we interact with other people within the fences of society to be even more so. I also find it sad that there is so much pain and anguish alive in the world that doesn’t need to be there. No, seriously, it has no actual reason to exist. I’ve spent years trying to discover the source of these issues, or even come to some rudimentary understanding of the root problem - and while most of this thinking has taken place in the form of introspection and personal evolution, I’ve slowly started to build my ideas to the point where they are applicable farther afield. Sam Harris, it seems, has been doing the same thing. Indeed I know that there are huge numbers of people working on the same or similar issues the world over - as there have been for thousands of years. It seems that this is one of the issues endemic to humanity, to the very fact of our existence.
I’m not going to try and tackle that right now though - though I certainly will in the future. As a side note, I believe that it is the duty of anyone with a conscience and a mind capable of rational thought to stand up and try to apply some thought to making the world as a whole a better place. This is a position that many will disagree with, and it’s not a position I currently want to defend, but I’m leaving it here as a sort of foreshadowing for future posts I’m planning to make.
Right now I want to focus on the personal nature of friendships, and what lying does to them.
Dishonesty comes in a thousand little forms, sneaking into our daily life as naturally as hair enters our lungs. From an early age most of us learn how to lie, and some of us learn how to do so with incredible effect and alacrity. For many of us lying is not even as conscious as “I am going to have to tell a lie here.” Instead it’s a totally subconscious reflex that emerges on its own. We may take notice of it during or after the fact, but in many cases we don’t need to ‘try’ to do it. It just happens.
In the context of friendships though, what does this reflexive dishonesty accomplish? We lie to sooth our friendships, we lie to make people like us, we lie to avoid saying something we think will hurt someone else. Often we lie for what we see as noble, positive reasons.
In a future essay I might discuss why I differ from philosophers who believed that ‘any’ lying was to be avoided - this comes together when we discuss self honesty - but let’s just focus on this theme for a moment: why do we believe that lying to friends is noble? What is noble about protecting a friend by lying?
If I lie to a friend to protect them from a fact, or from a truth as I see it, what is that actually doing to the friendship? Harris makes the point that doing this undermines the trust that a friendship is built upon, and I agree - but the question of ‘why’ still sticks in my mind. And what I keep coming back to is another type of dishonesty - a lie told to the self.
This sort of lying occurs, I think, because we’re afraid to tell the truth. We’re afraid that we might chase away our friend and damage our relationship with them if we’re totally honest. Perhaps our friend shows us a show they really like, but we find it to be trite or dull, or even disturbing. But they enjoy it so obviously - they enjoy it and they obviously want to share that enjoyment with us. We find ourselves worried that telling them that we dislike their favorite show might hurt them. Might be seen as a reflection on their choices as a person - and hell, maybe it is, who knows, but the point is that we’re lying to protect ourselves. We may start off by thinking that we’re lying to avoid an argument, or to avoid hurting the feelings of someone we care about, but in the end what we’re really doing is avoiding the fear of rejection in our own hearts. We’ve managed to lie to ourselves, and make ourselves believe that this is a noble lie to tell.
But what happens when we tell the truth instead?
Respect is the best groundwork for friendship, in my here unsubstantiated opinion. (This is a reminder that I am indeed writing an opinion piece here. I like writing like this, from the hip, unedited, straight from my fingers to the published page, because it helps me remain honest.)
Again. Respect is the best groundwork for friendship. And respect is built through honesty. Respect in friendship is built upon trust. I have experienced too many friendships were my friend seemed dishonest in their opinion toward me. Generally this has come up in simple, minor ways. You know the sort.
You ask them if they want to hang out, and they say “yes!” Then a week or more goes by and nothing is heard from them. You get in touch again, and receive the same sort of response. Well, you think, they obviously want to hang out, they’re probably just really busy. But the weeks go by and you and your friend fail to connect. You’ve tried setting aside the time for them, you’ve suggesting places and times to meet up, you’ve asked them to let you know when the best time for them is since you’re working on the assumption that they’re simply too busy to be attentive. But, in the end, there’s still no word from them. No sign of commitment to the friendship - all they ever return to you is empty platitudes.
Why? Because they are afraid of the confrontation they are afraid will occur if they allow themselves to be honest with you. They can’t bring themselves to tell you that they aren’t just busy, they’re also not feeling like spending time with you right now. Maybe they do like you and your company, but they don’t want it right now. Or maybe they think you’re a great person, but really don’t feel like they have anything in common with you. Whatever the reason is they end up telling you a lie. “Sure, I’d love to hang out!” And they do this not out of maliciousness (we can assume at least), but because they feel that they’re doing the right thing by “letting you down easy”. They’re hoping that eventually you’ll just bugger off, get the message, grow tired of trying - leaving them free from having to have any actual confrontation with you. Without their having to be honest; without their having to deal with emotional risk.
How do situations like that make you feel though? The answer, I’ve found usually, is ‘played with’. It makes it difficult to trust the next friend who cancels on you, or fails to follow through with a plan you’ve made. Instead of giving the next person the benefit of the doubt, maybe you start to assume that none of your friends really wants to spend time with you. Not necessarily of course - that’s an extreme possibility, but this can still affect you in more subtle ways.
But what if that friend had been honest with you? What if they had said from the beginning “I’m sorry, but I’m really tired, and I’m trying to spend time with just a few close friends right now. We’ve had great times in the past, but maybe we can just take some space for a while.”
What if they had been honest with you? You might have felt some sadness and hurt at first, but I suggest that it would be significantly less than what you would feel if the friendship dragged on halfheartedly for months until dying a bloated death in the hot sun. And what’s more, you’ll trust them to be honest in the future. You’ll know that person values you enough to be forthright with you.
So to wrap this up, because I’m running out of time here, I’m going to suggest that you start working honesty into your life on a daily basis. Try to start out by considering your motivations for your actions. Ask yourself why you are doing something, and try to notice if you find yourself being less than honest with yourself and other people. It’s not something you should get down on yourself for - but simply taking notice of when these moments occur will start to alter your behavior.
The next time a situation arises where you feel that you might be forced to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings, take a deep breath and try to find a way to be honest about how you see the situation. Being honest doesn’t mean being rude or cruel - you can still be diplomatic and kind while being honest, but in being honest you’re also making a commitment to a larger realm of truth and respect. You’re showing the other person that you value them enough to be honest with them - that you respect them enough not to lie to them even if you’re worried about harming the friendship. You’re proving that you’re not more afraid of dealing with the emotional waves then you are willing to be present in the friendship.
I think you’ll start finding your relationships strengthening under this approach. I think that you’ll be happier in the honesty with which you treat yourself and the people in your life. I think, at the very least, that it’s worth the try.
For great and swift read on this subject, check out Lying by Sam Harris.
It’s nice to believe that people on Tumblr are somehow supportive of the same causes as you - are somehow less likely to be dangerous, or horrible human beings - but that’s simply not true. But this isn’t so much an issue of bigotry - though the relationship between what we perceive of as races is certainly a massive factor in our society overall. This is, rather, an issue of empathy - and the systemic lack of compassion inherent in our society. Remember that anyone can be cruel, and hateful, and despicable - white, black, straight, gay - it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you identify, it’s how you choose to behave that actually marks you for what you are. At the least I can hope that people commenting like these posters are merely callous, or foolish. That they did not give proper thought to their words, thoughts, or actions (which may be cause enough for alarm on its own). But at worst they truly do not care about the larger repercussions of their blithe disregard for decency - they simply lack the tools to understand their role in the degradation of the dream of a better society; they simply do not care if what they say or do hurts others. Now it’s easy to become an alarmist at what is typed and displayed on the internet - but the internet is a microcosm for a much larger aspect of our society, and represents a singular essence of both the local societies we choose or are born into, and the global society we are intrinsically attached to. It is easy to be an alarmist - but it helps that there is something to be alarmed about. The only advice I could offer would be this: think before you speak (and that includes what you say and do on the internet). We’re all guilty of failing to follow this rule - I not least of all - but a concentrated effort to be better than we were the day before may just pay off somewhere down the road.
The following is in response to this article.
First, I'm generally with Patton Oswalt in saying that all comedy is good. In fact, I love it when a comedian is blatantly racist or misogynistic, because then I know who he really is. If someone stays in the shadows it's harder to see them for what they really are - in Adam Sandler's case of course this has never really been an issue: he's always been a piece of shit.
You don't think comedy needs to walk a line in terms of who it attacks or what it represents though? Hmm. I'd say that the line was described pretty damn perfectly here by a Navajo named Alison Young who was working on this film. "I didn't want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way."
Here's a clip from a piece Patton Oswalt wrote on a subject very close to this - rape jokes:
"See if any of these sound familiar:
There’s no “evidence” of a “rape culture” in this country. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone, so why am I being lumped in as the enemy? If these bloggers and feminists make “rape jokes” taboo, or “rape” as a subject off-limits no matter what the approach, then it’ll just lead to more censorship.
They sure sound familiar to me because I, at various points, was saying them. Either out loud, or to myself, or to other comedian and non-comedian friends when we would argue about this. I had my viewpoint, and it was based on solid experience, and it…was…fucking…wrong.
Let’s go backwards through those bullshit conclusions, shall we? First off: no one is trying to make rape, as a subject, off-limits. No one is talking about censorship. In this past week of re-reading the blogs, going through the comment threads, and re-scrolling the Twitter arguments, I haven’t once found a single statement, feminist or otherwise, saying that rape shouldn’t be joked under any circumstance, regardless of context. Not one example of this.
In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim."
That's exactly what Adam Sandler and his ilk do - they make the victim the butt of the joke. They're not in it to try and illuminate anything more than their own vapid egos and restrictive little viewpoints. I think "dark side" humor can be a really good, positive thing. It can be a way to deal with things that happen in our world which are otherwise too massive in scale, or simply too troubling, to touch otherwise. They can be a way to level the playing field and allow everyone to gain a glimpse into the dark world they've been afraid to look at - because again, if something is blocked off from sight you don't know where it's going or what it's doing, and you can't arrange any defense against it. I've never made a rape joke, because on several fronts that's too close to parts of my personal reality, especially in several women I've known and cared about. But I've made jokes about death and murder - including mass murder. Made jokes about animal cruelty. Appreciated jokes about racism even - because sometimes you just have to find a way to comprehend and deal with the fact that racism really does exist, and it has damaged and utterly destroyed not just individual lives and families, but entire ways of life and entire continents of people. So you don't think that this discussion is "worth having"? You think that the only point of comedy is "to be funny"? Well I've got news for you. Words hold incredible power, and laughter holds even more power, and what a comedian chooses to do with those tools says a whole hell of a lot about the comedian - and a whole hell of a lot more about the people who are laughing. Keeping in mind that there's a difference between "HAHA stupid indian's name is BEAVER" and that nervous laughter that comes from facing the uncomfortable truth that some people will say anything if they think they can get away with it, simply because they really believe what they're saying. A rape joke can be made to combat the suffocating darkness of the issue, or to spur on conversation, and that's fine. But it can also be made by a comedian for an audience that honestly see's nothing at all wrong with it, and will violently defend what they see as their right to see rape as normal. If this discussion is too damn confusing for you, maybe you should take a moment and think about just who you want to be, and who you are, way deep down inside.
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