Essential Movie List (that will convince you that we’re totally screwed)

I apologize to my regular visitors for not adding new entries. I am a full-time graduate student and work weekends. My schedule has kept me pretty busy, and I have other writings that I am working on that limit my ability to add new content for this blog. Below is a short list of some documentaries that I would recommend seeing. I will add a book list later.

I’m making this list because I often feel like I’m speaking a foreign language when I talk to people about the pressing problems we face today.

For example, I was discussing economic issues in a class and mentioned some concerns about the ascendency of China.  A student rebuffed these points by saying, “Heck, I think we can kick China’s ass.”  Also, family members and others have suggested to me that we can just absolve our debts to China and refuse to pay them. As if there wouldn’t be catastrophic financial repercussions of telling the world that a country holding $2 trillion of our debt can take our IOUs and stick them up their ass (simply because we don’t like them).

People like to compare our current situation to other periods of history and other challenges, not realizing that—in many ways—the problems we face at the moment are entirely unique to the entire period of human civilization, and basically unsolvable. I hope to write an entry about these problems in more detail at some point.

If you are of the opinion that all problems have some solution, I would like to inform you that the major lesson of studying history for historians is that many historical problems had no solution. Americans like to think we can overcome any challenge. By being well-versed in history, one realizes that this is utter fantasy.

For example, after the Americans acquire the atomic bomb, ask yourself: how could Japan have turned the scales towards the end of WWII?  Is there a solution for the Japanese Generals to beat America in 1945?  No.  From their perspective, they could not have won.  Just as, for the world today, when the oil runs out, we are going to starve.

Movies you should see:

  • End of Suburbia
  • Crude
  • Orwell Rolls in his Grave
  • Outfoxed
  • Tapped
  • The Real Dirt on Farmer John
  • The Corporation
  • ABC documentary Earth 2100
  • Watching The Real News with Paul Jay
I have avoided mentioning films that are excessively conspiracy theorist oriented. This is a list of films that are more factual and less theoretical. The films that wildly speculate about our future and rely on many outlandish claims can sometimes be entertaining, but should not be relied upon for serious information.I would recommend the Zeitgeist 2 documentary to see a description of a human society that would be sustainable. That film will answer the question that is often asked, “Well, what do you propose we should do as humans if you are saying that our way of life doesn’t work?”

© David Metcalf

edit: 7/4/2015, some several years later. . .
I should like to say that I have been searching for answers for these problems.  I should say the odds are stacked against us, but I am not advocating quitting the task ahead nor am I trying to breed cynics.  One must comprehend the depth of the problem and the stakes before applying energy to a solution.  Beware the person with a simple answer for all the world’s troubles.  If we should find an answer, we need to find it together.  A French-style revolution fails because it leads to a Napoleon.  We need everyone to work together on a more sustainable future.  The technologies are there, but the ways they are applied are determined by those who define the social needs of the day.  Should we all get a say in what those needs actually are, I sense a more sensible world may be possible.  Anyhow, I wanted to amend this post a bit.  This was written during  a period in my life when I was still researching the depth of the problem.


Eckhart Tolle’s Gray Beard Fallacy

I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now on audiobook. First reaction: what crap. Most of it is just dribble. That’s not to say I don’t agree with a lot of what he is saying, but I think his focus on the rejection of the ego and the self is pure hogwash. He argues that we should abandon our reasoning mind because it is making us unwell. Admittedly, I haven’t finished the book yet. But I have read some poignant criticism of this book on Amazon, and I think many of those critics were on to something.

If you’ve not seen Tolle speak, you should know that he delivers all of his enlightened ideals in a dead-pan voice that we should presume is the result of his spiritual enlightenment. Others claim that he has merely repackaged Buddhism, a point which I see some truth to.

My primary reason for suspecting that Tolle is employing the gray beard fallacy, that is, to surround a bold lie with many truths, is that the mind is an inseparable part of us. It doesn’t need to be rejected. That is not to say that people don’t use the mind in ways which are destructive. Worry and doubt are symptoms of a troubled mind, and achieve no useful end. Some people’s minds are a wasteland: either deluded by cultural and religious dogmas, or beset with psychological compulsions and unhealthy thoughts of self-judgment. He has already refuted Descartes fundamental principle of I think therefore I am as completely the opposite of actual truth. He is clearly not much of a philosopher, though I myself am only a dabbler.

Human reason clearly has merit. Buddha, Krishna, or anyone else has clearly used the mind’s power to arrive at great wisdom. To condemn our logical selves as the source of all our problems is an easy fix for Tolle.

I, however, believe that we are at our core a being of three entities: body, mind, and (perhaps a fundamental force / a spirit perhaps, or maybe something else). I’m not a traditional theist though. I don’t look to religion for truth, but rather as an obstacle to it. I would suspect any theist who didn’t go through a period of serious atheism. To never have wavering belief in this jealous Old Testament God who appears to exhibit symptoms of raging alcoholism is a sign of obedience to dogmatic religion. I completely reject any notion of this kind of God. I’m a pantheist, and I will describe why I think it has merit in another post.

I’m only making a side-point here, because I want to say to atheists reading this that I respect your materialist view that we are merely a mind and a body. That’s fine with me. You need not believe in a force or spirit that animates your consciousness. I readily admit that there is no empirical evidence to support this “force” argument. I will get to that idea in another post.

So, in summary of my reaction to Tolle, I will say again, what horse-shit. He drones on about divorcing yourself from your thinking mind. I think it entirely depends on the kinds of thoughts you have. If your mind is a toxic wasteland of negative emotions and self-judgments, then you may take heart in Tolle’s spiritual ideas. He’s cribbing from a lot of sources to craft his argument, with few ideas of his own, but if you take comfort in his insistence that your thinking mind is the problem, then go for it.

I’m not trashing the idea of meditation, mind you. I agree with Blaise Pascal who observed that, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.” I think we do have to clear our mind of the mundane, day-to-day thoughts that keep us from seeing the bigger picture. We need to think about how precious our life is and what we want to do with it. What will give us happiness on our death-bed at a life well-lived. These things are important. If owning nice things is important to you now, you should question whether those objects will provide you comfort when you see the end coming. I think a strong argument can be made that it’s our human relationships that matter most. Also a dash of a sense of meaningful contribution to humanity. A life well lived in my mind is one that can claim it made the world a better place to be.

It’s clear that most people think merely of material success as their current measuring-stick in determining their accomplishments. But, as the cliché goes, you can’t take it with you. Having children is an easy path to making a difference in someone’s life, since you will have that very special relationship with your life partner and your children. You are a guide for them to deal with the troubles of life such they are. This is not the only path to making a difference, but it’s surely an easy one to initiate. Let’s be honest, too many people rush into starting a family despite the fact that they are awful and irresponsible people, and view their children as possessions as opposed to independent living and thinking beings.

This is sad. It is unfortunate that children, as some of the most powerless members of our society, have to endure so much emotional and physical abuse that they are powerless to stop. I wish there was some way to stop such emotionally violent people from having children, but I know that’s dictatorial. But you can’t really say that the Dutch man who fathered 2 generations of children from his down-syndrome daughter who he kept locked in his basement should’ve ever been allowed to have a single child.

Ok, in purely my fashion, I am digressing and digressing further from those digressions. Let me return to the point of Pascal.

Meditation is a useful exercise, but we all may have different methods that will work best for us. I find that meditation to certain songs and music is best for me. I use songs to set the mood for thoughts that will either inspire me or create emotional states that are peaceful and relaxing. I use internal phrases that trigger certain emotions of oneness with all that is. It’s hard not to sound egocentric in saying this, but I do find that I can attain these blissful states by using certain phrases in my mind to achieve certain neurochemical cock-tails that create a sense of inner peace in me.

You can achieve the same high as you could from any drug once you get the hang of meditation. It does not need assistance from music if that’s not your thing. Here is a good tip which I found useful:

Remembering something from your past creates a direct link to that moment in time in your brain. The emotions you felt during significant events will be recreated in your mind through intense recollection of those events. In fact, your chemical brain doesn’t know the difference between experiencing the event and merely remembering it. Each emotion is a collection of neurotransmitters in various quantities. Those include dopamine, serotonin, gabapentin , norepinephrine, and countless others.

*Offhand, I believe the Pituitary Gland produces these agents. I may be wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments section if I am.

So, here is the point. An easy way to produce joy and relaxing states is to intensely focus in some way on the most positive and joyous moments from your past. As the saying goes, we remember moments, not days. Use your best life experiences as a tool for releasing chemical cock-tails in your brain that made you feel joy in those moments.

This has similar implications for those who dwell on all the negative traumas of their past. In short, don’t do it. You must put that sort of past behind you. It does you no good to wallow in that stuff. As much as the good events, they helped shape who you are today. Accept them for what they are as a part of who you are. As long as you learned something from these experiences, they are not wholly negative. But you must forgive the people who caused these traumas. Not for their sake, but for yours.

Your resentments will hollow you out, and stop you from living fully in the present. The present moment is infinite, it is really all there is. Spend time thinking about it. Hold your body in amazement, as the Baz Luhrmann song goes, “Your body is the greatest instrument you own.” It is entirely yours and it is up to you to decide what to do with it. Will you contribute to the joy of others? Or will you add to their suffering? Will you fight for truth and more equity in society, or will you promote your own success in ways that deprive others of theirs? I think contributing in positive ways will give you more satisfaction as you near your death than selfishness, but that’s just me. Maybe J.P. Morgan got the deluxe suite in the pantheon of Hell, and it’s not so bad. Maybe he even has air-conditioning. . .

I’m joking of course, I don’t believe in Hell. And my view of what’s beyond is mixed with admitted uncertainty because such knowledge is unknowable to we mortals. I will also address my thoughts on that point in a different post. Blog posts must necessarily be short, as the Internet reader is lazier than a book reader.

I will sum up with the importance of reflecting over your life on a nearly daily basis. I can’t recall exactly this next quote, but it’s basically that “in the seat of the human soul it is perpetually 2 AM”. That means that in your inner-core, there is unavoidable uncertainty and doubt about life and its meaning. Though Christians can’t admit it, they do doubt whether Saint Peter will greet them at the Pearly Gates. They suspect in their heart of hearts that maybe nothing happens when they die, and they merely cease to exist. Accept oblivion as a distinct possibility, and live your life accordingly. As Bob Marley said, “If you know what life is worth, you will live your’s on Earth.”

© David Metcalf

The Promise of the Multiverse

I’m simply fascinated by the concept of a multiverse. While hotly contested, there is some emerging science to support the idea of parallel universes. Watch the video for an explanation of the multiverse, and follow the Mangled Universe link for a PowerPoint with some dense information about the current mathematical model for the Mangled Universe theory.

The video explains the idea of a 10 dimensional universe in layman’s terms, while the PowerPoint gets into a mathematically dense model for the theory behind the multiverse.

I will discuss why the concept of the multiverse is very uplifting, both for the individual and for humanity writ large.

If you accept the current models of quantum physics that speculate a possible multiverse, this is cause for much hope. The idea of parallel universes is that all possibilities are manifested in infinite expressions of different universes. So there would be infinite copies of our universe, with our Earth, each with a different time path. There would also be different universes with different physical laws, many of which may make life in those universes impossible.

To add some credibility to preempt how unlikely this sounds, consider that Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, tentatively supports this view as a response to the “fine-tuning” argument theists use to justify their belief that God created the universe in such a way as to allow life to exist. The worst that Dawkins can say about the concept of the multiverse is that it is “incredibly wasteful”, meaning that it is a kind of messy explanation for the coincidental, relative friendliness of our universe to life.

In theoretical physics, the argument for the multiverse is somewhat strong, though it is still mere speculation. It ties into the concept of String Theory, but I would be unable to explain the latter because it’s a very challenging concept as well as controversial. There is some view that we may find evidence for the multiverse from the Hadron Super-collider. One possible outcome of the undertaking might be to *kind of* ricochet some miniscule amount of energy from our universe into a parallel one.

OK, so I had to set up this a little bit to discuss what I’m really driving at. If you accept that there may be infinite parallel worlds with their own unique time-line, this means that your personal future is uncertain and malleable to your will. Life could be viewed as a kind of holographic video-game, where all possibilities are contained. You can do anything that you want, to bring about any result (given that it is within the realm of the possible). No, you can’t flap your arms and fly to Germany for your spring break. But, yes, you can aspire to reach for your dreams and achieve them.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean there won’t be pain, hard work, or sacrifice. But if it’s possible, it means that there is some expression of the universe in which you accomplish your goals. It doesn’t mean you will find yourself in that universe, unless you’re willing to walk the path that will lead you there.

I find this to be a cause for hope. Because just as the multiverse opens the door for you to set out to achieve your grandest aspirations and discoveries of who you are and what you decide your life’s purpose is, it also means that the direction of our human culture is malleable and expressed in all its forms.

Maybe another Earth developed the reasoned search for truth through science and philosophy in a much more direct path than our own. Maybe this Earth commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt stunning portrayals of the big bang and other scientific concepts. Maybe Socrates had sparked a revolution that spread beyond the borders of Ancient Greece and convinced the world to view themselves as “citizens of the world and not of [Athens] (as Socrates had felt)”. Maybe in that Earth, a mosaic of our galaxy overlooks the hall of the Sistine Chapel, itself a model for reason and truth in the world, instead of theocratic dogma. In other words, maybe the great minds of our past were set to the task of inspiring wonder in the cosmos instead of religious doctrine.

These alternate histories are closed to us, for we did endure the Dark Ages (which weren’t truly dark, there was some innovation after all). But the future is still open to all possibilities. If we have the courage as individuals and as a global society, maybe we can meet the challenges of the next 100 years successfully and create a better world for future generations.

This would take some honest evaluations of the value of our current economic model, which justifies giving 80% of the world’s resources to 20% of its people. Maybe we would have to rework some of our cultural mythologies which place us above the other life-forms we share our planet with. Maybe we would have to be honest about our negligence in creating truly equitable societies, with access to good public education for all, good health-care for all, and a basic right to life’s necessities. These things are all possible.

If you accept the multiverse idea, then these things will happen, but in accordance with their relative probabilities, which means these outcomes are highly unlikely. It’s as Morpheus says in The Matrix, “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Technology won’t save the day unless we have the cultural revolution which David Icke called for. It needs to be peaceful, with the world’s elite volunteering to join for the collective interest. A forced Soviet style revolution will fail every time because a small group of revolutionary elites will eventually have to despotically seize power and push for change. Hannah Arendt once said that, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

What we need to do to make this happen is promote the consciousness raising which Richard Dawkins talks about in The God Delusion. This will be quite a challenge when a majority of Mississippi Republicans think that inter-racial marriage should be banned and the Church of Fred Phelps thinks that everyone outside his congregation is damned and going to their version of a fire-and-brimstone Hell. The Westboro Baptist Church’s website: contains songs like “God Hates the World” and “God Hates the Jews”.

The challenges are nearly insurmountable. But if those in a position to do so have the courage to act then maybe it is just barely within the realm of possibility. But it takes the courage of conviction for truth and justice to be ready to be martyred by those who fear change. There is so much hate in the world, so much fear of there not being enough, that the status quo won’t go down without a fight. Look at what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. and others to see what the world does to its prophets and true leaders.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes of all time from Martin Luther King Jr:

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

© David Metcalf

Why Bill Maher was right about Oprah

If you don’t know, Bill Maher posted a video of his criticism of Oprah. Now before you get upset at the idea of someone taking a pot-shot at Oprah, hear me out on this.

Oprah certainly is a nice person, and I believe she tries to do right on her talk show. I mean, who could disagree? Since she gives out so much stuff! Trips to Australia, brand-new cars, iPads. . .

There is something subtler and darker at work here. Bill Maher caught it and bravely (and humorously) pointed it out. He expressed that watching another Oprah audience go ape-shit over getting free stuff was “one of the most disturbing things [he’s] seen on television.” What did he mean by that?

He means that there is more to life than shallow materialism. Our lives are more than the value of our possessions. The things that matter most are the relationships we build, and the love and charity we show to friends and family (and yes, even strangers). You can’t take an iPad with you beyond the grave, but *yes* you can be buried with it (and yes, there is an app for that).

Now, I’m not denying that it’s fine to get pleasure from your stuff. I have an Xbox 360, a nice TV, and I love my computer and the Internet. These things are all great. Let me elaborate a defense of limited materialism. Philosophically, your possessions represent the aggregate of your labors. Since you own your body, and you therefore own your time, you are allowed to give your time to labors that allow you to buy. . . well, stuff. It’s fine to enjoy the fruits of your labor. That’s good, in fact.

What gets excessive is that we begin to start deifying the almighty dollar. Look at shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and you see an almost pornographic obsession with living in enormously cush homes. It’s all part of that golden American dream: work hard, and you too will one day “make it”. I’m not going to get into the merits of the American Dream.

What I will say is that Bill Maher may be correct in saying that money is the new God. If we somehow manage to join the rich club, then everything will be fine. On the other hand, Leo Rosten was quite correct when he said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty.” So again, I’m not disputing whether a certain level of material comfort is good or bad. It’s definitely good.

But shows like Sweet Sixteen tick me off because they illustrate another example of how the sweat and toil of the laboring classes filter up the pyramid to the richest of the rich. When a son of a producer can be bestowed with a jewel-encrusted jacket and get a new Bemer and that $4,000 specialty off-roading bike that he absolutely must get to know his parents love him (and, of course, have P Diddy do a private performance at the party), you have to recognize the essential Ponzi Scheme nature of market capitalism.

There is a mythology at work here. One that seduces people into thinking that the super rich create all the wealth we enjoy. They don’t. To understand this, I’d have to go into an analysis of what really allows our civilization to thrive. Put succinctly, it’s surplus food. This allows specialized labor that produces goods. Viewed this way, you see the success of our modern life is built from the ground up. But, yes, you do need venture capital to build a factory. But you’re better off building a factory in Latin America because American workers cost too much. You can even shut-down an American plant that is still making profits for your corporation (because, hey, you could make more profits somewhere else).

OK, so back from my digression. Why is Oprah’s show disturbing? I admit, it was rather touching when she gave cars to all those people who were struggling to get to work and live life without transportation. That’s all very nice.

But look at things the way Helen Keller would have (the damned socialist); she looked to root causes of social ills rather than slapping a band-aid over a mangled limb and doing high-fives.

Side note here: we all know that Helen Keller was deaf and blind and that she learned to read, write, and communicate because of the extraordinary efforts of a teacher. Teachers love to tell us the story of the water-pump, and how—if Helen Keller could overcome adversity—gosh darn it, we can too. Then they move onto the next subject without talking about the sordid details of what Helen Keller did when she grew up: she became a socialist. The admiring public turned against her and decided that she was being manipulated by her “handlers”.

You know an event that led Helen Keller to socialism? She grew up to advocate for proper education of the blind, and she discovered that blindness disproportionately affected poor people. This had to do with the fact that if you were poor you were more likely to be born of a Syphilitic mother. That’s when she recognized that being poor kinda sucked and became a Socialist. Remember, root causes.

So when Oprah gives shit away and the crowd goes wild and the viewers shed that single conceited tear, realize that Oprah is just slapping a band-aid on a festering wound and basking in the warm glow of a proper do-gooder. She doesn’t use her considerable influence to highlight why people need cars so badly to get to work and can’t afford them. She doesn’t deal with root causes, but she’s busy doing the Mexican hat-dance when she gives out iPads like she just solved every problem in the universe; as if life will somehow get better because they can go home with another expensive toy.

Bill Maher caught on to this; and I, for one, think he’s right.

© David Metcalf

A Return to Lex Talonis

Every Sunday, millions of Christian’s recite the Lord’s Prayer. They call upon God to “forgive us our trespasses, just as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Being raised Grace Lutheran, I wonder if these words hold any sway over American Christians anymore.

It is striking when the death of Osama bin Laden leads to jubilant celebrations upon hearing the news of the 9/11 architect’s death. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been brought to justice, but I did challenge on my Facebook page whether the deliberate assassination of bin Laden without a formal trial really connotes the kind of justice that democratic countries promise.

I know, criticizing the Obama administration for a technical grievance about the execution of laws in such a matter isn’t very popular. Even if a 1976 U.S. law prohibits the targeted assassination of foreign citizens, why not just be happy with the death of a mass-murderer?

Never-mind that since the administration had carefully parsed their statements the Monday following the raid, they have now admitted that Osama was naked and unarmed when special forces blew his head off. Or that the intelligence gathered was not the result of torture “light”, and this might have some bearing on the debate about the disturbing justification of torture to achieve certain ends.

Referring back to the Lord’s Prayer, I’m not suggesting that we just forgive and forget what bin Laden is responsible for. But I do worry about the brutalizing of the nation. During my days in Lincoln-Douglas debate, the debate community paid a lot of attention to policies that “barbarize” a nation. I think this is exactly what’s happening in America these days.

Refer back to the magazine cover of a bulls-eye on Sadam Hussein. Amy Goodman observed that a more appropriate choice would have been a sniper-scope on a little child, because that’s who dies in war. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are no different. Granted, Americans aren’t exposed to the thousands of images of kids with their limbs blown off, or mothers crying over their dead husbands and children (though the rest of the world has seen such images).

I was appalled several years back when the Pentagon was publicly defending its choice to bomb an Iraqi wedding because “insurgents were present. Therefore it was a justifiable military target.” Never-mind that during the early years of the war with the Taliban, the U.S. Air Force elected to bomb a Red Cross Hospital not once but three times.

Or consider that once upon a time we believed in rehabilitating criminals in the penal system. No one hears about that anymore. Nor do we give convicted criminals a proper chance of an honest living once they emerge from their cells.

When the Bush Administration released the bloody photographs of Sadam’s sons, you can similarly see the brutalization of the American public. And again, we see this effect in the prostrations of the American public at the altar of vengeance with the death of Osama bin Laden. Did you know that within a week of Osama’s death the U.S. conducted a drone attack to assassinate an American-born Muslim? Not concerned that targeted assassinations are now used to target American citizens—maybe because he is a Muslim and a leader in radical Islam?

I argued on Facebook that the extra-legal assassination of bin Laden is an abandoning of a principle that began with the Nuremberg Trials. Though we knew the Nazi criminals who helped carry out the Final Solution were guilty, we held them accountable in the courts to show the world our commitment to international laws and to democratic ideals. We didn’t just execute them without maintaining our dedication to courts of law.

No one can argue that bin Laden’s crimes exceed those of the Nazis. The Nazis were brought to justice after WWII, but America rejoices in the Old Western justice of just shooting a naked, unarmed bin Laden on sight. That’s not how a civilized country operates. The Obama Administration openly violated a well-established law from 1976. It demonstrated to the world that it goes beyond the law in seeking its vengeance.

I refer to the Old Testament law of Lex Talonis, better known as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Despite the presumption of fundie Christians that we are a Christian nation, we refer back to the old Babylonian tradition of vengeance as our precept for “justice”. Hatred is a sure way to hollow out a person.

But not if you hate the right people, I suppose. I myself don’t hate those who I view as leading us on the path to an unpleasant and volatile future. I merely think they are operating based on what they know having been raised in a very deceptive culture. Our culture is the thing that whispers in our ear our whole life and has us accepting assumptions about the world that we’re not even aware of.

But that will be a discussion for another day. I just want to say that seeking vengeance is not the highest good or the most evolved action for “civilized” people. Holding people accountable is fine, but it should be done within the limits of international and domestic laws which maintain the public order and the responsibility of maintaining democratic principles. Such as, no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.

© David Metcalf