Lady in the Water brings the best of New Age

Lady in the Water is one of my favorite M. Night Shyamalan movies. Adapted from a bedtime story he created for his children, the movie flopped in American theaters, and Michael Bamberger subsequently argued in his book, The Man Who Heard Voices, that Shyamalan gambled his career on a fairy tale and lost.

Despite this, Lady in the Water is a very rewarding film and was unfairly panned by the film community. The story has a great deal of spirituality and philosophy to it. I’ll avoid repeating the story at length here, as you can read it on the IMDb website (or watch it for the first time perhaps), but it begins with a tale of how, in the distant past, the human race was inspired by beings that served as moral guardians and muses to humankind.

Shyamalan’s movies are often billed incorrectly and suffer upon release as a result. The Village was marketed as a scary movie, but was not strictly a horror flick. The Village is also worth watching, but audiences did not get what was promised by the previews, and it was underwhelming for the film community in general. The same could be said with The Happening, but I quite enjoyed the movie: it was a fairly original concept for a horror film. And despite the criticism of some that The Happening offered a ridiculous concept of plant vs human warfare, the concept of plant pheromone defenses and the evolution of toxins are well-established ones in biology. It is, in fact, not such a ridiculous concept for a horror film, which also contained a message about humankind’s relationship to the planet. However, the end of The Happening does come off as a little preachy, and audiences felt bludgeoned over the head with the moral of the tale.

Lady in the Water also takes on notions of human civilization, and harkens back to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael that humans have somehow lost a vital part of themselves through civilization and its ideology of progress. Krishnamurti once observed, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” M. Night Shyamalan evokes this same sentiment with Lady in the Water. The themes contained in the film seem unappreciated by both audiences and critics alike. This is typical for films that question the core of what we consider to be the merits of our civilization and of modern technology. The re-make of The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves is another solid film that was largely unsuccessful because of its strong overtones of criticism for the so-called vaulted successes of technological progress and modern Capitalist globalism.

Aside from these points, there is also a clear line of spirituality in the film, which is the real purpose of this article. In the film, no one destined to help the Narfs actually knows who they are or what they are meant to do, yet they must discover these things for themselves. This falls into line with concepts of new-age spirituality that the meaning of life is realized through creating our identity and by having meaningful relationships with others. A self-chosen goal is no less meaningful than an assigned one. Life may not actually have any inherent meaning, but that does not detract from the fact that even if we assign some meaning to our lives, our choice is meaningful in itself.

As the current Dalai Lama suggested, the greatest purpose of life is to “try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” It has also been said that “the Earth says much to those who listen.” Isn’t that what Shyamalan is suggesting with this story? That the universe has wisdom if one simply pays attention? Couldn’t it be said that our great philosophers and thinkers promoted a meaningful system of truth through pondering the meanings of the observable cosmos?

Lady in the Water carries a message that doesn’t often resonate in American society: that for all of our success, we are still remarkably unadvanced as a civilization. The fact that the world population increases even as 40,000 humans starve to death every day is a symptom of a people who have not fully realized the value of life yet. That we ignore the value of life among non-human species is another sign of our miserable values. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” That humans spend so much capital to constantly prepare for war due to geo-political differences is also a symptom of a dysfunctional civilization. Hadn’t Socrates been correct when he claimed that he was a citizen of the world, and not just of Athens?

Carl Sagan also saw the truth in this statement. He implored humankind with his famous declaration about the rarity of life in the cosmos and that the insignificance of the “little blue dot” of Earth calls on humans to step back from the precipice of destruction and realize that all life ought to be valued, if only by virtue of its rarity in the universe.

Shyamalan has created a beautiful allegory in this film: a writer of great wisdom who would knowingly sacrifice his own life for the betterment of mankind. A world in which each person has a special role that they have to discover for themselves, and through it, they can fulfill an important role for society. Isn’t this the same as believing that every person has a talent to offer the world and that they will find their greatest joy in employing it to the betterment of mankind? Isn’t it a greater thing to leave the Earth better than how you found it and not to quantify your worth as merely the numerical quantity of how much money you earned? Is it not better to give yourself freely in your relationships and be a valuable friend, parent, sibling, or lover, and to make a difference in the lives you touch?

The greatest thing one can do with his life is to create something that will outlast it. Whether this is raising children or creating something that will live on after death does not devalue the significance of the contribution. You are here because of the collected toil of your ancestors in an unbroken line back to the origin of life on this planet. You may see signs of obvious effort from your parents and grandparents to provide you with opportunities for success and happiness greater than what they had. If you cannot see such effort in your upbringing, perhaps you can break the cycle and offer such love to your own children.

Bruce Lee once said, “In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” It is a truly unfortunate soul who finds himself without any talent to enrich his life and the world. I’d like to believe that we all have something we’re good at; it would be a great thing if we created a society where people could develop talents that enrich the world rather than merely accept it and its machinations of dull work without any meaningful sense of contribution. All great writers, poets, and thinkers have toiled in deprivation as they explored great ideas and created works of art while trying to “make a living.”

Art has much to offer humankind; humans are innate storytellers. We have always had our stories; self-expression provides a meaningful outlet for human values which can enrich our awareness for the gift of being alive. Life may not be perfect for anyone, but it is not to be wasted. Each of our births was an unlikely event. Had only one of your ancestors died from warfare, disease, or drudgery before they had a chance at having children, your existence would never have been, and the world would not have missed you.

Be grateful for your chance at life. We may not all receive the same comforts and privileges. Most of us do not have a trust fund and cannot go to Ivy League schools like Harvard or Yale, yet we can still attempt to live a life of meaning, and contribute positively to the happiness of others. To make the world better for others ought to be a common value for everyone. That we have a society that equates success to gross salary of fiat money is one of the greatest sicknesses of our society. Though it is understandable that our parents want us to be financially secure, the greatest accomplishments are made by those who risked their own comfort by daring to pursue their dreams and aspirations over the comforts of material success.

© David Metcalf

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On Making a Difference

This entry is a little “rough around the edges”. It was a short Facebook post I made. Wasn’t really sure I wanted to edit it. It gets the point across well enough, faults and all. . .

Looking through my NoteTab Light program (I keep quotes and random facts and clips from articles in there). Found this about living a fulfilled life:

“But researchers now believe that eudaimonic well-being may be more important. Cobbled from the Greek eu (“good”) and daimon (“spirit” or “deity”), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one’s unique talents and potential.”

Do what you’re best at; there may be a reason you have your particular talents. Make something of them.

Julian Linn choreographed some of the most famous plays in Broadway. Her accomplishments include choreographing the original Jesus Christ Superstar musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s recent Phantom of the Opera movie, and the broadway hit, Cats.

When she was a child, she had difficulty at school. Her parents were called into the school to meet with the school psychologist. The counselor met with Julian and her parents and talked to her about why she is fidgits and can’t focus on lessons. The counselor asked the parents to step out with him and left Julian in the office with the music on.

Outside, this counselor told her parents that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their daughter, but that she doesn’t belong in school, because she is a dancer. He recommended they take her out of school and put her in dance school immediately.

She’s now a multi-millionaire and choreographs some of the most famous plays of the last several decades.

A counselor today would probably recommend that a girl or boy like Julian take Ritalin to cure the obvious “ADHD” condition of the child.

The lesson?  Use your talents wisely. We all have a unique skill set. It is rare for someone to be bad at everything. Find a line of work that someone will pay you for and that you enjoy doing (and that you are good at). Enjoying your career (and being good at it) is far more important for your happiness than making a lot of money but hating your job.

Do not accept the warnings of your teachers that you must hate your job. Accept a career that gives you the feeling that you can make a positive difference in the world by doing it. If you aren’t working in a field of your choosing now, try to work towards being there at some point in the next decade. You may have to “pay your dues”, but you need to situate yourself into some line of work that matters to you.

“Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
you will be successful.”

– Albert Schweitzer

© David Metcalf

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.

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: http://www.godhatesfags.com/index.html 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