Facing Extinction, My View


Facing Extinction, My View

I read Ms. Catherine Ingram’s essay:

Facing Extinction

The data she cites seems realistic and reasonable;

the inferences she draws about potential, likely and current forms of consequential social and societal breakdown seem logical;

the observations she makes about the feelings, reactions, sadnesses and denial many people will respond with to the facts about global warming and biodiversity loss — and the dire implications for the long-term health and even survival of the human species — also seem rational and accurate;

and the recommendations she makes for managing one’s own state-of-mind — consciousness, psychology, expectations, mood, calmness — are helpful.

My comments on Ms. Ingram’s essay

You have to remember that (1 to 4):

1. Despite science being able to make credible estimates (from climate and socio-economic models with super-computers) about the pace at which the climate and environment will degrade, nobody really knows how quickly and to what extent society will degenerate. In 10 years time, life might be worse than we would imagine that future now, or it could be better than our fearful projections today. Who knows?

2. Looking back over the history of homo sapiens (200,000+ years), and over the history of homo (2M+ years), one sees a talent for adaptability to difficult circumstances. So, I find it unlikely that homo sapiens will “go extinct” even if social and environmental conditions deteriorate very quickly and very badly. But, those degradations would certainly cause much suffering, much death, and at some point begin reducing the human population. How far a reduction? I don’t know, but certainly not to zero, for a long long time.

3. If I had to throw out a number, I’d say we are good for at least 200 years. Why that number? Because anything less seem improbable to me, based a bit on the physics and a lot on gut feeling; and I can’t really project from any factual basis beyond 200 years, so I don’t know. Even so, I suspect people will continue to exist well beyond 200 years, but a guess without any educated justification.

4. Ingram phrases her recommendations for mentally coping with the facts about global warming climate change in a manner I would characterize as “psychotherapy.” I tend to phrase the same ideas from a perspective I think of as Zen Buddhism, in its most general sense. That is to say (a through g):

a. For each individual: life is always uncertain, life is precarious, death is certain to occur, but when and how are unknown.

b. Life is a gift, don’t waste it by living unaware of it: distracted by the “maya” of all our social fads, obsessions and daily ego dramas, and by all our technological gee-gaws facilitating our entertainment and “games.” You don’t necessarily have to be a Zen monk sitting in Za-Zen all night (kept up by green tea) and with consciousness totally focussed on the breath of the moment, but you definitely should keep very clear awareness of yourself, your body, the environment that surrounds you and beyond that the human network you allow yourself to be “attached” to.

c. The point is to actually experience the awareness — and joy — of being alive, as often as possible. Obviously, sometimes we immerse ourselves in tasks — pleasurable or unpleasurable — that “we lose ourselves in” for a while. For my mother such immersion is gardening, for me it can be working out a differential equation or a new poem. But I “resurface” to enjoy a meal, enjoy listening to the birds on my hillside, to see the changing of the light, to feel the changing of the temperature and the breeze, to inhale the stars at night, to remember many good times of the past, to eat ice cream, and even to watch the Twilight Zone on TV.

d. This clear awareness (c) equates to being grateful for experiencing life, at the very least when the momentary experience is not one of pain. But even so, the best way to live through pain is to not deny it and try to avoid it, thus setting up a conflict with the external reality of pain pushing on you, and which conflict only adds anxiety and more frustration to the pain you already are experiencing — and that means added pain. Every painful experience comes with a minimum level of pain we must experience, like it or not. So facing this fact is the best we can do: suffering through that minimum (which is not to say it is negligible) realistically rather than trying to deny it and thus causing ourselves to suffer more than the minimum. It’s not fair, it just is.

e. This all means that one should engage in their lives with a positive attitude: do what is in you to do, for the good and for a sense of fulfillment. The details of this depend on the individual and their circumstances. I don’t think of this as a mad rush to check off a bucket list of fantasy treats and entertainments, but instead to apply your mind, body and talents to those activities (creative, kind, socially and psychologically positive, at least harmless) that bring a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to you. Your life is a gift, a very improbable gift, so use it in a way that does credit to you and justifies the receipt of that gift. For Christians, I refer them to the Parable of the Talents. For folklorists, I remind them of Joseph Campbell’s advice: “Don’t waste time” and “get it done.”

f. My contention is that the more people that live as outlined in “e,” the better the state of the social (and physical) world we all live in at the moment, and therefore that regardless of what happens geophysically and environmentally to that world, we will have a better life than might otherwise be the case under the circumstances. The utopian extreme of this view is that if “everybody” lived the ‘e-life,’ then we would have the best social network for dealing with the physical consequences of global warming climate and environmental degradation, and consequently the best deployment of both warming attenuation responses (e.g., changing our energy systems, that sort of thing) and mitigation strategies (e.g., helping those impacted by droughts, crop losses, inundation, extreme unlivable heat, intelligent applications of technology for social benefit, etc.).

g. Regardless of what everybody else does, or doesn’t do, your life is your responsibility to set right and enjoy as best you can (again, being kind regarding your societal impact). Also, you are just one individual and can hardly take on the whole problem of “fixing the world.” It’s too much, you can’t do it, and trying to will just destroy you. Being the best and happiest “you” (in a clear-eyed knowing way) that you can be is the best contribution you can make to the whole of society, besides being the most personally rewarding way to use the gift of time and consciousness that you have been given by the intriguing randomness of evolution.

So, yes, it is sad that we can see into a future that looks rather grim, and it is difficult to avoid upsetting deniers when we try to speak frankly about the facts we are aware of, and it can be sad to have to “let go” of many youthful illusions about both the continuity of the natural world that hosts us, and about the human networks we are entangled with or which cast us off, but maybe this awareness of and adaptation to reality is not really new. Maybe it has always been true that clear-sighted individuals have always had to navigate their lives through an unstable present and into an uncertain and apparently increasingly hostile future, and that their most honorable and most satisfying course of action was to live up to their potential, as best as they could, for the duration allotted to them.

It should be obvious that all the above is a projection on my part, my “best guess” of how I would like to try to behave if and when I am faced with an existential crisis, a life and death situation. In my own case, the above attitude came to me as a result of dealing with personal crises — which for me were the equivalent to life-and-death — and my application of Zen ideas garnered from much reading. Basically, I extracted ideas from my intellectual storehouse, in times of stress, to find something practical to make passage through hard times bearable.

A person I have corresponded with very recently is an ex-psychotherapist who is dying of cancer, and who wrote: “The only thing that I know is that PEOPLE DONT CHANGE UNTIL THEY FEEL PAIN.”

I agree that people only really question their self-image, and attitudes toward the conduct of their lives, until after having first been gob-smacked by the random and cruel realities of life. One way of rephrasing the above would be:

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”
—Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727),

Newton’s 1st Law of Motion, a.k.a. inertia.

So my conclusion is: live confidently, make the best of it and enjoy it; in that way you add goodness to the world. And, yes, we have to accept that there will be pain and suffering for many many others no matter what, and even despite whatever best efforts we put in to relieve and prevent as much of that pain that the rest of the world will be burdened with. And, this has always been true. This is what I want my children to know and apply in their own lives, because I know that then their lives will be as happy as is possible.

Be aware, be intelligent, be confident, be kind. Life is a gift. And, have fun!

I guess this last is my definition of love.


Book and Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (2017-2020)

1 August 2020, was the 201st anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. 2019 was my year to be totally immersed in Moby-Dick (for the third time), an awesome masterpiece. This is PERHAPS, the greatest novel yet written in the English language.

I’ve written previously on Melville and Moby-Dick here:

Happy 200th, Herman!


Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

The Ultimate Great American Novel


W. Somerset Maugham’s “Ten Novels And Their Authors”

Maugham wrote a book of this title, describing his picks, ranked as shown below, His essays on each are excellent.

War and Peace (Tolstoy)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and The Black; Stendhal)
Tom Jones (Henry Fielding)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

Read by MG,Jr (from Maugham’s list), so far:

Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

I like the following, as SOME of the other novels that I think are “classics”:

The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
On The Road (Jack Kerouac)
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Three Musketeers is described here:

My Favorite Classics

Huckleberry Finn and Slaughterhouse Five are described here:

The Ultimate Great American Novel


Three movies from 2015-2016:

Heal the Living (Réparer les vivants) (2016)

Superb film by Katell Quillévéré (screen-writer and director), about life, death and organ donors. The meditative nature of this film, without excessive pathos, with a lovely piano accompaniment (most of the time except for two noisy rock songs), the lovely crisp photography possible with today’s equipment, and its seamless transitions between wakeful reality and introspective day-dreaming, and back, and its transitioning ensemble – constellation – of collaborative actors (instead of a star in front of background “support”), make this a very thoughtful and artistic film that presents fundamental truths. All these sterling qualities (except for the crisp photography) will make this film largely unpopular for US audiences, especially when spoken in French with English subtitles.

Genius (2016)

A superb English film about legendary American authors, particularly Thomas Wolfe (author of “Look Homeward, Angel”) and really about Max Perkins, the Scribner’s (book publishing company) editor who discovered Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, most flamboyantly, Thomas Wolfe (the movie is ostensibly about him). The heart of the story is about friendship (male friendship) collaborating in the creative artistic process, in this case to produce literary novels. Anyone who likes reading (actual books of literature, in paper), and who strives to produce excellent art that requires collaborators (particularly theater and often music, and inevitably every art) in any medium would like this movie. However, the American reviewers were not keen on this movie because they and most American audiences don’t really like reading and find the movie “slow;” it’s basically a detailed exposition of intellectual processes (and what American wants to watch that?); its lighting is “dark” (which is how it actually looks in downtown Manhattan); Americans don’t like foreigners making movies about American subjects (English actors can do any variety of American accents, but American actors can’t do English, or any other foreign accent); and the movie unrolls like a well thought-out play since it was in fact directed by an English theatrical director (with a story based on a carefully studied biography of Max Perkins).

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This is a modern and very clever modern story (i.e., not by Arthur Conan Doyle) of Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life in retirement, living as a beekeeper. The plot, photography, score, and acting by the (largely) English cast are all first rate, naturally. The film has proved popular with English and American audiences, and rightfully so. The story involves Holmes as a 93-year-old (in ~1947) who, despite failing memory, is trying to recall the details of his last case, which ended tragically and caused him to retire. The jumps between “the present” (~1947) and flashbacks (~1912) are clear, as are the transitions to the flashbacks to Holmes’s post WWII visit to Japan (1946/1947). There is enough of the “solve the mystery” element in the film to satisfy most Sherlock Holmes fans, and a thoughtful emotional-psychological thread to the story that was not ruined by an excess of pathos or icky sweetness. Of course the acting, photography and score were good and well-integrated into this polished work of cinema. Overall, nicely paced and good entertainment with wit, polish and good heart.


Some commentary on Anti-War movies and books:

The Pentagon Papers in the Movies
[the 2003 movie is the best, and what a story!]
20 April 2018

Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies
23 January 2018


Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an unusual American who eventually became a Far Eastern foreign correspondent to American newspapers and magazines, and an expert interpreter of Japanese and Chinese stories, legends and fables, as well as a keen observer of how life was conceptualized and conducted in Asia (mainly Japan).

Lafcadio Hearn was born in Lefkada, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece. He had an Irish father and Greek mother, and a difficult childhood filled with rejection. He also lived a very unusual life, for some time a newspaper crime reporter in the U.S.A. (Cincinnati, New Orleans), marriage to a Black Women at a time when mixed marriages were extremely difficult to sustain socially in the U.S., and then moving on to a foreign correspondent role, first in the French West Indies and then in Japan. There, he learned Japanese, taught in Japanese schools, married a Japanese woman and had four sons, and lived out a happy last chapter to his colorful and literary life.

A superb book by Hearn is Kwaidan, which is a book of Japanese ghost stories, and which book was the basis of an amazing 1965 Japanese art film (movie) of the same title by Kobayashi. I think Kwaidan is a masterpiece.

Gleanings In Buddha Fields is a collection of stories (the mythical, legendary and fabulous) and essays (on the realities of life), which in total immerse the reader into the zeitgeist, or context, of late 19th and early 20th century Japan.

Alan Watts noted that Lafcadio Hearn’s book Gleanings In Buddha Fields (1897) sparked (or was one of the sparkers of) his interest in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. I read Gleanings In Buddha Fields because I was curious to learn the source (about one of the sources) of where Alan got his Zen.

I recommend Gleanings in Buddha Fields to you (and Kwaidan).

Because some (at least one or two) of Hearn’s references to historical personalities of 19th century (and earlier) Japan are not part of modern memory, you might have to do a little Internet researching to gather some of the historical facts about the incidents Hearn was referring to (in Gleanings…), in order to fully appreciate Hearn’s presentation. But even without such deeper investigation, Gleanings In Buddha Fields is an excellent, informative, thoughtful and Zen-atmospheric book. In discovering it with your first reading, you can also imagine yourself reliving, at least in part, the juvenile awakening to Zen Buddhism experienced by Alan Watts (whose The Way of Zen is a masterpiece).

A modern collection of selected Japanese stories (including some from Kwaidan) by Hearn is the following. It is excellent, and well-researched, with a very informative introductory essay by the editor-researcher, who was Ireland’s ambassador to Japan.


Cinema Art From 1968 For Today
18 August 2018


The Ultimate Great American Novel
4 September 2018


All Quiet On The Western Front

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque (22 June 1898 – 25 September 1970), is the greatest war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war. “All Quiet On The Western Front” is also the greatest anti-war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war.

This novel was first published 92 years ago, in 1928; and its story is set a century ago, in 1918, during World War I. This novel describes the realities of a soldier’s transformation from naïve enthusiastic recruit to hardened emotionally vacant veteran, the deadly and depersonalizing confusion of military operations, the rush and terror of frontline combat, the haphazard allocation of injuries, the slow-motion dread of being in hospital, the brief joys and overwhelming alienation and anguish of home leave, the struggle against insanity, the scant and fleeting serendipitous joys in the field, the loss of a personal past that moored one to a potentially fulfilling future in one’s culture, and the crushing of the lonely human spirit shadowed by the omnipresence of death. The human reality of this novel is timeless. Most of us casually say we are anti-war, but to truly inoculate yourself against any taste for war you must read this book and allow its story, and its feeling, to soak deep into your psyche.


F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is The Night hit me like a thunderbolt. Fitzgerald drew the title from a line in John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale.” I’ve written quite a bit about Fitzgerald (follow the links to that). Below are a few of the comments about Fitzgerald and movies about him and his novels.

Appreciating F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism

I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald

Two “F. Scott Fitzgerald” movies:

Last Call is based on the memoirs of Frances Kroll Ring (1916-2015), Fitzgerald’s last secretary, and sounding board, to whom he dictated his last novel The Love Of The Last Tycoon, A Western. Frances Kroll Ring’s book (1985), highly praised by both scholars and Fitzgerald aficionados for its accuracy, detail and sympathy, is about the last two years (1939-1940) of Fitzgerald’s life. Frances Kroll Ring (herself in 2002) appears at the end of the film. A very well made film, as close as we’ll ever get to “being there” with Scott. Jeremy Irons plays Scott, Neve Campbell plays Frances Kroll Ring, both excellently in my opinion. The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald (2002) is dedicated to Frances Kroll Ring “with affection, gratitude, and respect from everyone who reveres F. Scott Fitzgerald as man and artist.”

Getting Straight is a fun movie of college life and protest in 1970, and centers on a much put upon ex-activist and graduate student of literature (“Harry,” played by Elliot Gould) who ultimately gives it all up (except the girl) in a very spirited defense of the art and spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This movie was approvingly pointed out by Ruth Prigozy, the editor of The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was surprised at how many references Harry makes to characters and incidents in both Fitzgerald’s novels and in his life (with Zelda and then Sheilah Graham). The movie can be fun without having to know all these references, but it is much funnier being in the know. I thought, my god!, this bright, breezy, light-hearted confection from 1970 would be over the heads of the illiterate comic-book-cartoon-movie-consuming popular audiences of today: we’re doomed!

Last Call (2002, trailer)

Getting Straight (1970, stills and music)

The Crack-Up
F. Scott Fitzgerald
[originally published as a three-part series in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Esquire.]

The Moment F. Scott Fitzgerald Knew He Was a Failure
By Lili Anolik
Sep 22, 2015

“It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless color of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, section V.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Crack-Up, part I, 1936


My Wicked, Wicked Ways, by Errol Flynn

A mostly honest book. I have always loved Flynn in the movies. A very engaging character, with his own flaws and tragedies despite all the glamour and antics. What I most like about him is that despite everything, he always sought to enjoy, to laugh, to be happy and make others happy; but a major prankster.

I think he knew he was doomed to a short life from very early on; he had contracted tuberculosis and malaria as a teenager prospecting in New Guinea in the late 1920s very early 1930s. So, he enjoyed his smokes and booze and morphine, and most of all women, who shamelessly threw themselves at him, especially after he made money but even before when broke and homeless. Besides, he pursued them very keenly, too.

Alan Watts mentioned that some Zen master from the past had said that there were two paths to enlightenment: the path of thoughtful study, meditation, good works, piety, humility and patience; and the path of debauchery leading to exhaustion of that attitude leading in turn to an awakening. This in fact is the main comparison presented in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. But, Watts continued, the first path is by far recommended even though its “success rate” is not particularly high, because the second path can easily be fatal (in every way) though it was considered a “sure thing” and “quicker” for gaining enlightenment: if you survived to getting to that point! The story of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is in fact of a life of renunciation of a princely life of luxury and dissipation to first seek meaning through asceticism, which was ultimately found to be arid, and then to settle on the “middle way,” between asceticism and dissipation: which for today we can think of as consumerist materialism (dissipation, that is).

So, Flynn’s book was fun for me to help reflect on these ideas. Besides, it is a fun book on vignettes and quips about “golden age” Hollywood.

Errol Flynn starred in the 1938 movie, The Dawn Patrol, about WWI British fighter pilots in France. This is an anti-war movie. I describe it here:

Criminalated Warmongers


Magister Ludi (The Bead Game)

Herman Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature for Magister Ludi (The Bead Game). Interesting book (long), but sometimes a bit remote/slow for me. The “three tales” appended at the end are superb. I wonder if the whole big book before it was really just an enormous lead-in to them. Hesse put tremendous thought and work into this book, there are many undercurrents and subtleties that I may not have fully appreciated. I think it is basically a book about religious feeling (existentialism?) in a non-religious way; similar to the orientation of Carl G. Jung’s psychology. Both Jung and Hesse were born in religious/missionary families from Switzerland (Jung) or southwest Germany near Switzerland (Hesse, who spent much of his life till the end in Switzerland). I think Hesse was working from a view of life like looking at the Swiss Alps from a remote chalet (which is in fact where he lived).

Excerpts from Magister Ludi (The Bead Game), (1943)

He had also made the discovery that a spiritual man in some curious way arouses resentment and opposition in others, who esteem him from afar and make claims on him in times of distress, but by no means love or look upon him as one of themselves and are more inclined to avoid him. He had learned from experience that old-fashioned or home-made magic formulas and spells were more willingly acceptable to sick people or victims of misfortune than intelligent advice. He had learned that man prefers misfortune and external penance rather than attempt to change himself inwardly, and had found that he believed more easily in magic than in intelligence, and in formulas more readily than in experience — many things in fact which in the few thousand years that have elapsed have presumably not altered so much as many history books would have us believe. He had also learned that a man in quest of the spiritual should never abandon love, that he should encounter human desires and follies without arrogance, but should, however, never allow them to dominate him; for, from the sage to the charlatan, the priest to the mountebank, from the helping brother to the parasitical sponger, is only a short step, and people fundamentally prefer to pay a rogue or allow themselves to be exploited by a quack than to accept selflessly offered assistance for which no recompense is asked. They would not readily pay with confidence and love, but preferably with gold or wares. They cheated each other and expected to be cheated in return. One had to learn to regard man as a weak, selfish and cowardly being, but one had also to see how greatly one participated in all these characteristics and urges and longs for ennoblement.

We must no longer rely on the fact that the cream of the talented from out there flock to us and help us to maintain [our society]: we must recognise our humble and heavy responsibility to the schools of the world as the most important and the most honourable part of our task, and we must elaborate it more and more.

Times of terror and the deepest misery may arrive, but if there is to be any happiness in this misery it can only be a spiritual happiness, related to the past in the rescue of the culture of early ages and to the future in a serene and indefatigable championship of the spirit in a time which would otherwise completely swallow up the material.


I love “Siddhartha” by Hesse; easy to see why that book of his is so popular. It is an “awakening” story similar to the life of Buddha, who appears as a support character to the protagonist. I said more about “Siddhartha” in my comments on Errol Flynn, above.


After The End of The World: books by George R. Stewart, and Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Here are two classic “after the end of the world” books. In Earth Abides, George R. Stewart’s end-of-the-world is by pandemic!, and in A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s is by post nuclear war taking America back to a Medieval Period, and then eventually over a few millennia to a new rocket and nuclear age, which ends as one would expect.

Stewart was an English professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1930s-1940s, and his book here is from 1949. Amazingly prescient, realistic “speculative fiction” about the subsequent lives of the few survivors of the nearly overnight pandemic.

Miller’s book is definitely different, but there are no cheesy sci-fi gadgetry nor “special effects,” despite the strangeness of the worlds he portrays. Interestingly, the monastery life that is the center of Miller’s book is similar in many ways to the monastery life that is the center of Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi (which is also a sort-of after the end of the world book, really of a “distant” future after the end of the fascist world).

I cannot imagine Miller’s vision becoming reality, but I can easily imagine Stewart’s coming about.


The Twilight Zone


During this 2020 summer of hiding out from the pandemic, I watched all 156 episodes of the anthology TV show, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which originally ran between 1959 and 1964. This feat was accomplished by seeing 2 to 6 episodes a night on consecutive nights over the course of several weeks.

This show is a collective work of TV art, guided by Rod Serling, who wrote 59% of the episodes. Amazingly, despite this show being in the neighborhood of 60 years old, its anachronisms relative to today’s typical attitudes and technological paraphernalia are infrequent (as regards the attitudes) and not distracting (as regards the technicalities). But it really shines in its depiction of the inner workings of human hearts and minds, and also human heartlessness. In this most important artistic-literary aspect, The Twilight Zone has not been surpassed by television shows since.

The Twilight Zone is a sequence of — usually — morality tales (interspersed with occasional comedies) whose telling is freed imaginatively and dramatically by allowing for the arbitrary actions of mysterious metaphysical forces. It’s as if Lafcadio Hearn, Ambrose Bierce and H. P. Lovecraft had been transported 60 years into their futures to write for television. One of the most thrilling aspects of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone is the intense social consciousness, and anti-war, anti-greed, anti-bigotry and anti-cruelty attitudes nearly every minute of the entire series exudes. The acting, by many many actors, is uniformly excellent; and the production values of all the technicalities are also very good, but also very obviously more modest than in the costly productions of TV fare today.

In seeing the entire 156 episodes in one concentrated period of time, I have gotten a very clear appreciation of The Twilight Zone’s beauty and value as art. Without intending to be blasphemous, pretentious or dumb, let me say that I can see The Twilight Zone representing, for discerning American (and beyond?) viewers of the 1960s, a thought-provoking and socially instructive film-electronic art form in the same way that the plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were thought-provoking and socially instructive theatrical art forms to the Fifth-century Athenians.

The bubbling cauldron of social tensions, aspirations and fears of dynamic yet troubled societies were artistically abstracted and polished into the diamond-sharp facets of intense dramatic plays, reflecting the whole of contemporary society back into itself through the fascinated gaze of its individual people. If “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” then The Twilight Zone, through TV screens, was the mirror of the collective or societal American soul, which soul is always hidden behind a flashy loud and positivist front.

If you see the whole series, looking past the incidentals of its presentation, but deep into the essence of its conception, literateness and soul, you will see and hear as sharp and accurate depictions of the personalities and preoccupations of our society today as was the case for the American society of the early 1960s, during the show’s first run 61 to 56 years ago.


John Keats, poet

Much feeling here, combined with a tremendous amount of work to present that feeling with refinement and grace of language, without dilution of the emotion, and without making it all seem a labored construction. Also wonderful feeling for nature and the natural world. I can’t criticize anything here, only try to learn from it. To my mind, Keats is to English poetry what Mozart is to music. Keats was a major influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I see as an American “3rd generation” English Romantic poet who expressed his artistry in prose.

I have to dig into Shelley next (I have a huge tome), who was more “ferocious” than Keats. Both were very focussed artists. I’m struck by the idealism they felt and worked from.


In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World, by Ian Stewart

Hello math lovers! (sic),

At one time or another a member of my family or friends has expressed an interest in:

Pythagoras’s Theorem (triangles, distance, areas, surfaces), or

Calculus (rates of change of anything and everything), or

Newton’s Law of Gravity (planetary motion, satellite trajectories), or

Pure Math (Napier’s Bones, the weirdness of the square root of -1, and Möbius Strip topology), or

Normal Distribution (the probability distribution of IQ, and “The Bell Curve” book), or

The Wave Equation (tones, semitones, musical scales, even tempering, beats within harmony), or

Fourier Transform (sines and cosines, single frequency/pitch modes and equalizers, digital camera images), or

The Navier-Stokes Equation (fluid flow, aerodynamics, F1 car design, global warming computation), or

Maxwell’s Equations (electricity, magnetism, radiation, wireless communication, TSA body scanners), or

Thermodynamics (entropy, efficiency of engines and renewable energy technology, disordering of the universe), or

Relativity (curved space-time, bent light rays, black holes, Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy), or

Quantum Mechanics (Schrödinger’s Cat, many parallel worlds, semiconductor electronics), or

Information Theory (codes, coding, data compression, digital communications), or

Chaos (species population dynamics with explosive growth and collapse, erratic unpredictability), or

Black-Scholes Equation (insane financial speculation, options, futures, derivatives, credit default swaps, the banking/real estate/financial crash of 2007-2008).

Because of that, here is my review of Ian Stewart’s 2012 book: In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World. Stewart says of his book: “This is the story of the ascent of humanity, told through 17 equations.”

This is an excellent enthralling book: interesting, very informative, very well written clear explanations of the mathematics and the applications of that mathematics to: classical mathematical calculations, lots of physics and related technology, information theory (codes and computers), chaos (wild swings in species populations), and the insane 21st century finance economics of our previous financial crash and its inevitable successors. This brief description does not in any way convey the complete range of this book.

On the front cover you can see the 17 (sets of) equations, which Stewart describes (and their many uses) over the course of 17 chapters. Of the 13 equations I feel confident about knowing something about (all “basic” math and/or mathematical physics), I find Stewart to be accurate and masterfully clear in his descriptions.

My only quibble is where he states about the main causes of global warming being the production of carbon dioxide and methane (gases) that: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap incoming radiation (heat) from the Sun.”

This is a collapsing of the actual mechanism, which is: the the capture of outgoing heat radiation (infrared radiation) by CO2 (most importantly) and CH4 (along with other heat-trapping molecular gases in trace amounts in the atmosphere), which upward radiated heat energy is derived from the earlier absorption (by the oceans and lands) of incoming light energy; a necessary process for cooling the Earth and stabilizing its temperature (if we didn’t mess with the process). So I would rephrase the Stewart sentence quoted as: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap outgoing radiation (heat) from the Earth.”

[If you think about it you will see that wherever the biosphere captures the incoming LIGHT from the Sun — in the air, lands or oceans — it ultimately heats to the same degree; but when our pollution intercepts and stores a greater portion of the re-radiated outward going HEAT (infrared radiation) from the biosphere than would be the case “naturally,” that the Earth’s “cooling system” is impaired and the biosphere warms up steadily, for an Earth out of heat balance.]

Regardless of this quibble, Stewart knows much much more about all the mathematics he presents and all the uses of it than I do. The 4 equations I knew nothing about (and learned about from Stewart) are: #1 Euler’s formula for polyhedra (topology); #2 information theory; #3 chaos theory (I know a little a bit about nonlinear dynamics, sensitivity to initial conditions, and limit cycles: similar to the “butterfly effect”); and #4 the Black-Scholes, or “Midas” equation that was heavily abused to produce the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. On these four, I learned a great deal from Stewart (basically everything I know about them now), and in the reading of this book I gained a sense of trust in his descriptions and pronouncements.

My only other critique of the book (and a minor one) is that there are a number of proofreading lapses (both of text and substance) that show up as typographical errors, and/or what I presume to be mischosen words (some obviously errors, others didn’t make sense to me). The few instances of these errors occur most frequently in the later chapters of the book, and none is fatal (especially if you don’t notice them). So, I agree with the praise for the book highlighted on the back cover.

I especially recommend the book for its explanation (in 8 chapters) of the physics of: classical gravity (Newtonian mechanics), waves, heat flow, fluid flow, electrodynamics, thermodynamics (entropy), relativity and quantum mechanics. I also appreciate his logical and scathing take-down of the modern hyperactive derivative-based financial speculation that dominates and threatens the world’s economies today. For me, the 8 physics chapters are superb; but there is no part of the book that is weak: “a wonderfully accessible book.”



Juan Mascaró was a superb poetic translator. His selections from the Upanishads is enthralling. His translation of the Dhammapada was also wonderful:

“As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.” — The Dhammapada, 49

Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, editor of Heinrich Zimmer’s book The Philosophies of India) said of the Upanishads: “It’s all there.”


Books I must add to my list of essential classics:

History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner)
The Plays of Euripides
The Plays of Sophocles
L’Avare (The Miser, a play by Molière)
Phèdre (Phaedra, a play by Racine)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)
The Razor’s Edge (W. Somerset Maugham)
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell)
1984 (George Orwell)
Collected Essays (2002, George Orwell)
Bhagavad Gita (Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood)
Bhagavad Gita (Juan Mascaró)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Carl Gustav Jung)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X, with Alex Haley)
Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)

…and others as I think of them.

Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World


Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

Is Malachi your first child? I’ve known a few men, including myself, whose “eyes were opened” to the total interconnectedness of the world both in its physical dimensions as well as in the psychological and ‘metaphysical’ ones (depending on how you define the intuitive and non-material dimensions one can experience but not put into words), by their awakening to first fatherhood.

It is because of my concerns for the wellbeing of my children, now all adults, that I made my efforts to do more than just “make money” or “do my job” or “be successful” or just “have a good time.” I’ve seen some profound transformations of character for the better in men who fell in love with their first fatherhood and who saw the actual wonder of the little beings that had been entrusted to their care. I find such examples very heartwarming.

As infants we start out shamelessly and blamelessly grasping for all our needs, wants and desires; and as we grow older we slowly expand our horizon of concern to others — that is most of us with any decency. For some men, as I’ve noted, that expansion can be sudden and profound with their becoming fathers. Such an awareness and care for an other can then expand into a concern — the Buddhists would call it compassion — for the rest of humanity, especially the young, the helpless, the struggling, the unlucky and disadvantaged, the poor. And for those of us with such an enlarged feeling of compassion — some call it socialism — and who have a reasonable degree of personal security in this life, we can express that feeling as political attitudes and activism: from ‘do-gooder-ism’ to manning the barricades of “revolution.”

Sometimes our acting on the impetus of our extended compassion can help bring about real practical improvements to the lives of others beyond our own family members. But certainly not always, and for many of us not often at all. But such efforts are worthy even when impractical and failures because at least they elevate our own personal moral character, improve our own personal behavior, and such improvement even when “inconsequential” and “invisible” to society beyond our own families, or even beyond our own minds, is nevertheless a contribution of goodness to the civilized world because it at least represents an absence of negativity that we could otherwise have manufactured and emitted into the wider world. To put this mathematically, contributing zero — neutrality — is always better than contributing negativity: harm, degradation, parasitism.

But, it is always more than zero because: it feels so rewarding to extend good to others; it is so satisfying to extend love to those we care for. The emotional “reward” is intrinsic in the act of giving love, not in “getting” something: attention, praise, “gratitude,” or ego-gratification. The radiance of love is all in its giving. And the giver gains by the improvement of his character, which is the afterglow of that gifting of love.

And that experience is what can sustain you during the inevitable hardships life will toss at you. Individually, our lives may turn out to be “failures,” even luckless tragedies, but in those moments when our minds are not overwhelmed with racing thoughts while dealing with some crisis, we can reflect on the instances when we reached the peaks of cosmic consciousness — unseen by anyone else — while caring for our children, especially in their youngest years, and we can recall those instances of profound satisfaction that we gained by enacting our compassion and love — what the Buddhists might call “merit” — and feel justified in this existence however indifferent or even cruel it might be for us at the moment.

So, while I would certainly be thrilled to have been able to “change the world,” or even know that one action of mine made some small yet definite contribution to a significant societal advance and improvement, I can’t let the fact of this being quite unlikely to cast me into total despondency. As fathers we each know at least a few people whom we can help make life better for, and that is all the difference between despairing about human life, and celebrating our conscious experience of it.

In the Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling, the various animals and the wolf-boy Mowgli who would acknowledge each other’s existence with respect and in some cases affection would say: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” And that is the essential and primordial reality of Life On Earth: the Buddhist “interconnectedness of all things,” the Gaia of the ancient Greeks and now of the Western New-Age Romantics, even the biodiversity of the deep environmentalists. This realization is as old as our species, our modern homo sapiens ancestors during the Ice Ages painted it on cave walls in France and Spain, and without doubt our remotest primate ancestors knew this even before they mastered the use of fire. Alan Watts said: “Man is something Nature is doing.” Awakened fathers see in the wonder of their children a reflection of themselves as expressions of that totality.

So, yes, we can all easily grow weary — “old” it’s called — contending against the selfishness and stupidities of people, the inhuman tyrannies of enslaving economics, and ultimately our flames will go out for lives are finite. But we each can experience some of what is authentically eternal, the totality of being, just by being good fathers and caring people. And that is all the difference between “saving your soul” and having a satisfying life, or of having a thoughtless, soulless existence lost to money, things, ego and materialism, and of dying without ever having experienced really being alive and profoundly aware of it.

I know Malachi will enjoy his day at the beach with his father.


Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?


Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

Harbhajan Singh asks [6 April 2020]: “Could COVID-19 save Lifeboat Earth?”

Many realize that eliminating humanity would make Earth healthier for Nature, plants and animals.

Many also realize that without profound changes to human behavior — by everybody, everywhere; including limiting population growth and ending greenhouse gas emissions — that humanity can not exist in balance with Nature, and both will increasingly suffer, eventually — in a few lifetimes? — fatally.

It is well documented that as human encroachment and destruction of Nature (e.g., environments and biodiversity) advances, that habitability decreases.

That decrease is due to a combination of:

— pollution (bad air, ocean plastic, dead seas, lost topsoil, lost forests, toxic land);

— climate change (and more violent weather, floods, droughts, wildfires);

— food source degradation (inorganic industrial farming, loss of natural varietals, loss of seafood), and

— greater hazards of releasing viruses (epidemics and pandemics) fatal to people.

The scientific reports get very specific on ‘this particular negative effect has this particular [human stupidity] cause’, but in aggregate they show what I’ve just outlined.

More people are realizing that humanity’s accelerating encroachment and destruction of Nature can only cause more deadly virus pandemics to plague us. Hotter environmental temperatures from global warming, and greater particulate and noxious gases pollution from human activity (industrialization, capitalism, militarism) aggravate the severity and lethality of all respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

I prefer that humanity became vastly more intelligent, and cooperative, and altruistic, and balances its existence (both individual and collective) with Nature’s timeless rhythms and geophysical limits.

The most important aspect of that wished-for cooperativeness is that we cease viewing each other as deadly rivals in a grim zero-sum game of making-money one-upmanship and competing narcissistic schemes of enslaving others.

Miraculously, the Earth is the most wonderful Paradise we know of in the entire Universe. If we treated it as such, instead of treating it like a garbage dump and sewer, it would return that appreciation, and we would knowingly experience life in this actual Paradise, for ourselves and for endless future generations.

This is not just poetry, it is fact.


Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020


Manuel García, Jr.’s Worldview, 2020

I am just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity, and I think that the impact and value of my thoughts and ideas are about as significant. This year, 2020, I will be 70 years old, and I think that I have probably said everything original that I was capable of saying. I am sure that I will write more of my little essays, and put them out there, but they are more than likely to be repetitions and rehashes of what I have previously written. Right now I cannot imagine squeezing any new insights out of all the reading and studying (and living) I have done in physics, science, history, psychology, Buddhism, and literary fiction.

So, I have compiled a list of 20 of my essays (of recent years), which as a group I offer as representative of my “worldview,” as of 20 January 2020. I post that list here, “for the record,” and for the ‘benefit’ of people new to my web-pages. All of this represents my annual (in January) “state of the world” message.

I have no ego regarding my Internet publications; if they are useful and encouraging to you then great, if not then I think at least they have done no harm.

My plans are to continue absorbing things that interest me, learning as I can, and expressing myself as feels right and enjoyable. I am satisfied that at the very minimum I have improved just over one-eighth of a billionth of humanity.


Eight Categories, and Numbers of Articles in Each:



Article titles are within their respective web-links






























Through My Lens, Clearly


Through My Lens, Clearly

For me, the 1950s ended in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1960s began in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. I remember the elation in my family, in New York City’s Upper West Side (136th Street, and Broadway), when the Batista Regime in Cuba collapsed in January 1959; and I remember our dumbstruck terror in October 1962, listening to President John Kennedy speaking on our black-and-white TV, wondering if my grandparents would be radioactively incinerated in Havana before we were similarly dematerialized in New York City, or vice versa.

That is how my political consciousness was born; its coming-of-age and definitive molding was done later by the Vietnam War, and the many insistent demands by my government that I sacrifice myself to it. I escaped by dumb luck, for which I am eternally grateful. With the particular curvature and polish of my own idiosyncratic lens for political consciousness, I have come to resolve images of our collective reality that I sometimes feel a need to project, as here today.

People can’t be changed, they either evolve on their own, or they persist as they are to the death. The best you can do, for the rare few, is tell them the truth if they ask.

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living. Expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual. This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities who clip the wings of the human spirit and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

Bigotry is popular because it makes stupid people feel intelligent, and weak people feel strong. President (sic!) Donald Trump’s popularity rests on people’s desire to be bigoted and respected for it. Bigotry will exist as long as there are ignorant people who are fearful. Such bigoted people love fascism because under it they can stay bigoted and be proud of it. Fascist bigots, like Trump, don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want to be made to feel ashamed. That is why publicly recognized fascist power-seekers always try to silence their critics: first by ignoring them, then by ridiculing them, then by judicial attacks against them, or by veiled calls to their followers to sprout proxies who will make illegal attacks on their critics, and ultimately if they gain dictatorial power they have their critics killed.

Evangelical Christianity is a cult of fear, and for its men also a cult of patriarchy. Politically, it is irrational Republicanism; socially, it is white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Why do such Republican women remain Republican? Because their bigotry, which is fear, is so embedded that it overpowers their self-respect, which is courage. Evangelical Christianity sees Islam as its reflection and its rival, which is why it hates Islam. In practice, their religion is a hate crime. Heraclitus was so perceptive to write, in about 500 BC, that “bigotry is the disease of the religious.”

The problem of race bigotry in America is like the problem of climate change. It is of our making, and we know how to fix it, but we never will. People are too invested in their ignorance for that to ever happen, and afraid if they let it go they will be weak in a changed world.

Arresting climate change would require the universal application of human intelligence, indiscriminate compassion, worldwide solidarity instead of personal selfishness, and thoughtful discipline instead of thoughtless waste. We are doomed. Climate Change is only a problem for the young, bequeathed to them by the old, who won’t notice it anyway because they’re comfortably done, and will be gone soon (geologically speaking).

I probably should not bother writing about the Climate Change Crisis anymore. Everyone everywhere now knows that it is real, and most have felt its first unpleasant effects. So, some Green Energy actions will now happen in response, probably too few, too weak and too late, but at least a start now that the Global Mind has opened to the truth.

Also, I really don’t need to write any more Jeremiads against Republican Party partisans (there are plenty of others to do that nicely), because it is now obvious to everyone everywhere — even the U.S. corporate media (though it puckers their sphincters to mouth it) — that the Republican Party is just a fascist conspiracy to eliminate democracy in the United States of America, and replace it with an authoritarian corporatized xenophobic bigoted Fundamentalist Christian White Supremacy theocratic oligarchy, to drive us all expeditiously to extinction under their self-satisfied obsessively avaricious command. Thieves lie, and liars steal. For them, it is better for humanity to die out badly than for the stupid, bigoted and greedy to be bypassed. Capitalism is fossil-fueled greed with a total lack of imagination, and a bodacious military. Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

Who built the United States of America into the richest country in world history?: enslaved and exterminated Native Americans, enslaved Africans, dispossessed Mexicans, and exploited European and Asian immigrant laborers. Who produces American wealth today?: the wage-slave descendants of all of these, who only gain a pittance from their harvested labors. What salve are these squeezed working people given for the bruising sacrifices they make of their humanity into the endlessly grinding engines of obsessive greed?: a patriotism deficient in human solidarity but voracious for taxes. But, don’t think of it as taxes, think of it as tithing to the War Religion.

So in my lens’s focus today I find the following: For the world: Capitalism must die for the World to live. For my country: Tribalism is America’s fatal flaw. Resentment, envy and a fanatical sense of entitlement are its corrosive agents. A generational overturning led by socialist youth is its only hope. For myself and every other person: It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you are a success or failure at life, but how you deal with it. As Thucydides quoted Pericles: “Honor is the only thing that does not grow old.”

And now, back to the bread and circuses.


One Soul Saved



One Soul Saved

To believe that climate change can be averted is to believe that humanity can rapidly improve itself morally. Maybe it will, I can’t say. For me, it is better to believe in an ennobling vision and pursue it for a lifetime, even if it fails, than to submit to a tawdry comfortable slavery, which is the cause of that massively popular failure. Aspiring to better humanity is lonely work easily inundated by oceanic inattention and unconscious ingratitude. All that you may gain could only be the bracing realization that you at least kept faith with the honorable in nature during your brief twinkle of living consciousness: one soul saved.


Imprisoned Souls


Imprisoned Souls

We live in a world rich in its diversity of intolerance of independent thought and self-directed living.

Such expressions of personal independence and creativity are threats to the slavish conformity of the mass of fearful, repressed people hiding in their submissiveness to traditional ideologies that give them status in social hierarchies that limit the full human potential of the individual.

This maintains, without merit, the elevation of patriarchs and power-hungry mediocrities, who clip the wings of the human spirit, and direct the enforcement of their systems of mental and physical imprisonment of the masses serving them.

1 October 2018


Ella García’s response to “Imprisoned Souls”:

I read it, and in my limited life experience I agree. But now, for my sake, I want you to write one last stanza with encouraging words. I’m noticing what you just said in everyday life and I want happy words.


A Self-Directed Life

Even in the most restrictive of societies, it is always possible for a person to keep their independence of thought alive, at a minimum as an inner experience and unexpressed part of daily life. From that oasis of freedom, you can do two things:

— work out your artistry, even if it is only mentally, or if it is as simple as the perfection of the skills of awareness and deft action that you apply to your work and your routine actions; and

— be conscious to incorporate your accumulating observations and experiences into the strengthening and refinement of your own moral character.

Retaining control of who you are as an authentic human being — regardless of external circumstances — is the essence of leading a self-directed life.

If and when you are fortunate enough to live in better and freer social circumstances, then take advantage of your luck by using the opportunities open to you, to expand your artistic efforts and to reach for achieving your full human potential.

The joys of life do not hang from trees like ripe fruit ready to be picked, nor sweep into you as gifts like balmy breezes at the summer seashore. They are born out of you as a natural consequence of leading a self-directed life.

Live long and prosper.

2 October 2018


Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.


Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2018


Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012