Apr 212022
 

This is a story about a much younger Eneasz. One who was very naïve, had a lot of unexamined assumptions, and who has beliefs that are significantly different from my own. I won’t bother apologizing for him, because he’s long gone. I don’t know if the world is better or worse for that.

I grew up political. My family watched the nightly news together. We watched one-hour news programs as family events from at least my tween years.

I had very different views from my parents. They raised me in a conservative Christian religion, and held to its tenants. Atheism was evil. So were gays. When I came out as an atheist at fifteen, my mother didn’t speak to me for three days.

Once I was out of the house, I was mildly politically active. I was poor, with a menial office job paying not much over minimum wage, so I didn’t have a lot of time and energy for activism. But I did what I could. I argued with people, I fought in the online spaces (easier to access them during work hours at my office job), I occasionally went to marches. I felt camaraderie with my fellow atheists and social justice warriors. We were making the world a better place.

Proposition 8 was a bill that went to the public for a general vote in California in 2008, which banned gay marriage. It was called Proposition Hate by everyone on the left. It was plainly evil. Fortunately it was going to a popular vote in California, at the same time that Obama was swooping in for his landmark election win. There is no way it would pass.

Not only did it pass, but it passed with 70-75% of the Black vote in California (reported at the time).

I was devastated by this. I saw it as a stark betrayal. All these years, I had thought that all us minorities were in this together. My community of queers and liberals had canvassed, marched, and protested, for all of our allies. We marched for women. We canvassed for black and hispanic residents. We protested for gay rights. I had put more personal time into this election than any prior. Most of our objectives were reached. Obama had been elected president. And then, the black voters of California stabbed us queers in the back.

I felt so… used.

This was very stupid of me, of course. No individual voter in California owes me a damn thing. The “black population” of California certainly doesn’t “owe” the queer population anything! It was racist to even think that they did. There had never been any sort of alliance, all of it had been pure projections on my part. Just my delusion that we were together because I viewed us all as “the minorities” that were fighting back against “the patriarchy.” It was quasi-racist to have that feeling of entitlement to someone else’s votes.

I posted about my hurt on the activist forums I was part of back then, and I was comforted by them. I was reassured that we fought for the rights of all minorities not because we expected anything in return from other minorities, but simply because it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t even a betrayal. It was the smallest of misalignments, and yes it sucked and it hurt, but I’d been too naive and silly in my expectations. The fight is long, and it is fought because it must be fought.

And yet, it was my first hint that the language used to unite us wasn’t truthful. We are not “allies” in any real sense. We are only co-combatants currently on the same side by happenstance. I wasn’t about to leave my community over what voters on the other side of the nation did. There were millions of them, and they had nothing to do with me. They didn’t even know I existed for chrissake! I fought on.

I guess I wasn’t that surprised when, almost a decade later, they came for me when I refused to repeat some of the insane slogans that were demanded of me to prove my purity. It still hurt, when the final rejection came. But I had been prepared by that first, smallest, disillusionment. I never had allies in the movement. I only had utility to others, and eventually that ran out.

There is no loyalty within cultural movements. There is only the conviction that you need to keep doing what is right. So don’t ever despoil your principles to buy loyalty from people that you don’t have personal relationships with outside of the movement. The loyalty doesn’t exist, you’ll be degrading your integrity for nothing.

Apr 182022
 

I — Background.

Last month (I think?) Walter and James suspended their podcast. Their podcast, Rationality: From AI to Zombies Podcast was a project to make the entirety of the book by the same name available as an audio podcast for free. (The book R:FAtZ is a curated collection of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog posts from 2006-2009.) These posts, commonly called “The Sequences” by fans, formed the payload that initially launched the Rationalist movement/memeplex/community.

Walter and James’s podcast was valued by many people who were either already part of the rationalist movement, or interested in it, but who hadn’t been exposed to The Sequences as the time they were originally written.

When they quit producing the podcast, they posted this statement:

Dear Rationalists!
As some of you will already have guessed, we have decided to end this podcast project.

There has been a trend in the community we have been observing with increasing worry, and it has reached a tipping point.
We realised from the beginming that the politics of the rationality-sphere leaned heavily American libertarian. But back when we started, we felt that the community was genuinely interested in better outcomes for everyone and that if we would just sit down together, we could surely come to a sensible agreement.

But recently, the disdain and the antagonism against movements such as feminism and BLM and communities such as transgender and nonbinary people has taken over. Even with people we once looked up to and collaborated with. This has reached a degree that makes us feel not just deeply uncomfortable but also unwelcome.

We have friends and family in these and adjacent movements and communities that we love dearly.
We ourselves are part of these movements and communities. There is no us without them.

So we strongly oppose the recasting of them as authoritarian religions and some sort of reverse oppressors, a perspective so antithetical to what we thought the idea of ‘rationality’ represented that we can no longer watch in silence. We expected more from a community that we joined under the impression that it centered honest thought and compassion for all.

Our own interactions with listeners have been nothing but kind and mutually respectful. For that, we thank you.
But we cannot, in good conscience, remain a part of a pipeline towards the rationality-sphere if that is the place it has become.

Do better!

Walter & James

The word “recasting” is linked to my blog post from Feb 23, 2022: I Am A New Atheist, And I Repent. They have stated on more than one occasion that this post was not a primary driver of their decision, nor was it strongly influential. It was merely “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The last item that finally pushed the scales over in a long, long list of worries and concerns.

However, it was the one linked in their final signing-off post, which sorta highlights it, and gives it some symbolic significance. So, after some musing, I have considerations of my own on the topic.

II — My Thoughts

What I’m most struck by is the idea that rationalism is a political movement with an ideology that must be opposed. What my focus keeps returning to is the idea that Walter and James feel they cannot “remain a part of a pipeline towards the rationality-sphere.” My interpretation is that this is due to their opposition to that ideology. That this ideology includes “disdain and antagonism against movements such as feminism and BLM and communities such as transgender and nonbinary people.”

I have a very different experience. The rationalists I know personally vary from mildly conservative to mildly leftist. The ones I know well online (in the TBC Discord server) range from pretty conservative (believing nationalism is a strength, minors shouldn’t be given hormones, society is too decadent) to strongly leftist (capitalism must be overthrown, billionaires should be punished and have their wealth seized, any parents that aren’t left-leaning enough are guilty of literal child abuse). Of the rationalists that I am aware of online, they range from reactionaries that want to reinstate absolute monarchy, to classically liberal sex-workers, to very woke social justice crusaders.

I don’t have any experience of rationalism as a movement that has any sort of consensus position on the feminism, BLM, transgender, or nonbinary movements. The majority of rationalists I know are neutral or in support of all of these.

This is why I have the view that rationalism is about attempting to improve reasoning, and not about political ideology. The people I meet in rationalist spheres can (usually) speak with each other in productive ways even when they have extremely different viewpoints about the world. I find that very helpful in truth-seeking. I’m glad I can speak with people who view things very differently from me without fearing that I will be berated. I’m glad that I can be confident the conversations will generally be productive and interesting, even when the person I’m speaking to has ridiculous(?) fringe beliefs. They can rationally discuss their reasoning, rather than posturing and signaling.

Personally, I do think that wokism is net-bad for civilization. As per my linked post, I think one of its strengths is that it taps into unfulfilled religious needs that many people have, and that a movement I was a part of helped to deprive people of having those needs fulfilled. I regret that I didn’t see that this might happen when I was younger.

If I’m wrong about that, I don’t understand how abandoning the tools of rational thought will help anything. The problem, in my opinion, would be with my wrong beliefs, rather than with Rationality. I may have failed at using the tools of rationality, due to a perverse environment (which perhaps I nurtured!) or due to my own failure to use those tools correctly. But I haven’t been able to find fault in the tools of rationality themselves.

If I am using those tools incorrectly, I would like to know.

If the tools themselves are faulty, I would like to know.

If neither of these are the case, I don’t see how abandoning the tools is helpful. I would also be interested in learning how/why that is the case?

III — Behind The Scenes

I am (kinda) engaged in a private conversation with Walter and/or James, from which these thoughts have been curated and posted. I don’t intend to make that conversation public, it is our own affair. But many of the thoughts and realizations I’ve come to during that discussion are represented here. I was sorta singled out in a public disavowal, and these are my considered thoughts on the consequences of my words.

Apr 102022
 

Compulsory schooling is net-harmful. Here’s my reasons why, starting with my three major objections, which apply to mid-teen and late-teen public schooling (called “high school” in the USA). These are followed with several more commonly heard points, which apply more to early schooling for pre-teen children.

I – High School Steals Life-Years During Crucial Psychological Transition States, Causing Immense Mental Anguish

By their mid-teens most humans are at a developmental stages where they have a drive to begin their lives. There is a strong desire to contribute something of value to their community or family, or to begin accumulating worth for themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean material wealth — reputation, respect, and advancement are extremely valuable. In the pre-modern era, by this age most people would have duties and responsibilities that matter. Their peers or family would be counting on them in some way.

Teens in school, on the other hand, are acutely aware that nothing they do matters. They are given endless hours of busy work, which is thrown away after it’s done. They are prohibited from doing anything of value, locked in a holding pattern of meaningless stasis for years. Not only are these years subjectively far longer than the years that older adults experience, they are also some of the most energetic and healthy years of most people’s lives. They are burned for nothing.

II – High School Is Literally Low-Intensity Physical Torture Via Sleep Deprivation

Most teenagers naturally have later sleep cycles than older adults. They also need more sleep than older adults. Older adults run schools, and they don’t care about the natural cycles of legal minors. In addition, since teens are compelled to waste so much of their waking hours on schooling yet still desire other activities, they will often cram in more activity at the cost of even more sleep. As a result, 3/4ths of teens are chronically sleep deprived. Severe sleep deprivation is a tool of torture. Less severe but chronic sleep deprivation is low-key torturous, and also causes long-term psychological damage.

III – High School Has The Social Dynamics of a Prison

Rates of depression and mental health disturbances by teenagers outstrips that of all other demographics. This was not the case in the pre-modern era. Much like criminal prisons, many in school turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drugs to claw their way through this time. With no way to measure status via metrics that matter, students form into cliques and form hierarchies based on surface appearances and local popularity. Anyone not in a clique suffers social isolation and sometimes harassment, and it can be difficult to join one. Even within cliques, many people spend much of their time tearing down rival members in zero-sum status games, or abuse of low-ranking or new members.

 

Nearly 100% of our population endures these years of torture, and it’s been deranging us for generations.

The thing is, I had a pretty darn good schooling experience. I was a precocious child. I loved learning. I honesty and thoroughly enjoyed a well-delivered lecture, and scribbling notes as fast as I could. I loved taking tests and scoring well on them. Test taking is a skill all of its own, and it’s fun to be good at something hard. My teachers loved my enthusiasm for learning, and by extension loved me. I sometimes got special privileges. My school was in a progressive middle-class suburb, with minimal social nastiness. And yet…

And yet everyone I know (including myself) feels like we “survived” high school. Yes, almost everyone survives high school, it’s designed to take people to the brink without pushing them over. The fact that the experience is one of having survived an ordeal by so many is a very strong sign that something is wrong. More importantly, the survivors come out scarred and deranged in significant ways, and they make up nearly the entire populations of our country. Despite my relatively “good” experience, I was deeply depressed in high school, especially the later years. I cut myself for some time, and came to the brink of suicide at one point.

I’m in my early 40s now. When I see a school, I still get a powerful frisson of awe and horror. Especially large, institutional buildings, with multiple wings sprawling over a wide campus, with several areas 2-3 stories tall. I am drawn to them, wanting to be inside that alternate reality once more, despite feeling all the old scars throbbing at the sight. It hurts, and it’s sweet, and I think this is what Stockholm Syndrome must feel like.

Is there some social benefit that justifies this mass emotional scarification?

 

Other Harms of Schooling, Which Are Also Not To Be Overlooked:

(many of these are also variations of “destroying years of life for no gain is very bad”)

1. Compelling Those Who Don’t Want Schooling To Be Confined With Those Who Do Is Damaging To Both

Children and teenagers who don’t want schooling are forced to attend anyway. These include both students who won’t learn, and those who already know that which they’ll be instructed on. They are confined in boring rooms with nothing to stimulate them. This style of low-grade sensory deprivation is already damaging. These students will often resort to rebellion and disruption, which makes it impossible for even those who would benefit from the instruction to gain anything from it. The result is fruitless confinement for everyone, wherein no one learns anything, and vast time and resources are wasted.

If the students who didn’t want to be there were not compelled to attend, they would have much better lives, and the students who do want to attend would have a chance to learn something.

2. The Majority of pre-5th Grade Instruction is Wasteful

When humans need to learn something, especially humans under the age of 30, but SUPER ESPECIALLY humans under the age of 20, they will learn it quickly of their own accord. Anyone who’s watched a child master a game they are interested in already knows this. Anyone who’s watched a child teach themselves to read so they can consume another story knows this. Anyone who’s seen a child experiment with tools or physics or bugs already knows this. Anyone who has created a website, or podcast, or renovated their home, or stayed a few months in a foreign country, already knows this.

When you need to know something, you learn it. You learn it quickly, and you know the value this knowledge has to you. There are a lot of things that people need to know to function in our society, such as basic literacy and numeracy. When they aren’t shackled by plodding instruction, imprisoned in an institution that doesn’t let them see how this knowledge is useful to them, and plied with extraneous trivia, children can learn all the basics in just a few hours per week, rather than burning every non-weekend day (before accounting for homework).

3. The Vast Majority of Learning is Wasted

All students are instructed in roughly the same things. This is a gross misuse of time, because students have very different aptitudes. Some excel in math, and should be spending a lot of time honing and exploiting those skills. Some pick up reading very quickly, others languages, or physical systems. When everyone is instructed at the same pace, many are instructed in things they have no aptitude for. They shouldn’t be wasting any time in those areas after they master the basics needed to function as an adult (usually what we call the “fifth grade level,” those most people could achieve that level of mastery long before the traditional fifth-grade age). Continuing to compel students to take instruction on topics they don’t have aptitude for and will not use is a destruction of their life-years.

4. The Vast Majority of post-5th Grade Instruction is Useless

In harmony with point #1, when you don’t need to know something, you forget it quickly. Everything learned after elementary school is knowledge that is only needed in limited domains. Every single student will lose 90% of what they learn by the time they are in their 30s. No matter how smart they are and no matter how demanding of a career they pursue, at most 10% of what they learned will actually be used by that career. Therefore, it will be forgotten. The greatest physicist of our generation won’t remember anything worth remembering from Honors Biology or World History. The few things s/he will remember are things they would have picked up as an adult anyway. Every hour spent on that unused 90% of compelled schooling was pure waste.

In summary, no one should be compelled to go to any school. Compelled schooling is in some ways worse than incarceration, as confined students are guilty of no crime.

If the populace is taxed to provide for general education (which I agree is a public good), the parents of minors (or teenagers who’ve reached majority) should be allowed to direct that money to any school they desire. If they attend no school, but pass tests proving competency, that money should be refunded directly to the parents/student for having done the labor of educating the child/themselves.

The amount of suffering and the vast amount of life-years lost by compelled schooling in the US is unconscionable.

Mar 292022
 

Humor is the greatest gift of mankind. It, more than anything else, allows us to see each other as humans.

When we joke with each other, we take the sting out of disagreements. We are saying “I think you are stupid and wrong, but I respect you enough to try to make you feel better about it, and acknowledge we’re both fumbling monkeys.”

When we joke with each other, we defuse awkwardness and uncomfortable realities that otherwise are left unspoken. We can all admit we all have flawed, farting bodies, and it’s not a big deal.

When it comes to discussing controversial or emotionally-laden issues, there are few things as valuable as a strong and well-tuned sense of humor. It is a near-panacea for interpersonal conflicts. It makes romantic relationships easier, it makes work relationships more productive, it makes family almost bearable! Individual humans are weak. Humans united in a group are strong. And an absolutely crucial lubricant that allows groups to continue to function without wearing themselves to dust is humor.

Guys, not to go all evo-psych on you or anything (I’m sorry Wes, don’t hate me!), but there’s a reason that women find humor attractive, and this is it!

I am friends with people of wildly varying stances on many Issues. Some of them hold positions I strongly disagree with. On the other hand, there are people I’m acquainted with that agree with me on most issues of substance, who I cannot stand. The thing that separates the first group from the second group is humor.

A lack of humor is a glaring red flag that Something Is Wrong with your movement or group. One of the most striking things about the pre-2000s culture wars was the staggering imbalance in humor. The Christian Fundamentalists and Right Wing Scolds were completely bereft of humor. They couldn’t take a joke, couldn’t make a joke, and generally didn’t understand what this human emotion called “humor” was. Frank Zappa and The Simpsons and South Park were degenerates that were destroying Christianity and ruining women’s virtue!

(This isn’t the case anymore, the right has had some good humor for a while, and the left doesn’t have as much. It’s strange how times change, and gives an insight into which direction the moral authoritarians are drawn)

Famously, those in power try to keep a tight rein on what humor is acceptable, because they know that unsayable truths become sayable by the jester. Humor is anathema to Fear.

For all these reasons, I think Humor is one of humanities greatest assets. When we laugh together — even at things that really suck, even with people we don’t particularly like — we destroy the myth that others are alien monsters. We are actively tearing down the walls of dehumanization that were wrought in hate.

I’m not here to debate the particulars of the Oscars and of if any given joke was good or bad. I am here to say that Humor is Important. It should be nurtured and encouraged.

It should not be suppressed, and especially not with violence.

Yes, obviously all rules have exceptions in the extremes. But the DEFAULT should be to accept humor and play along, hit back with jokes of your own if needed. Physically attacking someone making a joke requires overwhelming provocation, because it chills all subsequent humor, and that is very bad for continued social functioning.

Which is why I’m saying Will Smith is a gigantic buttmonkey, and we should all fling poo at him for a while. He screwed up, and burned a lot of good will at the Oscars. That sucks for him, but he’ll get over it. Maybe his friend Chris Rock can give him some tips on how to do so with grace.

Mar 022022
 

I have a new story out! It appears in Dark Matter Magazine, issue 008. I’m quite impressed with Dark Matter – not only are they a new publication paying pro-rates from the start, but they comission original art for every single story they publish! The banner art for my story is above. :)

This story was inspired by a parable by Eliezer Yudkowsky. It was only a few paragraphs long, but it raised some serious emotional conflicts for me. I tried to find it to link it to someone a couple years ago, but either there’s a glitch in the Matrix or my Google-Fu has become very weak, because I could find no trace of it. I intended to recreate it in brief to pass on to a friend, but then accidentally wrote this instead. It is not what Eliezer wrote. But if you’ve read his parable, you’ll probably see how heavily I drew from it to write this.

Sorry for being so vague, I can’t relate the parable without completely spoiling the story. If anyone finds a link to the original, though, I’ll be very happy to link it here.

Anyway, my story is at Dark Matter, give it a look-see. :)

Feb 232022
 

I am a New Atheist. In the late 90s and early 00s I fought in the BBS, in the online forums, and in the mailing lists. I IRC’d and engaged on the burgeoning web, and IRL. I listened to The Infidel Guy and The Non-Prophets, and I went to see Dawkins in person.

One of my core beliefs was that humanity is better off without religion. Religion introduces error and dogma unnecessarily. It appropriates human’s need for community and diverts it for its own ends. It hijacks emotional drives to steer people into atrocities. In summary, it always siphons off value to preserve itself, provides nothing of value in the best case scenario, and in most cases actively degrades humanity.

One of the reasons I thought this is because I truely and deeply believed my generation’s Big Lie. That lie being that All People Are (Roughly) The Same. “All Men Are Created Equal” taken to the extreme. There were many simple, obvious facts of reality that I discovered in my 30s that genuinely shocked me, because I had so fully believed this Lie. It would be like a Christian expecting Jesus to take the wheel of their car when they let go, and being honestly, deeply shocked when the car crashes. I still think this Lie is Noble, and there is some value to it… but ultimately, like all lies, it is destructive. I plan to write more about this Lie and my relationship to it in a future post.

This is important, because *I* didn’t need religion. To me, it provided nothing of value. I understood morality and why other people matter. I found it important to understand the most accurate model of reality possible, unfettered by convenient falsehoods (haha, see previous paragraph). I was self-motivated, socially isolated, and highly Open/Novelty-seeking. Religion was simply a thing that was wrong, and that often served as a handicap.

Since Everyone Is (Roughly) The Same, this must be the case universally. Anyone who thought that religion was net-positive in any case was a victim of religious brainwashing. They’d been deluded, lied to, or violently suppressed, into clinging to humanity’s most destructive parasite. It was my duty to help them break free.

I was so, so very wrong.

It turns out people are different. Shockingly different, in some cases. There are large segments of the population that need what religion provides. Their psychology is vastly different from my own, and they cannot live without the sort of totalitarian guidance that religions provide.

I would not have believed this if someone told it to me, no matter how much supporting evidence they threw at me. Even six or seven years ago I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have to see people freed from religion, drown for years, and then finally create a new religion from whole cloth to supplant the old one, to believe this. I would have to see it with my own eyes, happening in real time.

That is exactly what happened.

Over the past few years I watched a new religion born. A secular religion, which doesn’t have the dead-easy failure mode of requiring belief in a sky-fairy. But, since it was created in America, with strong Christian roots, it has all the trappings of Christianity.

Original sin
Essentialism
Repentance and confession
Manichean good/evil dichotomy
Focus on martyrdom and victimhood
Salvation dispensed by the church and needing constant reaffirmation

Even worse, since it is a new religion that is being seized as a lifeline by people who’ve been spiritually drowning for over a decade, it is full of fiery zealots. All conflicts are recast as spiritual struggles focused around the original sin. Like the puritans, they can harbor no dissent in their midst. Everyone must be equally zealous and on their side, or they are on the side of evil. Any price is worth paying to save a soul from evil.

When the scales fell from my eyes and I finally realized what had happened, I felt true crushing failure. Not because I had failed in my objective. Tradition religion is less relevant than ever. The New Atheists won. But in winning, having not realized how different others are, we left a massive religion-vacuum in society. We laid the groundwork for a new religion. One that had been purged of the greatest weaknesses of traditional religions, and with a dense underbrush of religion-starved kindling to tear into.

So, yes. New Atheism helped to create Wokeism. I repent of my ways, I was wrong. Religion is needed, and we should have focused on strengthening the least harmful religion(s) while tearing down the most harmful ones, rather than trying to eliminate them all. Forgive us, for we knew not what we did. :(

 

Feb 102022
 

I believe that good ideas are strengthened through argumentation and inquiry, and bad ideas are crippled by them. Thus, in the long run, censorship harms good ideas and protects bad ideas.

I believe truth is unconvered by exploration and transparency, and strengthend by the light. Falsity is defeated by exploration and transparency, and burned by light. Thus, in the long run, censorship gives cover to falsity and hides truth.

If I’m wrong about these beliefs, I would be far more likely to alter my principles defending freedom of speech and voraciously criticizing censorshiop. Changing those belief will be hard, because I have what I believe to be a lot of very strong evidence in support of them. But not impossible.

Those beliefs are why I take the stances I take, regardless of WHO is saying whatever is being said. If they are saying things that are bad or wrong, openness will prove that. The only thing censorship can do is harm truth and good ideas.

Jan 302022
 

This is “Surface Pressure,” Luisa’s song in Encanto.

I’ve seen a lot of takes that Luisa is problematic (or “bullshit”) because she’s a female character with typical male problems.* These mostly come from more traditionally-mind men. They complain that it’s a role-subversion trope that doesn’t make sense because ‘it’s about gender-noncomformity, and the charecter is a female that is uncomfortable conforming to male gender roles, which is dumb.’

Ahem.

This criticism is idiotic. On the surface level, it’s stupid because Luisa’s problems aren’t sex-exclusive. There are women that have exactly these issues. Sure, they’re rare in comparison to men, who have this issue a lot. So what? That anyone can have exactly these problems and this response is a given, and trying to claim otherwise makes one look like a prancing clown.

But, more importantly….

It’s the stupidest fucking move anyone could make if they want to increase sympathy for men with these problems! Which (I assume) is a thing that such men actually do want. I know I do.

One of the major advantages of SF/F, and the reason I love the genre, is that it allows reality warping in a way that lets people sympathize with The Other in a very personal way. All those sexist Woke fucks that drink #MaleTears and laugh about #ManPain will never, in a million years, watch a movie like Logan and understand the reason it resonates with men. They will NEVER see a male character under cracking weight and see anything but an object to be mocked.

BUT they will watch Luisa and understand her pain instinctively. And since it IS the stereotypical male burden, that brings them closer to actually understanding what the opposite sex often feels. Because they saw it in a way that they can relate to. It got in under their defenses exactly because she IS female. Next time they go to lol at #ManPain, maybe someone within the group will think (or even say!) “Well, ya know, this is a lot like what Luisa was being destroyed by. I guess it could suck a bit, right?”

That’s another step on the road to reconciliation, which is what will ruin the Wokes. Hand-delivered to us by freakin’ Disney, an unstoppable world-spanning entertainment juggernaught. You’re going to take a gift like this and spit on it, because… why? It’s not for you? That’s the whole point. To talk to the other side, you have to make art that’s for them. Be happy we’ve received the Hero We Need and stop sabotaging yourself.


*I delayed getting into this, because I haven’t yet seen the movie, and I don’t think people should have takes about art they haven’t actually watched/read/consumed. That’s exactly what everyone that cancels anything does. 99%+ of them have never experienced that which they want to censor. But I was convinced by a couple people that this song, in isolation, is the equivilent of an aria, and thus can be consumed and critiqued on its own merits without needing the full context of the rest of the movie. So…. here I go.

Jan 082022
 
WOOOOOO!!!!!!
I won third place in the Effective Altruism writing competition for my story “I See Dead Kids.” The story is under 1000 words, so due to the size of the prize, I’ll be getting the most I’ve ever been paid on a per-word basis!! Freakin stoked!!
I see dead kids everywhere. I did it to myself, but it’s OK. You get used to it.
Dec 272021
 

For an action movie, Matrix Resurrections is OK. For a movie about making a Matrix movie in 2021, and thus a deeper reflection on reaching the mid-point of one’s life, it is complete perfection. First part of this post is about the action movie, and is spoiler-safe. Second part is about the deeper meaninglessness of life and aging, and is full of all the spoilers.

Importantly, this post assumes that Lana Wachowski is the primary creative force behind all major decisions in the movie.


I. Matrix Resurrections as an Action Movie

Well, it’s better than the second Matrix movie (Matrix Reloaded), which isn’t saying much, because that movie was bad.

Resurrections is overly self-indulgent, just like Reloaded. It is trying to say something, trying to push a philosophical thesis, but it doesn’t really know how to do that. It can’t find a way to integrate whatever it’s trying to say with the narrative of the story and the action sequences that derive from it. There are several disconnected musings that the dialog fumbles through before cutting to action scenes. It’s not nearly as bad as Reloaded in this regard, because it switches to a simpler theme after a while, but this is still unfortunate.

The action itself isn’t very gripping. With a couple exceptions, there are rarely any meaningful stakes. The beautiful gunplay is mostly missing. It feels like most of the actions scenes are there because Lana thinks the audience expects them, rather than due to a love of the action itself and a desire to make it come to life. In this respect, it’s actually worse than Reloaded, since Reloaded still had a passion for beautiful violence.

On the other hand, the technology is 20 years more advanced, and everything looks fantastic. There are no more cardboard Smiths and Neos. The CGI is seamless, every frame is fully realistic, and what we see on screen looks like it was a perfect mirror of what Lana saw in her mind’s eye. In this regard, it’s far better than Reloaded, and not being taken out of the movie by horrible CG makes a huge difference.

The cast are also hugely talented. Everyone acts their heart out, and Neil Patrick Harris in particular steals every scene he’s in. He’s electric on screen, as good as Hugo Weaving in the first Matrix, and reminds us why having a good villain is so important.

Finally, the story comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion, which flows from that simpler theme that was adopted. This was a huge relief. :)

So, purely on as action-movie, I did not regret seeing Matrix Resurrections. I wouldn’t recommend it on it’s action-movie merits to a someone who can only see 1-2 movies a month, but it’s alright.

However….


II. Matrix Resurrections as an exploration on Mid Life Crisis

Full spoilers going forward!

 

1. The Set Up

The original Matrix movie is a movie about dissociation, and anyone who thinks otherwise can fight me IRL. The world is deeply, fundamentally, wrong on a deep level. It feels false. The Matrix exposes the world as false in actuality. And then it rages against that falseness for two hours, tearing at it with teeth and nails, pumping bullet after bullet into it, until the entire unholy edifice is ripped to pieces and crushed underfoot. Humanity can emerge into reality at least, and lead REAL lives.

In Resurrections, 60 years later, nothing has changed. Mankind mostly does everything the same as they did before Neo’s Passion. Some humans live in an underground techno-primitivist refugee city, and the rest live in a new Matrix.

This is a metaphor for radically recreating yourself to overcome psychological issues–primarily dissociation–succeeding, and then realizing 20 years later that nothing has changed.

IRL, The Wachowski’s revolutionized the action movie genre, in ways laid out in longer and better posts than this one. The Matrix not only changed movie making, it had wide-spread cultural effects that are still going strong today, and probably will be for decades. Any comprehensive study of Western culture this century will be incomplete without their inclusion.

On a personal level, the Wachowskis were suddenly famous and very rich. Lana Wachowski completely rebooted her personal life after The Matrix released, leaving her previous marriage, and coming out as kinky and trans. Hormonal and surgical interventions reforged her body into what she’d always wanted. The falseness she was trapped in had been removed, she could finally be free.

Two decades later, what has changed? The world is still full of suffering, and no one can do anything about it. No one seems to care enough to do anything about it. You, personally, are still a tiny human, helpless in the face of a world that recognizes only power. It shouldn’t be like this.

It shouldn’t be like this. You should be happy. You changed your corner of the world in a dramatic way! Every action film since 1999 builds upon a foundation you laid. You have the body you want, and the life you want. For a while you were happy! But wherever you go, there you are, and there’s no getting around that. Over time, that existential dread slowly made itself known again. It had never been destroyed, it was only in hiding. The suspicion returns that nothing matters. Even with everything that was done, nothing has changed. The world is still… off. It is still wrong.

 

2. The Metaphor – Anderson

Resurrections isn’t exactly subtle about this. The resurrected Thomas Anderson revolutionized gaming by creating The Matrix games. He created bullet-time in those games, and the narrative of his games is literally the existing Matrix movies we’ve seen. Anderson is recognized as changing the genre, and is famous in his industry. He’s wealthy enough to have the life he wants and is unconcerned with money. Anderson is Lana.

And yet, the world feels fake to him. His disassociation is growing stronger by the year. He literally doesn’t recognize his own body. He’s attempted suicide at least once, in an effort to escape the false world.

Despite his massive success, he is still living behind an emotionally-deadening gulf that stops him from thriving.  He has no close bonds. Anderson did his best at changing the world, he actually did have an enormous impact, and nothing changed.

Just like Neo did his best to change the world, had an enormous messiah-sized impact, and yet nothing changed.

 

3. Neo

This has broken Anderson/Neo. Never is this said directly, but it is projected overwhelmingly by Reeves’ incredible performance. His eyes are haunted. His face is etched with long-endured sorrow. His voice is resigned. And this never changes until the very last scene, which doesn’t really count (see below).

Unsurprisingly, Anderson doesn’t want to rejoin the war against the machines when Morpheus comes for him. It’s brutally hard work, and it will be for naught. He has to be pressed into service via guilt and physical force.

Neo does not fight back against Morpheus when they spar, preferring to ride out the beating. Morpheus manages to spark some defiance in him at the end, but it lasts just long enough for Neo to shut him up and get him to leave Neo alone, before he returns to stoicism.

Neo forsakes agency.  He barely even touches a weapon in the movie. There is no advancement into the enemy on his part, no passionate pursuit or decisive action. He only fights when he absolutely has to, and only long enough to get his foes to leave him alone.

His superpowers from the previous movies are mostly gone. His remaining superpower in this movie is to endure. The vast majority of the time when he’s doing something, it is tanking attacks. He puts his hands up in a defensive gesture and stops bullets. He puts his hands up, braces himself, and stops LOTS of bullets. He puts his hands up and stops zombie swarms from running into or falling onto him. He puts his hands up and deflects a missile.

He suffers the slings and arrows of life, face set, hands braced, and never once complains about it. There is a power and a dignity in this, yes. But it is not the righteous zeal and fury of the first movie. It is the quiet heroism of bearing of the unbearable.

 

4. The Metaphor – Making this Movie

If Anderson is Lana, then Matrix Resurrections is a metaphor for the making of Matrix Resurrections.

Again, this isn’t exactly subtle — Anderson is creating the 4th Matrix game/movie within the movie. As he’s doing this, he is subjected to living out recreations of the original Matrix game/movie in his real life. He’s literally shown clips from the earlier games/movies while he is recreating them. Unfortunately, he doesn’t Believe anymore.

When Anderson was young, he thought his games could really impact the world. He was full of passion. He created what he wanted, because the fire inside him wouldn’t let him NOT do so. (swap in Lana & movies as needed)

When Neo was young, he thought tearing down the Matrix would impact the world. He was full of fury and passion. He raged against the machines and destroyed their false world, because the fire inside him wouldn’t let him NOT fight.

Anderson no longer believes that his work can change the world. Even creating the most revolutionary game in decades didn’t really change anything. Even if he did create another Matrix, it wouldn’t matter. Even if he made something as big as the first Matrix, in twenty years the world would still be just the same. Just as fake.

Neo no longer believes fighting the machines will change anything. Even if he wins, humanity will mostly stay jacked-in, with a tiny percentage living in one refugee city.

Lana no longer believes creating movies will change the world. More importantly, it won’t even fix how she fits into the world. The belief that “if others just truly saw me, understood the world as I do, this would all be different” was shattered. Much of the population lives in existential pain and suffering from dissociation, and we loved how The Matrix screamed our pain to the heavens for us. But it didn’t change anything deeper. Even if Lana makes another movie as revolutionary and as truth-revealing as The Matrix, the dissociation will remain, her dissociation will remain, and nothing will have changed.

 

5 – The real world, and “the Real World”

Interestingly, the “Real World” in Matrix Resurrections feels just as fake as the Virtual World of the Matrix. Visually, there isn’t much difference between them. The “Real World” is just as full of harsh neon, dark claustrophobia, and surrealism, as the Virtual World.

The “Real World” also continues to mirror the first Matrix games/movies. The entire Resurrections movie just so happens to conspire to put him in situations that mirror famous scenes from the prior movies. This doesn’t just happen. Not over and over. Of course Neo feels detached, his entire existence is one massive case of deja vu.

This isn’t just because the movie is a reboot. It’s because the movie is a metaphor for making the movie. Lana, as she is creating this movie, also feels that the world around her isn’t real. The dissociation permeates everything. She is doing everything she can to put this into Matrix Resurrections. Watching the movie, feeling Neo’s dissociation in both worlds, is supposed to invoke in the viewer the same thing Lana is experiencing while making the movie (and indeed, what she’s experiencing all the time) — a profound divorce from reality itself.

 

And the determination to endure through it anyway.

 

6. The Metaphor – Aging

But finally, all of this is itself an expression of the bullshit that is aging.

When Neo was young, he thought things could be better. He fought, and won, and things were supposed to change. And even though the world was fundamentally changed, everything is the same. Now he’s tired of fighting, because it doesn’t matter, does it?

When a director, or a screenwriter, or an activist, is young, we think things can be better. We are full of fire. But the more we fight, the more we realize that no matter what we may accomplish, we’re still stuck with ourselves. We thought that when things change, we will too. We’ll finally be stable. But whatever we accomplish, we’re still us. The old fears, the old insecurities, the old damage, they’re all still there. The main thing that’s changed is we’ve gotten very good at enduring them.

And that’s the realization. The things that hurt aren’t removed. They can never be fully removed. But they hurt less as we adapt and toughen, and we can endure them. That’s why it’s Neo’s primary superpower now. The world around him is unreal, and it will always be unreal, but he can endure that now.

Neo looks around, and he’s surrounded by all these young adults. Kids full of energy and life and fire. They haven’t learned to endure, so they still fight. And who is he to stop them? Maybe it’ll be different for them. But they keep turning to him, keep imploring him to save them. This isn’t his fight anymore, but they don’t understand that. There isn’t really any way for him to tell them what he knows.

Unfortunately, no one can be told what Aging is, you have to experience it for yourself. But artists can try. Artists like Lana can spend an entire movie trying to put that feeling into a story, so those watching can feel it in themselves, for at least a short time.

So, Anderson is Lana, Matrix Revolutions is about the act of making Matrix Revolutions, and the act of making the Matrix Revolutions a relection of enduring a life of dissociation until doing so becomes one of your superpowers.

 

7. The End

In the end, Neo doesn’t have to be the hero. He’s spent the whole movie renouncing agency, only acting when absolutely forced to. He survives long enough for the movie’s hero to reveal herself.

If we’d been paying attention, we would have known it was Trinity from the very beginning. She decided to flirt with an extremely reluctant Anderson, despite being married, and in front of her kids. She grabbed agency from her very first line. She pursues her passion with motorcycles. She seeks out Anderson at the coffee shop. She rejects the false reality of The Matrix within 30 seconds of being told about it, with almost no evidence aside from her gut feeling.

It’s no surprise she is the one to save them, by grabbing the power of flight when she needs it, purely as an act of will. Perhaps Anderson could have endured enough to survive that fall. He didn’t need to, because Trinity still believed in her power to change things.

In the final confrontation, Neo hangs back, acting as support, as Trinity takes the lead. She guides their flight, she mutilates the Analyst, she lays down the terms of what the future will bring.

Reeves is absolutely fantastic at portraying the change in Neo. His face is no longer etched with pain. His eyes are no longer distant and drowning in despair. He has been freed. He’s relaxed and confident now. His position is as Trinity’s backup and righthand, and his relief is palpable. The burden is lifted. Neo already did his fighting, twenty years ago. He can now lend his power to Trinity, and trust in her ability to keep them safe.

I think this as a happy ending? The message is that if you can endure long enough, and trust in the people you love, eventually things get better. It’s possible to be happy, despite the wounds. Don’t give up, and you can find your Trinity in time.

A more tradition ending would be for Neo to reclaim his agency. But I don’t think that would have worked with the charecter we were given. This Neo could not get to that point. Or at least, not in the span of a single movie. Forcing that on him would have been a violation of his character, and would have butchered the movie. Being saved by Trinity is a perfectly good ending, and allows them both to be happy (and by extension, we in the audience are too).

 

8. Extended Metaphors

Of course, this is all my own projection onto a movie that I found intensely interesting at a certain point in my life (late Dec 2021). It could mean many other things. (I know someone who reads it as A Parody of Matrix Sequels, which is also very plausible.)

Importantly, I don’t actually know anything about Lana Wachowski or her mental/emotional state. All of my assertions about her are fantasy. But this is what I’ve taken from the movie, because it’s how I want to view it. All art is an act of communication between the artist and the consumer, and both sides are vital. This piece of art worked for me, because of who I am, and my history with the franchise. It won’t work for everyone. Find the art that works for you, and engage it! :)