Saturday, November 22, 2014


David Brooks columns I didn't finish reading:
Most Hollywood movies are about romantic love, or at least sex.
Googling "2014 Hollywood movies" yields a banner listing X-Men: Days of Future Past; Transformers: Age  of Extinction; Guardians of the Galaxy; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Dumb and Dumber To; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; How to Train Your Dragon 2; The Amazing Spider-Man 2; Interstellar; The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Nations; Hercules...

Under highest-grossing films of the year (Wikipedia) in addition to these are Maleficent, Godzilla, and Rio 2 (the lives of tropical bird families and their battles against environmental criminals). IMDB's Most Popular list for the yearstarts off with Big Hero 6; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (read the book so I know there's a which-one-will-she-hook-up-with subplot, but that's not "about romantic love"); Fury...

And I could go on, obviously, but the hell with it.

And if Interstellar is really about folks who are separated by wormholes but united by quantum entanglement I don't think I want to know about that either. I do take some kind of abstract interest in the Jonah Goldberg–type program of trying to prove that some movie or other that people like is really conservative because of its 12 apostles (who are traveling out to find a home for humanity, not to convert a humanity that's already there, so how exactly are they apostles?) or what have you, but when it's applied to Interstellar, which seems to start off by noting that our planet is quickly being made uninhabitable by capitalist greed, I just don't think it's even funny to watch them claim that one. I may have something to add if I ever see the thing.

The fine writer Lance Mannion has made me feel bad about the Brooksological work, which he regards as too easy:
There’s no sign in anything he writes that he cares if readers agree or disagree with him. No sign he actually believes any of what he writes himself. He takes the same pride in one of his argument as a gamekeeper takes in skeet. You can practically hear him cry “Pull!” as he hits the enter key at the end of a paragraph.
He lets the words fly and we blast away.
And when it’s over we pack up our hampers with the columns we’ve shot full of holes and return home to sit by the fire with a drink and congratulate ourselves on a good day’s shoot.
There's certainly no reason why we should care whether Brooks thinks Interstellar is full of interesting religious symbolism or not. Or for that matter what he thinks about "progressive consumption" taxes or similar fantasies, when he's affecting to be serious. He doesn't think hard enough to come up with anything worth noticing.

I left a comment to the effect that what we're interested in shooting down isn't Brooks at all, but his complacent, pretentious, ill-informed audience, who I think of as wealthy aging bobos looking for intellectual backup for their own increasingly illiberal views, and who regard him as something like what he pretends to be. And his editors, who (I imagine) know exactly what he is, a lazy, contemptuous fraud, but just don't care.

But there's something more serious than that as well, which is that I'm kind of interested in Brooks as a person: not for his easily dismissed "ideas" but for the way he reveals them, precisely because of that laziness, like a free-associating psychoanalysis patient; he puts so little effort into the work that it's totally unguarded, and a little close study can show you exactly how he thinks, which is a window into how conservatives think in general.

It's always amusing to note how he shoehorns a bit of conservative dogma into whatever subject he's trying on, even physics, but what's really fascinating is that it isn't shoehorning. The stuff just floats up, in fact, out of his unconscious, an intellectual plasma in which quantum mechanics and relativity, waves and particles, emergence and interconnection, cogs and webs, are all the same thing, and the idea (social engineering is bad) goes into a dialectical partnership with an idea about "romantic love, or at least sex", and they fuse:
After Newton Philosophers

After Newton philosophers conceived
a clockwork universe. Individuals
were seen as cogs in a big machine
and could be slotted into

vast bureaucratic systems. But
in the era of quantum
entanglement and relativity
everything looks emergent
and interconnected.
Life looks less like

a machine and more like
endlessly complex patterns
of waves and particles.
Vast social engineering projects
look less promising,
because of the complexity,
but webs of loving

and meaningful relationships can do
amazing good.
In a way he's just Sarah Palin with a bigger vocabulary, but remarkable things are going on in that mind!

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