Friday, May 23, 2014

Interstellar shows that Christopher Nolan is an idealistic dreamer

Interstellar looks like an awfully good film, and it's from the brilliant mind of director Christopher Nolan. The plot (from the trailer) seems to be that the world has run out of food and probably resources, and that in order to survive, humanity must embrace interstellar travel (because there are no answers in our own solar system). Michael Caine says in a voice over that "we must stop acting like individuals and act as a species." It's an interesting thought. But I have one question: is humanity even capable of this kind of togetherness? Let's face it, bullying exists for a reason. And where there's bullying (be it on the playground or religious folks ostracizing non-religious folks) the concept of togetherness takes a backseat to feelings of hatred and rage in response to oppression and abuse. Let's just look at what we have going on in the United States, defined as two words: resource scarcity.

The resource can be anything really. It can be time. It can be food, Most often (it seems) the resource is money. The thing is, what the hell IS money? Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve can just slam her fist down on a button and print out trillions of dollars in bills. But why do those bills have value? We could try to answer what money is by looking at the most capitalist of icons: the United States stock market, and say "well money can allow you to buy stock in a company that provides a useful product to the world." Well yes, that's true, but that's only because a government (the U.S.) decided that the "dollar" is the official currency by which we do business. Furthermore, a company can price its stock at whatever it wants. If Apple wants its stock to be $600 a share then it's priced just that. If it wants its stock to be $40 a share, it splits the existing shares in just the right amount to arrive at that number.'ve got stock that's now $40 a share. So is money or value even a real thing? I have trouble saying that it is. It seems to me like it's an illusion, a trick, a shadow on the wall. But it's something that affects our very lives.

Here's a statistic for you. Right now, there are twenty hedge fund managers who made more money last year with their combined salary than all of the kindergarten teachers from coast to coast made in that same time multiplied by two. I bet the Hedge Fund managers (who made money with other people's money) applaud themselves as super smart and better than the riff raff that is tasked to teach and look after their rug rats. Is there irony in this? Let's take a look at a more ordinary example. There is a person that I know right now who went through mental torment to leave a lucrative job with respect and responsibilities for a $3.00 an hour raise. He did this because he was bothered by the fact that someone he was expected to supervise would make more money than him. Interesting eh? It's like there was some kind of self worth attached to the almighty dollar.

I can't begin to understand the psychology behind inequality. I only know that the perception of resource scarcity brings out traits that will always have us acting as individuals and never coming together as a species. There is no reason why anyone in this country should have to go without anything. We have enough as a combined nation that were all the odds to be evened, no one would have to work long hours, go without medical care, and not have a great place to live. Someone might ask, "How, Mike, are we going to pay for that?" Well my answer is, "Why pay? Why not do it because it's the right thing to do? If all your needs are met and you have someone that loves you and you are cared for and loved and happy...why does a salary even matter?" It's a nice idea, but we all know that this will/can never happen. People are too busy being jealous of, hating on, and looking down upon other people.

As far as I can see, there's no reason that bullying should even exist. But the fact that it does exist (and will always exist) is a testament that there is a biological need that scientists haven't figured out yet that makes people unsatisfied unless they have more of something than another person. This "more" as I said before can be anything: time, physical prowess, money, love, attention, intelligence, respect, and on and on and on.

As much as I'd like to get on board with what Christopher Nolan is "preaching" in this trailer for his truly awesome-looking sci-fi epic, Interstellar, I think I'll walk away from it shaking my head and saying, "there's no way humanity could come together like he thinks it can." Humanity from my perspective seems uniquely hypocritical. We actually revel in inequality of all kinds (oftentimes embracing the emotion of schadenfreude) while publicly condemning it. The result? Nothing happens and nothing ever changes. I think a society is only functional as long as there is misery. Without misery, pleasure is meaningless, and a life without pleasure is a life not worth living.


  1. The world's people on one side? We've never faced anything on that level, so I can't say for certain, but it is possible. Look at how united the US was after 9/11. Or how united many nations were during World War II.
    Our money is backed by gold. Yeah, not buying that either.
    And back several hundred years, you pulled your weight or were kicked out of the village.

  2. Yeah, anything overly idealistic, whether communism, libertarianism, or world peace, never rings true to me and I have trouble enjoying such stories. Human beings are, well, human! That means we are always going to have conflict.

  3. I tend to think fear is our best motivator. We tend not to do anything about a problem (global warming for instance) until it's much too late. But if someone staged an alien invasion like in "Watchmen" (the comics version) or in Robotech when an alien ship crashed on Earth carrying a bunch of giant alien corpses then we could get our shit together to venture out into space.

    On another point since we ditched the gold standard our money is only worth something because the government says it is and since we have a huge stockpile of nukes no one wants to call us on it. If it wanted the government could say tomorrow that hedgehogs are our new currency.

  4. @Alex: our money is not backed by gold. Don't know if that's what you meant to say. The feelings of togetherness didn't last long post 9/11, however, I do recall that so maybe you're right.

    @P.T.: I could just be a pessimist.

  5. Well, it's Nolan, so I'm not expecting anything much.

    As for the stuff about humanity, I don't know what to say. Really, I don't know where to begin. And there's not enough time, anyway.

  6. I don't have any answers as to why people can't work better together. We seem to need strong leaders like pharaohs or emperors to motivate us into working together. I don't want to live under the control of a pharaoh or emperor but I do wish humanity could work better as a species, especially when you consider that we're destroying the only home (earth) that we have.

  7. "I think a society is only functional as long as there is misery." -- That seems to be the case. People unite against a common foe, but there has to be a foe first, and after that foe disappears, there has to be something new to take its place.

    Maybe the lack of food could be a common foe?

  8. I always love reading your perspectives, Michael. I kind of agree with you about it is highly unlikely the world would come together. If we ran out of food, there would be people who believed it was something made up by someone. There would be hoarders.
    As far as bullies, I always remind myself that humans are animals and in the animal world there are always bullies. The fact that humans can't overcome our animal nature proves we're not as smart as we think we are.

  9. In my twenties I could have gone with this concept. Then reality sunk in. I do think you're right - without the negative emotions how would we be able to perceive the positive ones? It's a balance. I don't think you can hold a diverse group of people together with one common goal for very long. If it could be done, we'd be little better than programmed automatons.

  10. Great blog post, Mike. I've often wondered what money really is too. Humans tend to be competitive and I think it's all from a "survival of the fittest" mentality that must be ingrained from us over thousands of years. But on the other hand people often do help those need. So we are a mix.

  11. Why does bullying exist? That one's easy. Some people can only find value in themselves when they compare favorably to others. And if they feel lacking, they have to make sure that there are others who are "less" than them.

    People who are comfortable in their own skin don't need to put others down, whether it be in money, bullying, or any of the other baser human behaviors.

  12. I've been reading articles on how schools are more segregated than they were in the 70s. Pretty sad. And not in the south but in states like NY and in the north where you would expect it to be more integrated. Poverty is still very much about race (in other words if your white your more likely to make $100,000s- black 50,000 or less). And the new gold is going to be water (by the way: gold only has value in so much as we give it value and why does it have value? Because it's shiny and hard to get to?). I've been reading a book that talks about water futures and bonds and it's pretty worrisome. He who owns the water will be the big winner I'm afraid.

    As for why we won't work together? I think there is a certain percentage of humanity that continues to evolve. That percentage is more likely to work together and give for the common good. However there is clearly a percentage of the population who fails to evolve. They are stuck in their old superstitions OR they have the mentality that the strong (meaning themselves) can survive and they do not get it that we'll only survive if we do it together. To some extent the reason they believe what they believe is that it has made them the wealthiest people in the world so they have been right...

  13. I like that the trailer doesn't give away too much, nice for a change.


  14. I'm sure you've read the Asimov's Foundation series. It is based on the fall of the Roman Empire and I remember when I read it I thought he was being too pessimistic as the main character realized what was about to happen and also knew there was nothing he could do to stop it.

    Most people know that basing our entire economy on a finite resource like oil is recipe for disaster but there's no renewable alternative with anything close to the same energy efficiency. We are all small cogs in a very big wheel and as our political systems are set up to reward short term thinking there's very little anyone can do until it reaches a crisis stage.

    Of course that wouldn't be a very fun movie so instead we get a fantasy that we aren't headed for a major panic followed by anarchy, deaths, and riots until some autocratic force steps in and takes control. This probably won't happen in our lifetime as energy reserves of coal/oil/nuclear should get us through another century but it will run out someday and the people that make it through the crisis will look back to movies like Interstellar and wish we'd all been a little more idealistic and done something before it was too late.

  15. Another profound post, Michael, with much to ponder.

    Ironically, I just read an article about the Finnish public school system, which is superior to the U.S.'s even though they spend less money on it. By the time Finnish kids graduate from high school, they're way ahead of us in math, science, and reading. And they all speak a couple languages. Yet what those schools emphasize is not testing or competition, but equity. All the kids in every school are treated as equals and receive the same excellent level of education, plus a support system beyond the schools. Put some hedge fund managers in Finland, and their excessive wealth would be looked upon with suspicion and embarrassment, not admiration.

    Maybe countries like Finland (and up and coming Poland) would be interesting to check out for the kind of advanced "species development" they seem to working on. Equity and cooperation is certainly what would be needed if they had to leave the earth to search for a new home.

  16. I'm shocked that people still support that director who influenced so many evil around the world with his morbidly violent movies.... So many maniacs around the world were inspired in their murders and atrocious acts of violence by the characters he invented irresponsibly