Surprise: a Potentially Cogent Reason Not to Kill Yourself Tonight

Arthur Schopenhauer - Secret Smile - SurpriseAs you are probably aware, I’m obsessed with Schopenhauer’s idea of the Will and how it overrides our rational facilities. In it’s most basic form, it comes down to this: we struggle through today so that we can struggle through tomorrow. Now obviously, Schopenhauer’s ideas predated Darwin and we understand why it is that we have this irrational compulsion to keep living: if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. Still, we are not hummingbirds. We have rational abilities. Yet we let this primordial instinct carry us on through lives that are very often not worth slogging through. But the universe could surprise us.

I should be clear: I don’t find my argument for the continuance of life all that compelling. If I had lived thousands of years ago and believed that Thor created thunder, maybe it would be different. But I don’t. In the time scale of a human life, the universe is a very predictable thing. And though I may have superstitions about gravity going away, at the core of my being, I think that things will continue on as they have. And sadly, what I’m about to say does not help me because it is too intellectual.


A rational reason not to blow your brains out tonight is quite simple: surprise. It’s not just that tomorrow might be better; tomorrow might be mind blowingly better. It might be a combination of heroin, cocaine, being offered your dream job, and the best orgasm you ever had — or could imagine. You don’t know. It’s like Bertrand Russell’s story of the chicken. The life of the chicken is pretty great: you get to do what you want and the farmer feeds and cares for you. Nothing in your entire life has prepared you for the day when he cuts off your head.

Stevie Smith once said that when she learned of suicide as a child, it came as a great relief to her because it meant she had control.

So we don’t know. But deep down, I feel that I do know. When I was in graduate school, I was swimming in a sea of general circulation models (GCMs) — more or less computer models for predicting the weather. And with all that computing power — the 8 CPU 10 GFLOPS ETA10 and thousands of brilliant minds — we didn’t predict the weather very well. Indeed, we still don’t predict weather that well. I’ll give you the secret of predicting tomorrow’s weather almost as well as a supercomputer: look outside and say tomorrow will be the same. And if you have a barometer, well, watch out! (Here in the Bay Area, the pressure has been dropping — storm’s coming in.)

Tomorrow’s going to be like today. Sure, I know intellectually that the sun may rise tomorrow and be paisley. But I “know” in a much more fundamental sense that this is not going to be the case. And I’m glad! Because even though tomorrow could bring the greatest orgasm imaginable, it could also bring the greatest suffering imaginable. Surprise is a double edged sword.

Personally, I don’t kill myself because even my worst days aren’t that bad. Stevie Smith once said that when she learned of suicide as a child, it came as a great relief to her because it meant she had control. If life ever became unbearable, you could end it. I like that thought. But what really seems to separate those who do kill themselves from those who don’t is the feeling of hopelessness — a lack of belief in surprise — the idea that today is eternal. So be happy! Tomorrow could surprise you in a very pleasant way. Of course, well, you know the caveats.

Peter Beinart Just Got Real Stupid

Peter BeinartPeter Beinart is a liberalish writer who makes me wonder about our country. He was born into his job. He had the right parents, went to the right schools, and then, of course, New Republic hired him because he was liberish writer who could depend upon to be a war cheerleader that Andrew Sullivan so loved. That doesn’t mean he’s stupid. Not at all, in fact. Intelligence is mostly a matter of environment, and Beinart has had a great environment. I’m just saying that he wouldn’t be a contributing editor at The Atlantic and no one would have published his mediocre books. I’m saying that he might be writing for struggling daily if he had been raised by retail clerks from the central valley.

But he does write interesting articles from time to time, like his article on the new new left. So I was excited to see he wrote an article, Why Liberals Should Vote for Marco Rubio. The base argument is that if you live in a state where you can vote for any party, you should vote for Rubio. I thought, “Great idea! Because Marco Rubio would be a terrible candidate!” But alas, that is not the argument that Beinart is making at all.

Peter Beinart’s “Common” Sense

One thing you can count on from Peter Beinart is that he will give you the common wisdom of the pundit elites. And that’s what we get here. We are supposed to believe that Trump is such a threat to America, that we must support Rubio. It’s funny that Beinart dismisses Trump being more liberal on the Iraq War, given that Beinart himself was very much in favor of the Iraq War until it all fell apart. He had to write a whole book about why he was wrong. But I guarantee that he hasn’t learned a damned thing, as I discussed before.

Peter Beinart argues that we should want Rubio over Trump because “Rubio respects the Constitution, and in particular, the Bill of Rights. Trump does not.” First, that isn’t at all clear. Should Trump win the presidency, he is going to learn what all new presidents learn: he doesn’t have as much power as he thinks he has. Governments are a whole lot more than their leaders. So how did Hitler take total control of Germany? How did Mussolini take total control of Italy? Both men had their own private militaries. Is Trump going to destroy the Bill of Rights with a barrage of nasty tweets?!

Each iteration of Republican gets worse. But if Trump is a new model, he’s Republican 3.01, not Republican 4.0.

Oh, and Trump says the things out loud that the other Republican candidates only imply! Oh, what a difference that has made in our country! All those African Americans who are blown away by police each year don’t have to hear the n-word first! Yes, this is a good reason to support Rubio. Because it is clear that… Wait, it actually doesn’t make any sense at all.

But one thing is certain, according to Peter Beinart, “Once Trump is nominated, America will have crossed a line.” Really?! If that’s true, it’s an arbitrary line. He wrote, “A man who does not respect Constitutional limits and who preys upon vulnerable minorities will lead one of the two major parties.” I would say that applied to Ronald Reagan and there were plenty of liberals at the time who said the same thing. Each iteration of Republican gets worse. But if Trump is a new model, he’s Republican 3.01, not Republican 4.0. Beinart is basically saying that the Nazi Party would have been better in a fundamental sense, if they hadn’t said bad things about Jews, but still rounded them up and worked them to death.

The truth is that I basically agree with Peter Beinart’s conclusion. It’s just his logic that makes no sense. I think Marco Rubio is a political lightweight. He’s only reached the heights he has because he’s good at sucking up to the right people. I would look forward to seeing Rubio and Clinton on the stage in a debate. No reasonable person could see them together and conclude that Rubio is fit to run this country. Trump, on the other hand, is light on his feet. He is charismatic. Under the right circumstances, he could win.

But Peter Beinart’s idea that Rubio would be a better choice for America is one of the stupidest arguments I’ve heard in the last couple of years.

Morning Music: Science Fiction Double Feature

Rocky Horror Picture Show - Science Fiction Double FeatureWhen I was a teenager, my girlfriend forced me to go to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least a dozen times. I hated it. I still think it is a film that could have been great, but is just silly in the most adolescent way imaginable. I read an interview with Richard O’Brien many years ago. In it, he said he wrote it in response to Jesus Christ Superstar. He said that a rock opera should not be about religion but about sex. Fair enough. But did it have to be a 14 year old boy’s idea of sex as he flips the pages of Playboy? But I always loved the opening, “Science Fiction Double Feature.”

What I like in the film is what most people miss: the parody of low budget science fiction and horror films of the 1940s and 1950s. Brad and Janet get stuck in the middle of nowhere when their car breaks down. So they go to the mansion nearby. And they find — Surprise! — a mad scientist. But not just any mad scientist, a “sweet transvestite.” It’s hysterical, but only in the context of oh so many films I’ve seen where this happened but the mad scientist wasn’t a transvestite.

Why “Science Fiction Double Feature” Is the Best Song

Given it is the old movie angle of the film that I like, it should come as no surprise, that my favorite song in the film is “Science Fiction Double Feature.” I still use the song to remember that Michael Rennie (a thoroughly forgettable actor) played Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still. I had thought about writing an article going over all the movie references, but Wikipedia has done a splendid job of it.

For the uninitiated, that was Richard O’Brien singing and Patricia Quinn’s lips. Quinn played Magenta in the film. But she also played the schoolmaster’s wife in the hilarious sex education skit in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

Anniversary Post: the First King Kong

King Kong 1933Given the coming morning music, it is a delight to announce at on this day in 1933, King Kong premiered at Radio City Music Hall. Something did indeed go wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong. But here’s the thing: I own all three versions of King Kong. That first one holds up pretty damned well. But it is a very silly film. What the hell is going on at that island? Dinosaurs and a really big gorilla? Think about it. If you knew nothing of film history and someone pitched this idea to you, you would think that Plan 9 From Outer Space was a better idea.

It’s amazing to compare the 1933 King Kong to the 1976 version. The problem isn’t just that they took a really silly classic and decided to treat it seriously. The truth is that the film technology really hadn’t gotten any better in the four decades between the two. If you haven’t watched the films much, you probably think of the big battle on top of the tall buildings. This is because those are the scenes that people show. But if you watch both films all the way through, what you most take away is King Kong mooning over Ann (or, inexplicably, Dwan, in the 1976 version). I just want to smack that stupid ape. I mean Fay Wray and Jessica Lange are pretty enough, but come on!

I seem to be alone in thinking that Peter Jackson’s 2005 version is a cinematic masterpiece. I don’t mean that people dislike it. Pretty much everyone I know liked it quite a lot. But they don’t seem to recognize that it is exactly the film that everyone wanted to make but couldn’t. And yes: there are problems. There are times when the CG is notable. But this is more than compensated for Walsh and Boyens’ densely packed Great Depression setting. And the re-rendering of Carl Denham is brilliant, because let’s face it: the “good guy” in the 1933 film would never have done what he does at the end of the film. But Jack Black’s Denham would absolutely have done that.

It’s such a great film, I think I’m going to go watch it right now. And not just any version, either. I’m talking the special three and a half hour version. Although, I’ll be honest: I may skip the insect pit. It’s hard for me to watch Lumpy die that way.

But each version has it’s advantages. The 1933 version was an amazing achievement for its time. And the 1976 version showed that Jeff Bridges really is at his best when selling cars.

Afterword: King Kong Remakes

I like this video comparison. I don’t fully agree with it. It suffers from my typical complaint of critics. The worst he has to say of the original is that it is dated, which is not really a criticism but an objective fact. And his complaints about the 2005 version are made up. He’s decided that one level of excess (1933) is perfect and another (2005) is not. But in the end, he’s right: you should watch the 1933 King Kong because it is cinema history. You probably shouldn’t watch the 1976 version, unless you are like me and you like dorky films. And you should watch the 2005 version because it is great. And I’ll bet you anything that you cry at the end.