Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Saw Collateral with my wife. Okay, so it was good to see Cruise as a crook and having a nice cold look of bad guy, BUT....

Bang-bangs don’t work as good philosophy because even though Cruise’s character made nice statements of alienation and detachment, who can identify with a cold blooded killer? French New Wave was better and Ingmar Bergman. Which is what Collateral did: took a nice Bergmanesque bourgeois Swedish man and made him into an American killer. Don’t work.

People like short order cooks or like the Bill Murray character in “Lost In Translation” can act from existential motives too, and a story about an unarmed short order cook suffering his loneliness in a walk up room is very real, maybe too real for those who always want to escape. The only real escape from short order existential angst is to walk through the fire and get there by the shortest road possible which is circular and certainly not the straight and narrow. Once you arrive you’ll find that existential realism is the only happiness in town.


Spokesman (8/15/04, p. A7) passes on the story of Richmond, Texas murderer who supposedly repented and confessed to murder after viewing “The Passion of the Christ”. I believe it, but I also know a secret. The guy was always a sad sack Christian with no self-worth or he wouldn’t have killed someone as he did. Have you ever wondered why so many death row dudes find Christ and repent right after they kill someone? Why don’t they discover how our Christian culture has shortchanged them and abandon the Christian culture for something more real before they commit the act of murder? In my point of view, simplistic religiosity is at the root of every murderer I ever heard of. When we no longer believe in sin we will no longer need murder to unloose our pent up pain.


Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves cites studies that show the human animal in evolving his value systems has had to deal with a tendency to reach for the grape near to hand rather than look ahead to the two grapes in the bush just around the next corner.

Dennett brings in Ulysses’s temptation by the Sirens as a case in point. Ulysses doesn’t trust himself to hold out against temptation so he prepares in advance for his trial, has his men tie him to the mast. Ulysses knows himself and “he knows what evolution has provided for him: a slightly second-rate faculty of reason that will cause him to take the immediate payoff... unless he takes steps now to distribute his decision-making over more favorable times and attitudes.” (p. 206)

Dennett quotes Robert Frank’s "Passions Within Reason": “It is important to stress that the experimental literature does not say that immediate payoffs get too much weight in every situation. It says only that they always get very heavy weight. On balance, that was likely a good thing in the environments in which we evolved. When selection pressures are intense, current payoffs are often the only ones that matter. The present, after all, is the gateway to the future.” (p. 89)

Of course, if the human animal now does demonstrate a semblance of free will and, therefore, a reliable level of trustworthiness, it’s important that it’s learned to delay gratification rather than be a slave to its emotions. It’s quite a balancing act, to get what you need in the present for surviving and to still get the benefits that cooperators get, to be trusted and not trusted at the same time.

Why does a human animal need to be trusted and not trusted at the same time? If competitors think you are an easy target who can be trusted to remain passive while he screws you, then you’re an easy target. Therefore, you must demonstrate an ability to fly off in a rage without actually flying off in a rage. If you are too rageful, then people who tend to cooperate with others will not trust you. Therefore, you will be able to hold off the aggressor, but you won’t be able to succeed like cooperators can succeed. You’ll survive, but your life won’t be as fulfilling, because alone. Doesn’t this answer all your questions about whether or not you’re a winner or a loser? This balancing act between being a member of society and an outsider and how that’s hooked into our animal nature? Get the balance too far to either extreme and you lose. Good reason for moderation in all cases?

How do we prove we’re trustworthy? Swearing on a Bible used to be an accurate indicator of our trustworthiness to other humans. What happened to that? We have to find ways to indicate that we are trustworthy to our fellow humans, but, as Dennett points out, “Swearing on a Bible is an empty ceremony that cannot convey usable information, since if it were to get started as a signal of reliability, it would immediately be copied and used by all the unreliable types, and hence lose its credibility and fall into disuse. You might try to save it by inflating the ceremony—I’ll swear on two Bibles, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles—but the fruitlessness of this inflation is obvious, isn’t it? So here is the main problem: not just how can you make yourself into an agent that can be trusted in commitment problem cases, but how can you credibly advertise the fact that you are to be trusted?” (Dennett, pp. 204-205.)

This post grows too long. I hope I remember to get into the discussion later about how society is in a constant flux because of fake cooperators, trying to mix it up with the noncooperators and the cooperators.

"There is no money in poetry, but then there is no poetry in money either." —Robert Graves

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