Thoughts on “Everything Everywhere All the Time”

March 10, 2023 at 12:33 pm (By Amba)

Crazy movie, reflective of the times. Infinite multiple universes is sort of a clever, diverting explanation for why nothing makes sense and it’s all coming at us too fast—less depressing than information overload and societal collapse. The survival skills required—fast reflexes and split-second ingenuity—are cleverly compared to superhero skills. You have to act without understanding—not only is there no time for understanding, but it’s not forthcoming. Variations on “But it doesn’t make any sense” are the most repeated line in the film.

The movie combines the popular genres of superhero special-effects action film and romantic dramedy. There’s quite a lot of family pain in it—any mother trying to save a self-destructive, alienated teen-age daughter from drugs or suicide will relate—as well as economic precarity and the struggling immigrant’s fear of Authority and women with unexpressed talents and dreams, and the more universal feeling that you’ve wasted your life and your potential. Everything everywhere packed into 2 hours. And the truism (verging on banality) that only love and kindness can make the lion (IRS agent) lie down with the lamb and bind all the shattered fragments together. I burst out laughing many times and also cried—couldn’t help it—it was sort of reliably wrung from me the way a vibrator makes you come whether you’re in the mood or not. Hollywood movies are engineered for that. The best part of the movie was the absurd humor. (An everything bagel has become a black hole. Rolly-eye stick-ons become power-conferring bindi dots.) The most interesting part was the acid-trippy strobing of one’s actual past and infinite possible selves.

So is it “good”? I’m not sure a movie can be “good” without a clear, strong storyline. But that dates me. That relic of a bygone era (the Newtonian storyline?) has been blown out of the water by . . . technology, which makes too much possible all at once and has scrambled both our world and our brains. At least the movie finds a way to represent that.

But does it deserve the Oscar?

It’s interesting that the IMDb reviews are so split. Some people really got it (especially the emotional subtext) and loved it. Others hated it. Not much in between that I could see.

My favorite image for the unraveling of it all remains Ursula K. LeGuin’s in The Lathe of Heaven, where the force undoing everything emanates from the black hole at the heart of a Bill Gates–like world-perfecting world-destroyer. And after that process is heroically stopped, what’s left is a lovable, highly imperfect jumble of all the worlds that have been tried.


Here is another take on the movie, specifically from an immigrant-family perspective. The alienation between generations is hardly exclusive to immigrant families—given rapid technological and cultural change, different American generations inhabit different worlds, period—but that tension is ratcheted up a couple of orders of magnitude when the generation gap spans space and language as well as time. (One thing I loved about this movie is the seamless mixture of Chinese and English Evelyn and Waymond speak and, for sure, think in. You overhear countless conversations lie that on the streets of New York.)

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Things too Dangerous to Say on Social Media

June 10, 2022 at 11:54 am (By Amba) (, )

I put here, on the assumption that very few people will tear themselves away from Twitter, etc., long enough to look. (Not that I have anything I can be canceled from. Obscurity confers freedom of speech.)

Woke totalitarianism:

Maybe the main thing wrong with it is that there are too many white people running it. Again!

“Wokeness” began as raised consciousness of two truths: 1) racism profoundly, multigenerationally, deliberately deprived and damaged people of color, economically and psychologically; 2) present racism persists, insidious and poorly hidden, alongside the lingering effects of past, cruder racism.

“Woke totalitarianism,” however, seems largely driven by white people wanting to get out ahead of what white people perceive as “guilt” and “blame” by bullying other white people.

Why don’t white people just stay out of it and let people “of color,” with their very diverse views and ideas, hash out among themselves what is in their best interests?

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May 12, 2022 at 1:47 am (By Amba) ()

If I could vomit up a lump of industrial slag it still wouldn’t be an adequate depiction of the chaos, the crisis, the detritus, the deformity, the goya monsters gagged up out of crude oil slime pits.

The situation is so absurd, not only mine but everyone’s. Human being has become unworkable. We’re all suffering from nonsense. We’ve created a world that doesn’t align with our own needs. It’s made from our craving, boredom and greed. Nature and its extensions into culture which used to cool and channel all that has become occluded, crippled. We’re destroying our own support system, not only physically but psychically. We don’t know how to live in this world of our own creation because it’s nonsense. Hubris has unmoored us.

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Pregnant People

October 11, 2021 at 10:13 am (By Amba) (, , , )

I have two reactions to an article about COVID and “pregnant people.” (It was funny to see that article slip back into “pregnant women,” only to yank itself out of that lapse of attention and get the right words in the display window again. Editorial regression.)

1.) Are there really a lot of non-women “pregnant people,” or are we just scanning the horizon anxiously for offense we might give, inadvertently wounding or excluding a few? White, straight people belling themselves like cats, to walk jangling with warnings, “Here comes a predator”? Of course, probably more than there are pregnant trans men (is that common? what effect do male hormones have on a fetus?), there are people we might call “women” who would call themselves nonbinary “they”s out of “solidarity” (what a solemn, stilted language we speak with a Twitter gun to our heads) with “obligatory” nonbinary people and out of a desire to revolutionize what’s regarded by conservatives as “human nature,” but what is really a jumble of nature, habit, history, custom, prejudice, and inertia. With the latter I have some sympathy, but utopian projects always run up against . . . something. The aforementioned jumble, like the barriers of debris left by a receding flood. Don’t underestimate the power of inertia—thousands of years of it, propelled by no-longer-existent survival conditions—or confuse it with nature. It was a selective shaping of nature to begin with.

“Human nature” is code for “the way we used to do things” when we had much smaller populations under very different threats. There are differences—maybe greater between individuals than between sexes—but we don’t really know what they are, because they’re obscured by what we’ve made out of them. It’s like trying to learn about ore by studying an airplane.

So while I’m turned off by the goose-stepping enforcement and the absolute humorlessness of self-appointed victim-advocate-bullies, the gender revolution has a point—a point which as usual, we’re turning into an intolerant caricature and a new conformity, when it was supposed to increase freedom.

My other reaction is much simpler:

2) Thanks for finally admitting that women are people!

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Drugs and me

September 23, 2021 at 11:27 am (By Amba) (, , )

Comments I wrote on this Freddie de Boer post about falling out with marijuana. It’s worth reading the post and the comments, where all sorts of varied insights are shared.

Interesting. I never got into the regular or frequent marijuana smoking habit the way it seems the vast majority of my peers did (I’m an old, VERY old baby boomer). I actually never bought any (true, though it sounds even to me like Bill Clinton saying “I didn’t inhale”). I was the mooch who smoked it when it was passed around at parties or when friends or siblings had some, and I had fantastic, fascinating, strange and pleasurable experiences, which were few enough so I still remember most of them in detail. I didn’t WANT to smoke it more often precisely because these experiences were so special and different. I would ponder each one for days or weeks afterward. I’m still pondering them!Recently I’ve occasionally accepted hits (vape or smoke) without much effect, despite the fabled strength of cultivated strains. (Whereas one or two hits of a joint at a new year’s party around 1980 sent me through the roof.) I also recently had my first tiny edible, a little iridescent gel cube, and enjoyed it a lot—it was a laughing strain. I’ve never done shrooms (synthetic mesc was as far as I got into psychedelics before I met Mr. Clean, who literally made me flush the remaining caps down the toilet—but that’s another story; I found the mesc fairytale magical, and I still ponder that too, but not mystical or ego-annihilating). I fully intend to do some when my responsibilities lighten, and I look forward to it.
I still have the rare mesc flashback, 50 years later, when I’m in some altered state like from being hungry or sleep-deprived, or for reasons unknown. I’ll be riding the New York subway, and adults will begin looking to me like borderline monsters, their faces twisted from within by trauma and avidity. If there is a small child in sight, I’ll look at the child for relief. They are perfect, pure as candles, like angels in hell.
I most definitely do not need the self-critical thing. I have more than enough of that sober.

I know two people who may well have been tipped into schizophrenia by [marijuana]. Apparently it’s known that multiple genes are involved in the susceptibility. There almost should be a “don’t smoke [lots of] weed” genetic test.

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Privilege and Sacrifice

September 15, 2021 at 7:09 pm (By Amba) (, )

Much of my time in Chicago has been spent rereading the journal and letters of my uncle,* Alan Gottlieb, who died in a Naval Air Force training accident in Vero Beach, Florida, in 1943, two months to the day before his 23rd birthday. (I had read them decades ago, but remembered only highlights.) My mom wants to include his voice in an appendix to her memoir, the very purpose of which is to gather the lost—including two suicides, whose names were never spoken again per Jewish tradition—back into the ongoing family.

Alan’s death has been handed down as a tragic accident and a noble, if wasteful, sacrifice. To my surprise, as I read his thoughts and his voice danced to life in me, I came to see it, instead, as both a totally routine budget item of war and a kind of heroic, quixotic suicide. I wrote in my journal about his.

I went through Alan’s journals almost word for word, inhabiting his lively voice and immersing myself in his living presence to the extent that I began to struggle in protest as I was pulled toward the inexorable falls of his fate, No! No! Don’t extinguish this light! but it already happened almost 80 years ago! Mom grieving it again as if it was something I accompanied and comforted her in rather than something I instigated (at her behest, to get Alan’s voice into the memoir). I typed out passages into the new computer, and there were things missing that I remembered: a kinesthetic description of standing on the pedals of a dive bomber during a run; a paradox about the “constructively destructive” use of his new skills in war. I rummaged in the disorganized files (so like mine) and found both, one among letters a girl friend (not girlfriend) had given his mother, the other on file cards typed out by Dad, perhaps the best saved of faded or damaged letters. (How did he do it?)

Two things became clear. One was that if Alan hadn’t died as and when he did, there’s a high chance he would’ve died as a dive bomber pilot working off a carrier, the role he was training for. Those guys were the next thing to kamikazes. Even dying in training as he did was commonplace; he’d lost several friends in crashes before his. I told David it was as if they (the masters of war) were just throwing handfuls of flesh into a spinning fan blade. . . . The second is that Alan chose this self-sacrificial role. If his death was in part the Navy’s fault, it was also his own. He was being groomed for leadership and could have saved himself for that role. Should he have? He would have been a liberal leading light, a Jewish Kennedy, surely a senator, maybe even the first Jewish president—he was WASPy-looking enough. 😜And, in the supremest of ironies, he might well have been assassinated. His loss was anyway an early falling spark in that arc that led us to this dark place.

It’s easy to fall into fantasies of “the best and the brightest,” to flatter oneself that the loss of a sensibility so gently reared, so cultivated and self-cultivated, was a bigger loss than the closing of any anonymous consciousness that never was incubated in the Ivy League or singled out by the spotlight of Eleanor Roosevelt’s attention. But that was exactly what Alan felt obliged to escape. He had an early sense of the injustice and also of the emasculation of “privilege.” He felt he had to put himself at physical risk both to purge himself of that and to stretch himself, to break out of that coddling and self-congratulatory confinement.

I can relate.

The biggest paradox of all for me is that *he could only be my uncle dead. If he had lived for however much longer, the world would have been shifted the millimeter or more it took for a different sperm to meet a different egg at a different time and place, and someone else would exist in my place—in all our places.

It might have been better that way. But this is what we’ve got.

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I contradict myself

July 12, 2021 at 12:15 pm (By Amba) ()

Do my views and posts seem ideologically contradictory? They are.

I have an allergy to “ism.” That little suffix is like the spike protein—the mechanism by which a mental virus pries its way into your brain. Anything with an “ism” tacked onto it already has designs on you.

I hate prefabricated sets of positions that come all glued together. There’s no space to think in between the parts. The parts don’t move.

I love a good argument. I’ll take one in even if I end up spitting most of it out. I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of truth in there and I want it. My mind can be changed, or at least complicated.

No mind can come anywhere near the serenely self-contradicting complicatedness of reality.

Add another curlicue

to my convoluted worldview!

Please do!

Thinking is just doodling, anyway.

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21st century religious wars?

April 4, 2021 at 2:04 pm (By Amba) (, )

I’m hiding this here because some of it will be rude to say in public on Easter morning.

These Daily Beast headlines (I’m not bothering to link, they will be paywalled) . . .

. . . together with much recent commentary on how the tribal, zealous, and transporting aspects of religion seem to have migrated over to politics, coalesced in my mind into the realization that we are actually fighting a religious war, just like those that have racked the West throughout so many other centuries.

For the right, “socialism” IS Satan. For the left, science IS gospel. The right has specialized in the crusade of conquest. The left has a lock on penitence. Both practice conversion and excommunication. Each is sure they hold the truth and the other is demonic.

This in turn brought me (by a winding path, admittedly) to the thought that the world would be unimaginably different if the Abrahamic religions had never arisen. And that they may have been the single most toxic and warping factor in human history.

They have certainly been a key to our species’ “success” in the short term—the whole globe having been dragged into this juggernaut by “the West”—but success down a wrong path is mega-failure waiting to happen.

Polytheism, pantheism, nature worship—are they more live-and-let-live, or am I romanticizing them? The impulse to conquest (as opposed to just tribal rivalry and territorial skirmishing) comes with civilization (and its nomadic pastoral predators), which arises from agriculture. But somehow Abrahamic monotheism supercharged it.

It’s fascinating to see how ideas mutate and hybridize, taking on new power and sometimes monstrosity in the process. Neither communism nor democracy would likely exist if not for Christianity. Western Communism x Eastern Confucianism spawned particularly deadly strains.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

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“Retrospective inevitability”

April 1, 2021 at 9:43 am (By Amba)

from 2017

It only just struck me that “Que sera sera” needs a counterpart for later in life. “Que fue fue?” How would you say “What was, was” or “What has been, has been”?

It’s the sense in which the events of your life were, not by any means inevitable, but … the dominoes fell as they did. If you could go back and change any one thing, it would change everything downstream. The meeting of a particular sperm and egg being as contingent as it is, the same people wouldn’t even be here. Dependent co-arising leads to something like “retrospective inevitability.” “It has to have been that way.” If you could erase the bad it would also erase the good. Regrets rot the harvest.

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Creative destruction?

March 30, 2021 at 10:15 am (By Amba)

(Cross-posted to A Cold Eye)

I was thinking about how anything that escapes regulation, coöpts its environment, and grows unchecked, heedless of its place in a whole, is cancer-like. Wealth in late capitalism. The human population.

But there’s no escaping a larger whole. Even cancer plays its part. It creates opportunities for worms. And funeral directors. And pharma companies and cancer centers. Wealth creates opportunities for merchants and crafters of luxury goods, for services and servants, and for thieves and revolutionaries. The growing human population creates opportunities for pigeons and sparrows, parasites and viruses, inventors of ways to extract more, and now maybe even to extract more while destroying less.

It’s a free-for-all. Everything’s eating and competing, hijacking and hitchhiking on everything else. Don’t be so moralistic. Join the party.

As if you had a choice.

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