There are two kinds of film enthusiasts in the world.
The kind that watch films to lose themselves in an hour or two of escapism, and those (all four of them on earth) that watch films to lose their certainties—especially about which they didn’t previously even realize they were certain.
© Aron Hsiao / 2006
For the first group, there is nothing more important than a rollicking good story, neatly done and neatly resolved at the end. For the second group, the goal is to experience utter shock, during which nothing makes sense at all—because it is generally precisely at the moment when one least understands that one is most able to understand.
The same preferences apply to writing, with one group wanting prose that is clear and concise, and the other group seeking poetry that meanders, full of clouds and haze and turbulence that seems to obscure everything and, in so doing, reveals still more.
— § —
We are offered two competing visions of society today.
The meritocratic-left vision proposes that the spoils go to the winners—to those most endowed with the talents relevant to an age. Those least so endowed and up with little or nothing. This, we are told by the meritocratic left, is as just as can be managed in a universe of fundamentally unjust human systems.
The loyalist-right vision proposes that the spoils go to the ruling house—to whomever is best able to hold power and tie it to a historical-ethnonationalist claim. Those with the right lineage and position in “the story” sit in the privileged seats. Those who do not belong to the story get nothing in “our” system—and should seek out and dwell in the system in which their story holds power.
Both of these—and, say, Leninist systems besides—make the same mistake, at least in practice and secretly also in aim, though this is often hushed up just a bit for the sake of public relations.
The vast majority of the population in all of them… do not matter.
It is not a problem that there are winners—but it remains a significant and intractable problem that there are so very, very many losers. Conventional wisdom says that you can’t have a society without winners and losers, and this seems to have been empirically borne out over many centuries of history.
But can there be a system without losers? Can we have winners and not-winners, without having, as it were, losers who are required to hang their heads in shame, and ultimately destined to live shorter, far more miserable lives in which they quite literally do not matter to anyone and have no place in things other than to wait for their deaths and be allocated few or no resources in the meantime so as to hasten the same?
— § —
In traditional systems, this problem is solved by family. To family, one always matters, whether in a positive way or in a negative way. Family is the great antidote to anomie.
But in the modern world, we have done away with these ties, for the most part.
Some meritocratic-leftie out there is currently saying “But you matter to me! Everyone matters to me! Certainly my friends and neighbors matter to me!” Meanwhile, some loyalist-rightie is saying, “In our nation, if you really belong to the nation, we are all brothers. All family. It is the outsiders that have to worry.”
Whichever one of these sounds like you, you’re lying.
What, after all, is it to matter?
When the gun is against your temple, your family member will offer to take your place. That is what it is to matter. All these lefties that say “X, Y, and Z all matter to me” will still happily place their own lives ahead of others. There are limits, after all. Amd all these righties that say, “we’re all family here, all of us volk” will immediately turn on and even seek to destroy anyone who undermines in some way the story.
© Aron Hsiao / 2006
In the modern world, we do not matter to anyone. In theory, we still matter to our families, but our families have been dissolved. They’re abstract and historical, like maps that show what was on the island of Manhattan before New York City existed.
And for all the virtue signalling on the left about everyone mattering to everyone in our enlightenment, and for all the sturm und drang about how the people are a tight-knit national family of kinsmen, what we really have is a world in which we’ve traded meaning for agency.
— § —
“What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss…? You’ve been putting it up your entire life. You just didn’t know it. You know the date on this coin…? 1958. It’s been travelling 22 years to get here, and now it’s here and it’s either heads or tails… Everything. You stand to win everything. Call it.” (Anton Chigurh)
“I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream. That’s my nightmare: crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor and surviving.” (Colonel Kurtz)
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” (Roy Batty)
— § —
What nobody questions and all take for granted is (1) the importance of material freedom as an end in itself, and (2) the reduction of “freedom” as a set of possibilities to a single concept in a single domain of human being.
Well we’re all “free” now. One way or another, we’ll have our freedom, because every system of society proposed for the last two centuries valorizes it. We’ll have it as the proletariat, or as the volk, or as the liberal meritocrats. What we mustn’t ever, ever do is look for something else. Something better. Because we must have our freedom—and so we will.
But as a result, nothing—including ourselves—matters. It turns out that while freedom may not “be free,” it is nonetheless shallow and venal in the end.
Freedom, as conceived by moderns, is orthogonal to meaning. Write that down.
— § —
In the darkness, in those cases in which none of the loose ends are tied and chaos reigns—only then does truth peek through.
The web of reasoned arguments, emotional appeals, and general certainties is so opaque as to be impenetrable. There are few places where it can be torn.
Cinema is one of them, once in a great, long while. More are born than survive into adulthood; there are many forces along the way that can’t bear the sight of truth any longer and try desperately to paper them over for a grateful public.
— § —
I don’t have many friends because most everyone, on all sides of the aisle—is working to exacerbate the problem. It’s unwitting, sure. It’s clueless naiveté. But I want no part of it.
In the end, in a world in which even family is a myth from the lost shadows of time, and the plebes and elites alike are relieved that we are no longer so burdened by such unfreedom as were the long-suffering ancients, most “friends” and I just wouldn’t matter—really matter—to each other anyway.
A counselor once tried to convince me that not having many friends is a tragedy. But life is short and friends are a poor replacement for human dignity. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Better to go to the films alone.