This page contains serious articles with a certain dose of necessary negativity. Some are quite out there, so brace yourselves. However, none are meant to hurt anyone. I’ve written them to maybe open some minds and make people consider certain ideas and perspectives they might have overlooked.
[new stuff goes to the bottom of the page]
The following is an old article from the old website. It was very important at the time. Now, the events it narrates aren’t hot news any longer. But I believe it’s still worth reading.
“Excuse me, sir, have you seen my backpack?”
August 24th, 2018
This is a story from the first line, during the Bucharest protests. I wrote it the day after the rally and it narrates my real experience there. It is meant mainly for the people from outside Romania. Do judge the situation in my country by this essay, but don’t judge the country. From what I see, only God can save it, otherwise, much like many others, I have a suitcase packed and a booking website ready in my bookmarks.
It is now 10:30, Saturday. Yesterday, the 10th of August 2018, another protest was organised in Bucharest, against the corrupt Social-Democrat Party. This particular manifestation was different because tens of thousands of Romanians traveled from across Europe just to take part. It was going to be mainly a protest of the Romanians living abroad.
I arrived at around six in the afternoon, feeling a bit down for not being there earlier, and started walking through the crowd of thousands of people, just to see their faces. The venue, Victoria Square, coincidently homonymous with many places in the UK, and which literally means “the square of victory”, is like a large concrete field, perhaps about the size of a football pitch (if you count the nearby car park and a few walking areas, it amounts to almost twenty thousand square metres), and is surrounded by a few skyscrapers, The Museum of Natural History and, more importantly, the Victoria Palace, the house of the Government.
After minutes of wandering around, waiting for my brother to arrive, I took my position near the line of iron fences placed at a distance from the Palace, to protect it from whatever we were going to do to it. A line of gendarmes had been formed to protect the fence. Another line, behind them, to protect the first line of gendarmes. At that point, about 6:30, not much else had happened.
The people protesting had smart faces. You could read in their eyes that that was a philosophical day for them. I came near the gendarmes to look at their faces. Though I could distinguish their eyes and mouths through the transparent thermoplastic shields they were wearing, I couldn’t put together the image of a human face. They weren’t ugly, but their features were unmoved, like those of a paper statue they use in art classes to practice drawing.
Over the next few hours, more people arrived, and we spent the time shouting chants and profanities against the Social-Democrat Party. After seven, many of the people in the first line were starting to get angry.
The Victoria Palace has an enormous Romanian tri-colour flag draped over it, to cover its (fairly beautiful) architecture, in an effort to suggest some sort of patriotism on behalf of the prime minister, which for the love of all the clouds in the sky, none buys. I was near the right corner of the building, in front of the red side of the flag, where, ironically enough, the fight started.
It all began when some people came close and grabbed the fence. It was, of course, a heavy mobile sequential fence and some hoped to use one piece as a projectile. I reckon that would have been quite destructive, but the now three lines of gendarmes, mounted with helmets, shields, tactical vests, and full limb armour, and armed with rubber bats and guns, would have had no trouble holding on to the fence. Instead, they brought in the tear gas. Lots of it. Not small self-defence cans of pepper spray. Large pressurized cannons that looked like flamethrowers. It was before sunset, and the sky was blue and bright. I’m mentioning this because, to me, it looked much like an army of robots spraying a hippie convention having a picnic. This must be biased, I reckon. Some of the protesters were already quite angry and had been trash-talking to the gendarmes, but most of them were dressed in promenade clothes and, like me, never expected the gas.
The first few rounds were sprayed farther to the right from where I was, but some gendarmes picked up on the trend and slipped some gas from behind the first line, in places where nobody had moved a muscle. We took it upon ourselves to resist, like dogs. We would run away from the gases, cough it out, then come back to start barking again.
When the light started to dim, they got rid of the fences. We were now standing in front of three rows of armed gendarmes. Their faces had changed. Some of the younger ones had the distinctive terrified frown I have only seen in that Spielberg movie about Omaha Beach. Most of them were just angry, waiting for the green light to butcher us. I saw one grinning at me, shaking his pepper spray down, next to his knee. I straightened my back and looked at him. He shook his head with a wider grin, perhaps wanting to say: “you’ll see!”. I smiled at him and gave him the finger.
We started chanting “shame, shame, shame!” to the gendarmes. I’m sure most of them aren’t compatible with such feelings. This is, as I’ve learned recently, a complex emotion of which only humans are capable. But a few of them were ashamed and those were the ones the protesters chose to abuse the most. Verbal abuse, no swearing for the most part, just shaming. Breathtakingly sharp, accurate shaming. I felt bad for them. One time I even asked a man to stop because the gendarme was almost crying.
Somebody posted online that the Underground wasn’t stopping in the Victoria Square Station anymore. They were trying to avoid bringing more people. “Everything is controlled” I told somebody next to me, but they knew it and the message wasn’t passed along. I left it be and looked to the right where a mother was running with her child from the tear gasses, while the father, mad with anger, grabbed an empty plastic traffic parapet and threw it towards the gendarmes. They sprayed more gas. We backed off, then came back, like always. People threw bottles of water at their 2-inch thick helmets.
Time was passing, we were standing. They were rotating men to rest them, we were the same, for hours, without food or water, with only the tear gas to… help our thirst.
We were now about thirty metres away from the Palace. I told somebody: “I would score a free kick from here. I can almost hear them panting inside, fucking rats.” We were angry, but calm like the Ents. The gendarmes started pushing us away. I lifted my hands to show I was unarmed, innocent, but they threatened me with their bats to make me stop pushing. Three against me. I wasn’t pushing.
They moved us about twenty meters back, with force, then they stopped. We stepped towards them and started shouting “we are not leaving!”. I tucked my head between two shields, centimeters away from a gendarme’s helmet. I could smell his sweat. I kept shouting to his face, as loud as I could: “We are not leaving!”. After a while, we got tired and took a step back. We lifted our arms, hand in hand, and stood against them peacefully. Some protesters to my right were angrier. They were fighting but would have been no match for even a third of all the armoured gendarmes.
We sat down.
One foot away from the forest of heavy black boots, we sat down on the ground. I had my backpack on my lap. We started shouting “put down the shields!”. A man in a wheelchair came to the first line, next to me. “Let’s see if you throw gas on him” I screamed. A few men to my left lowered their shields to expose their torsos, but only for a minute. The rest stood still.
We sat for some time, I can’t recall how long, but at about something past 11:00 pm (as I learned later), an order was signed by the Prefect of Bucharest, to authorize the use of brute force.
That is, indeed, what every one of the gorillas had been waiting for. They started marching against us. We were sitting. I never believed they would actually run us over, so I remained seated. I was the last to get up, pulled with both hands by my brother.
I dropped my backpack and it remained behind the chain of gendarmes. I caught a glimpse of a woman officer taking it and throwing it in the opposite direction. We had to run, because they started beating us with the bats and spraying so much tear gas that it made the air look like mist. The gendarmes backed away because of the gas but started throwing fire-crackers towards us. A man had passed out in the middle of the now emptied square and the gendarmes moved towards him. I presume, not to help him. I, with a few other men, threw myself against their shields to stop them and take him out. We didn’t know each other, it was just instinct. They brought more tear gas. We had to do everything without breathing because tear gas is so potent that you can pass out if you take a deep breath. It’s not like smoke. It stings and feels much like a liver punch.
For some reason, I still couldn’t comprehend the fact that I was in the middle of a guerrilla war. I could hear guns shooting rubber bullets. I had my hands up, one of the few walking around confused through the square. Gendarmes were hunting down the incapacitated men like you do when you pick up a box of needles from the floor: make sure there’s none left. I couldn’t see anyone fighting anyone, anymore. Maybe they stopped, maybe they moved out of my sight. I could only see people filled with confusion.
I approached a gendarme and said:
“Excuse me, sir, I lost my backpack.”
He ignored me. I moved around for a few seconds, then saw another one. I approached him with my hands up and said with the tone you use when you ask for directions:
“One word, excuse me, sir, have you seen a backpack? I lost my backpack. I had my harmonica in it and a book.” (I had One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez. Maybe the gendarme didn’t know what a book was, and that’s where the confusion came from).
He grabbed my arm. I looked at him confused. He was not dressed in armour, but he was huge, wearing a Gendarmerie vest. He grinned and punched me in the face twice with his fist. After I recovered, I bulged my eyes and looked around to find an escape. He called for another man, who grabbed my hair and put a palm in my face. I hitched my arms. I received another punch in the head, but I managed to run. I sprinted away from a few of them, but others gathered in an ambush and tackled me. They threw themselves over me and started punching and hitting me with sticks. I was screaming: “I’m not fighting, I’m not belligerent”. They told me to shut up and grabbed me. One grabbed one leg, one another leg, two grabbed each of my arms and one put an elbow around my neck. I stopped moving and enjoyed the ride. They threw me in the van with two other people (one with blood gushing from his skull) and squeezed a gendarme with us. They shouted at me to move, but the car only had three seats in the back. They pushed me, so I had to squish the two other men. I apologized to them. One of them was using paper tissues to stop his bleeding. He offered me one for my own wounds but begged me to not take too many because he needed them. He did, I only took one half to wipe the blood off my lips. He was then taken in an ambulance and I remained alone with the other gentlemen. We started talking somewhat wittily about our lives. I told him: “You know, it’s strange, two weeks ago I was shaking the hand of the Chancellor of Warwick University, receiving my degree, now I get beaten by gendarmes in Romania. I was so happy to be coming back home to my dear Bucharest. I’m an idiot, you know?”
We saw people with cervical collars and with open wounds, being rushed into ambulances. I thanked God I had escaped with a beat-up and I was safe in the van. I begged the guard to let me call my brother and tell him to go home and to let my dad know I was fine. My battery was low. He let me send a WhatsApp voice message, but after 30 seconds, he said it was taking too long and shouted at me that he would take my phone and smash it if I didn’t put it down.
They kept the two of us in the van for about two hours. They called in a representative or some sort of superior, he listened to what we had to say, wrote down our details, said we would receive a fine in the mail, then released us separately. They instructed me to walk straight and see if I find a taxi. I asked him if he had a white cloth to lend me, to wave it as I go. When I started walking, I had to keep my hands up, as if I had been in a war zone. A few police cars were on the street, and the officers were looking at me aggressively. I kept walking and saw an ambulance with about fifteen doctors chatting. I approached one and asked for some ice. He said they didn’t have any and the other ignored me. It was like I was begging for cash. You know, just your average Romanian doctor, making Hippocrates proud.
My phone was dead. The streets were empty, and no taxi would stop. I walked for an hour, begging for a charger in two gas stations. …They didn’t use chargers, perhaps they only had landlines, I should assume…
I think it was after 2:00 am, but I couldn’t be sure… I had no clock. I know I eventually found a taxi willing to take me only after I agreed to pay him double the price for the ride. When I arrived home, the time was 2:45.
It is now 3:00 pm as I am finishing this story. I am brewing a cup of yerba mate because I can’t really eat. I can’t chew, my mouth is a bit too swollen, and my neck is still irritated from the gases. I can’t laugh painlessly, either, although I want to. I feel proud. I feel proud for not laying a finger on anyone, for not throwing a piece of paper, for not pushing a single gendarme. I feel proud for standing up in an almost empty square, in the dark, with rubber bullets flying around and shrapnel grenades exploding on the ground. I feel proud for coming home from the cosy comfort of the three years spend at a desk in the UK, to be there, in the first line, with the pepper spray next to my face, alongside thousands of other people, to let the Romanian Politicians know that we are so far above them intellectually and in our heroism, that they can’t even see us, and they believe we don’t exist. I feel proud for being beaten because I asked to have my Marquez back.
They will need a lot of wind to break a tree like our generation. Until then, let them beat us until they grow weary.
The Democratization of Excellence
May 29th, 2021
I have two little devils sitting on each of my shoulders. One is telling me to write this article and one is telling me not to. They both want me to be slaughtered. As you can see, I’ve chosen to write it. It’s because I believe that if I didn’t, I’d be rightfully slaughtered in hell, whereas if I do, I’ll just go through a half-deserved purgatory.
So, here it is:
I… have a problem. I mean, like in “what the hell is your problem, dude?”. That kind of problem. And it’s this: I don’t believe in the democratization of excellence.
By “excellence”, I mean the state one is in when they have understood and assimilated the nature of a certain field and are performing the crafts associated with that field in a way that is pushing its maximum conceivable value. Like Martin Scorsese or Billy Wilder in film. Like Einstein or Feynman in Physics. Like Magnus Carlsen or Garry Kasparov in chess. You get the idea.
By “democratization”, I mean the alignment of the standards of that field (that is, the standard by which we define it) to what can be considered a manageable level by the general population. And I can add: all in the foolish attempt to please and engage the masses, to generate more consumption.
I will argue that this is – in two words: short-minded.
Now, the ugly bit is that most people reading this article aren’t excellent. At least, not by the standards I’ve proposed. The beautiful bit is that a lack of excellence doesn’t translate as a failed life. Unless you’re obsessed with the dream of excellence, which means you’re a victim of a modern trend which – rather cliche, people have come to attribute to “millennials” – whatever they mean by that.
On the other hand, most of us want to be excellent and make a reasonable point of trying. We, of course – purely circumstantially – associate excellence with a better standard of living and increased happiness – although we have countless examples of excellent artists living miserable lives in the name of art (I think of them as saints), in such great numbers that I personally view this association as downright childish.
Also, just to take the “who’s talking” out of the way: whether or not I’m excellent is completely irrelevant to whether or not I’m right. I’m not delivering you insights from the world of excellence, I’m presenting an argument. And, as 9th-grade Logic will teach you (at least where I went to school), the nature of the speaker, the creator of the argument, is irrelevant to its validity.
Of course, many find this rather counterintuitive, but that is because, especially with the rise of the internet, we have gotten used to hearing bold statements, seldom supported by arguments at all, and thus the validity of the source has become our only line of defense in the face of disinformation.
The fancy talk just really means “don’t pretend to be offended and walk away, keep reading”.
For one, how does the democratization of excellence manifest itself?
The keyword – I’d say about as important as the two that make up the concept itself – is dilution. What I mean is: it’s not that we no longer recognize any truly excellent work. It’s that we’ve extended that accolade in order to include more stuff – to please the increasingly loud mass of people whose busy parents haven’t had time to teach them what reaching excellence really involves and are frustrated that taking a 90-minute course on Skillshare or watching some videos from masterclass.com isn’t getting them there. And they make a lot of noise about how the “community of excellent people” is uptight and doesn’t understand them. When Umberto Eco said this, a few years ago, he was called out on Facebook by a bunch of frustrated users and insulted (ironically, by the very people he was referring to who ironically felt offended and ironically acted exactly as they were accused). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Umberto Eco said that Facebook has given the stage to a generation of idiots – which is a very impolite way of putting it, but which, if taken with a pinch of salt, is tragically accurate.
Concrete examples? School is a mainstream one. There is a trend of demystifying school that came out of raw necessity and has grown into madness. Hear me out!
There was a point in history when a trend started aiming to make knowledge available to as many people as possible. This wasn’t a staple throughout history, it was a novelty, an extravagance. The unfortunate reality is that for most of history, education was a privilege.
Ok, so what? Well, the idea is that something expensive is treated differently from something readily available.
This is one side of it:.If it takes little effort to go to school (in those places where it does) and little effort to graduate, then school must be worthless. BUT, on the other hand, when virtually ANYTHING you would like to do in life requires an education, sometimes just high school, sometimes college, or even more, school becomes priceless. So, worthless and priceless at the same time. What a nightmare!
Because, we’ve made it so that you need a college education for doing way more things than you actually need a college education for, which is pressing us to make college more available, which decreases its value and makes a masters degree what college was a while ago – or what highschool was before that. We haven’t added any value, we’ve just created inflation. Which is, in this case, a synonym of dilution.
Another side of this is practicality. I was a teacher for a year and a half in one of the top high schools in Bucharest. What many of my colleagues in the teacher’s lounge were sometimes complaining about was that “kids aren’t what they used to be” – meaning that they’re undisciplined and have little interest in studying. But why is that? Realistically speaking, high school is essential in Romania, like in many other parts of the world. You can do very little if you haven’t graduated high school. On the other hand, the knowledge you can acquire in high school is valuable and can be illuminating, if not even enjoyable. You learn Physics, Math, Literature, a second and third language, HISTORY. I mean, it’s people who have mastered these fields that have moved society forward, not those who have disregarded them. So what’s the problem?
Well, for one, the problem is that society has made these kids think (or think that they think) that these subjects don’t apply to their real life. We’ve chosen to simplify our experience of life for the sake of making it accessible to as many people as possible – hence “democratization” – and, in the process, have lost the reason behind why it was so complicated. They think that an accountant has no reason to know History and end up being taken for a ride by malicious politicians and get mad at the people who try to talk sense into them. They think an engineer has no reason to read fiction and end up writing poorly, unable to express the true meaning of their thoughts, and go downright medieval-peasant angry at people who accuse them of not being eloquent.
So, how did we get here? Well, this is where the unpopular opinion comes in. We didn’t. We’re really just seeing the effects of having ignored the situation for thousands of years. When you think that most of my colleagues I mentioned earlier were born around the 1960s and went to school in the 70s and 80s, you find what they’re comparing their students to. But if you think of what school was like back then, realistically – see The 400 Blows by Truffaut – it’s rather the punitive practices, not the overall attitude of the students – that has changed.
So the students were the same?? Yes. Except, they weren’t students. You see where I’m going? It’s not so much that the students are worse (less discipline, less interest in knowledge), it’s that there are more students, most of them from families that don’t have a tradition of valuing education AND OF BEING RESPECTFUL WITH OTHERS (with the teachers, in this case).
HOW OUTRAGEOUS OF ME TO SAY THIS!! I should be burned alive, God damn me, and my name should be stricken from history for such an act of political incorrectness! But, as far as I’m concerned, friends, e pur si muove… the reality is that, from a class of 30 (we got big classes in Romania), maybe two students were reasonably mindful of the importance of education (not diplomas!!, actual knowledge). The rest were – INDIRECTLY speaking – the sons and daughters of the medieval peasants (or, more often, of people who have been corrupted into the same mindset). So, while the children of aristocrats (whom I DO NOT glorify at all) were at least taught to pretend to respect their teachers and value Latin or Shakespear, nowadays, those kids make up a smaller percentage of the whole, and the rest have really never been told why education is important.
Now, again, please don’t shoot! There’s nothing wrong with being a medieval peasant per se. Hell, I’ve recently bought a dirt-cheap house in the Romanian countryside and I simply adore my neighbors. But that doesn’t mean they understand the value of knowing Latin. And Latin is still valuable, I can bring arguments for that.
And, just to be clear (this should be fairly obvious), I’m not saying that those with a noble ancestry value education and those without, don’t. It’s about a mindset that generally comes from these archetypes, but there is a wild amount of both corruption and salvation.
A lot of my ancestors were dirt-poor, illiterate peasants. My grandfather was a teacher, though. So was my grandmother’s father. My mother has a Ph.D. So, along the way, some of them realized the value of education – granted, they had the chance to do it – and have built that into us (me and my siblings). That, and that alone, is the reason I valued education in school before I found the rational arguments to back it up.
It’s not the school’s job to make me like it. Neither is the teachers’ job to make me respect them!
So, to wrap up the school argument, the bottom line is that if we told (and convinced) kids that education is important for what it offers, not just for the diplomas – all while allowing some of them to renounce some of it without making it impossible for them to live a fulfilling life, we could restore the value of each educational step. If a kid just wants to work in a factory or be a mechanic, why the hell do they have to worry that they won’t be hired without a college degree? To make us downgrade the difficulty of getting one, thus making a fool out of those who really study hard? Demoralizing and demotivating them? Is that the idea of fairness we’re cultivating? For the kid who doesn’t want to study to be miserable because they have to and the kid who wants to study to be miserable because school offers diluted knowledge in an environment polluted by the toxic presence of those who would simply rather not be there? I don’t know, what do you think?
So, how does that apply to other fields?
Well, I’m gonna go ahead and take film as an example. Now, I know what I know about film. It’s not much compared to some. It’s a lot compared to others. And this isn’t even that important.
I don’t believe that the quality of the best movies made today is decreasing compared to any time in history. Some people do, I don’t. I’ve watched in the high hundreds of the most highly regarded movies of all time and I believe 2019 was one of the best years in the history of cinema. Parasite (!!), Joker, Ford vs. Ferrari, The Lighthouse (!!) The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit (!!), A Marriage Story, 1917, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Toy Story 4 (!!), Klaus. I’m sweating. What a time to be alive. I literally crawled in adoration watching these movies.
In the meantime, Hollywood (love you, buddy, really do, from the bottom of my heart) is consistently diluting its standards for excellence by having The Academy champion agenda work, rather than just good filmmaking. Honest, Mister! No foolin’. It’s probably a bit risky to state this outloud but it’s true. Can I say that the 93rd Academy Awards should have been skipped because, due to covid closing the cinemas, many movie releases were delayed and the standard just wasn’t there? Will that come across as “I’m a frustrated internet hater whose envy has gotten the best of”? Probably. I mean, the Ballon d’Or was skipped (the trophy for the best player in world football).
After all, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of the most excellent people in the film industry today. Most of the very people who have made me so madly in love with movies that I’m gambling my entire livelihood just to get to make them. So, who the f… am I to criticize their vote? Well… uhmm. I’m… yes… yes. Correct. I’m just a dude in Europe with a computer. I love Hollywood movies. I do. And that’s exactly why I care.
The problem with this status quo is that it is not universal. I mean, if we set a standard in America, in Hollywood, even if we all go by that standard, it will only apply to Hollywood. If we decide we should champion a form of watered-down excellence, so more can catch up and we can boast numbers and sales, it will only be our frame of reference that validates us. And, eventually, this will prove bankruptcy. It’s like communism. Everybody pretends to be just as rich, while, in comparison to the outside world, everybody is just as poor. Asia is movie heaven now (just to give an example). Corea. Japan. China. Not just Parasite. Kar-Wai Wong, Chan-wook Park, Makoto Shinkai – just off the top of my mind. I was discussing East Asian cinema and East Asian culture with my wife a few weeks ago and we both expressed huge admiration for it. She said something that I think couldn’t be put more brilliantly: “I feel what makes them so great is that they don’t fool themselves pretending that art is something just anybody can do”. Yeah. I mean, in the West, we call the stuff bored adults make in pottery class “art”.
That’s the thing. We constantly fight to make everything appear relative and subjective, so we feel better about where we are. But… take chess, for example (it’s easier to understand now that Netflix made people more familiar with it than ever). I’ve been an avid chess player for years and I can tell you from experience: in chess, whatever one says, whoever one is, bar exceptional circumstances like somebody being ill or somehow not paying attention, if you’re good, you win. You can come from the jungle or from Siberia, completely unheard of, and can beat every grandmaster in the world and you’ll be hailed as the best player. Just as well as you can have the biggest mouth or the greatest charisma or the most professional online presence and not beat anybody (there’s a tiny novel by Stefan Zweig, The Royal Game, whose plot is based on this). If everything were chess, there would be no debate like “Messi or Ronaldo”, “Jordan or Bryant” “Nike or Adidas” “Arri Alexa or Red Dragon”… I don’t know, I can’t think of many tight ones, but you get the idea. In chess, a computer literally decided Carlsen was the most accurate player in history. Some people still have other preferences in terms of style, of what they enjoy watching… and the margins are often microscopic… but they are calculable. And my opinion is that, in essence, everything is like chess. Either Messi or Ronaldo is better. Either Hoffman or De Niro, either Nike or Adidas. We just don’t have enough data or computation power to find out. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and we call it even on grounds of subjectivity. But sometimes it matters. And sometimes, it shows in the long run. And often we don’t know what the hell hit us.
And a little parenthesis: I get that the standard is also shifting, not just lowering. Or at least I hear that a lot. Look, Coppola said The Godfather wouldn’t have been made today. At that budget of close to $100 million in today’s money. That makes sense. I’ve personally found myself in physical pain trying to convince myself to watch three movies recently: Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Zach Snyder’s Justice League. They might turn out to be absolutely amazing. After all, I did enjoy Nolan’s Batman trilogy. But when I stare at the menu, ready to hit play, I stop, turn around, and watch something else. And they are some of the best superhero movies out there, apparently. I’m probably an extreme example. Too much Tarkovsky and Kourasawa for me. But I don’t think that’s the main problem. My problem is that Hollywood is the reason for all this. Hollywood is killing its auteurs by promoting high-grossing movies like this excessively. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist at all. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make money. But a great enough portion of the audience has been educated to only respond to these overly exciting spectacles. And it’s terrifying to think how this will show in the long run.
And it’s not just the movies. To me, TikTok is the scariest horror story ever told. I should probably write a whole article on this but in short, always being exposed to those bite-size videos, over and over again, every single day, “kids these days” can’t sit in a movie theatre for two hours unless something explodes every 30 seconds. Of course, nobody’s watching fucking Andrei Rublev anymore. And guess what, because of this, nobody’s making an Andrei Rublev these days. Even what’s probably the greatest movie ever made, Parasite, cost under $12 million. And that was one hell of an exciting ride.
Someone else will take over the world of film. Probably Asia. As a member of the audience, I don’t mind. Those guys and many like them are unbelievable. It’s heaven watching their movies. But as a creator, that’s a problem. Because I know English. It would be very tough to have to learn Korean or Japanese in order to work in the epicenter of the film industry. And I don’t even hold any stakes yet. Why would people who are now Hollywood royalty want Hollywood to fall second or third in the world of film? They don’t. And, Hollywood is still up there. But I’m 24. My son is one. What’s it gonna be in 50 years? And for what? Because we’re too proud to admit that being Bergman or Scorsese or Kourasawa is way harder than we’d like it to be?
Is this too harsh? Am I being unreasonable?
Let’s Talk Bullying
June 1st, 2021
This is something I’ve been planning to put out there for a long time. For years, I’ve imagined giving interviews, posting on YouTube, or even making a documentary on this topic. And I’m still up for any of that if the time comes, but I thought I’d write something here first.
Everything I’ll write here is from my experience being bullied (for about a decade) and from the years of thinking about and observing the issue. Through this article, if anyone ever reads it, I am trying to be the voice for those who might be too afraid to speak or have no one who will listen.
As for myself, I am pretty much perfectly fine now, with the exception of minor social interaction issues and the tiniest bit of anxiety, but I am an extremely fortunate case, considering my circumstances, and few are so lucky. So I am no longer emotionally affected by this topic and I am going to be very objective and detached.
This is directed especially towards teachers and parents. They are the first response team when it comes to bullying.
[Also, I initially wrote this article like a flowing text, but I decided to give it a point-by-point structure, so you don’t miss important information. Now, this change did make the text simpler, so it may feel like I’m not giving arguments for some statements. That is because those statements are supported more by anecdotal evidence].
Ok. By bullying, I mean the act of intentionally inflicting suffering upon someone for reasons other than retribution or revenge. This is the best definition I can think of. There are a few online which either miss something essential or include non-essential aspects. This one, I believe, calls it what it is.
Things you need to know
Bullying is unmotivated. Of course, there are reasons why a bully becomes a bully, but as for the situation itself, there are no reasons for bullying, by definition. I’ll bring this back up later.
Also, bullying is one-sided. In the serious sense of the term (excluding playful behavior or good-natured pranks), people cannot bully each other.
I shall now explain how the two concepts above are misunderstood and create the greatest obstacle in dealing with bullying.
“there are two sides to a conflict” or “guilt is always split in a conflict”
This is the biggest trap parents encounter. We should very firmly distance ourselves from these comforting, politically correct sayings and accept that bullying is not a conflict. In a conflict, any configuration of guilt is entirely plausible. Not in the case of bullying!
Teachers, parents, older siblings, remember this: it is a horrible idea to approach a bullying situation from an impartial perspective. If you know you are dealing with bullying, you must understand that what you have in front of you is not a tie you need to break. It is a 10-0 thrashing you must stop the second you were made wise about it. Forget about justice for a moment. I mean, forget about being right. Forget about the fear that you might take your child too seriously while they’re just crying “wolf”.
This is important because people who have not experienced consistent bullying or have a stronger personality and have not been affected by it have a hard time visualizing the effects such an attitude can have on the child. In their vulnerable situation, not being believed or being treated like an offender for taking part in the conflict can cause a lot of suffering.
A bullied person will often develop the tendency to exaggerate their problems and seek unhealthy amounts of attention. I personally don’t believe you should be an enabler. You should find the thin line between the two extremes.
Yeah… it’s messed up… bullying is messed up. From my experience, if your child is being bullied severely and you’re a little late finding out or starting to do something about it, you [unfortunately] shouldn’t be surprised if the situation causes fundamental changes in your lifestyle.
On the other hand
I need to explain something. I believe some people are born with a genetic configuration that favors aggressiveness. That being said, though, I’m not implying that a person can only be either a bully or a victim. In fact, the anecdotal evidence of bullying creating bullies is overwhelming. By no means do all victims become bullies, just as well as by no means does a history of abuse justify becoming a bully, but in practice, we do see a lot of that.
Which means that a victim can either heal (only to a degree, and I’d say less often than not), become a fantastically effective bully (since they deeply understand bullying techniques), drift into a state of depression from which they never emerge, or (sometimes alongside the previous) develop unpleasant or antisocial habits, or a repulsive personality altogether.
I have never met, nor heard of a person who was severely bullied as a child and has healed completely.
Some other important aspects
1. Once bullied, likely always bullied
Yes, one of the greatest problems with bullying is that it generates a mindset that, in its turn, generates a kind of behavior that attracts bullying.
A bully is always – consciously or subconsciously – aware of their surroundings and in the search for a victim. I know it sounds surreal, but I can guarantee this. Bullying is biologically rewarding and quite addictive.
On the other hand, a victim will always be aware of potential bullies. And they will gradually learn to protect themselves and understand what attracts the danger. But before that, the constant fear and anxiety, combined with clumsy attempts to mask them, will reveal vulnerability, or in other ways isolate or single out the victim, causing them to be noticed by the bullies.
Besides this, as I have mentioned earlier, a constant victim will develop behavioral traits that appear unpleasant to the average person and that can result in them being ostracized or even abused by non-bullies.
This, combined with the victim’s tendency to overreact to certain cues, combined also with some people’s cluelessness with regards to the needs of more vulnerable individuals, can result in the highly undesirable situation where the victim interprets “rough play” (or some form of “trash talking”) from a trusted person (somebody they normally regard as safe) as bullying. The suffering can be unimaginable and the consequences devastating. I’d go as far as to say that a few episodes like this going unchecked, you might have yourself a suicide hazard. Yes, it sounds rough, but if you’re a parent, you’re better off hearing it than not.
Concrete example: In other words, cousin Johnny, whom the victim admires and looks up to, makes an innocent joke about how the victim is pretty bad at football because “they’ve put on a few”. There’s little wrong with such a comment in a familiar environment, but it can devastatingly validate more complicated insinuations and remarks the victim has heard from actual bullies and – additionally – can ruin their sense of emotional orientation by annihilating or hurting their idea of safety.
2. Victims believe the bullies
So, first off, if you’ve read this article so far imagining that by bullying, I mean having your underwear pulled up or your favorite pen flushed down the toilet, you will have to reconsider. Sure, these are horrible things, and all count as bullying. And they certainly cause a lot of psychological pain. But if you think those are anywhere near a victim’s main problem, you’re missing the point.
The single greatest evil of bullying is that the victim doesn’t regard the abuser as a bully (usually).
What do I mean by this? The victim believes that the bully is just somebody who’s pointing out their evident flaws. The victim believes the bully. They develop enormous (and enormously complicated) complexes from what the bullies tell them. And the bullies themselves are (and try very hard to be) very convincing. Bullies argue their point. They bring arguments and construct complicated networks of anecdotes and examples of individuals who support their point. Again, this sounds like science-fiction, but it’s true.
3. Hate is not your ally (I mean, as a parent dealing with a bullied child)
So, first off, I’m sorry if you’re one of them and you will not like what I’m about to say, but if you’re the parent of a bully, it’s your fault. Big time. It’s not their personality, it’s not the school environment (I mean, seriously now, if it were the school, every kid would be the same, since they’re in the same environment). A kid should be taught not to become a bully the way they’re taught not to do drugs or skip classes. And not just for the sake of others. Being a bully in the wrong environment or at the wrong time can stain a child’s (or teenager’s, or young adult’s) image perhaps for life.
On the other hand, if your child is having their life destroyed by bullying, it’s still your fault. For not acting earlier, for not paying attention, for thinking you know so well that you wouldn’t miss it if it were serious… Of course, you do have to face a hard situation and I am not judging you. But you need to look inside yourself and see what you’re doing wrong.
And the solution is DEFINITELY NOT coaching your child in hating the bullies, teaching them how those kids will certainly end up in jail or as drug addicts (cause, first of all, that’s probably not even going to be the case). This should be pretty intuitive, but you people do not imagine what I’ve come across both as a teacher and as a high school student, while listening to students/younger colleagues of mine, who were victims.
If you’re a teacher, you have to know how to handle bullying appropriately. If you can’t afford to learn from a professional (by perhaps attending a course on child psychology), at least try to contact a foundation that deals with the issue. I beg of you.
Now, I really don’t know how they deal with bullying in the US or the UK, let alone the rest of the world. I’m from Romania. And I know that ALL of my primary and middle school teachers (whoever got involved in dealing with these problems), including the principal, were completely, but completely clueless.
They were fantastic at checking all the DON’Ts of dealing with bullying:
They would always, ALWAYS throw the old “there are two sides to a conflict” in their opening statement. Ah, what “opening statement”? Yeah, well, they would organize a freaking public trial in front of the whole class, every time a serious fight would break out following a bullying episode. No thought of approaching the kids individually or investigating the matter discreetly. Nah. The headmaster would literally have the guilty stand up in front of the class, with maybe a couple of other teachers as CHARACTER WITNESSES (if you can imagine that), plus sometimes the principal or even the parents, and have the other students narrate the events.
Naturally many would side with the bully. Unfortunately, the ones that would maybe side with the victim would try to be impartial and acknowledge the fact that the victim was also wrong to respond to the assault. Not to mention how many would have little to no knowledge of what actually went down and would give approximate, inaccurate, or even false accounts of the events, to the victim’s desperation. Then… certain students, including the offenders… and the offenders’ parents, would be asked to propose solutions in front of the class. “What can be done?”, to the victim: “You always have this kind of problems” (yeah, no shit), “I can’t just separate you from the rest of the class, is that what you want” (stay in your sits, this is literally, word for word, what my middle school principal told me in 6th grade, during such trial following an altercation with a colleague who had been calling me gay for a few months because I wasn’t romantically interested in a very good looking female classmate [I’m not even gay]).
I’m sure I don’t have to list the feelings and emotions that a child feels in those moments. I’d go as far as to say that even the ones who weren’t directly involved in the altercation can be affected by the experience. The parents too. I know some would get angry at their child for causing them to be humiliated like that. And you can imagine the effect those things can have on the parent-child relationship.
Anyway, about that 6th-grade intervention I just mentioned, it ended with me throwing a compass (the pointy kind you use to draw circles) at the blackboard and shouting that I would kill myself by drinking a specific brand of floor detergent. Probably not the result they were looking for.
[In the first version of this essay, there was a disclaimer here about how my teachers knew not what they were doing and that I didn’t blame them. Well, I changed my mind. I don’t think that sends the right message. I do blame them. I definitely don’t hate them. Some even did many good things for me. But I don’t think we should indulge in the excuse that this is complicated and not part of the basic job description.]
I have little to say about what you can do to help your child. I know what worked for me. But I don’t know if I could help someone specifically. My role is to open your eyes to the matter. Once I’ve done that, especially if you’re directly involved with bullying, you should do your research and vouch to take this seriously.
Generally, if your child (or your student!!) tells you that they’re being bullied, believe them. Try to reassure them and do what you can to help them. While you do that, don’t shame them, don’t coach them to hate their bullies, and definitely don’t enable their state by defining them as introverts or trying to get them to come to terms with being antisocial.
This all might seem intuitive and clear to some. But if it were clear to everybody, we wouldn’t have bullying. And we do.
We wish to have snow on Christmas, We wish to have snow on Christmas,
We wish to have snow on Christmas, And at all a New Year.
June 2nd, 2021
So… yeah. It’s… summer. June 1st as I’m writing this. And that reminds me of winter. Uhm. I somehow thought about Christmas and then about something else and I think it’s interesting enough to write about.
When I was a kid… that’s 10 to 15 years ago, I was always frustrated by the dry Christmases we had every year. In Romania, we traditionally expect snowy winters and 86+ degrees Fahrenheit summers. In real life, both turn out to be quite iffy. Maximum today was 53. It snowed twice last winter and only once the winter before.
Obviously, I’m hinting at climate change. But I’m not going to lecture you on the matter. [There are sources out there that can do you plenty when it comes to a subject like this]. It is interesting to point out that, as children, we always knew pollution was the cause of climate change and climate change was the cause of our sad Christmases, but hearing about climate change in an organized fashion always came across as lame and annoying, kinda like listening to a door-to-door salesman rambling about their product.
I’m now wondering why. Why did a subject like this, which we understood to be important, feel to us kids like something uncool, exaggerated, and hysterical? Is that the fate of important subjects?
I think so. Yeah. I think many important matters – probably all of the most important – suffer from the negative publicity of those too keen to support them. Like Greta Thunberg did for quite a while. Nothing personal, but it is a known fact that she caused some outcry from perfectly reasonable people accusing her of making noise without substance. Now, I one hundred percent believe in her good intentions. But being the child that she was a few years ago, she didn’t quite understand diplomacy and did quite a bit of damage to her cause in the process. And I guess most of all I wonder how nobody around her saw anything wrong with what was going on.
I mean, I had quite similar traits at 15, but I didn’t take a mic in my hand and tour the world barking at politicians. Sorry, it’s harsh, I know. I don’t think she’s a bad person. If anything, she’s a lot better than many of us because she fights for what she believes in [while I do bet my ass she enjoys the attention, nonetheless].
And I believe we should take “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” with a tablespoonful of salt, because, let’s be serious, if I could become a famous screenwriter by threatening to go bomb the White House, life would be really, really easy. So, it’s not just about being heard. We grew up kind of fed up already with the talk on climate change. And on other important subjects, too. And it shows.
Because it’s hard enough to make reasonable people change their habits. More so if the changes involve effort. But if the subject becomes insufferable in the process…
My take on IMDb
June 8th, 2021
Probably the toughest thing to put into words is why I write certain things. There are different reasons, but most are variations of “I feel like it”. I guess there’s a certain childish desire to go on record saying certain things. I am on IMDb whenever I’m not doing something else and I’ve pretty much explored every feature of the free version. I’ve learned things about it and have formed opinions that could be useful to somebody. Here they are:
A very useful tool
I’m definitely glad this website exists. Its free features are some of the best and the most generous on the entire internet and I simply owe some of my knowledge of film to it. If I had to choose whether to donate money to IMDb (not that they would ever need it, as we know, they’re owned by Amazon), or to Wikipedia, I’d pick IMDb.
The user ratings
“The stars”, as they’re commonly referred to. My first interaction with IMDb, back in middle school, had everything to do with the stars. Back then, because I was watching such “masterpieces” as The Ugly Truth (2009) [rating 6.4] or Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) [rating 5.9], I was under the impression that the IMDb rating is a very tough system and a rating over 6 is more than decent. At the same time, movies like The Lord of the Rings, which I’ve watched about 13 times, were rated over 8.5. It’s not like I saw no difference between these movies, but I definitely thought the 20 percent gap was too large, so I assumed the ratings were more or less irrelevant. Does anyone relate?
Years passed and as I watched more and more movies, I started to agree with the ratings more and more. Today, I am convinced that for almost every movie out there, they are in the ballpark. There are weird accidents, like Jojo Rabbit, Phantom Thread, The Color of Money, The Notebook, or The Lighthouse, which are all rated in the 7s and are way better than that.
I’d say a movie over 7.5 will certainly not waste your time. One over eight should be watched. I can’t imagine missing any over 8.4.
BAD!!! Do not read them! The taglines (the little text that tells you what the movie is about) are full of spoilers. They are the worst thing about IMDb. I have gotten burned a couple of times and I am keen on cautioning everyone. It is impossible for me to understand how such a huge website cannot regulate something as important as this, at least for the most important movies. I won’t type any example here, because I would be defeating the purpose of this warning, but I will name a few movies you can check out (after you watch them).
- Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) is the most shocking one I know. The tagline spoils both the entire first movie (they probably assume you’ve seen it by the time you check out the second one) and the first major plot twist of the second one.
- North by Northwest (1959) [I’m a big Hitchcock fan and I’m sure there’s a place in hell for those who spoil his movies]
- Sabrina (1954) [probably the effects of this one are milder since it’s not a mystery movie, but still…]
- Atonement (2007) is destroyed by the tagline. The plot point it so cluelessly reveals occurs around minute 48 (!!!!) of the 122-minute movie. Just so you know, I’ve been scrolling down my list and literally every third or fourth tagline is really badly written.
- The Children of Men (2006) – this one is just ridiculous. It doesn’t just spoil a plot twist, it spoils the core of the whole plot.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) !!! – this is one of the extreme ones. The tagline pretty much gives away everything but the very ending.
Other terrible examples: Oldboy (2003), The Elephant Man (1980), The Night of the Hunter (1955)… You get the idea.
On the other hand, to lighten up the mood, decent examples of taglines that prove they can be made interesting and not have massive spoilers are the ones for Your Name. (2016) and The Hunt (2012).
Don’t read the cast list either
I don’t necessarily think they should be crucified for this, but on many occasions, characters whose unknown identity is part of the mystery of the film are revealed in the cast section. This is a lot rarer, obviously, and I can only think of one right now, which isn’t even that bad (Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot), but I guarantee there are worse ones.
FAIR WARNING – this is gonna be harsh!
Who is even entitled to critique a work of art? Is it the public? Is it the other artists? Is it the weird species of shelf rats called critics? I’m not sure…
I think, for the most part, the job called “critic” is about as vaguely meritocratic as my self-declared reign as king of Canada. It’s not just the fact that, coincidently, most film critique I’ve ever put my hands on was either retardedly pretentious or downright invective, while void of arguments, but the function itself the critic is supposed to fill is blurry to me. Critics assume a sort of authority, not as much over predicting what people will like, but over the intrinsic quality or value of a piece. This sounds ridiculous enough as it is, but I think the main problem is that nobody really needs to know that value. That intrinsic quality exists and it will even show some consequences in the (in this case) film’s reception over time. But that quality is, for one, really hard to put, and two, useless to visualize in the form of a number. And this is all while assuming the people who do it are even qualified.
Here’s what I mean. The one function a critic could usefully perform would be educating the public about aspects of a work that they might otherwise be missing and the knowledge of which would enhance their experience. This is it: “You didn’t see that metaphor or that subtext? Let me tell you about it.” Otherwise, making empty invective comments on movies, or, even worse, shaming the audience for not seeing the originality or high concept of a work… why? Why do I need to read about how terrible the third Godfather is? What purpose does that serve? Am I supposed to hate Coppola? Not waste my time knowing how the story ends, after watching the first two? Or The Notebook… Or, oh, Lord Almighty, In The Mood For Love… go read the reviews on these movies, as they were published immediately after their release. “A stylistically fastidious, exasperatingly affected package that will put most people in the mood for slumber” is what Mr. Mike Clark, whoever that is, wrote for USA TODAY on January 1st, 2001 about Kar Wai Wong’s masterpiece.
You can find these on metacritic.com. But I wouldn’t go near that website too often, it’s just one big radioactive headache. Probably every newspaper has a section where they post film reviews. And, man, are they paying those guys a lot of money to write them. And it’s not so much the negative opinions that bother me. I have negative opinions myself. It’s the vagueness and lack of arguments in those texts that stink like grudge and abuse of power.
The user reviews
This is probably the most useless IMDb feature. Aaron Sorkin has put it brilliantly in one of his lessons from masterclass.com. He said that the public can say whether they like a movie or not, but they can’t say why they do or don’t like it. Just like you go to the doctor to tell them that your elbow hurts, not what ailment you’re suffering from. I totally agree.
IMDb is encouraging people to write reviews (of course, that makes the experience more engaging) so I fell for it and wrote two myself. And it did feel weird. I first wrote one about a famous movie by a director I really like, but who really disappointed me on that occasion. And it really didn’t feel good. Outside the 20 minutes I spent writing the (very decent, very detailed) negative review, I didn’t get any satisfaction. I realized it would pretty much help nobody, even if it got read by many people. For one, it was not meant to be read before watching the movie, as I had inserted a lot of spoilers in order to support my points. And then, the only thing anyone would have lost by watching that movie would have been 107 minutes of their life. It’s valuable time… and I was mad. But I think it’s not worth the bad mood I got afterward.
On the other hand, when I said I wrote two reviews, I meant IMDb posted two of my reviews. One very positive (for The Handmaiden) and the negative one I mentioned.
I actually wrote five. And IMDb denied three of them. Two of them were for a very recent and quite infamous parade of pretentiousness. [I won’t say which movie, but let’s just say it’s gotten mountains of awards for looking like a compilation of Youtuber travel vlogs and semi-truck dashcam footage]. Anyway, my two reviews were full of concrete arguments and were a lot less bitchy than the above description. Yet, they still got denied by IMDb. I read the guidelines and they were violating none. Even though I subsequently decided I didn’t like the idea of posting user reviews, I still really don’t think it’s fair of IMDb to censor them (once they offer the feature) based on the operator’s subjectivity. It’s probably just me. You decide for yourself.
The features are quite different on the browser version compared to the app
- And I’m talking about major features. The “you may know them from” section only appears in the app and that’s a loss.
Once you have rated a movie, it will show up on a separate list when you visit a person’s profile. It’s a great feature. A way to keep track of how well you know somebody’s work and an easy shortcut to checking whether somebody was credited in a certain movie. However, the movies aren’t organized by job title and you have no option to reorganize them. For example, Martin Scorsese’s profile shows I may know him from Lawrence of Arabia, which he obviously didn’t direct. He’s actually credited as “Special thanks for the 1989 restoration”, but to know that you need to dig really deep. It’s interesting but a bit confusing, given the circumstances.
- On the other hand, if you’re trying to find a complete list of a person’s projects, divided by job titles, and have that list organized by different criteria, such as rating or release date, you have to use the computer. The app version won’t let you refine the search enough to see, for example, only the feature films Martin Scorsese worked on as director, from the highest-rated to the lowest. It just doesn’t have that level of definition and I don’t understand why.
- The ratings simply appear different in different places. In the Top Rated Movies list, certain movies have certain ratings, and if you click on the profile, a different rating is displayed.
Actually, strangely enough, IMDb seems quite oblivious to the needs of its users.
Recently, they changed the layout of some of their pages (movie profiles) but not of the whole website… which makes for a really weird sight.
They pretend to be transparent about how the rating system works but if you read the terms, they don’t actually say exactly what kind of user has their rating factored in and what kind of user doesn’t (it would be abnormal to factor in any rating as I could easily have 100, or even 10,000 accounts made – if the stakes were high enough – to give my movie 10 stars and wreck my competition).
They also don’t explain, or at least they hide the explanation very well, why certain movies are rated 8.3 and are not in the Top-Rated List, and some others, even by the same director, rated 8.1, are. I am assuming it might have something to do with the number of users rating them. I am also assuming they have a good reason. There are many movies that are important on a national level and often get huge ratings without being good enough, so the distinction should be made. But they should let us know…
Most of the other features are good
It would be great if we could rearrange the cast in other ways, not just the billing order.
The box office could be more accurate and up to date, but I guess that would be logistically quite hard.
It would be great to have more useful and easily customizable lists, like, for example, “Best Original Screenplay Winners that also won the BAFTA”.
And even the lists that do exist… you can’t find them easily (I can’t at all) on the website, you need to google them, adding the keyword IMDb. And even when you find them, their layout is different for each list. “All movies ever nominated for Oscars“ is only a list of movies, without any information on which category they were nominated for, and you can’t even rearrange them by the number of nominations or wins. Just weird. It really feels like an early 2000s website sometimes.
Otherwise, I love it.
We Can’t All Be Rich
June 9th, 2021
I’m not strictly talking about money, but money is the best analogy. In fact, for my purposes, this mainly applies to art.
It’s a pretty stinky subject, too. Nobody wants to hear this. “We can’t all be rich”. Why? Does that mean that whatever I do, I might never be rich?
Let me explain.
Defining “rich” in the first place is quite awkward. Howard Stern asks James Cameron if he’s wealthy, he says he wouldn’t call himself that (fascinating interview, by the way, you should look it up). In school, I would use “rich” to describe those classmates who had the iPhone 4 in 2010. And this relativity applies to the notion of success the same way.
But let’s assume a bunch of us do have a decently homogenous idea of what richness is. Not in terms of numbers. Let’s just define it as “having (access to) most of what society has to offer” – cause I can’t say “most of what you want” since that would still be pretty relative. We’ll assume that people will, in some way, want most of what is being advertised out there: cars, vacations, foods, etc. Plus time! That is, to have to work as little as possible, to be able to enjoy what they have.
So, we can’t all be rich. OK. Why?
Let’s take this extreme example:
Let’s imagine we’re on an island. There are… 10 of us. And all ten of us have exactly the same amount of identical land, plus exactly the same amount of basic unprocessed resources. And we can’t leave the island or contact anybody else – the island is the whole world. And, to eliminate any long-term speculation, let’s say we’re all bound to die in five years, as a result of genetic disease.
So, we all have enough iron, enough salt, enough water, enough cattle, enough corn, etc. We have no way of running out of our own resources regardless of how many things we try to do with them.
The key question is: what standard of living can we achieve by exploiting these resources ourselves? Because I have all those resources, but they need to be turned into food, clothes, houses, iPhones… and I can’t go to my neighbor and ask him to herd my cattle for me, or cast my iron, let alone wave a giant leaf to cool me down while I drink Pina Colada. Neither can I trade a cow for his cooked eggs or his state-of-the-art handmade cotton T-shirt. He has enough cows. There’s nothing I can give him that he doesn’t have.
So, I’m either going to have to do everything myself, or team up with the other nine and try to distribute the chores. I can do certain things and trade them for what the others do. But am I rich? No. I’m going to live my five years working at least as hard as the standard working-class westerner. Probably the only thing lacking in comparison would be uncertainty. But then again, it’s just a made-up island.
Now, do you see where I’m going? With all exterior resources distributed equally (and considered virtually unlimited), the only things that still hold value are know-how and workforce. So, let’s take the two options:
- All of the 10 have the same amount of knowledge and the same ability to work. That seems like it couldn’t apply to real life, but hear me out. If we can’t do different things, and we all have the same amount of resources, we are bound to split the workload equally between ourselves and have a virtually identical quality of life.
- We all have different amounts of knowledge and different levels of physical ability. This sounds more like the real world. And, in this case, the tie can be broken, because some of us can exploit those differences in order to acquire an advantage. Let’s not forget, we only have five years to live, we wanna make the best of them, not spend them scraping cow shit off the stables. Yet, we still want a nice steak.
Now, number 2 is how the world is now. Or, actually, how it was at the beginning. Now, the resources have already been distributed unevenly and we are inheriting tens of thousands of years of that process. But it’s the same thing. People keep exploiting whatever they have in order to climb higher on the ladder. And this is normal. This is natural.
Communism tried to apply number 1. It declared resources equally distributed and (at least in theory) barred people from exploiting their abilities to climb higher than the rest. And the reason why communism always goes bankrupt is that it is very expensive to get people to all do equally as much for equal pay.
Or, in other words, it is very inefficient. You have huge losses trying to attribute tasks to everybody when some have a hard time performing well enough to justify their pay.
Now, more importantly, on the other hand, the reason why communism is always hated by most is: people don’t want to be equally as rich. People want to be above others because a lot of the time they feel they deserve it. And a lot of the time that’s true.
The best way is the jungle way
If I had 50 million dollars, I’d want to have a cook. It’s one of my dreams. To have someone prepare tasty, healthy, low-calorie food for me. But if the person I’m trying to hire as a cook already has 50 million dollars of their own, what am I going to give them to convince them to spend eight hours a day every day cooking for me while I relax by the pool? See? I need other people to be poor in order to have what I want. And this doesn’t just apply to people who would be in the position to hire a cook. The reason you can buy an iPhone every year, or merely a 3-dollar T-shirt from Walmart is that somebody is poor enough to accept 50 cents to make that T-shirt.
It’s not morally right that some children in Asia or Africa have to work (and work long hours for nothing), but it’s the foundation of Western society. And making a point of not buying stuff made with unfair labor does little to change the facts. Your highway… my highway, my house, my computer… everything is built like that. Why do you think gas is four times cheaper in the USA than it is in Romania? (Literally: USA regular gas avg. price is $3/gallon, avg. minimum wage is ~$1200/mo, you could buy about 407 gallons. Romanian regular gas avg. price is $5.2/gallon, avg. minimum wage is ~$570/mo, you could buy 110 gallons). Because the more powerful USA had the leverage to negotiate a better deal whose losses are now being absorbed by the countries that didn’t.
And this is normal. It’s not my fault. It’s next to impossible to determine whose fault it is. And next to useless. Because this is life: a jungle. It’s like the weather.
Somewhere along the way, in every country’s and every family’s history, somebody was smarter, or stronger, or luckier than everybody else. And that created the imbalance. And who can say that erasing that imbalance will do anything other than delay its existence? Because imbalance IS balance. High entropy is “balance”, even though it’s made out of imbalance. Inequality is natural. It’s our sense of fairness that is corrupted.
Anyway, if you’re still here, how about art?
Well, yes. I believe the same principle applies to art.
Why do you buy china? I mean, plates, mugs, and bowls. I mean, you burn wood in a brick oven and heat up dirt in the shape of a plate and you got china for free, right? Of course, you don’t. You don’t know how to make it the right way, you don’t have the time and have no interest in doing it, especially since you can just buy it. Well, it’s kind of the same with art. Why do you read a book (talking about fiction here)? For entertainment? Ok. But, concretely, why do you read a Stephen King book? It’s a bunch of dollars you’re not getting back. Well, you spend those dollars because you can’t write a book that will offer you what Stephen King will. And this goes for any form of art.
OK, but what if we were all able to write like Stephen King?
If “we can’t all be rich” applies to art, then the thesis is “we can’t all be artists”. Sure, nobody would sell anything if we could all write equally as well because we’d all have our little book farm at home, but we’d still be artists, right? Auch…
But, no, there’s a catch there.
Let’s look at the function of art. Actually, I have an article brewing about the many definitions of art, but I’m just gonna give a little sneak peek here. Why do we appreciate Da Vinci’s The Last Supper? (other than because people say it’s good) We appreciate it because it’s special. Because it offers us an extra-ordinary experience. Something out of the ordinary. So that’s why we can’t all be rich. Artist*. Because if everybody were able to produce extraordinary things, they wouldn’t be extraordinary. They would be ordinary. Both to ourselves and to each other. The reason we love The Last Supper is ‘cause we don’t see something like that every day!!
I can prove this: MUSIC!
Go listen to your favorite song 100 times. You’ll hate it. Music (the way we know it in the West, and that’s enough) is just FIFTEEN notes. Repeated over and over again.
And I can go deeper with this, although most of you won’t have experienced this directly and consciously: I play guitar quite seriously and I’ve written quite a bit of music over the years. I’ve noticed something. If I play 10 songs in the same key, even though they are different songs, even if they were originally written in different keys (or if I always compose in the same key) everything is going to sound VERY dull, eventually. And I mean DEPRESSINGLY dull. And once I change the key by one semitone, BOOM, all hail the Lord, it’s a miracle! Every note becomes a feast of new interesting meanings.
So, we can’t all be artists because art MUST offer us a better (more special) experience than we are able to offer ourselves or than we regularly offer each other. So art MUST be out of the ordinary, it MUST come from a special vision. It MUST come across as superior just in order to be perceived as art. And the very meaning of the word “superior” forbids equality. Obviously.
I hope I’ve been reasonable, if not even convincing. Just to clarify, I’ve honestly written this to make people feel good, not bad. I think it’s refreshing to think these inequalities are like the weather. I’m definitely not trying to say that you, you, or you can’t be artists. I don’t know. Me, I think I am one, I hope I am one. I definitely don’t know yet. And there’s definitely no harm in everybody trying to be or wanting to be. I, for one, am ready to accept that I’m not and never going to be if that moment of reckoning ever comes, and I would recommend everybody build this mindset (valid for being rich, too).
Otherwise, what can I say, I don’t think life can be the same for everybody, but I pray to God everybody enjoys theirs.
P.S. Does this mean artists don’t enjoy art? Since they’re near it all the time? Yes. In a way. Artists can only enjoy art that is above them. Or at least at the same level. That’s why you see the greatest artists hate most of the art they come across. That’s why many of them often come across as “dicks”. We just don’t get them.
How do I know this? Geez, I’m just a guy with a computer – and definitely not a secret CIA agent who scans the minds of millions of people. Pfff, I don’t know… I’m… guessing… hey, what’s that over there? Bye!