Category Archives: philosophy

Superman, All-Powerful Gods, And What Sets Them Apart

superman

Superheroes mean many things to many people, especially at a time when superhero movies routinely dominate the box office. For some, they’re just gimmicks, fads, and marketing tools by big media companies. For others, they are akin to modern day mythology. It’s an apt comparison. Even contemporary heroes have a lot in common with the mythological legends of the past.

Some take it even further than that. Some will go so far as to claim that superheroes are filling the same roles as gods and deities. It’s not just the ones based on Norse or Greek mythology, either. In many respects, many iconic heroes fit many of the common traits ascribed to gods.

Superman is all-good.

Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet is all-powerful.

Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and even Mr. Fantastic are so smart that they might as well be all-knowing to most people.

Such divine, god-like feats make for iconic stories that offer lessons and insights on everything from morality to justice to society, at large. While superheroes aren’t worshiped within organized institutions or granted tax-exempt status by governments, they utilize a similar structure to that of other holy texts.

The narrative surrounding superheroes revolves around good, evil, and the struggles that occur in between. Both the good and the evil in these stories takes the form of some grand, larger-than-life character who embodies these traits and implements them on a level that’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend. That’s what helps make the message so powerful.

However, it’s the qualities that set superheroes apart from deities that offers the most insights. I would even argue those insights are more critical now than they were before Superman, Batman, or Iron Man ever showed up on a movie screen. At a time when organized religion continues to exert immense influence on society, we should be scrutinizing these discrepancies.

I hope it goes without saying that modern superheroes can only do so much to compare with the deities of organized religion. No matter how much money “Avengers Endgamemade at the box office, it will never exert the same influence that the three main Abrahamic faiths have imparted over the two millennia. For better or for worse, history, politics, and the entire species has been influenced by these religions.

The most notable and obvious difference between them and superheroes is that the deities of religion aren’t presented as entertaining fiction. To the believers of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions, the deities and the characters in their holy texts are real. They’re not myths or legends. They’re real people and real forces that have real effects.

Regardless of how true that is, and I know atheists will point out how none of those effects can be verified, this is the critical difference between superheroes and deities. Adherents don’t just believe that these characters are real. They place their trust and faith in them, believing that doing so will guide them in life and protect them in death.

I understood this difference as a kid. I was both a fan of superhero comics and surrounded by relatives who were devout believers. I knew they didn’t see their holy texts the same way I saw Superman comics. Superman was just another character. They knew who created him. They knew he was a licensed fictional character from DC Comics.

However, even back then, I found myself wondering whether those same relatives would see Superman differently if they didn’t know he was a comic book character. I imagine if there were old stories about him from centuries ago, written as though they actually happened, they might be less inclined to discount him as fiction. Some might actually be more inclined to place their faith in him over other deities.

It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it only scratches the surface of what sets superheroes apart from ancient lore. Aside from how real people think these characters are, and some take it much further than others, the standard superhero narrative reveals something striking about the standard religious narrative.

To illustrate, take a moment to contemplate how Superman goes about being a hero. As the gold standard of superheroes for the past 80 years, he sets the highest bar and embodies the highest ideals for a hero. On top of that, he has powers and abilities on par with many deities. At times, he has been shown as capable of destroying an entire solar system with a single sneeze.

Despite all this power, Superman seeks only to help humanity. He doesn’t ask for praise, worship, payment, or sacrifice. He simply does it because it’s the right thing to do. He’s the ultimate paragon, selfless and compassionate to the utmost. The people of Metropolis, and the world at large, don’t need to have faith in him. They just need to trust that he’ll keep doing the right thing.

Contrast that with the deities in holy texts. Many are every bit as powerful as Superman, but display qualities that aren’t exactly heroic. Certain versions of certain deities have been shown to be petty, jealous, and vindictive, sometimes to an extreme. A deity does often help or guide believers in a conflict like a superhero, but it’s rarely done out of pure altruism.

These deities, many of which are believed to have created humanity and the world, exercise a certain level of authority over people. It’s not always outright forced, but the nature of the story provides plenty of incentives and/or punishments to those who rebel or subvert that authority. Some become cautionary tales or outright villains.

Some villains are sexier than others.

In this context, the religious narrative builds an over-arching theme that has little room for heroics. These deities and super-powered beings aren’t necessarily there to save the day. They’re there to maintain the order that they helped create. They function as the glue that holds the universe and humanity together. Anyone or anything that goes against it requires recourse from both adherents and divine forces.

We often see this manifest in the real world when religious people argue that things like homosexuality, which is often condemned in holy books, are this bigger threat to the world. That’s why you’ll hear plenty of dogmatic preachers claim that homosexuality won’t just give people distressing thoughts. They’ll say it will destroy society.

Religious dogma, by its nature, depends on a strict adherence to what is the status quo for a particular place, people, and time. Defending it isn’t just seen as an act of piety. It’s akin to a superhero saving the day from evil forces. Whether those evil forces are demons from the underworld or a gay couple who want to get married doesn’t matter. It’s all about preserving a system.

Conversely, superheroes like Superman don’t limit themselves to a status quo. They’re less driven about how things are and more focused on how things could be. Superman doesn’t just want to save the day and help people who need it. He seeks to give people an ideal for them to aspire towards. This is perfectly reflected in his father’s message to him, as read by the late Marlon Brando.

It is now time for you to rejoin your new world and to serve its collective humanity.
Live as one of them, Kal-El
Discover where you strength and your power are needed
Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage
They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be
They only lack the light to show the way
For this reason above all, their capacity for good
I have sent them you, my only son

It’s in this defining message that the superhero narrative distinguishes itself from religious traditions. These superheroes, as powerful as they are, didn’t create us. They don’t hold any inherent dominion over us. They didn’t create the current situation, however flawed it might be. They still seek to help people, carrying out feats that others cannot. That’s what makes them heroes.

One fights to maintain what society is while the other fights for what society could be. These narratives can exist alongside one another and can carry greater meaning for certain people. There are critical lessons in both, but I believe the lessons of Superman are more relevant than anything offered by the stories of religion.

For much of human history, organized religion was part of that social glue that helped keep society stable. For a good deal of that history, society was only as stable as the conditions around it. People hoped and prayed that there wouldn’t be a famine, a storm, or some other catastrophe that they could not control. Survival, even among kings and emperors, was their primary concern.

Things are different now. At a time when food is abundant, poverty is in decline, and education is more widespread than ever, survival isn’t enough. For a planet of billions to thrive, people need to prosper. Doing so means aspiring to something greater than the status quo. That’s exactly what superheroes embody.

That’s not to say that the rise of superheroes is directly linked to the ongoing decline of religion, but the contrasting narratives reflect just how much priorities have changed. Superheroes don’t demand faith, sacrifice, and reverence, just to keep things as they are. They go out of their way to save a world that they believe is worth saving, hoping that it can better itself.

They can help, but they can’t do it for us. That’s another trait that Superman demonstrates, much to the chagrin of villains like Lex Luthor. Like deities of old, he doesn’t use his powers to achieve everything for humanity. He seeks to empower them to achieve those feats on their own. That process of aspiring to be greater than is often an affront to a religious narrative, but critical to the themes of superheroes.

Even if superhero movies stop making billions at the box office, the over-arching message will still be relevant. Faith in what is just isn’t as appealing as hope for what can be. The gods of religion offer comfort in familiar order, but superheroes can inspire hope in something better. Given the many flaws in this chaotic world, I believe that hope is more valuable than any ancient doctrine.

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“Rick And Morty” Season 4 Finale: Reaction, Thoughts, And Intrigue

For any show, the difference between a good season finale and a great season finale isn’t just how much it leaves you wanting more. It’s making you want more and feel something more than impatience for new episodes. Most shows don’t go that extra mile. They’re content to just build a little excitement for the next season.

However, “Rick and Mortyisn’t most shows. After four seasons, that’s abundantly and hilariously clear.

Recently, the show aired its season 4 finale, “Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri.” For a show that was delayed for so long, and subject to a lot of criticism for its fan base, it had a lot to live up to. It would’ve been easy for it to falter, given the current state of the world.

That didn’t happen, though. This remarkable, quirky, eccentric show found a way to cap off season in a profoundly satisfying way. For a show that’s raised the bar for a lot of things, from sci-fi tropes to fart jokes, that’s saying something.

The synopsis of the episode has many moving parts. It starts with an invisibility belt and the return of Beth’s clone from The ABC’s of Beth.” From there, it quickly turns into a bloody brawl between Rick, his family, and a newly formed galactic federation, courtesy of Tammy and a rebuilt Bird Person. I won’t spoil all the details. I’ll just say that there’s a lot of bloody brawls, spilled bear, and shameless promotion of wrangler jeans.

Trust me. That makes sense by Rick and Morty standards.

As a finale, it wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as “The Wedding Squanchers,” but it had a much more dramatic impact than The Rickchurian Mortydate.” It also helped that the episode built on the continuity established in previous seasons, namely “The ABC’s of Beth.” It took an open question as to whether Beth was a clone and turned it into a more complex story.

Personally, I had mixed feelings about this episode when it began. However, those feelings quickly changed as the episode unfolded. By the end, I felt like this episode and this season, as a whole, achieved something special. In the context of larger “Rick and Morty” lore, it gave new depth to the show and its characters.

More than anything else, the last few minutes of the episode furthers a trend that began at the end of Season 3. It was subtle for a while, but now it’s very overt.

Rick Sanchez is losing control over his family.

By that, I don’t mean he can’t influence them. He’s the smartest man in the multiverse. He literally has any number of methods for doing that. The issue here is that they no longer need him.

Since the show began, Rick has asserted himself as someone his family needs to some extent. Morty needs him to grow, both in terms of strength and capability. Beth needs him because she needs her father’s approval. Jerry and Summer need him, by default, since Beth and Morty need him.

Control matters to Rick. It matters a lot. If he’s not in total control of his world, then he can’t handle it. He values being able to do anything at any time with his genius. Throughout the show, he demonstrates capabilities that are almost god-like. Hell, at one point in this season, he actually fights a god.

However, he can’t do any of that to the degree he wants without maintaining control. This is perfectly demonstrated in the episode, “The Old Man and the Seat.” It’s an episode with a similar ending, in terms of tone. In that episode, Rick is left by himself, berated by other holograms of himself. He’s sad, alone, and miserable. It’s not quite as dark as the ending to “Auto Erotic Assimilation,” but it sends the same message.

Rick Sanchez is not well.

He’s broken, damaged, and flawed.

He’s a terrible father, a bad friend, and hates himself.

He’s miserable, despite being the smartest, most capable being in the universe.

He can manage all that through the connections he has with his family, on top of his copious alcohol consumption. However, as season 4 has unfolded, we see his family drifting further and further apart. It’s not that they’re pushing him away. They just make it clear that they don’t need him. To Rick, that’s even worse than being pushed away.

Whereas season 3 began with Rick having almost complete control over his family, Season 4 ends with him losing it. It raises an intriguing question.

What does Rick Sanchez do when nobody needs him anymore?

This episode even teased a distressing answer. Tammy points out that when Rick is alone, he’s not a threat to anyone other than himself. Without Morty or his family, he’s lacking and it shows in how much he gets his ass kicked. It hints that without his family, Rick Sanchez loses a part of himself that he can’t replace, even with his genius and alcohol tolerance.

It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues in Season 5, whenever that may come. It’ll also be interesting to see how it effects other dangling plot threads, namely Evil Morty. A more broken Rick Sanchez is sure to be a more dangerous and unstable Rick Sanchez. Given how big an asshole he can be at times, it’s hard to sympathize with him. However, Star Mort: Rickturn of the Jerri” managed to make us feel for him.

I’m already looking forward to the next season.

Until then, wubba lubba dub dub!

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How “13 Reasons Why” Handled Male Sexual Assault in The Least Sensitive Way

The following is an article submitted by my good friend, DC-MarvelGirl 1997. We’d both been working on pieces about “13 Reasons Why” and she was generous enough to submit this. She tackles an issue that I was very hesitant to write about and for that, I thank you. She does great work on her website, which I encourage everyone to visit.


We live in a world filled with double standards. It’s by far one of the biggest diseases we have in society. I’m not putting this to the same standards of COVID 19, which is by far the deadliest pandemic we’ve ever faced in worldwide. Double standards are a different kind of disease, meaning they breed this false sense of contentment. And no, I’m not just referring to the Theon Greyjoy memes, which are truly sad and pathetic. I’ll admit it. When I look up those memes, I at first chuckle. But then I remember why they were made, and it is to point out that Theon no longer has his penis. Suddenly, those memes are no longer funny.

Theon

As much as I wish this article is about those Theon Greyjoy memes, it’s not. That’s what’s painful for me. This article is about the frankly piss-poor representations of male sexual assault in entertainment. And no, I am not referring to Burt Reynolds’ “Deliverance,” which was one of the first movies to put rape of a man into a scene. At least with that movie, it was done well. Even made for TV films like “The Rape of Richard Beck” did it better, because with “The Rape of Richard Beck,” now known as “Deadly Justice,” they blacked it out before the rape happened.

What I’m referring to is the rape scene from the season 2 finale of “13 Reasons Why.” It was the scene that made many people throw up watching it. For those of you who watched it, you know what I am talking about.

scene1

Now, I’ll admit it. I never watched “13 Reasons Why,” because it was banned from my household by my mother. And after hearing about how the show got progressively worse, I’m glad I didn’t watch any other episodes beyond the pilot. It’s a show that psychiatrists cautioned teenagers from watching, because it could be triggering to those thinking about suicide. Not only does it send the contrived message that you can use suicide to get revenge, but it handled male sexual assault in one of the worst ways possible. Because I’ve never watched the show for myself, I had to do a little bit of research on the “13 Reasons Why” wiki pages, and look up articles critiquing it. The male rape scene centers around the character of Tyler, who gets sodomized with a mop handle by a character named Montgomery. Not only was the scene unnecessarily graphic, triggering, and disturbing leaving many either crying, getting sick, or feeling disgusted, but the aftermath of it all is what I’m most critical of.

I understand that “13 Reasons Why” wanted to show that men can be raped as well. But their delivery was terrible. Like I said, the scene was downright disgusting and stomach-churning. But they didn’t bother showing Tyler doing something effective to get the bullying to stop. It doesn’t help that the teachers in the show are portrayed as incompetent of seeing what’s right in front of them, giving this sense that you cannot even trust your teachers to keep you safe. But the show didn’t bother giving us scenes of Tyler handling the aftermath with maturity. They just cut to him wanting to shoot up a school dance, mirroring the Columbine massacre which is one of the most devastating tragedies in US history.

Let’s just say, I would have handled this rape scene and aftereffects a lot differently.

scene2

If I were to write out that rape scene between Tyler and Montgomery, I would have shown the graphic violence of Tyler being drowned in the toilet and having his head slammed against the mirror. Then, I would have an extreme close-up of Montgomery’s hand reaching for the mop handle as the camera shakily backs away to display him leaning over Tyler’s back. Then, the scene would fade to black, signifying what’s to come. After that, I would have it fade into Tyler sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants down. That to me is more than enough to let the viewer know what happened, without giving you every, horrible detail of what happens. Then, there would be other scenes I’d add in.

How about having Tyler go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor? All the signs could be there, showing he’d been raped, but the doctor neglects to acknowledge this and that’s one of the things that pushes him.

How about showing Tyler being interviewed by police, but an officer telling him he was asking for it? That would also give him a reason to want revenge.

The reason why I put those two suggestions above, is because male rape isn’t given the same consideration as female rape. When a female is raped, it becomes a world-wide news story. When a man is raped, it’s not treated the same way. I tried to research cases of male rape in the recent years, and you wouldn’t know if there was, because the news doesn’t talk about it. Look at cases such as Corey Feldman and Brent Jeffs. Brent Jeffs I’m just mentioning, because his story is downright heartbreaking. He was raped by his own uncle, Warren Jeffs, the head of the FLDS. Jeffs’ story is one that many do not consider at all. Of course, people have the knowledge that Warren Jeffs raped and molested boys and girls alike, but they often forget to acknowledge that boys in that “church” were raped. They’re blinded by how horrifically the women and girls in that “church” are treated, that they forget about the boys. That to me is the saddest thing.

scene3

If “13 Reasons Why” bothered displaying how the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge male rape victims, then that would have been a much more powerful impact than Tyler trying to shoot up a school.

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” failed in a major way to display consequences of male sexual assault. They neglected important details with the character of Tyler, and didn’t even bother showing Tyler going to the authorities until season 3. And the fact that Montgomery was just arrested on the spot for raping Tyler, when there’s no rape kit having been done? I don’t buy that for one second.

However, keep in mind, they did the same thing with Hannah Baker in season 1. She didn’t go to the police reporting teachers’ negligence. She didn’t go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor. She just blamed everyone for her suicide with tape recordings, claiming it to be all their fault when she didn’t bother going to higher authority for help. And the fact that they display her mother blaming everyone as well? To me, that’s even more pathetic. I understand that you are hurting because your daughter took her own life and that she was raped. But she also failed to get help beyond going to a guidance counselor, who clearly wasn’t doing his job.

Therefore, do yourself a huge favor, and do not watch “13 Reasons Why.”

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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The (Many) Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” Fails At Confronting Serious Issues

There’s a place for mindless, shallow, escapist entertainment in this world. I would argue that place is even greater now as we cope with a global pandemic. Sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, watch your favorite superhero movie or Michael Bay explosion-fest, and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a place for entertainment that attempts to have a meaningful, serious conversation about a real-world issue. I’d also argue that kind of entertainment is more important now than it was last year. I know this kind of entertainment is risky, especially when it tackles taboo subject or social politics. Sometimes, that effort evokes distress, disgust, or outright hate. It’s still worth doing.

However, that kind of media can be counterproductive when it gets an issue wrong, flawed, or ass-backwards. When the conversation it attempts to have is misguided or contrived, then its effects can be outright damaging.

This is how I feel about “13 Reasons Why.” It’s one of Netflix’s most serious shows in that it attempts to confront serious, painful issues. From teen suicide to bullying to sexual assault to mental illness, this show attempts to portray these issues in a way that helps us talk about them. I respect that goal. I think the show’s creators, actors, and producers had good intentions.

I also think they failed in too many critical ways.

I don’t just say that as someone taking the time to critically analyze a show. As someone who was a miserable teenager, I really wanted this show to start this conversation. I wanted it to send a good, meaningful message through its morbid themes. After the first season, I was very disappointed and a little depressed.

The premise of the show has the right ingredients. It revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life and left pre-recorded tapes behind for her fellow students, namely Clay Jensen, to follow. The story attempts to explore what led Hannah to this grim decision that left her family, friends, and community devastated. Unfortunately, in doing so, it starts the wrong conversation.

That’s not just my opinion. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the United States Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology have criticized the show for how it depicts suicide. It has also been linked to an uptick in suicides and suicidal ideation among teenagers. Now, that might just be an unlinked correlation, but it’s still a distressing sign.

Then, there’s the plot of the show itself. This is where I felt the show really lost sight of its mission because, as a show, there’s a need for drama. Unfortunately, incorporating that drama undermines the conversation and, in some cases, turns it against itself.

Beyond the graphic depictions of Hannah’s suicide, which was received so negatively that was subsequently cut out, the whole show is built around a world of teenage caricatures that don’t exist in the real world. It portrays a world that relies heavily on stereotypes, gives little depth to characters no named Hannah or Clay, and makes every issue seem overly simplistic.

That’s good for dramatic moments and concise plots, but not for having real conversations about complicated issues. The people in Hannah’s life, from her parents to her friends, barely function as background characters. The authority figures, namely those in the school or in the police, are even worse. They’re essentially portrayed as never caring in the slightest, only seeing teenagers like Hannah as a nuisance.

For a show that wants to have a real conversation about teen issues, this is a terrible message. Teenagers already have an incomplete view of the world. Many of them already think nobody cares about them. The sequence of events in “13 Reasons Why” only confirms that. How is that supposed to help any teenager who might be contemplating suicide?

That’s still not the worst part, in my opinion. If “13 Reasons Why” has one glaring flaw, it’s how Hannah’s suicide essentially affirmed her motivations. To some extent, Hannah got exactly what she wanted when she killed herself and made those tapes. She punished the people she held responsible. Her story became the story that everyone talked about.

This isn’t just a terrible message with a depressing premise. It effectively misses the entire goddamn point in the conversation about suicide and teenage issues. In effect, Hannah doesn’t commit suicide because she’s clinically depressed or mentally ill. She does it as a very graphic “Fuck you!” to a world that didn’t listen to her.

It doesn’t just hurt her family. It doesn’t just cause more pain to her friends, some of which genuinely tried to help her. It gives the impression that suicide will make someone relevant. It’ll make everyone who didn’t care suddenly care. It ignores the pain caused by someone’s suicide and focuses on how it punishes those who wronged her.

Hannah was wronged. There’s no doubt about that. She was outright raped. She was a legitimate victim. If the show had decided to focus only on sexual assault and avoid suicide altogether, it might have sparked a more meaningful conversation.

However, the show grossly simplifies her issues, as though one egregious act is all it takes to send her overboard. People, even teenagers, tend to be more complex than that. On top of that, Hannah is shown to make bad choices and take little responsibility for her actions. We, the audience, are supposed to sympathize with her, but she makes that more difficult than it should be.

I wanted to like “13 Reasons Why.” I really did. I wanted it to further an issue that I think should be addressed. I was genuinely disappointed with how it panned out. The fact the show got multiple seasons only made it worse, rendering every serious issue as little more than a catalyst for drama. I don’t recommend this show to anyone if they want to confront issues like suicide and depression.

Ironically, if not tragically, Netflix already has a show that addresses these issues in a much more meaningful way. It even manages to do this with cartoon characters that depict humanoid horses. Yes, I’m referring to “Bojack Horseman.”

I understand it’s a cartoon. I also understand it’s a comedy that’s meant to make you laugh at times. However, the fact it still manages to depict the real struggles of depression and mental illness in a relevant only makes “13 Reasons Why” more tragic in the grand scheme of things.

These are serious issues that deserve serious conversations. If you can’t start that conversation better than a cartoon horse man, then you’re doing something very wrong.

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How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

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How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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How I Came To Respect Red Foreman From “That ’70s Show”

Time, age, and hindsight have a way of changing how you see things. The attitudes and perspectives you have when you’re 35 are bound to be different than the ones you had when you were 15. It’s just part of life, as you get older. The world is such a different place through the mind of a teenager than it is to an adult.

This manifests in many ways, but the one I’ve found most revealing has to do with the way I see old TV shows that I watched in my youth. Some shows age better than others. I recently citedChuck” as one of those rare shows that seems to get better with age. Most shows don’t get that benefit. Some age so poorly that there’s no way they could ever air today.

Thanks to the joys of being quarantined, I’ve had a chance to re-watch and re-visit some of the shows I loved in my youth. Shows like “Chuck” have only reaffirmed why I loved it so much. Other shows evoke a different reaction. One such show is “That ’70s Show.”

When I was a teenager, this was one of my favorite shows. In terms of TV sitcoms, it checked all the right boxes. It didn’t try to revolutionize the genre. It kept things simple, using 70s aesthetics and proven sitcom tropes to make an entertaining show. It never got too extreme. It never tried to cross too many lines. It just tried to have fun with a certain time period and a cast of colorful characters.

Most of the characters were lovable in their own right. My personal favorite was Fez. Some of the best lines in the show came from him. However, one character often stood out even more. In many ways, he was the show’s primary antagonist. He was Red Forman and when he wasn’t threatening to put his foot in someone’s ass, he was a frequent obstacle to whatever scheme the kids had conjured.

In many respects, any sitcom that involves a cast of teenagers needs a character like Red. He embodies the hard-nosed, uncompromising, uncool authority figure. Most of his roles revolve around stopping the kids from doing what they’re doing or punishing them as soon as they get caught. In that context, he’s easy to root against most of the time.

I certainly did when I watched the show in my youth. In fact, Red was one of my least favorite characters in the show because he was just such a hardass. He didn’t have any of the charm or likability as other sitcom dads. Al Bundy might have been a lousy dad, but at least he was funny. Red was rarely funny, his foot-in-ass remarks notwithstanding.

Then, after watching a few episodes recently, I found myself looking at Red Forman differently. I also saw the teen cast differently. While there were certainly times when Red was an unambiguous asshole, those times were a lot less frequent than I remember. In fact, I came to appreciate Red a lot more as I watched the show from an adult perspective.

In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why. When you’re a teenager, authority figures are often barriers to all the things you want to do. They’re the reason you can’t stay out late at night, drink beer, smoke pot, or hook up with your significant other. They enforce the rules that keep you from having all the fun you want to have. They’ll rarely explain those rules. It usually comes down to them being the parent and you being their kid.

This certainly plays out in “That ’70s Show” throughout many plots. I remember watching those same plots as a teenager and rolling my eyes whenever Red Forman got involved. Then, after watching them again, I found myself siding with Red and not just with respect to who deserved a foot in the ass.

When Eric, Fez, Kelso, Jackie, and Donna do something stupid, it’s rarely because of the rules or the authority figures who enforce them. More often than not, they do what they do by choice. They don’t think things through. They think about the consequences to their actions. They are, after all, immature teenagers in the 1970s. They’re more inclined than most to do stupid things for stupid, selfish reasons.

Red Forman may not be the best when it comes to helping them mature, but he’s not wrong for calling them out on it. Most of the time, they are on the wrong side of the dumb-ass equation. Their efforts to eat, drink, have sex, and avoid responsibility are all products of their own immaturity. Someone like Red needs to be there to remind them of that.

Is he the best father figure for helping teenagers navigate their immaturity? No, he isn’t.

Is he better than most of the bumbling dads who tend to populate most TV shows? Yes, he is and he’d kick the asses of most of those dads.

As a teenager, I had a hard time relating to Red Forman. As an adult, I can’t help but respect him. He is surrounded by a lot of dumb-asses and a wife who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown every other day. The fact he hasn’t put his foot in more asses is a testament to his restraint.

If you need more proof, please see this series of clips. If you haven’t seen the show in a while, then you may find yourself remembering Red more fondly than you thought.

Red Forman may be a hard-ass. He’ll never be father of the year or the first person you invite to a party. However, in a world of dumb-asses, he’s a beacon of order. For that, he deserves our respect.

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How Much Money Do You Really Need?

Most people aren’t born into wealth. The vast majority of the population has no idea what it’s like to be a billionaire, a millionaire, or someone who just doesn’t live with the constant dread that they’re just one missed paycheck away from total ruin. There’s a reason why they’re called the one percent and it goes beyond basic math.

I admit I’ve often contemplated what it would be like if I suddenly became wealthy. I’ve even articulated some of those musings in detail. I suspect most people have day-dreamed at some point what they would do if they suddenly had a billion dollars at their disposal. For most people, it’s difficult to contemplate because, like it or not, money changes people and not always for the better.

When someone asks what you would do with a million dollars, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of answers. Some are inevitably going to be more absurd than others. The movie “Office Space” articulated that point perfectly. However, there’s another question that I feel is worth asking and I also feel it’s more revealing.

How much money do you really need?

I’m not talking about fantasy wealth here.

I’m not talking dream vacations, dream homes, or spending sprees.

How much money do you actually need to live a happy, comfortable life by whatever standards you define it?

That’s a harder question to answer because it varies for everyone. There are some people in the world who think a million dollars isn’t enough. Depending on where you live in the world, that’s not an unreasonable position. Even with those variations, it still doesn’t zero in on the answer. How much is enough?

I’ve seen how people act when the lottery gets above the $300 million mark. In my experience, once things get over $100 million, that’s when even a typical day dream isn’t enough to appreciate just how much money that is. I’ve tried to imagine it and in every case, I come to the same conclusion.

If I had that much money, I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with it.

It’s not that my needs are simple or cheap. I think my costs are fairly average for someone living in a suburban area. If I had $100 million, didn’t invest a penny in stocks or bonds, and stopped making money today, I still wouldn’t be able to spend it all before I turned 100.

I probably couldn’t even spend $50 million. When things get into the billion-dollar territory, it gets even more absurd. Even millionaires have a hard time fathoming how billionaires operate. Most people, even with decent math skills, don’t understand just how much money a billion dollars is.

At that point, you’re way beyond basic needs and wants. You’re in a domain in which you literally cannot spend all that money at once. You have to legitimately try to lose it all and while some people have done that, it often happens in the process of seeking even more billions to add to their fortune. It rarely occurs just by spending money on your day-to-day needs.

In that context, contemplating how much money you actually need says more about you and your situation than it does about your understanding of finance. If you need that much money to be comfortable, then that says something about your mindset and it’s not just about greed. Some want to change the world for the better with that money. Some want to impose their will on it. It depends on who you are and what drives you.

For me, personally, I don’t think I need anything above $10 million. I probably wouldn’t need more than $5 million just to maintain my current living costs, adjusting for inflation, and planning for my future. That might change if I ever get married and have kids, but for now, that’s my perspective.

I’m interesting in hearing how others would respond to this question. How much money is enough for you? How much would you need to be content, stable, and happy? Let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to revisit this issue again down the line.

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The “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Filter: A Simple Process For Making Choices

How do you make good choices?

How do you know when something is right, just, and ethical?

How do you go about determining the morality and ethics of any given situation?

These are the kinds of questions that lawmakers, philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, and YouTube commenters debate constantly. It’s one of those deep, fundamental issues that everyone contemplates regularly, but few can claim to understand. The world is so chaotic and complicated. It’s incredibly difficult to surmise a simple, concise, consistent standard for making good choices.

However, there are ways of simplifying that daunting process. It may still be impossible to completely resolve such issues for every person in every situation, but we can make it easier. As it just so happens, one of the greatest TV shows of all time, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” provides us with an important tool that also happens to be hilarious.

Using that tool is simple. It goes like this.

If a certain choice, response, or recourse seems like someone that the Gang would do in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” then chances are it’s not the one you should follow.

To anyone who has watched this show in any capacity, that makes total sense. For those who haven’t had a chance to watch this hilariously obscene middle finger to every sitcom ever made, here’s just a sample of what I’m talking about.

Even if you’re not familiar with the show, this should at least get you familiar with the implications. I’ve written aboutIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in the context of its masterful handling of dark comedy. I concede that this is one of those shows that isn’t for everyone. It’s hard to explain to most people the appeal of a show that finds humor in baby funerals, crack binges, and unauthorized Lethal Weapon sequels.

At the same time, it’s because this show dives head-first into dark comedy that it paints a clear picture on what goes into making bad decisions. There’s no getting around it. The characters in this show, also known as the Gang, are not morally upstanding people. In fact, they don’t even try to be moral. Nearly every episode involves them pursuing some elaborate plot based entirely on selfishness, greed, ego, or misguided pettiness.

They’re not stupid on the level of Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin, but they aren’t very smart either. Everything they do, from hoarding gasoline in an oil crisis to stalking a waitress, is incredibly simplistic. It can always be reduced to a basic level of selfish narcissism that never goes beyond basic.

It’s because the Gang’s choices are so basic and self-serving that the show is so funny in the first place. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” essentially takes the unique setup of a sitcom to amplify all the terrible traits and tropes that frequently go along with other shows that try too hard to be deeper.

At its core, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” doubles down on the simplicity of having characters who don’t even try to be moral. Through 14 seasons, the Gang actively avoids any effort to change or grow in a meaningful way. Charlie, Dee, Dennis, Mac, and Frank are the same selfish narcissists they are in Season 14 as they are in Season 4.

Even as the show has gotten bolder and more absurd with the Gang’s antics, their motivations are the same. They don’t need to be overly complex to be funny. That’s what makes these characters and the entire premise of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” such a great filter.

The next time you’re in a situation where you need to make a decision, try and apply this filter. What would Sweet Dee do? What would Frank Reynolds do? What would Dennis, Mac, and Charlie do? If you can determine that, then you can also determine exactly what not to do.

Even if it’s not specific, the moral filter of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” can act as a reminder. If you’re going to be exceedingly selfish and narcissistic in making decisions, then you’re tempting fate the same way the Gang does with every absurd antic. Doing so will rarely pan out well for you and those around you.

If you need further proof, just look at Rickety Cricket.

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Why “Last Action Hero” Was Almost A Great Movie

Some movies and TV shows just fail to find an audience when they initially come out. Some are even ahead of their time in terms of concepts, themes, and storytelling. It’s how movies like “The Princess Bride,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Community” go onto become cult classics, despite not getting much acclaim when they came out.

I have a soft spot for those movies too. Everyone has at least one movie that they feel strongly about in a way that doesn’t quite match the popular sentiment surrounding it. It’s not always the case that you love a movie that everyone else hates, although that does happen. In some cases, you just have that one movie or show that confounds you with so many mixed feelings.

A part of you loves it on a personal level.

Another part of you hates it for certain flaws you can’t overlook.

Overall, you’re just not sure what to make of it. For me, this perfectly sums up my feelings on “Last Action Hero.”

First off, if you’ve never seen this movie, I recommend that you check it out. It’s a movie that feels very out of place in an era dominated by superhero movies, Pixar movies, and Oscar bait. This movie was a sloppy convergence of trends in the mid to late 90s. It was an era in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his power and every month brought at least one “Die Hardrip-off.

As a concept, it was still groundbreaking for its time. Last Action Hero” built a story around a movie-loving kid named Danny getting pulled into a generic, over-the-top Schwarzenegger action flick through the use of a magic movie ticket. Action, comedy, and hi-jinks ensues. It has plenty of objectively great moments that demonstrate why Schwarzenegger movies are so entertaining.

However, at the end of the day, it’s not a great movie.

I say that as someone who watched this movie multiple times in the late 90s. Even then, I understood it had a shady reputation, even among fans of Schwarzenegger. I even remember the jokes some people made about how bad it was. While I don’t think the movie is that bad, it’s still not great. It could’ve been great, but it fell short in critical areas.

Even as a kid, I saw the flaws. For one, it’s too long. The movie suffers from a lot of bloat and side-plots. At times, it drags, especially towards the end. It tries to balance itself out with more action and comedy, but it doesn’t work. If anything, it makes things worse.

In addition to the length, it’s a movie that tries too hard to do too many things. On paper, it has two compelling concepts. One involves a kid actually venturing into an action movie and experiencing what it’s like first-hand. The other involves someone finding out that they’re a fictional character within a fictional world and having an existential crisis about it.

These are both quality concepts that could make for great stories. However, Last Action Hero” fails at handling both because it tries so hard to blend them together. If it had stuck with just one and pursued it to the utmost, then it would’ve been a very different movie. I also think it would’ve been a better movie. By trying to use one plot to supplement the other, they just end up falling apart in the end.

For its time, it was a bold idea. It went out of its way to parody some of the overplayed clichés that dominated every other action movie at the time, including ones starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think if the movie came out today, it would actually work better. Audiences respond more to that kind of meta-commentary than they did in the 1990s, as the success ofDeadpool” can attest.

Even if it did come out today or just five years ago, I still think it would fail to find an audience. It’s just too messy and disorganized. It has everything else going for it, from the plot to the acting to the concept to the effects. It just doesn’t blend together.

That’s a shame because it’s still a fun movie. I often find myself watching the first half-hour and enjoying it. Right around the halfway point, though, I usually turn it off because that’s when it starts to drag.

Ultimately, “Last Action Hero” is one of those movies that could’ve been something really special. It still has the feel of a cult classic. It has aged somewhat better than many other action movies of the era. It was almost a great movie. It could’ve been a great movie. It just didn’t pan out.

It still has a special place in my heart and it always will. For that, it’s good enough in my book.

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