Category: Oneness

“Arrival” is an Absolute Must See

Let me start with the bottom line: you must go see the new movie Arrival. In fact, I hereby grant you leave to stop reading this post/review right now so you can get to it soon before it leaves theaters. Arrival is a visual feast that succeeds as a film of triumph on so many levels that it has quickly become my all-time favorite film in its genre.

That’s right, it’s better than Contact, better than Interstellar and, dare I say it?, better than my beloved Avatar. And it made me want to go back and binge-watch those movies just to soak up the incredible spirit of hope each represents for mankind. Maybe I’m feeling a special need for that at this moment in the world’s history.

WARNING! Minor spoiler alerts ahead.

Arrival bundles together in one all-but-overwhelming sensory experience my deepest passions and my most cherished beliefs and teachings.  Its symbolism — from the mysterious arc-based writing of the invading aliens to the egg-shaped craft in which they arrive, from their number (12) to their special “weapon” (or is it a tool?) — Is multilevel and internally consistent.

In so-called “message movies”, the underlying content that wants to be conveyed is generally sufficiently broad, not to say vague, that different people can get different messages from the same movie experience. While there is certainly room for nuance, it most often seems to me that these messages are ones upon which the majority of viewers can agree.

For me, the central theme of the movie, indeed its singular underlying Important Message, is the Essential Unity of All Life.

The most constant character in the movie — apart from linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) — is Time. There are two parallel plot lines at work here. One unfolds in linear time, or apparently linear time at least, and deals with the main story flow of the movie. The other quasi-randomly interrupts that flow to offer a completely nonlinear story in which Prof. Banks’ actions are informed by memories of her daughter, who died at a young age of a disease that followed a course of action Prof. Banks predicted. This “intertwingling” of non-parallel, non-linear time frames never becomes difficult to cope with, but it does require paying attention, particularly to the seemingly small events as the story of her daughter unfolds in fits and starts.

Arrival is a strong story of triumph: love over fear, brain over brawn, calm over panic, love over time, oneness over separation, and so many others. It is, in the best sense of the phrase, spiritual but not religious. Particularly noteworthy is the intermixture of mathematics and cosmology, in the persona of Prof. Banks’ physicist colleague, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who is given nominal charge of the team assigned to trying to find out why the aliens have come to Earth. I found his character to be poorly developed; but he plays a critical role of the alternate timeline, so the director (Denis Villeneuve) can perhaps be forgiven for not finding a way for him to be more interesting and complex.

The writing is crisp, and I found it enjoyable purely as a writer. But I went to this film with my good buddy and ardent film buff Paul Jimerson, and came away with a deeper appreciation for the visual artistic component of the film. Particularly the scenes in which the two main characters encounter the aliens are so excruciatingly minimalist and well drawn that they are practically worth the price of admission in themselves. Paul might say they are.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t make at least a passing comment about the performance of one of my favorite character actors of all time, Forest Whitaker. As the Army colonel in charge of the expedition to the alien craft, he manages to blend authoritarianism and understanding, a need to follow the rules and a curiosity about what happens if he doesn’t. In other words, typical Whitaker.

OK, enough commentary already. Hundreds of people of Artie reviewed this movie, and not sure I’ve got much original to add to what they’ve said. Is often the case, I’m stunned by reviews that did not give this movie high marks for reasons seem to me to be pedestrian and trivial. Still, a great many reviewers saw what I saw, heard what I heard, and saw what I thought. So let’s make a deal. I’ll stop writing if you’ll stop reading and just go watch it.

Belief in Special Creation is Not a Harmless ‘Difference of Opinion’

It probably doesn’t surprise you that less than half of Americans believe in evolution by natural selection. (According to this piece, it’s actually 48%, with much smaller percentages of conservatives accepting what has long been accepted science.)

By way of comparison, only 9-17% of UK residents believe creationism is the correct explanation for human life. Similar numbers, though trending somewhat lower, prevail elsewhere in Europe. (For a detailed analysis of the state of this belief situation in 2006, check out this piece.)

Until recently, I’ve dismissed these ignorant-by-choice citizens on the grounds that it’s basically harmless whether or not they buy into evolution, unlike the colossal worldwide and nearly universal damage that is being caused by their scientific cousins, the climate change deniers.

I think I was wrong.

If you believe that a God (who is only accessible through a specific spiritual path) created everything in the Universe — or at least on Earth — specially and individually, then you believe that mankind is unique and that it stands at the pinnacle of that creation. By creating a completely fictional disconnect between mankind and the entirety of remaining creation, you remove from homo sapiens any obligation to nurture, care for or even care about any other animal or plant life on the planet. This makes you believe you live outside the ecosystem that is planet Earth. In that name of that superiority you can justify slaughter, deprivation of habitat, extinction, enslavement and other abuse of fellow creatures of all varieties.

Creationists_ReadOneBookToon450OBut it is even more dangerous than those observations would indicate. If you are the result of an act of special creation by God, what of those who are different from you in your own race (by which I mean humanity, not ethnicity)? Are they also equal and superior? Broad evidence fails to support that hoped-for observation. Western Europeans who invaded and colonized North America slaughtered millions of natives who had lived on the land with various degrees of peacefulness for many centuries before their arrival, all in the name of superiority and by demonizing and declaring savages those who stood in the way of their expansionism, to which they felt Divinely entitled.

Do American conservative Evangelicals and Republicans believe, e.g., that all Muslims were also specially created by God? That we are all part of one humanity under God? Again, broad evidence suggests the contrary. The same may be said, of course, of those fanatics who form the lunatic fringe of any religious grouping.

A belief in special creation is completely incompatible with a belief in our inherent and Divine Oneness as a species. And, as I’ve written many, many times over the past decade or two, until we grasp and integrate our Oneness, we cannot solve the myriad of problems we face as humanity, problems which transcend national, cultural, racial and religious borders. Resisting Oneness is another insidious effect of the belief in special creation.

It really is essential that we begin working together as humans to eradicate this unfounded mythological belief. So much good will derive from such efforts.

NYT’s Frank Bruni Offers Excellent Insights on Society in the Microcosm of an Airliner

Frank Bruni of the New York Times is one of my favorite columnists. Not only is he a keen observer of the human landscape, he is also a superb craftsman of the language.

In his most recent piece, Bruni uses the microcosm of a commercial airline flight to point out some of the causes and effects of our inability as a society to find consensus, act with compassion or behave with civility.

He calls air travel today “a mile-high mirror of our talent for pettiness, our tendency toward selfishness, our disconnection from one another and our increasing demarcation of castes. Courtesy is dead. The plane is its graveyard.”

selfishness_quote_1He is so right. Not only in his rueing of the horrors of today’s reality in air travel, but also in explaining why so much of society is broken. His most telling point is that, “There’s little sense of a common good, no rules that everybody follows so that nobody gets a raw deal. Instead there’s an ethic of every passenger for himself or herself.” With no common purpose, no understanding of our Oneness as a species and as part of the larger planet Earth, we allow selfishness to become our dominant theme. This carries through before and after we undertake a transcontinental or transoceanic flight. It explains, at least in large part, the bottleneck that has become our Congress, the suspicion that has become our default response to strangers, the fear that characterizes so much of our national discourse and our interpersonal communication.

The infamous pseudo-Libertarian author Ayn Rand in 1964 published a collection of essays she and her partner Nathaniel Branden authored entitled The Virtue of Selfishness. This counter-cultural compilation of phony intellectualism gave political cover to many so-called leaders in that and subsequent decades and has become far more a clarion cry of the Libertarian movement which co-opted her than her better-known The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. A dozen years later Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, which made of virtue an inexorable force of nature, further entrenching it in an American psyche already steeped in and prepared for it by the all-too-recent experience of the Wild West.

But the truth is that, while selfishness has its role, it cannot be allowed to dominate. When it does, you get what you see around you today in a planet drowning and sweltering in its capitalist productivity built on an economic foundation of boundless resource and boundless greed.

I have maintained for several years that the only way I see out of this mess is for a generation of humanity to harbor a Tipping Point (after Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book) of sufficiently enlightened beings to catalyze the change in attitude away from selfishness to a clear shared understanding of our Oneness. This is what I call The Sacred Journey from Me to We and it is a trip I sincerely believe we must complete if we are to have any hope of saving the human race in anything resembling its present form.