Category Archives: reviews

Dave Chappelle Needed to Talk #MeToo

Dave Chappelle is getting some shit for his latest specials on Netflix, particularly his take on the revelations of widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment as a deep and ever-present reality for women in the workplace.

In his review, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment,” Jason Zinoman writes for the New York Times, “In this paradigm-shifting moment, when victims are speaking out and revealing secrets long buried, Mr. Chappelle is ignoring the historical context, the systemic barriers preventing women from speaking up about abuse or succeeding in comedy.”

In his review, “Dave Chappelle’s ‘reckless’ #MeToo and trans jokes have real after-effects,” Brian Logan writes for The Guardian, “[Chapelle] makes [a] familiar claim, which is that it’s not a comedian’s job to be right, but to be reckless… I take Chappelle’s central point, that comedy has to defend its right to go against the grain, to test the boundaries of the sayable…And yet…[s]everal of [his] jokes punch down; others rehash the idea that victims of sexual harassment should ‘man up.’ These aren’t the boundaries of the sayable: this is what reactionaries say every day…I’m not convinced Chappelle is being reckless…These are deliberate choices, made by a comic who clearly weighs his every word.”

In his review, “Dave Chappelle Is Mostly Disappointing in His New Netflix Specials,” Matt Zoller Seitz writes for Vulture, “Chappelle…seem[s] out of touch at best, stubbornly reactionary at worst, and imperiously annoyed at anyone who dares to tell him that a lot of what he says is not worth saying. [His] sentiments seemed to be punching down for no good reason, and…the material was self-aggrandizing, poorly paced, and inelegantly shaped.”

The negative reviews continue.

My wife just walked behind me while FaceTiming with her sister and said something along the lines of, “Kyle is writing a blogpost to mansplain why people shouldn’t be condemning Dave Chappelle for his latest special.”

But that’s not what I want to do. What I want to do is figure out why I enjoyed the specials so much. If so many people who probably share many of my values were upset by his comedy, I wonder why am I not.

I explored some of this a few weeks ago in a lament over Tig Notaro neglecting to discuss the #metoo movement (especially the Louie C.K. aspect of it) during a live set I attended. I concluded that piece by saying, “I want to hear [about this topic] in a stand-up format. I need to hear a long, layered, intelligent, emotional, and deeply comedic monologue on Louie’s crimes and on the way individual humans, society, and the subculture of comedy nerds ought to reckon with it.”

I also wrote I wanted to hear this monologue from Tig “more than I want to hear [it] from…Dave Chappelle.”

Well, with one of  Chappelle’s latest specials, I got to hear it from him. I’m paraphrasing to remove the comedic aspects, but he basically said, “What Louie did was wrong, but these girls have to toughen up. If seeing a dude’s dick can throw you off your dream like that, then you probably weren’t tough enough to achieve your dream in the first place.”

And that, my friends, is why, on this issue, I wasn’t looking for guidance from Dave Chappelle. I already understand Chappelle’s perspective on the issue, as I understand it from most other men’s perspectives. It’s not about that.

Unless Chappelle or Chris Rock or Bill Burr or one of the other male comedians I respect wants to address the issue from the perspective of the piece of shit who can’t control their urges enough to honor the basic decency of other human beings — unless they’re gonna take me inside Louie’s head and show me what gives him the right — then I don’t really need their thoughts on the topic.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear how they fashion comedy around the #metoo movement. I thought Chappelle’s stuff was funny; I don’t have to agree with him or receive insight from him to find it funny. Even reactionary ideas can be funny, otherwise South Park wouldn’t still be on the air after two decades.

But I don’t expect wisdom on this particular topic to come from too many middle-aged men, the same men who came to whatever power they have through the same patriarchal system that is on trial right now.

Because I wasn’t looking for wisdom from Chappelle, I don’t much care that he didn’t deliver it on this particular topic.

What I cared about was his ability to perform a ~10-minute, detailed description of the Emmet Till murder in the middle of a COMEDY special. What I cared about was his ability to perform a ~15 minute, detailed story about the way a particular pimp manipulated and exploited his most important prostitute, and do so with very few laughs…again, in the middle of a COMEDY special.

Both of these stories shared an insight that I didn’t yet have. The first built up to a hopeful message that sometimes the worst shit has to happen for the best shit to come to fruition — Emmet Till’s senseless murder led to the Civil Rights Movement led to Barack Obama. The second story demonstrated some of the worst aspects of unchecked capitalism: in pursuit of the almighty dollar, capitalists manipulate and exploit even the most vulnerable among us; they have no shame, no sympathy, and no heart — they have only the will to exploit. And they’re in charge of the entertainment industry.

Chappelle attempts things in his comedy that few others do. He allows his audiences to sit for tens of minutes at a time without a laugh, and when he reaches the “punchline,” he sometimes allows it to be something other than funny.

Chappelle is intelligent, insightful, and artful. He doesn’t have a clear vision on every topic, but neither does anyone else.

Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

For comedians, however, he ought to have written, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must begin thy set.”

The Books I Read in 2017

Every year, I participate in the Goodreads Challenge, which is where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books over the course of the year and then track your progress. Most years, I challenge myself to read either 25 or 30 books, and most years, I come close to achieving that goal, but for the last two years, I read 35 and 36 books respectively, so  I challenged myself to read 35 books in 2017.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t succeed. Instead, I read 21 (my lowest number since the annual challenge began in 2011). There’s no real reason for this, except maybe that some of the books I read were pretty damn long (my wife, who read Moby Dick and Gone with the Wind this year, thinks Goodreads should change it from number of books read to number of pages; she’s not wrong). But long books or not, I didn’t reach my goal. Thankfully, a new year’s begun.

Now, to the books!

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy (528 pages) This non-fiction book attempts to capture nearly two-thousand years of papal history. The author, John Julius Norwich, skips a large percentage of the popes to focus on the more interesting ones, such as St. Peter (the first bishop of Rome), Innocent III (the first to put forward the principle of papal infallibility), Leo X (the first Medici pope and the man who excommunicated Martin Luther), Clement VII (the second Medici pope and Leo X’s cousin and best friend, not to mention the pope who wore the tiara when Protestantism became a separate religion, Rome was sacked by Charles V, and the Church of England broke away), Pope Joan (a legendary female pope who Norwich argues did not really exist), and others.

The subject of almost every chapter in this book could stand as a book on its own, and several chapters could have whole libraries dedicated to them. As a history of the papacy, it’s also a history of the political and economic life of the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire, and Europe in general.

Because of that, some of the book is a slog, and you need a machete to cut through all of the repetitive names followed by Roman numerals, but if you give up the idea that you’re going to remember the differences between all the Leopolds, Ferdinands, Clements, and Alfonsos, the book becomes a fascinating flood of corruption, intrigue, and empire.

If you have any interest in the actual history of the Roman Catholic Church (rather than the theology), Absolute Monarchs is a great place to start (the other, of course, is A History of Christianity: The First Three-Thousand Years).

Norse Mythology (304 pages) Neil Gaiman wrote this collection of Norse mythology because, in a lot of ways, mythology comes not from the tales we tell, but from the retelling of them. Thor did not exist in Asgard, but in the magical space between the storyteller and the listener, each fireside tale in Scandinavia adding to the strength of his hammer.

Gaiman’s desire to share tales that have already been shared millions of times is to be commended,  and (as I wrote in my review on Goodreads), he “writes these familiar tales in an authentic feeling way, letting loose only in those moments when the narrative requires it, but never straying too far from his source.”

When I picked up the book, however, I was hoping for more Gaiman and less Snorri Sturluson. While I didn’t necessarily want a modern take on the tales (e.g., Gaiman’s novel American Gods), I had hoped for Gaiman to take me inside the stories to provide a new perspective. Instead, I got a remarkably faithful version of these well-told tales.

I don’t hold that against him. My desire as a reader and his desire as an author may not have matched up, but the end result was still an enjoyable read, making this book as good as any if you’re just hoping for an English version of traditional tales.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (414 pages) I wrote a piece about this book when I read it back in March. I hadn’t finished the book when I’d written it, and so I left the question that motivated the piece unanswered at the end. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, essentially argues that Homo sapiens are no different than any other biological force on the planet in that we are subject to the same laws of physics, chemistry, and biology as ants, anteaters, and single-cell parameciums.

The story of our history, then, is the story of our attempt to universalize the powers of the human animal — whether through politics, economics, or beliefs — in order to overcome the laws the universe has subjected us to.

Harari ends his book with a chapter that presages his next book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The chapter explores humanity’s attempt to overtake natural selection with intelligent design, discussing biological engineering, cyborg engineering, and the engineering of non-organic life (i.e., Artificial Intelligence).

The end result is not exactly pessimistic, but also not exactly hopeful. As he writes in the book’s Afterword, “Despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals… We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea of what to do with all that power… Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one… Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”

The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (368 pages) I gave this non-fiction book a rating of three stars when I finished it back in April, which is probably why I barely remember reading it. I started reading the book because I wanted to understand not only economics, but also the mindset that leads to insatiable greed.

I don’t think this book satisfied either of those desires, but if it did, it certainly didn’t make a lasting impression when on me. That’s why, when writing this post, I went back to the book to rejigger my memory, and in the book’s introduction, I found this great quote from John Maynard Keynes, “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men…are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

That’s why I wanted to read this book. To better understand the ideas that essentially rule our world. Maybe this book helped me (because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this year thinking about economics), but if it did, I can’t say exactly how.

The one thing I do remember about this book is how much of a bad-ass John Maynard Keynes was. I mean, the dude made his personal fortune by only dedicating a half-hour a day, while still in bed, to his own financial doings. The rest of the time, he was writing books on mathematics that impressed even Bertrand Russell, doing public service in Britain’s treasury department, socializing with Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury group, editing the Economic Journal, participating in (and then critiquing) the Treaty of Versailles, running a theatre, becoming the Director of the Bank of England, and so much more. Keynesian economics may have its detractors, but Keynes himself was pretty damn cool.

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (577 pages) This non-fiction book tells not just the story of the famed Lawrence of Arabia, but also of the unheralded (and generally inexperienced) men and women who also played a huge role in the shaping of the Middle East.

I picked up this book following The Worldly Philosophers because, in reading that book, I realized just how little I knew about World War I. The only book about the Great War I’d  read previously was The Guns of August (which is fantastic, by the way), but that mostly covered the European theatre, and focused mostly on the first month of the war. I wanted to know more.

I chose Lawrence in Arabia because of the anecdote the author, Scott Anderson, shares in the introduction to the novel. Basically, Lawrence is called to the palace for what he imagines will be a consultation about the postwar borders of the Middle East, but instead, King George surprises him with a knighthood ceremony. He’d once written that his greatest ambition was to become knighted before the age of 30, and now that ambition was about to be realized. As Anderson writes, “Except Lawrence didn’t kneel. Instead, just as the ceremony got under way, he quietly informed the king that he was refusing the honor [and] under the baleful gaze of a furious Queen Mary, Colonel Lawrence turned and walked away.”

I might not have known anything about World War I, but after reading that intro, I had to know more about the bad-ass mofo who turned his back on a king.

The book was fantastic, and it reads like a novel. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (570 pages) Lawrence in Arabia did a great job of covering the Middle Eastern theatre of the war, but it didn’t do a great job of explaining what happened at the end of the war. Paris 1919 dedicates 570 pages to the subject.

I really enjoyed this book (four stars!), but I also had some issues with it. The author, Margaret MacMillan, organizes the book by geography, focusing on the story of each region. For example, the third part of the book tells how the Balkans were divided following World War I, while chapter six focuses on Russia.

This makes the individual stories of the regions easier to follow, but the jumping back and forth in linear time makes it difficult to understand all the moving parts and how they influence each other. I don’t begrudge MacMillan for the difficulties — her subject is extremely difficult to organize, and she had to make a choice somewhere — but by the end of the book, I felt she had lost some steam.

The New Testament: King James Version (~550 pages) I started reading the New Testament in concert with Absolute Monarchs, but as anyone can see who looks through my Goodreads, I tend to read a lot about Church history. Last year, for example, I read Elaine Pagels’ research on Revelations and James Tabor’s The Jesus Dynasty. It had been several years since I’d last read the New Testament in its entirety, so I figured I’d get on that.

Mostly, I wanted to read the books that come after the four Gospels: the book of Acts, the various letters “written” by Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude, and Revelations. Because I’d recently read an entire book on Revelations, I skipped that section in this year’s reading, but outside of that, I read them all.

And as always, I thoroughly enjoyed them. They don’t call it the Good Book for nothing.

Aftermath: Empire’s End (423 pages) The final book in Chuck Wendig‘s Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End provides the canonical explanation of what happened to the Empire following the death of Emperor Palpatine during the Battle of Endor. The trilogy takes place between the Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, clearing up some loose ends from the original film trilogy.

I enjoyed the overall plot of Wendig’s novels, but I got pretty annoyed with his habit of writing “Interludes” that had nothing to do with the main story. At first, I found them interesting — they’re like mini-stories that take place throughout the Star Wars galaxy, and they give readers an on-the-ground experience of what it is like to live through the death of a tyrannical empire — but after a while, they just got in the way of the story of Wendig’s main characters. This was an issue with the entire trilogy, but by the third book, it was even more of a problem. We’d been with these characters for two whole books now — it’s time to leave off the Interludes and simply cut to the chase.

With that being said, if you’re a Star Wars geek like I am, these canonical books are a must read.

Max (473 pages) I came across this book in the children’s section of our local library. It’s a young-adult novel written from the perspective of a child created through the Nazis’ eugenics program.

I picked the book up because the opening chapter was written from the first-person perspective of a fetus, and frankly, I’d never come across something like that before.

The rest of the book played out well. The titular character is the epitome of Nazi eugenics, but even he comes to realize that tyranny is a malevolent force that cuts away at the sanctity of the individual. A well-done book that I’d recommend for both young and regular adults.

This Is Not A Novel (190 pages) The late David Markson is one of my favorite authors. His books, while similar in style, expand the possibilities of literature, challenging reader expectations while also delivering on the emotional promises we require from literature.

This Is Not a Novel focuses on the birth, life, and death of various artists, including the narrator, who calls himself “Writer.” The text is essentially a 190-page collection of anecdotes about artists (again, including “Writer”), but the anecdotes build up and play off each other, allowing the reader to make the kinds of connections we desire in our reading.

I picked up the book during the week my family was in Chicago, and I read it in just a couple of hours. There are no chapters to the book, and each anecdote is very short — sometimes no longer than a few words — so it’s easy to tell yourself, just one more, just one more, and next thing you know, the book is over.

If you have any interest in art and artists, definitely pick it up.

The Communist Manifesto (288 pages) As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I taught a high-school course on Communism & Socialism in 2017. To prepare for that class, I read several books and essays from the original leaders, including the grand-daddy of the texts, Marx & Engels’ Communist Manifesto.

I’m a big fan of this book. A lot of it is Inside Baseball type-stuff, where Marx & Engels argue with other communists and socialists about the real aims and meaning of the international movement, but you can breeze over that stuff to get to the meat of the essay.

Between the two blog posts I’ve linked to above, I’ve said pretty much all I want to say on the topic for now, but I will add that I truly believe every informed American ought to read The Communist Manifesto. Marx & Engels are both strong writers, and the ideas they present in this little book become more apropos with the growing power of the American oligarchy.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (170 pages) I picked this book up while reading several books on Communism & Socialism. I needed a break from all of the political theory, and this meditation on the meaning of life fit the bill.

The author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, was suddenly struck by a painful illness that prevented her from getting out of bed for close to a year. In her bedridden state, a friend gave her a wild snail that they picked up from outside of her apartment. While lying in bed doing absolutely nothing, Bailey begins to meditate on the lived experience of the snail, on humanity’s need for companionship, and on life’s ability to be resilient in the face adversity.

This short book did not quite live up to my hopes for it (it reads like a poor man’s version of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek), but at 170 pages, it fulfilled my need to alleviate the political anger aroused in me by Marx, Engels, and Lenin.

Lenin: A Biography (561 pages) Another book for the Communism & Socialism class, this one took me most of the summer. I started reading it in mid-July and finished it in late August.

As the bona-fide leader of the Communist revolution in Russia and the founding father of the Soviet Union, Lenin has been the subject of hundreds if not thousands of scholarly books over the past 100 years. Choosing a single book to read can be daunting. I chose Robert Service‘s biography because he is a professor of Russian history at Oxford and the author of several others books on Russia, including a biography of Stalin and a history of 20th century Russia.

I also chose the book because it was one of the first biographies to be written after Mikhail Gorbachev “unsealed” the central party’s archives and various files and meeting minutes became declassified. It also contained research from more recently acquired correspondence from and memoirs of Lenin’s family, furthering our insight into Lenin’s motives and actions.

I was not disappointed. What results is a full and complex picture of a uniquely driven and highly focused individual. We see him playing with his neighbor’s children and feel his own loss at never having children himself. We see him raging in his deathbed as Stalin proves himself to be an unworthy successor. We see him foaming at his fellow intellectuals and inspiring the actions of crowds in a square. We follow him on nighttime walks and relax with him in the countryside. We see, in a word, a man.

Socialism: Utopian & Scientific (86 pages) Like the Communist Manifesto, Socialism: Utopian & Scientific is less of a book and more of an extended essay. Written exclusively by Engels (rather than Marx & Engels), the essay breaks down the concept of socialism, looking at it through first a utopian lens and then a historical-material one, with a long section in the middle, “Dialectics,” establishing the primacy of the latter over the former.

For Engels, when Socialism evolved from Utopianism to Historical Materialism, its “task was no longer to manufacture a system of society as perfect as possible, but to examine the historico-economic succession of events from which these classes [the proletariat and the bourgeoisie] and their antagonism had of necessity sprung, and to discover in the economic conditions thus created the means of ending the conflict.”

In other words, Socialism is not an attempt to create the perfect society. It’s the attempt to end the original conflict between humans: economic oppression. Subsequently, the dominant mode of production (capitalism) manifests as the pure expression of that oppression, one in which the only goal is the creation of surplus value, which Marx demonstrated can only arise from the exploitation of another person’s labor.

In still other words, according to Engels (one of its founding fathers), Socialism is not a positive political program but an attempt to free the vast swath of humanity from capitalist oppression (which, it will be argued elsewhere also frees humanity from the tyranny of the State, itself a mode of capitalist defense).

For a relatively short introduction to Socialism, you could do a lot worse.

State & Revolution (116 pages) Written by Lenin, The State & Revolution is Lenin’s attempt to clarify the language and ideas of Marx and Engels to better communicate what he saw as the revolutionary requirements of Communism and Socialism, especially as it relates to the proletariat, whom he defines as the spear tip of the working class, the leadership group that is most capable of directing the workers’ revolution through and into its ultimate phase, the withering away of the state and humanity’s first real taste of freedom.

If you’re interested, I put together for my students some notes on the first few chapters. It’s basically quotes from the text, but arranged so as to provide a clearer through-line for each chapter.

Lenin is not as good a writer as Marx or Engels, but his tone and his authority definitely come through. After reading the biography of Lenin I mentioned above, I found my first in-depth experience with his writing to be enriched by my understanding of him as a man. I definitely enjoyed the experience.

On Bullshit (67 pages) A small treatise written by a Princeton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, On Bullshit has a funnier title than its content would suggest. The author attempts to analyze the difference between bullshit and lying, coming to the conclusion that while lying must have some relationship to the truth (since its function is to conceal the truth), bullshit‘s only goal is to get its audience to be impressed by the bullshitter.

Because it is generally apathetic in regards to the truth, bullshit is more dangerous than lying: lying at least acknowledges the value of the truth, but bullshit is nihilistic.

A Song of Ice & Fire (4,972 pages) Following the conclusion of the latest season of Game of Thrones, I decided to re-read George R.R. Martin’s original books: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons.

I loved these books the first time I read them over a decade ago, and I loved them even more this time around. I had forgotten how many changes the HBO series had made, how many characters left out and how many subplots left unopened or unexplored. I forgot that the HBO series was not only erasing minor characters or changing the locations and timing of various scenes, but it was radically altering Martin’s novels, to the point where the events of the past two seasons of television simply can’t develop over the next two or three books.

In other words, I’d forgotten that what I was watching on television was so far from Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire that I’d essentially forgotten A Song of Ice & Fire. I couldn’t be happier to have Martin’s vision be the last one I’ve experienced.

Now if only he could publish the next book (The Winds of Winter) before the final season of Game of Thrones can be released.


And that’s it. Those are the twenty-one books I read in 2017. All told, we’re talking roughly 10,660 pages worth of fantasy, history, philosophy, experimental literature, mythology, religion, and politics.

Not to mention way too many articles about Donald Trump.

God damn it, 2017.

Star Wars & Marvel: A Comparison

(Obviously, spoilers.)

In the last few nights, I’ve watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (a little late on the latter, I know, but hey man, I have a kid). I’m interested in comparing the two universes, Star Wars’ and Marvel Studios’, both of which are owned by Disney (who now also owns pretty much everything else in Hollywood thanks to the deal with 20th Century Fox).

I don’t know what I’ll discover in this little essay, nor whether it will be original, but I think there’s something in the comparison that could be worthwhile. Instead of reading someone else’s comparison, I’ve decided to write my own.

It’s just more fun that way.

First, for context: I literally just finished watching Guardians vol. 2, and I watched The Last Jedi two days ago, so my memory of the former will be better than latter. Still, let’s jump.

First, their themes. Guardians is an artistic expression of the mythologically poignant argument that one must overcome the ego of the father (assisted by the love of friends and family — a love that is first awoken by the mother) before one can embark on their own journey for meaning.

The Last Jedi, meanwhile, is an artistic expression of the mythologically poignant argument that one must reject any attempt to find meaning in the legends and heroes of  the past.

In the same way that Kylo Ren blasts through his father, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker tosses aside the lightsaber handed to him baton-like at the end of The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson democratizes the force of George Lucas’ meta-chlorinated bloodline and tosses aside the plot devices that were delivered to him, baton-like, by JJ Abrams.

Neither of these movies are subtle. But neither do they try to be. Everything in them drives home their themes. Yes, there are technical mistakes in their plots, the kind that can drive a hypercritical fan crazy with rage and/or disappointment, but for any storyteller worth their salt, the plot is never the point.

Storytellers weave their magic across all of the conflicts and complexities that are raised when a theme interacts with a variety of motivated forces. Rey’s search for the identity of her birth parents, for example, conflicts with Johnson’s argumentative theme (one’s meaning cannot be found in the past), and so part of the plot of The Last Jedi comes from the way that conflict  plays out. In addition, her attempt to re-engage Luke Skywalker in the conflicts of the wider universe only results in the stunning return of his spirit, which has its fleeting moment of beauty and victory before it too, like the sun, is gone.

And Kylo Ren, driven so long by the desire to defeat and kill Luke Skywalker, his true father-figure, sees his journey climax in an empty fight with a ghost, where his every action is meaningless and all of his emotional rage doesn’t matter. Kylo Ren is focused on the past — he wants, for reasons both he and the audience do not fully understand, to become even more powerful than his grandfather and his uncle, and he hasn’t yet learned that wielding such power doesn’t much matter. That’s what makes him the bad guy (in the moral world of Disney, bad guys are people who haven’t yet learned their lesson).

Compare to the bad guys from Guardians of the Galaxy. In vol. 2, two of the bad guys have carried over from vol. 1, but by the end of the movie, both of them have been redeemed, one of them by finally getting to the sympathetic core of what she really wants (a sister), the other by revealing himself as a misunderstood step-father who, though he joked about eating a young Starlord and made him do some criminal things, really did love him and really did protect him, and who, when push came to shove, chose to sacrifice his life for him (compare to Starlord’s biological father, who killed his mother and was just now literally trying to consume his soul).

At the end of Guardians vol 2., the main characters have no real place left to go. The bad guy is dead, and with it, the main characters’ driving questions: at this point, all they want is to make a new family (with Groot standing in for the moody teenage child). Enter the Marvel calling card, an epilogue to remind us that the Guardians corner of the universe is a big place, and there are always more stories to tell.

At the end of Star Wars, however, we don’t know where the story might go, because for Star Wars, the Skywalker bloodline has always been the one story. That’s what so great about what Rian Johnson forced JJ Abrams to do. By revealing Rey’s truly humble origins, doubling down with his force-strong janitor boy, and killing Luke Skywalker and Snoke, Johnson cut away everything extraneous and said to JJ Abrams, “Kylo is the last Skywalker, and you’ve only got one movie to decide his fate. What are you going to do?”

This is such a baller move. Rian took away JJ Abram’s favorite weapon: plot-based mysteries. With the death of Snoke, the reveal of Rey’s parents, and the discarding of the Luke Skywalker MacGuffin, Rian dares JJ Abrams to approach the next chapter of the story not through its plot, but through its theme and its characters. Like a good professor, he challenges JJ Abrams to become a better storyteller.

Compare that to Guardians and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The basic plot of the Marvel CU has been known for years (not to the general public, but to Marvel, of course). Since its inception in 2008, the universe has shared an already-existing connective tissue. While Marvel encourages its storytellers to make each film stand on its own, it also requires its connective tissue be kept in place, realizing that the strength of one movie supports the weaknesses of the others, much like, in The Avengers, the strength of one superhero supports the weaknesses of the others.

But the Star Wars universe doesn’t work like that. Can you imagine Marvel allowing a creator to toss away major plot-structures (the Infinity Stones, for example) that it spent over a decade of man-hours and billions of dollars constructing and reinforcing?

But that’s what Rian Johnson just did with The Last Jedi.

I applaud Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the Star Wars executive branch for allowing Johnson to make a movie that was this subversive of its mythos, and then to triple-down on their decisions by giving Johnson the first original trilogy of films in what I can only hope will be an ever-daring and ever-entertaining series of stories.

The difference of course is that the Marvel Universe has been in existence since 1939, and while the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t start until the first Iron Man movie in 2008, it still has over 78 years of connections to contend with.

Star Wars, by contrast, has only been around for forty years. In effect, with Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, we see what amounts to the saga’s midlife crisis, the abandonment of one set of motivating forces for a new but as yet unknown set of motivating forces. We can call it the crisis of one individual life, or we can call the moment when one generation takes over from the one that preceded.

With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams demonstrated his generation’s ability to receive a beloved set of principles and then toss them back into the universe in much the same form, just with a new sense of style — much like Starlord, in Guardians, tosses a ball of ego-light back and forth with his biological father.

Rian Johnson, however, catches the ball, and like Luke with the lightsaber, he tosses it over his shoulder, as if to say to the previous films, “No thanks. I’m gonna go do something else.” Then he walks off to play his own game, over in a brand new trilogy.

What’s hilarious is that JJ Abrams now has to walk over and pick that ball up again. His whole legacy as a filmmaker rests on what he does with it.

Good luck!

Seventeen minutes

Seventeen minutes. That’s what it takes to write something good. The something can always be made better, and it’ll take as much time as a writer is willing to give it, but it takes seventeen minutes at least.

This is not a lot of time. It’s less than the length of one episode of comedic television.

Seventeen minutes is keyboard time though. It’s sitting at the keyboard and typing rather furiously for seventeen minutes. But it’s not seventeen minutes of blathering onto the screen; it’s seventeen minutes of hyperintensity, where your body is almost completely still except for its unconscious twitches and shakes and your mind’s eye is so far inward it’s almost up your asshole, and then, almost like when a fish tries to dart back into the dark waters and you reach out to snatch it by its tail, you discover the phrase, and depending on how fast you are, its yours to catch or release.

It’s the buildup to the keyboard time that can get you. It takes a lot of energy to sit down and write. It’s a lazy man’s game, I know, but there isn’t any laziness to it. Not when it’s done right.

It’s like exercise. You just have to do it. Maybe someday you’ll feel like you’re a real part of “the game,” but for now, it’s just exercise.

I have friends that run in marathons; some are even Ironmen and women. I don’t think one of them has entered a race expecting they would win it. They expect zero accolades for their performance. They wouldn’t mind if they received some, but accolades aren’t for a moment a reason for them to run, or to swim, or to bike.

Before race day, they prepare — some more than others, but all of them prepare.

In writing, though, there is no race day. There is no single day that it’s all leading up to. It’s never “the day.”

When I see my friends at the starting line of their races (which isn’t very often), they often seem serious. Those who can laugh, laugh, but not all of them; some take the time to focus. Sometimes they bounce on their legs to get the energy flowing, or they sway back and forth, trying to stay loose.

There is that in writing too. Some writers are able to roll right out of bed and get going, but I think most of us have to psyche ourselves up a little bit. Some even pop performance enhancing drugs like marijuana or alcohol (Hunter S. Thompson popped a pharmacy). But then, clean or not, feeling the moment, we sit down, place our fingers on the keys, put them in their rested but ready position, and wait, wait…wait…and bang, the phrase hits, and we’re off.

Most people don’t run marathons though. You know what they do? They run 5Ks. A lot of them, sometimes more than once a day.

How long do you think that takes, a 5K?

I don’t know. I’m not a runner. But I think to run a pretty good 5K, seventeen minutes sounds about right to me.

I shit you not. I started this post a little more than twenty minutes ago. I’m sorry it’s taken this long. I’m still a little off my game.

And for the record (just because I finished watching it about twenty minutes ago) tonight’s “Spoils of War” episode has to be in the running not just as the best episode of Game of Thrones, but as possibly the best episode of television ever. It demonstrated the narrative moment that comes just before the apotheosis as well as I’ve ever seen it done. I can’t wait to read George R.R. Martin’s version of it.

And also for the record, it’s taking Mr. Martin longer than seventeen minutes to write A Song of Ice & Fire; in fact, it’s taking him longer than seventeen years.

Name one project you’ve worked on for longer than seventeen years (children don’t count).

Give Mr. Martin a break. He’s creating a true masterpiece.

And for those of you going after David Benioff and D.B. White for their desire to wrangle whatever stories they can out of the notion that the South won the Civil War and slavery still exists the way capitalism still exists, as a bona-fide economic theory — how dare you try to censor an artist before he or she can begin her work?

Game of Thrones has to be ranked as one of the best series of television ever. You can argue the point all you like, but no one would denounce you as crazy for suggesting it at least deserves some kind of honorable mention in the discussion.

The world makes a lot of television. To do it as well as Beniof and White have done it for as long as they’ve done it, and to do it at such a massive scale, with millions of person hours dedicated to its creation, production, and distribution, and done in what seems to be a genuine manner, allowing the dirtiness of Martin’s novels to titillate and shock the viewer while also striving to touch their hearts… Beniof and White have been as successful on screen as Martin has been on the page — differently successful, but successful nonetheless.

Haven’t they shown themselves to be twenty-first century artists of the first stripe, capable of manipulating the capitalist system in such a way as to dedicate millions upon millions of dollars to the creation of quality works of art? You think the Vatican doesn’t benefit from housing such high quality artwork behind its doors?

Yes, there’s money to be made in art. Ask Shakespeare and Michelangelo.

I’m not trying to go out on a limb here. In their official announcement about the series, Benioff and White used the language of art to frame what they’re trying to do, saying, “Our experience on Thrones has convinced us that no one provides a bigger, better storytelling canvas than HBO.” Given any urge to create art, what artist worth her salt would turn down the biggest canvas she could find?

The announced concept behind “Confederacy” is problematic, true, and I applaud those who want to ensure that the artists understand the problems before they try to tackle them, but how dare anyone forbid their attempt of it?

With tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, which, by the way, they wrote before George R.R. Martin was able to write it, they proved themselves due for so much respect as artists that I’m willing to support whatever endeavor they choose next.

Yes, critique their idea. Yes, call into question the real political and cultural issues that arise from their idea, but for the love of all that is sacred in art, don’t denounce their right to attempt it.

Okay. That was about twenty more minutes. Sorry, but that was a great episode of television and I just needed to say all that.

Forty-five minutes of writing. Thirteen minutes of editing. That’s almost an hour-long drama. That’s not much at all.

The Comedy Contest

To conclude his well-written review of Dave Chappelle’s latest performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Jason Zinoman of the NY Times writes:

At his best, Mr. Chappelle’s [sic] proves that thoughtfulness can make a joke funnier. Making smart comedy that is argumentative and funny is not a zero sum game, but his first performance of a long residency at Radio City does occasionally makes you wonder if it is.

That is not a well-written conclusion, but there’s an interesting idea at the heart of it. I think what Mr. Zinoman is trying to say (and I could be wrong) is that Dave Chappelle might be the smartest comedian alive, but only if you think comedy is a contest.

In any sane person’s mind, the top three comedians in the world right now have to be Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. There are hundreds of worthy stand-up comedians in the industry, but those three have to be at the top.

If our criteria remains Zinoman’s — smart, argumentative, and funny — I’d be willing to let Jon Stewart be part of the conversation, but if he really wants a shot, he’ll have to release a stand-up special sometime this century (which, apparently, he will be doing…soon?).

Additionally, I’d be willing to discuss Bo Burnham. I know that’s a controversial entry because, for many, Burnham’s comedy is still a bit too gimmicky, but he’s doing innovative material with a young man’s energy and a hyper self-awareness that speaks to the people of his generation. He’s able to argue with an audience if he feels they need it, and he’s willing to call into question some of the fundamental beliefs that they hold dear. At the same time, his hyperkinetic energy and his reliance on his musical talent have kept him, I suspect, from reaching a multi-generational audience.

Bill Burr also has to be part of the conversation. Bill Burr brings an unironic and uncynical anger to the stage, knowing at all points that he must be a psycho because he gets angry about things that regular people don’t angry about, like the idea that there’s no reason to hit a woman. That anger, however, is his talent. It allows him to notice things that all of us feel or suspect but that we don’t know how to articulate — for example, see his continued ability to get an audience to clap for the idea that mass genocide is necessary for our overpopulated species to continue.

Over the past six or seven years, Burr’s stage presence has benefitted from his increased acting experience. He’s developed the confidence to examine the narrative elements of a joke and a storyteller’s recognition that narrative alone can carry the tension, and not just the audience’s expectation of a laugh.

Playing with audience expectations might be his strongest skill. While all great comedians are willing to challenge their audiences, Burr is unabashed in his contempt for any audience trying to punch above its weight class. The prime example of this is when he berated, for a full twelve minutes, an unruly audience in Philadelphia (if that’s not redundant). The audience had booed almost every other comedian off stage during a festival, but, for twelve minutes, Burr attacked them head on, targeting everything that is wrong with Philadelphia, taking each boo as a badge of honor, and challenging them not to laugh as he tore them a new one.

With that being said, Burr’s comedy specials have also felt a bit insular. It’s a Bostonian’s insurality, to be sure — insightful, aware, proud, shamefully honest, and deeply insecure — but it’s an insularity that prevents him from going deeper than he already has. That insularity might be why he keeps returning to the well of overpopulation and political conspiracy.

Burr’s last few specials have all been fantastic. His skills as a joke teller, storyteller, tactical observer, and stage performer have increased with each one. But the philosophical depth of his targets remains limited, as if he’s blind to some significant element in the field of comedic possibility.

It might be that Burr doesn’t often talk about his family. He isn’t shy about it — you can track the growth of the man with the growth of his relationship to his partner (first his girlfriend, now his wife) — but he doesn’t dwell on family the way Rock, Chappelle, and C.K. do. It’s probably because Burr only had his first child in January of this year, and so his perspective on the family has been lacking that crucial parental angle. I’m intrigued to see how being a dad enriches his material in the next special.

There are other great comedians of course: Norm Macdonald, Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt, Hannibal Burress, Tig Notaro, Ellen Degeneres, etc. But if comedy is a zero-sum game, there’s only room at the top for one.

Unfortunately, trying to choose between Chappelle, Rock, and C.K. is like trying to choose between Jordan, Lebron, and Bird, with no clear indication as to which comedian transfers into which basketball player. And with no clear answer, all you can do is sit back, relax, and enjoy their greatness.

Done Made Said Thought

I listen to a lot of music. I listen to jazz, rap, rock and roll, big band, reggae, 80s hair metal, 70s funk, 50s pop, etc. Over the past few months I’ve listened to albums from a country-tinged folk singer name Todd Snider, as well as to Jay Z’s newest album, 4:44, as well as to some of this year’s Phish tour, to a Grateful Dead concert from May, 1977, and to a Dead & Company concert from June, 2017. I eagerly pressed play on a pre-released single from Iron & Wine’s next album and tried to revisit my somewhat-meh opinion of Tupac Shakur’s rhythm and flow.

But the only real piece of music I’ve been excited by in the past six months is the latest album from the Canadian band, Do Make Say Think.

I shouldn’t say I’m excited by the actual music yet. I’ve had the album for maybe five days, and I’ve only listened to it maybe twice (maybe three times) all the way through, so I’m not quite capable of rendering a true song by song evaluation.

What excites me is that there’s any music from Do Make Say Think at all. They haven’t made an album in eight years, and they are, without a doubt, my favorite band.

~~

Here’s how I listen to music (when I’m alone enough to really listen to it anyway).

First, music is almost always on when I’m driving. Sometimes I listen to Vermont Public Radio, but less and less so now that Donald Trump is President. Once in a great-great while, I’ll listen to a podcast. But for the most part, if I’m in the car, I have music playing.

Unfortunately, now that I’m the father of a very chatty four-year-old, the car is no longer the best place to listen to music.

I listen to music if I have to walk to work. I live about a half mile from the school where I teach. Depending on the transportation needs of the day, sometimes I have to walk to work and sometimes I have to drive. If I walk, I’ll often put on my headphones and try to zero in on two or three songs from a single album by whatever artist. The walk gives me about eight to ten minutes of solid listening time. I can focus on the music, listen to the lyrics (if there are any), all while subconsciously hoping that, at some point, the songs will make me move to the beat.

I also listen to music when I’m mowing the lawn. I do this (if I’m being good) about once every five or six days. With the size and shape of my lawn, the amount of lawn furniture I have to remove, and the number of toys I have to throw back onto my neighbor’s lawn, this activity, without fail, takes me roughly 45 minutes to accomplish. That is the length of most studio albums, and one half of a live set, so I can lock in, fade my mind into the music, and mow on.

Lastly, I listen to music when I’m writing.

Here’s the thing though. When I’m doing any of those other things — driving, walking, mowing — I can listen to virtually anything: rap, rock, jazz, jam, whatever. But when I’m writing, I can only listen to one thing. And that’s Do Make Say Think.

I don’t write to Do Make Say Think exclusively. But the music I write to exclusively came to me by way of Do Make Say Think.

(That’s not exactly true; I sometimes listen to music by Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia, Blind Faith, Charles Mingus, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, The Jazz Mandolin Project, Jimmy McGriff, Trey Anastasio, and others; but it also is true in that Do Make Say Think [and its ilk] is the only music who ever makes it exclusively into a writing session — if Jimmy McGriff is there, Miles Davis is too, but if Do Make Say Think is there, everyone else often is not; regardless…)

I don’t know how to describe the music of Do Make Say Think, but the first thing I’ll say is that it is music without lyrics. When I am writing, the last thing I want is someone else’s words in my head, and so all of my writing is done to music without lyrics.

But “music without lyrics” is a broad description. It contains most of the movements to most of the symphonies, almost all of jazz, a good percentage of funk, a large portion of Jerry Garcia’s ouvre, and whatever kind of high-quality 70s porn music that Jimmy McGriff plays.

So the second thing I would say about Do Make Say Think’s music is that, despite the lack of lyrics, the music fits perfectly with the song titles. For example, the song I’m listening to right now is “Her Eyes on the Horizon,” and it contains a soft yet hopeful melody that later dissolves into the sad, tender combination of keyboards and horns. It then fades back, through a beautiful sunrise of a bass tone, into an energetic and yet still early daylight seeming kind of rock melody, supported by a fast-paced set of jazz influenced double drums, dual guitars, and a beautiful, absolutely beautiful sounding electric bass. The melody rises into a set of exclamatory punction marks that repeat over and over before descending into a fading acoustic guitar and bass. The whole movement takes eight minutes and 20 seconds.

A statue from Grand Bank, Newfoundland

The music provides a narrative arc that fits nicely with the thematic possiblities of its title (“Her Eyes on the Horizon”). As you listen to it, you can imagine a sad and forlorn woman in a coastal seatown standing atop a widow’s walk, watching the watery horizon for her son to come home. You can imagine her standing high in the night, leaning over, her arms resting on the metal railing jutting over her bedroom window. Clouds block the starlight above her, casting the night in somber dark.

In time with the music, with her eyes on the horizon, the woman thinks about the way she raised her son, about the love she has for him. Then, with the shift in the music, the sadness of his absence overcomes her, and she can no longer look for him. She turns, wraps her long warm nightgown tighter, and begins her long cold walk back to the attic door, but then something in the music causes her to turn around, to look one more time, and there it is, coming over the horizon like a sunbeam, a sail! a sail!.

She races to the railing to see it better, to prove to herself that she’s not mistaken, and as she runs, she sees herself running to him on the dock, sweeping him into her arms, collapsing them both to their knees, hugging him so tight that all of his hard-nosed sailor friends search the docks for the all-encompassing love of their own mothers.

The boat comes closer, comes closer, and with a break in the clouds, the starlight confirms it: he’s home!

She leaps down the stairs, each bouncing step like an exclamatory punctuation mark on the sentence repeating in her head, “He’s home! He’s home! He’s home!”

But then…she reaches the downstairs floor. The door is just a few feet in front of her. She stops herself, the sentence slowly changing from He’s home! He’s home!” to “He’s home? He’s home.”

She remembers how difficult he can be when he first comes off the sea, how inside of himself he seems, detached from the love they once shared, happy to be home but still distant. It won’t be like she imagined it. It never is. She takes a breath, opens the door, and steps out.

The next song on the album is called “As Far As The Eye Can See.” It starts with nature sounds, a heat bug drone, crickets and birds, an electric guitar, a light metallic rattle like the links on a dog leash, a dominant bass line, and now drums, steady and light, a second guitar, a second set of drums, all of it adding to itself, no instrument repeating another yet all of them meeting at exactly the right points, a quiet dialogue consisting of many minds moving in the same direction and coming at it from different angles, covering all the possibilities in a sweeping democratic crowd as far as the eye can see before collapsing into a single point out of which all of them explode and from which we are introduced almost one by one back to all of the interested parties.

It’s amazing music. When I put it on for my brother, he called it “movie music.” I think he meant it in a derogatory way, but I also think he’s right: like a well-made movie, every song by Do Make Say Think is capable of taking its listener on a journey.

But what I love about it is that, when it comes to writing, when it comes to focusing on how to manipulate the words on the screen rather than the words in my head, it maintains — across every song and within every moment — the sense of a connected narrative, keeping the sensations I depend on for writing moving in the same direction and in the same way: forward, with meaning. You don’t have to be listening to it for this to happen. It just needs to be there, playing, moving you ever on, like the verb you always am.

Do Make Say Think is the only band I’ve listened to that is capable of making me feel this way each and every time I listen to it. It may not be for everyone, but I truly do feel that it is for me.

So to them, I just want to say: thank you. Thank you for helping me do, make, say, and think better than I could on my own.

Losing the Soul

I’m currently reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. I haven’t finished it yet, but I came across an argument in it the other night and I want to make sure I understand it.

Harari argues that there are three elements that universalize all of human culture. The first is money; the second is empire; and the third is the belief in a superhuman order:

Merchants, conquerors and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolutionary division, ‘us vs. them’, and to foresee the potential unity of humankind. For the merchants, the entire world was a single market and all humans were potential customers. They tried to establish an economic order that would apply to all, everywhere. For the conquerors, the entire world was a single empire and all humans were potential subjects, and for the prophets, the entire world held a single truth and all humans were potential believers.

He then devotes the next three chapters to the elucidation of these assertions, and I highly recommend that you read them, but that’s not the part of his argument I want to explore.

In the chapter on the universal belief in a superhuman order, Harari categorizes natural-law ideologies as forms of religion, putting humanism  in the same category as Christianity and Zoroastrianism. He argues that humanism is the worship of humanity, much as Islam is the worship of God. According to Harari, humanists believe there is a “unique and sacred nature” to our humanity, and that this is the most important thing in the world, and that therefore, “the supreme good is the good of Homo Sapiens.”

He goes on to divide humanism into three main sects: liberal humanism, socialist humanism, and evolutionary humanism, with each sect differing on its definition of humanity.

For liberals, “humanity is a quality of individual humans, and that the liberty of humans is therefore sacrosanct.” For socialists, “humanity is collective rather than individualistic…[and therefore it] seeks equality between all humans.”

Both of these interpretations spring from faith in a kind of secular soul, with liberals defending the unique liberty of each soul and socialists defending the common essence shared by all souls.

But I want to explore Harari’s characterization of the third sect: evolutionary humanism. He writes that evolutionary humanism is “the only humanist sect that has actually broken loose from traditional monotheism.” He then concludes this assertion by writing that evolutionary humanism’s “most famous representatives are the Nazis.”

What distinguished the Nazis from other humanist sects was a different definition of ‘humanity’, one deeply influenced by the theory of evolution. In contrast to other humanists, the Nazis believed that humankind is not something universal and eternal, but rather a mutable species that can evolve or degenerate. Man can evolve into superman, or degenerate into a subhuman.

What’s interesting is that Harari seems most persuasive when he’s discussing this particular dogma. He goes on to characterize the Nazis’ arguments and actions as an attempt “to protect humankind from degeneration and encourage its progressive evolution.” He then shows that this mission was not outside of the mainstream in the early twentieth century, with white supremacy playing a significant and proudly proclaimed role in the governments of both the United States and Australia well into the 1960s and 70s.

“The Nazis,” Harari writes, “did not loathe humanity.” They just defined it differently from liberals and socialists. According to the Nazis, if the fates of the fittest examples of humanity were not defended and promoted, they “would inevitably drown in a sea of unfit degenerates.”

With the lessons of evolution guiding their way, the Nazis proclaimed that “the supreme law of nature is that all beings are locked in a remorseless struggle for survival,” which is why they educated their people to “steel [their] wills to live and fight according to these laws.”

Harari ends the chapter by making what I find to be a persuasive argument in favor of evolutionary humanism. If liberalism and communism require the sanctity of the human soul, and science continues to find no evidence of said soul, it seems clear that the only true laws are the ones we find in nature, the ones that show us more and more that what we think of as consciousness and free will can better be defined in terms of “hormones, genes, and synapses.” Homo Sapiens are no more immune to these laws than any other species evolving on Earth.

And if all of that is true, then, indeed, evolutionary humanism makes the most sense, and we must acknowledge that humans too are subjects to the laws of nature. This does not mean that we must all become Nazis. The science of genetics, which did not really exist when the Nazis formed their racist theories, debunks much of what they believed about the evolution of the species.

But that also doesn’t mean that people in the vanguard aren’t already using the science of genetics and the theory of evolution to improve the fitness of their offspring. People choose sperm donors based on their intelligence. They abort fetuses based on the clinical detection of a birth defect. They choose the sex of their baby to prevent the spread of a sex-linked genetic disorder. In addition, hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists are, at this very moment, developing lines of research that could lead to the creation of a species whose fitness for future environments may very well exceed our own.

In a world where all of this is true, evolutionary humanism does make the most sense, but agreeing to evolutionary humanism erases the human soul from existence and denies sanctity to pretty much everything.

This follows from what Harari argues about money and empires as well. The universalizing aspect of money denies sanctity to other systems of value — if something can’t be converted to money, its value will always remain suspect. The universalizing aspect of empires, meanwhile, denies sanctity to cultural difference, bridging the gap between “us” and “them” through military, economic, and cultural conquest, followed by years of subjugation, and concluding in a syncretic assimilation that channels parts of the conquered culture back into the culture of the conqueror, until even their myths entangle and encompass each other and the truth of what they might have been slips forever into the darkness of their history.

In the story of Homo Sapiens as told by Harari, our distinct values are denied, our distinct cultures are denied, and finally our distinct souls are denied. Until all we are left with is…

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that one yet. As I said, I’m still reading the book.