The Counselor: a Perfectly Flawed Diamond-Script.


This film confirms a long-standing suspicion of mine that a “Cormac” is in fact the metric by which bleakness and the narrative representation of evil is measured. Cormac McCarthy’s script sparkles with philosophical rumination and psychological observation while weaving a tragic path through the world of drug-smuggling and its associated terrors.

The film is finely crafted and Ridley Scott does not drop the ball in his inevitably artisan directorial duties.

The tedium in the script appears to be a necessary element in that many of the characters in the film are merely mouthpieces for Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant, brutal and unutterably unfulfilling perspective on life, death and human experience. This tends to make some of the dialogue appear slightly pompous, if fascinating. The Counselor (who for all his cleverness seems to be caught unwittingly, aimlessly and intellectually stultified like a stray feather in a strong wind) appears to be a fool around whom all the drama orbits and around whom all the witty aphorisms and artistic affectations dance as though in some Día de Muertos festival.

It’s a very good film, if perhaps slow in places (due to the inevitable effervescence of philosophical revelations almost perpetually spouting forth from so many of the characters). Worth seeing; expect to be entertained but don’t expect to feel any better about yourself or about humanity for having witnessed this slow-motion tragedy.

I give it 4 and a half Cormacs (or should that be flawed diamonds ?) out of 5. Very good. Just tragic.


Why Life Exists

The notion that life just naturally “falls out” of physics as a more or less inevitable consequence of the symmetries and physical parameters of nature is quite beautiful. It also implies a Universe absolutely overflowing with unimaginably many expressions of life and potentially exotic configurations of living matter.

Digital Gluttony: from Kardashian to Kardashev

From postcard Kardashian to podcast Kardashev: a veritable smorgasbord of digital choice unfurls itself before us.  From the ridiculous to the sublime (and back again), so much noise, so much emptiness, so much colour and so many hues of bland grey.  Feeling somewhat adrift upon this ocean of information, we are lost for effective words (and actions).

The dream of a heroic stand to defy the world is a recurring narrative function of popular culture but it is difficult to believe that standing against the monumental ineptitude, cruelty, greed and corruption of the human world would ever be likely to achieve anything at all.  In standing against such a negativity we are very likely to become no less shaped by it than if we just yielded to it in the first place.  Feel free to rage, rage against the dying of some light or other but this sparkling cultural darkness will still outline, confine and eventually also define you.

Ever since we first crawled gibbering from the primordial mud we have been seeking a place to live, to simply continue to exist for as long as possible.  Security, sustenance, warmth and shelter – these have driven us to create our place, to mold our world around us. From straw huts through timber shanty towns to metropolitan mazes and high-tech electronic cities now blossoming and flickering incessantly with communications networks and transportation arteries, the shockwave of increasing complexity has spread and grown so wild.  What now when this world we have created has looped back upon its creators and overwhelmed them ?

Human beings are probably not clever enough to comprehend (or effectively command) the true complexity of our largely self-created existential context.  There still exists a profound belief and investment in the single-point frame of intelligence and comprehension, the authority of the gravitationally-binding power center.  Adherence to interpretations of an actual external and objective or isolated reality derived from a psychologically-motivated (or culturally inherited) framework of single-point authority and truth are largely false.  The emergence of concepts relating to distributed intelligence and an open-systems, emergent complexity interpretation of intelligence and culture forms another vector of explanation.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that future discoveries in Artificial Intellience will develop from here: human psychological predisposition tpwards (and dependence upon) single-point consciousness or intelligence will eventually be superceded by networked, distributed and massively parallel-functioning intelligence.

Slaves as we are to our ideologies and paradigms of comprehension, we are being collectively swept away by the sum consequences of available and probable choice, of ingenuity and invention.  Cascading ripples and symmetries of cause and effect, memes and shadows of influence – our ideas (and their effects) have reached back upon us and swallowed us whole.

Ego Extinction in Zen

Sentience is clearly a magnificent experience, infinitely more to be preferred than the antagonistic conditions of unconsciousness or death, but for all its grandeur and richness it carries within itself a bitter seed: foreknowledge of personal death. The grave awareness of personal extinction is not even necessarily a purely human curse. We can do little more than speculate about the experience and worries native to some other creature, nor in any ultimate sense convince ourselves beyond certain circumstantial proofs that other human beings experience existential doubts, fears and uncertainties in the way we feel ourselves subject to. It remains in any case a truth that human beings are of sufficient intellect to be aware of the logical necessity and sober fact of personal death.

The extinction of ego so central to Zen philosophy and meditation illuminates an interesting response to death. It is of course not even necessarily purely death which is central here when it is the desiring, longing and dissatisfied Self that is the source of so much unhappiness and psychological negativity which may in some (aspirational) sense be “extinguished”.

In regards to death itself, dissolving the ego-self and psychological attachment to the thousands of things, places, events, desires and other beings that the mind is prone to is clearly at the very least a preparation for the inevitability of physical and psychological self-extinction. If we can resolve this one intractable fact of life while still alive then we can truly be free to live, unfettered. This is of course the promise and goal of so much of religion and metaphysical or mystical (i.e. magical) thinking.

I don’t think that the promise of afterlife, rebirth or reincarnation is a genuinely sufficient comfort in light of the cold hard fact of the logical inevitability of self-extinction. I do think (and subjectively feel) that untangling the psychological enigmas inherent to an awareness of the inevitability of death is not entirely implausible and that the Zen approach is a more effective and direct path to a mature acceptance of this than any other I have encountered.

I have said little of actual Zen practise as I am aware that I am both eminently unqualified to speak of it and that it is at essence, contra my complex and wordy affectations, profoundly anti-intellectual. Not unlike the effective “suburi” (cutting practise) of Kendo swordsmanship, I assume the practise of Zen is to direct the mind towards the correct technique for making this one single cut which both is (and implements) or enables “Satori“, a sudden Enlightenment. When the cutting sword successfully extinguishes the wielder of the sword but does not kill them, what can we call this happy paradox other than “mu“, void or nothingness ?

Go with the Flow: the Illusion of Choice ?

I wonder sometimes if all this digital media and virtual space we share is really something other than what it seems. We perceive a rich tapestry of choice and self-expression, a veritable cornucopia of tittilation, education and ideological assertion. It may actually be much simpler at base, that we are all following simple rules in the way that flocking birds or schooling fish do. The functional complexity of the digital environment, albeit a product of massively internetworked communications systems and their interdependent interaction with human choices and actions, is merely the stage upon which the crowd dances.

There is no central controlling principle at work, merely the emergent and patterned complex collective activity of so many individual entities who are all merely following the herd to nowhere in particular. It is beautiful and it is transient in the same way a flock of starlings may simultaneously resemble wisps of billowing, curlicued smoke or reflect a visualised mathematical model of complex dynamical systems in flux.

Simple rules can make for complex emergent patterns among populations of interacting, interdependent individuals and in such a context entrained entities may mistake themselves and their behaviour as unique and special. Even in the ways we are different, we are all essentially the same – we are all swimming in the same internetworked oceans of choice, breathing the same recombinatory logical vocabularies.



The Perils of Paywalls

One of the most annoying things I have come across online is the tendency for some scientific and academic journals to percolate their content through paywalls. When this is done with journalistic news content, it is usually not difficult to find equivalent content freely available elsewhere. When this is done with academic reference or technical information, this limits the audience to those with readily available disposable wealth or those for whom academic tenure provides a VIP pass to the executive suite of the cloistered cognoscenti.

Stored information is a form of delayed communication. Stored academic information which is hidden behind paywalls commits recorded intellectual discovery to a proprietary tomb, curtailing its ability to inspire and generate further research and discovery. Creativity and innovation in intellectual and technological endeavour requires fully unshackled and freely available information resources for researchers and technicians to work independently and to create collaborative environments conducive to further discovery. Sequestering information behind paywalls in bunkers which require non-trivial effort or financial resources to uncover has a cascading effect upon collective human intellectual endeavour and acts as a limiting factor for future scientific and technological progress.

Privileging access to human discovery in these ways is likely to stunt the growth of technological and academic knowledge. This in turn will have an effect, through feedback loops, of privileging the development and production of information which is expected to be filtered or hidden and this in turn generates an evolving stratified ecosystem of information poor, information wealthy and an overall restricted collective capacity for innovation and discovery. Corporate intellectual property is one thing, collective human technological and social development is another; I do not know if there can ever be a successful compromise between these two alienated (and alienating) epistemic geographies.

In a Post-Truth world, placing a price on truth inversely places a premium on what is freely available and what is freely available is very often very far from the truth.