you and i
spend centuries
walking the wilderness
crossing the seemingly endless sea
all to reach the shield wall
the thick steel plate at the edge of the world
and there
we spend decades more
mastering the elements
finagling copper into wires
refining the drill bits
we will use to bore into the monolith
this is quiet, patient work
befitting us

then, inside
we ascend the superstructure
building campfires in the dark latticework
watched over by drones
that flit about in the interior
and finally
we scale above the blanket of cloud
rising to see where the heavens stretch out
where the world wraps back on itself
and there
on the slate-like floor of the last room
we begin to sketch the plans
for our skiff
that will sail out further still

We Are Not ISIS

Chris Hedges has published an essay arguing a moral equivalence between “us” and the savagery of the Islamic State.

He says, “The barbarism we condemn is the barbarism we commit. The line that separates us from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is technological, not moral.” Hedges cites innocents killed by the dozen in bombings by the US as counterweight to the horrific death of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh and victims of CIA torture dying with rags in their mouths as foils to the journalists beheaded in ISIS propaganda videos.

He adds that, “since ISIS is limited in its capacity for war it must broadcast to the world a miniature version of what we do to people in the Middle East. The ISIS process is cruder. The result is the same.”

Hedges is right to condemn the wrong committed by the West and by the United States in its dealings with the Middle East and with the exploited peoples of the world in general.

America has done horrible things.

All of the examples Hedges cites have been loudly condemned by many observers and have been the subject of protest and petitions to the government. Therein lies the first point on which Hedges is wrong in arguing for moral equivalence between Western society and the budding caliphate of ISIS.

The very fact that Mr. Hedges can publish his dissent–that any of us can–is one proof of cultural superiority. I wonder how much truck he would get with his criticisms were he under ISIS’s jurisdiction?

That, of course, is not adequate.

It is never enough to say: At least we have civil liberties so that we can try to right the wrongs committed by our government. We should proffer no excuses on those counts.

Yes, conducting a remote-control war with impunity is wrong.

And killing civilians, however unintentionally, during such a war is criminal.

But make no mistake, Mr. Hedges: Cutting someone’s head off when they are bound and helpless before you is evil.

Hedges’ purpose is to warn us about the typical framing of war as a struggle between good and evil. It is a tired ploy to win the population’s sympathies and passions to a cause. Again, he is right. If we imagine the twenty-first century might attain a more enlightened sensibility than the preceding eras of human history, one in which peace and pluralism prevail, then we should inoculate ourselves against such simplistic narratives and their crude black and white hats.

And yet, evil is still with us.

We do not have to pretend we are pure, or all good, or perfectly righteous to fight evil. No. In fact it would be morally reprehensible to face true evil–as ISIS surely is, as surely as the Nazis were, and as surely as anything ever has been–and say that only he who is without sin should cast the stone.

We do not have to dehumanize the members of ISIS as we have countless belligerents before–as they themselves do when condemning us as infidels deserving to die, whether “we” are journalists they have captured in the field or simply the families of the soldiers fighting the war. We do not have to fall into those traps of reducing our enemies to things.

But we do have to fight ISIS.

We have no option. There is no negotiation with a regime this sick, this twisted. The people who fight for ISIS, people though they are, have committed themselves to the service of an ideology so depraved that it justifies genocide, slavery, murder, and the eradication of liberty in the name of their god.

This is what Hedges thinks is morally equivalent to the sins of the West? Only through the most warped of lenses could the callousness of Western global capitalism and its proxy armies be leveled with the brutality we are now witnessing. Making this argument is strictly delusional, suspending all judgement, all reason. It is, in short, subscribing the stark black-and-white kind of worldview that ISIS itself embraces. There are no degrees. There is no subtlety. For Hedges and the Islamic State, there is only violence and it is all of one character. There are only ends. Means are irrelevant.


But there is something we can take away from Hedges’ delusional stance. We cannot continue to stomach such violence as currency if we want to build a twenty-first century that is fundamentally different from the twentieth. In that century, we passed through our collective struggle with an enemy with whom their could be no dialogue–Nazism–and then delved into a power struggle with an enemy with whom we might have engaged–Communism. What would the twentieth century have been without the mad power struggle between super powers? What could we have done if we had sought to advance our values before our power position?

We face similar choices today. We have states like Iran and North Korea with human rights policies which we find deplorable and ambitions that include nuclear arsenals. We have a Russian regime intent on expanding its regional power, of reclaiming past glory and resources. Faced with these challenges, we bluster and talk about containment. It is a familiar tactic. After WWII, we chose to “contain” the Soviet Union, labeling them an empire of evil and taking the world to the brink of ruin.

The moment has come again, though we have squandered our best opportunities to advance a more moral agenda during our “War on Terror.” Many argue compellingly that ISIS’s rise is a consequence of those policies, that we would no more have to defeat ISIS today if we had chosen more wisely after 9/11 than we would have had to fight Hitler had the Treaty of Versailles been more forgiving.

When ISIS is defeated, then we will once again face a critical juncture when history’s course will be in our hands to decide, and before the compass needle settles back into place, we will have to choose a direction, choose how best to shape the world to come.

It will be an opportunity to lead the world toward everything that ISIS is not, to promote openness in societies around the globe, to sanctify life at home and abroad, to foster true liberty in speech, action, and thought.

It will mean no more drone wars, no more torture-riddled black sites. It will also mean seeing to our own shortcomings as a society, such as dismantling our privatized prison system and eradicating the death penalty. We trumpet our freedom, but that freedom is incomplete–and we are poor spokespeople for liberty–as long as our own society is plagued by injustice and inequality. We must surely see to these blights at home while we strike at the anathema of ISIS.

Only then can we truly sit down with Putin’s Russia, with Rouhani’s Iran, or Kim’s North Korea and extend our vision of a better world, an inclusive world. Only then can we be the example of what the twenty-first century should be, the anti-ISIS.

Hollywood is Broken

Wow! Mila Kunis is falling. That doesn't look survivable. Do you think she dies? I bet she dies. There's like no way to live through that, right? Yeah, I bet this is the scene in the movie where she dies.

Wow! Mila Kunis is falling. That doesn’t look survivable. Do you think she dies? I bet she dies. There’s like no way to live through that, right? Yeah, I bet this is the scene in the movie where she dies.

Brent Lang over at Variety is arguing that the flop of Jupiter Ascending is a shame, because it was the rare gem of an original sci-fi epic in Hollywood’s usual shitstorm of sequels and remakes. His thinking is that the failure of the Wachowskis’ latest blockbuster means that Hollywood will point to Jupiter Ascending as evidence that original ideas just don’t fly at the box office. He laments that even though they “marketed the crap” out of the movie, audiences just wouldn’t give it a chance.

Yeah, but no.

They marketed the crap out if and showed us in the trailers exactly what a no-plot, over-baked stinker it was. Jupiter Ascending didn’t fail because audiences will only go see sequels. Jupiter Ascending failed because it was obviously awful.

It was never part of the solution to the glut of unoriginal content the studios have been spewing out lately. It was part of the problem all along.

See, the real problem isn’t the economic success of sequels. It’s Hollywood thinking. In Hollywood, they think that the only thing that sells movie tickets is name recognition–no matter how many Johnny Dep movies bomb. They didn’t make this movie because it was a good idea; they made this movie because the Wachowskis made the Matrix. The counter point to this bloated turd is Guardians of the Galaxy, but Hollywood, of course, takes the wrong lesson from that movie. They think it did well because it was Marvel. It did well because it was fun, lively, and had interesting characters.

Hollywood is stupid. If Jupiter Ascending had done well, then it would not have encouraged Hollywood to go out looking for original projects. It would have just convinced them they were right to keep letting filmmakers everybody knows make movies (M. Night Shamalayn, anyone?).

Hollywood is broken and 2015 is proof.

Allow me, just off the top of my head, to rattle off the big releases coming in 2015: Fast and Furious Something-or-Other, Terminator Geriatrics, Jurassic Park IV, Pitch Perfect 2, Ted 2, two more Marvel movies, a Fantastic Four remake that is somehow not exactly a Marvel movie, sequels to both Hunger Games wannabes Maze Runner and Divergent, Mission Impossible 5 (5, I tell you!), a Despicable Me spin-off prequel thing about the f’ing minions (yes, the little yellow guys with no frackin’ dialogue!), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (I could not make that up people; in a million years, I could not invent something as ridiculous as that), and Star Wars VII: Dear God, Weren’t the Prequels Enough?!?

I lied. That wasn’t off the top of my head. There are so many franchises deployed for 2015 that no one could possible remember them all. It’s really a shame that they moved the Man of Steel Superman vs. Batman but also Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg movie out of 2015. Leaving it on this year’s schedule would’ve cracked open the mantle of the earth and allowed the old ones to reclaim this depraved planet like in the end of Cabin in the Woods.

Now, I know, I know, I know. I write about franchises. I watch all this crap. I buy tickets.

You wanna say that I’m part of the problem, too.

Uh ah, nope. Bullshit. I cry, “bullshit.”

I refuse to be held responsible for their depraved decision making. It is not my fault that this industry is so dunderheaded that they respond to all the wrong cues and conduct their pitch meetings in some bizarro world divorced from all logic.

But ultimately, it will be up to us.

We must and will grow sick of this stuff. We have to stop going. We have to stop buying the Blu Rays.

Not to teach Hollywood to make original movies like Brent Lang thinks. You see, it’s too late for Hollywood. They’re already doomed. They just don’t know it yet. Great stories will be told on TV and in emerging digital media, not in movie theaters. Hollywood is too broken to live. Eventually, they will burn themselves to cinders with their idiocy.

And we’ll all be watching something else entirely.