Sing the Body Electric: Lifting Our Feels

•December 8, 2016 • 1 Comment

A while back,  a playboy bunny got in trouble for posting an unsolicited picture of a fat woman showering naked at the gym. I was surprised and disappointed by this, because my experience at the gym has always been generally supportive. Obviously, there’s assholes in all walks of live. Unfortunately, this will only help to foster the stereotype that gyms are full of judgemental snobs shaming people for their bodies; that unfit people are unwelcome.

Personally, I can say that when I see a beginner at the gym, I feel very motivated. It’s great to see people trying to improve their bodies. And I think most of my fellow lifters feel the same. I’ve had lots of friends who were intimidated by the gym because of the stereotypical meatheads that supposedly inhabit it; a gay friend who was wary of homophobic bros, or women afraid of–well all the shit women have to deal with. But, generally, they’ve all been pleasantly surprised by how chill and welcoming the environment is.

As such, I’ve never felt self-conscious working out at the gym. For example, whenever I put on weight, I refuse to buy new workout clothes. I’m taking a page outta Arnold’s book here. Early in his career, Arnold had great gains in his upper-body, but had small legs and calves. To push himself, he’d wear bulky long sleeve shirts and shorts to hide his strengths and expose his weaknesses. Likewise, whenever I see fat spilling out of my shirt on an overhead lift, it motivates me to work harder.

That being said, even though I’m confident when it comes to my appearance, that doesn’t mean I don’t deal with my share of mental hangups when it comes to exercising. As one anon once famously said, “perhaps the heaviest things that we lift are not our weights but our feels.” Here is a list of cognitive distortions that I find myself dealing with regularly.


1) All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things as black or white, perfection or failure

Fitness goals are achieved by building on small successes one at a time. The ultimate goal is to have a consistent routine complimented by a clean diet. I struggle with the latter. Unfortunately, I love junk food. So whenever I cheat too much on my nutrition I really beat myself up over it. Or I’ll design a regimen and whenever I fall short of expectation, I get down on myself. I’m always having to remind myself that it’s all just a work in progress, and to learn from my mistakes. Also, like Salvatore Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”

2) Filtering: Dwelling on a negative so much that other successes somehow don’t count

I’ve written before about my admiration of my father’s running career and my own weaknesses as a runner. While I’m not a great endurance athlete, I’ve always been explosively strong. However, because I’ll probably never run a marathon, my strengths are diminished by this one deficiency. In addition, in terms of bodybuilding, I get really fast gains in my legs, triceps and shoulders. However, my chest and my biceps are slow gainers. This is frustrating because these are traditionally the glamour muscles; they give you that “wow” factor. To combat these thoughts I remind myself of what I should be grateful for. For example, I have really big calves, which don’t require much work to maintain. This is something even professional competitors lack. A lot of people struggle with chicken legs but I have natural tree trunks. Dad used to say I have cows not calves. Gratefulness is definitely a powerful force that I’ve learned to embrace as I get older.

3) Overgeneralization: Seeing one bad experience as a never-ending pattern of defeat

Returning to my weak points, sometimes I get discouraged and think that I’ll never get them up to par. In these moments, I remind myself that everyone has weak points and it just means having to adopt different strategies. Lately, to bring my biceps up, I emphasize the negative phase of a lift, or use half-reps to go beyond failure. For chest, I start with a lower-pec movement, because prioritizing a weak area is a great way to sustain stress on it throughout the workout. In a word, when you have a weakness, strategize.

4) Personalization: When you think everything people do or think is a reaction to you

Like I said, I’m not really self-conscious at the gym these days, but I get why some people are. You think everyone around you is judging you. I think most serious lifters/athletes are more focused on their own workout to worry about other people. I think people have to remember that while you may be looking at someone thinking, “Oh, if I only could look like that,” someone is looking at you and thinking the same thing. Ultimately, you have no idea what people are thinking so don’t sweat it.

5) Control fallacy: That you have supreme control over everything and thus all shortcomings are your fault

Again, coming back to my weaknesses, some things are genetically beyond my control. No one is the perfect all around athlete. You can’t look like Dorian Yates and perform like Lance Armstrong at the same time. Recognize your natural strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

6) Fallacy of fairness: Being resentful because things don’t play out according to your pre-conceived notions of fairness

One of my favourite movie quotes is from Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood is about to shoot the sheriff, who says “I don’t deserve to die like this!” To which Clint responds, “‘Should’ ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.” A lot of people have preconceived ideas of how their fitness goals should play out and when things don’t go according to plan, they piss and moan about how it isn’t fair, etc. Abandon whatever notions you have of “fairness.” Maybe you’re following a plan that doesn’t suit your morphology. Get over it, re-group, strategize.


I’m sure there’s more I could think out but these give a pretty good overview of the mental hangups I, and probably a lot of people, deal with at the gym. One concept that kept coming up, I noticed, was strategizing. Overwhelming challenges always seem to disintegrate when you break them apart with potential solutions. Whenever I feel I’ve hit a plateau at the gym, I look up videos on YouTube. It’s insane how much material is out there. When I started working out in the early 00s as a teenager, all we really had were magazines and whatever bro science was being disseminated at the local gym. And don’t get me started on all the “motivational gurus” out there, but that’s for another post. Anyways, get out there and get after it!



Sing the Body Electric: Born to Lift

•June 19, 2016 • 1 Comment

My dad was an incredible runner. Throughout the 70s he dominated Newfoundland races. He won the Tely 10 in 1975 with a time of 56:00, he finished the Boston Marathon in under three hours, and he’s probably started or organized more runs than anyone in the province.

However, I’ve never caught the running bug. I’ve had a few stabs at 10K races and had some decent success training. That’s about it.

Partly it’s genetics. I don’t have my dad’s wiry physique. I inherited my maternal grandfather’s bulkier build. Mostly, though, I just hate running. Like, pure distilled hatred. Every time, I’d have to pump myself up like I was heading into a battle. Granted, I usually felt happy for doing it afterwards, but in the same way you feel good about doing yard work or eating a salad.  Occasionally, I’d have a good run and feel positive all the way through. Most times, the best I could hope for was indifference. And then there were those hellish times when I just felt like shit the whole way through.

With weight training, it’s totally different. I’m amped to get lifting. On the rare occasion that I’m tired and gotta drag my ass to the gym, I quickly get into the grove after a couple sets. It doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s fun.

And it’s not like I’m anti-cardio. I love swimming and I enjoy mixing up different cardio machines. I also love hiking and walking. It’s something about pushing my feet to go one after the other too fast for too long that rots me.


Thing is, I want to love running. Why won’t you let me love you, running? I wish I could run like my father did. Not even because I wanna win races. The way he talked about running was very zen. He took a very simplified approach. He didn’t give a shit about expensive shoes or those Batman belts you see now with high performance gels. Just two feet and a heartbeat. People would ask him, “How should I breath?” With your lungs. “What’s the proper stride?” One foot in front of the other.

Dad also despised headphones. He was big on the mind-body connection (something that’s also really important for weight training). He talked a lot about listening to what your body was telling you as the klicks rolled by. That’s what I would like to experience running. But I just can’t get past the pain.

I really enjoyed Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. McDougall also champions a simplified approach to running. In the book, he tracks down an isolated Mexican tribe who run ultra marathons on the daily, which inspires him to do as the Romans do. McDougall’s ultimate thesis is that capitalism has obfuscated running and we need to get back to basics. Moreover, long distance running is a distinctly human activity. It is our ability to run for extended periods of time that allowed us to succeed as a species.

I love that kinda shit. Tapping into a primeval experience of being human. Running has a romanticism that bodybuilding just doesn’t have, which I envy.


However, running also has a kind of snobbery that I don’t care for. It seems like our culture considers running to be more sophisticated and distinguished than bodybuilding. Runners are generally thought to be middle-class professionals, whereas bodybuilders are blue collar meat heats. These are obviously stereotypes and nowadays bodybuilding has really breached the mainstream. But I still believe that lifters are generally deemed neanderthals compared to all those homo sapiens runners.

The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most famous bodybuilder of all time might have some hand in this. But what a lot of people underestimate about Arnold, and bodybuilding in general, is how cerebral the work is. It’s not as simple as popping some ‘roids and repping out bicep curls. In order to build a great physique, you have to change up your routines and think critically about how each exercise affects each muscle. There are tons of variables. Moreover, it takes a great deal of focus. If you go through your workout absent minded, you won’t get the same results. “You must get inside the muscle,” as Arnold always says.

Say you want to improve your back. You look in the mirror and decide that you’re happy with the size and mass of your lats, but you’d like it to be more defined. So, you expand your rep range or experiment with different grips on chin-ups, pull-downs, or rows. The you have to think about how your back is in proportion with the rest of your body, etc.

That’s what I love about bodybuilding. You get to be a scientist, artist, and athlete all at the same time. To you, that may sound tedious. Perhaps you find the repetitive motion of running meditative. The point is that you should find something you enjoy doing for your own reasons. Otherwise you’ll just bail.



Sing the Body Electric: Healthism

•June 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

What’s up, what’s up, what’s up. Been awhile. At the start of the year, I said that I wanted to renew my commitment to my blog and–guess what–didn’t happen. I have a couple of reasons/excuses. For one thing, I’m working full-time while trying to squeeze in some freelance writing on the side. Therefore, any writing I manage to get done is gonna be stuff I’m tying to publish, not stuff I wanna give away for free blogging. On top of this, my personal life has been insane the past year. But shit is finally starting to ease up, leaving me with free time that I don’t even know what to do with.

Also, I was conflicted about what direction I wanted to take this blog. The internet is so inundated with think pieces, hot takes, and reactions to the latest Game of Thrones episode. I don’t necessarily have an issue with any of those things, but I didn’t see myself fitting in there anywhere.

Lately, I’ve been into fitness. Due to the aforementioned personal issues, I’ve let my body go to shit and I’m trying to get back into shape. There’s a lot being written on fitness tips, etc. but there isn’t much in the long form style, so I thought I’d give it a shot.


A good place to start would be the concept of “healthism.” I suppose the simplest definition of healthism is the heavily moralistic discourse surrounding health. If you’re fit and active, you’re a good person, whereas if you’re fat, you’re sinful. Here is an interesting post from imgur, which is meant to lampoon healthism as a concept but actually proves the point. (Oh, imgur I remember the good old days before you were overtaken by angry dude bros.) People find the idea that fat person (usually a woman) can be happy being fat so appalling. It’s OK to be fat and self-loathing, but to be fat and body positive is out of the question. Never mind the fact that a fat person can often be healthier than a skinny person.

The concept of health is too often yielded as a tool to bully people. People rationalize fat shaming by appealing to a self-righteous mission of healthy living. That ridiculing fat people will motivate them to hit the gym and put down the donut. “Tough medicine” and all that bullshit. Trust me, fat people know they’re fat. They don’t need you to remind them. They’re likely fat because they’re ashamed of their bodies and fall into a pattern of self-loathing and comfort food. Chances are, if they felt positive about their bodies, they’d take better care of it. Your thinly veiled bullying isn’t helping.

But here’s the thing, what difference is that to you? Sure preventable diseases are a burden on health care and society, but there’s a lot of self-destructive behaviours we fetishize. The anorexic type imagery women are bombarded with, for one. There’s also smoking, dangerous driving, and the cult of being over-worked. Stress causes so many health problems, but we hardly shame people for working long hours in difficult circumstances.

Then there’s the health and fitness industry. Bodybuilders all the way back to Arnold have used steroids. Now we have the HGH era of mass fanatics. None of this has to do with “health.” There’s also this macho/moralistic view that you should work through injuries and anyone taking it easy is a pussy. You see this especially in crossfit. People blowing their joints and even working so hard they almost die. Hell, crossfit’s mascot is Uncle Rhabdo, a clown making fun of people who have nearly died from rhabdomyolysis, which is when disintegrated muscle fibers get into your blood stream.


Like so many puritanical crusades, healthism is aesthetics masquerading as ethics. We don’t hate people because they’re immoral; we hate them because they’re aesthetically offensive according to our present discourse. To me it seems like there’s a lot of class and racism at play here. People susceptible to things like obesity and diabetes are generally poor minorities. This is true for several reasons. Firstly,  cheap, affordable food is generally processed shit. Secondly, many minorities’s bodies aren’t able to handle our shitty western diets. Healthism is a convenient tool to further marginalize these people.

Healthism is also a great tool for capitalism. See how quickly advertisers get behind the latest diet and/or exercise fad. “Eat whole food and do compound exercises” isn’t a very sexy add campaign.

So much of this is a hangover from ascetic puritanism. The religious zealots who came to the New World loathed and feared the body. This has survived and mutated into all kinds of strange cycles of repression and exploitation in our culture. Health and fitness should be about experimenting with your body and seeing what it can do, what it can become. Living well should be an act of joy not repentance. Put down the cilice and pick up the singlet!




Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Buffy, and True Blood

•February 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Between Christmas and New Year’s is a strange, directionless void where it’s impossible to decide what to do with your life. I like to rewatch the Harry Potter series during this time. It’s also a great occasion to eat all the junk food I got for Christmas. I like to think I’m carb loading for New Year’s Eve.


This past Christmas, as I was watching The Philosopher’s Stone, something Voldemort says to Harry caught my attention. “There is no good and evil,” he tells Harry. “Only power and those too weak to seek it.”

This is a pretty common trope. And, of course, it’s always a villain who says it. “There’s no such thing as good and evil?? That’s such an evil thing to say!!” It is often a straw man version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s existentialism. Too many people interpret Nietzsche as a delusional nihilist, which is unfortunate because if you actually read any of his stuff you’d see that he recognized such a possible interpretation and adamantly denied it. In a word, Nietzsche’s point is that there are no absolute metaphysical forms of good and evil.

Nietzsche’s moral philosophy is critical in orientation. He’s more concerned with deconstructing contemporary mores than laying down his own systematic political/moral system. A lot of people would say this is a cop-out, but I think Nietzsche’s point was that we should always be striving to create new modalities and paradigms, and never allowing ourselves to be ensnared by dogma. It would be hypocritical for Nietzsche to say “this is what morality looks like” because what he’s saying is, “don’t allow others (including even myself) to tell you what’s good or evil.”

For me, I think of evil as a metaphor. It exists only in fiction. Nonetheless, it can be a very useful metaphor to explore moral issues, especially when you’re dealing with archetypal depictions of evil (think Star Wars, fairy tales, etc.). Therefore it is fruitful to explore depictions of evil in popular culture.

In Harry Potter, Voldemort is obviously evil. But what makes him so evil? Is it because he pursues power? Not necessarily. Dumbledore, who is perhaps the greatest example of goodness in Harry Potter, is an eminently powerful and ambitious wizard who rose through the ranks to become headmaster of Hogwarts. He even had the Elder Wand for Christ’s sake!

So how are they different?

To me, it matters to what end they pursue power. Voldemort is a megalomaniac who uses his power to create a despotic regime. Whereas Dumbledore is dedicated to fostering a robust wizard democracy. Dumbledore is disobedient and singularly powerful, but in the service of wizarding society as a whole.

Voldemort is evil in a Schellingian way. He raises his ego above the the whole.


Let’s look at another instance of “being above good and evil” in pop culture: one of my all-time favourite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the seventh season (not the final, though, because we’re on season ten in the comics, which is totally canon, bitches), the main antagonist, or Big Bad, is the First Evil. Intense. Disguised as a dead student, the First tells Willow, “Fact is, the whole ‘good and evil, balancing the scales’ thing? I’m over it. I’m done with the mortal coil. But, believe me, I’m going for a big finish.”

Again, obviously evil, right? It’s called the First Evil! So evil.

Like Voldemort, the First is raising its ego above the whole. However, unlike Voldemort, the First Evil has more anarchistic or chaotic goals. It wants to eradicate the slayer line and unleash an army of uber-vampires on the world, the Turok-Han.

I suppose this would be the ultimate expression of power insofar as only the powerful could survive such a world, but it’s certainly not the world Nietzsche envisioned. I believe Nietzsche would think power expressed as the dominion over the weaker is an enslavement to ego.

As much as I enjoyed the seventh season, I felt like it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I liked that it delved more deeply into the metaphysics of the slayer/vampire dichotomy, showing that the slayer was created by ancient shamans infusing a captured woman with the essence of a demon. I felt like this was a chance to break down the metaphysical chasm Whedon had built between humans and demons, but it never really rises to the occasion.

What I love about Buffy is how Whedon uses archetypal monsters as fresh metaphors. Generally, the show has a feminist core, as evil is often expressed as misogynistic forces. But by season seven I felt the show’s dynamic hit a ceiling. I wanted it to break through by blurring the line between good and evil. Yes, Angel and Spike, for example, straddle that line, but in absolute ways; the difference being whether or not they possess souls.

I despise that kind of humanism, which puts an idealized concept of humanity at the top of a hierarchy of being. I want a pluralist, non-hierarchical ontology.


While True Blood isn’t as good as Buffy, the series really exemplifies what Nietzsche means by going beyond good and evil.

The show’s premise is that vampires have outed themselves (yes, the pun is intended as there is a lot about queer theory in the show). Thanks to a new synthetic formula, vampires no longer have to feed on humans. Of course, the transition is difficult. Mainstream society struggles to adapt to this newly de-veiled secret society.

I only watched the first four seasons of True Blood. I felt the fifth jumped the shark and I bailed. But I think where True Blood succeeds where Buffy doesn’t is how characters blur the line between the normal and paranormal. Like I said, in Buffy these things are seen as absolutes, but in True Blood the line is fuzzy, blurred. Eric, for example, oscillates between good and bad without need of a soul.

I also liked how True Blood deconstructed power structures in both the human and paranormal worlds. What constituted as evil in True Blood wasn’t so much the supernatural, or powerful, but attempting to restrict the expression of power for other groups.

In that sense it transcends Buffy and Harry Potter because there’s no metaphysical force that’s off limits (dark magic, or soulless demons); it’s more about the direction of power.

Waiting for the Gift of Sound and Vision: A tribute to David Bowie

•January 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

This is coming somewhat late, but I wanted to make a post celebrating the music of David Bowie. I went through my first real Bowie phase in 2008. To be honest, I found it hard to break into Bowie’s catalog; he was incredibly prolific, so it was difficult to know where to start. Low was really the first album that revealed Bowie’s genius to me. After that I was hooked, and Bowie became of my all-time favourite musicians.

The biggest criticism levied against Bowie throughout his career was that he was a culture vulture; someone who didn’t really innovate but merely pilfered trends from more creative artists to his own needs. I think that’s true to a certain extent, but I also don’t see what’s so bad about it. Bowie perfected a lot of ideas that he was listening to. He’s sorta like the musical equivalent of Steve Jobs in that respect. Our culture fetishizes such an esoteric concept of “originality,” which is actually a mirage. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

Anyways, for a tribute,  I wanted to make a playlist of not only Bowie’s own music, but also covers and music he inspired.

  1. David Bowie – “Sound and Vision” (Low, 1977)

As other writers have observed, “Sound and Vision” is the Bowie song that contains all Bowie songs. Personally, it is my favourite Bowie song. It covers so much sonic territory in just three minutes. And I love that Bowie lays down a sax track. What’s most striking about this song is the contrast between the poppy instrumentals and Bowie’s melancholy tone. Apparently, the song was originally meant to be an instrumental (at the time of recording Low, Bowie was suffering from writer’s block), and the song would have succeeded as such, but Bowie’s vocal track adds such a rich layer thus pushing the song into the stratosphere.

2. David Bowie – “Moonage Daydream” (Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, 1983)

I specifically picked this live version to showcase Bowie’s performance. It’s such a deal breaker for me when artists are shitty live. I also wanted to use this version for Mick Ronson’s brilliant playing. It’s really amazing the line-up of brilliant guitarists that Bowie has played with throughout his career, from Mick to Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the list goes on. “Moonage Daydream” is probably runner up to “Sound and Vision” as my favourite Bowie song.

3. Nirvana – “The Man Who Sold the World” (Unplugged, 1994)


I think a lot of young people were introduced to Bowie through this song. It’s an incredible cover, even better than the original, which is always hard to do. Usually, a great cover re-imagines the song in a radical way (I hate covers that sound like the original version at a lower volume), but Nirvana’s version was fairly straight forward, albeit stripped down. The simplicity resonated with Cobain’s vocal performance. Posthumously, knowing how much Cobain wrestled with his own image, you can see how he was able to personalize the lyrics and make it his own.

4. Jay-Z – “Takeover” (The Blueprint, 2001)

Speaking of unexpected influences, Kanye West is a huge Bowie fan. He actually sampled a bit from “Fame” in this track he produced for Jigga back in 2001. I like to think of Bowie and Kanye was distant cousins. As an artist, Kanye is also very eclectic, drawing on a variety of sources and perfecting trends. He’s also a provocateur, knowing which buttons to press to get a reaction. In the 60s, Bowie embraced androgyny and sexual liberation. These days, Kanye is challenging acceptable norms for black artists (something Bowie was also passionate about).

5. David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans” (Earthlings, 1997)

My introduction to Bowie. It’s a shame that Bowie’s greatest years were before MTV and music videos. Although, he did have some great ones in the 80s, like “Let’s Dance” and “Ashes to Ashes.” This video is excellent. I also love his collaboration with Trent Reznor.

6. Nine Inch Nails – “A Warm Place” (The Downward Spiral, 1994)

Keeping with Reznor, this is an interesting song because Reznor is basically Bowie-ing Bowie. It’s basically a reimagining of Bowie’s “Crystal Japan.” I love what Reznor does with it. The warm digital textures are reminiscient of Bowie’s Berlin period.

7. LCD Soundsystem – “All I want” (This is Happening, 2010)

The debt this song owes to “Heroes” is obvious. In a way, it’s cover that goes beyond being a cover and becomes a tribute. Listening to LCD Soundsystem’s music, it’s clear the influence that Bowie’s Berlin period had on James Murphy. Interestingly, Murphy played percussion on Bowie’s final album, Blackstar.

8. Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance” (The Fame Monster, 2009)

I gotta say, I’m a big Lady Gaga hater. Whereas Bowie is a culture vulture in a creative sense, Gaga is a commercial vulture. She’s Bowie for mass consumption. “Hamburgers for the apocalypse” to borrow a line from Almost Famous. Nonetheless, “Bad Romance” is a great tune.

9. TV on the Radio – “Province” (Return to Cookie Mountain, 2006)

These past few years, Bowie has become an elder statesman for art pop. I hear so many anecdotes of how gracious he was to young, new artists. Likewise, I love hearing him lend his voice to tracks like “Province.” I remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking “wow, those backing vocals sound just like Bowie.” I was surprised to learn he’d actually sang them because I expected someone of Bowie’s stature to be more demonstrative and assertive in a guest appearance. Nope. Bowie was happy to serve the song.

10. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”(Reflektor, 2013)

Another band taken under his wing, Bowie’s relationship with Arcade Fire has been well documented. As soon as they broke out with Funeral back in 2004, people were comparing their music to Bowie’s. To be honest, I didn’t really hear it, until he performed “Wake Up” with them live. Of their albums, Reflektor sounds the most like Bowie. Their tribute to Bowie in New Orleans was very touching.

11. David Bowie – “Lazarus” (Blackstar, 2015)

Aside from working with other artists, Bowie was largely quite for the past decade. But reports say that the last eighteen months of his life was a fury of activity. The cancer diagnosis creatively reinvigorated him. It is a common narrative. It is extraordinary that Bowie managed to create one last great album so soon before his death. Blackstar is some of his best material since the Berlin period. “Lazarus” is Bowie’s courageous attempt to gaze into the abyss of mortality. A final gift for fans.

Literary Grudge Match: Ayn Rand vs. JK Rowling

•January 10, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I rarely judge people for their literary tastes. Spending time reading words on a page accesses parts of your brain that are woefully underdeveloped in today’s society. I won’t pull a Jonathan Franzen and decry smartphones and social media, but I do believe too much of that shit rots your brain. There’s a stillness of mind that you achieve by reading, especially books. Just sitting there, without distraction, focusing on text for at least an hour a day. It does something special for your mind. So any love is good love, as far as reading is concerned.

Except when it comes to Ayn Rand.

I’m like officer Barbrady when it comes to Ayn Rand. Why anyone would put themselves through those bricks of total nonsense leaves me speechless. No one has committed so much ink and paper to such a fundamentally flawed philosophy as Rand. You’d think at some point in her yammering she’d chance across a bit of sense, but nope. She writes at the level of someone perpetually stuck in a first year philosophy course. It’s actually painfully stupid.

If you aren’t familiar with Rand, lemme do a quick run down: It’s OK to be a total douche bag because poor people suck and they should’ve thought about that when they were born. There’s some a juvenile Aristotle thrown in there somewhere. Whatever. Who cares.

And then there’s the school of thought she’s fostered. This brood of radical free market capitalists who seem to be on a mission to fuck over the economy again and again and again. So, so many shitty politicians. Oh, and Vince Vaughan. “Tax is theft!” blah blah blah. snore.

What’s truly hilarious is that after a lifetime of putting down people who received social assistance,  Ayn Rand died broke on welfare.

womp womp


Contrast Ayn Rand with JK Rowling.

Rowling’s story is well-known. She was a single mother on welfare. She wrote the bulk of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in cafes trying to keep her baby girl asleep. I’m pretty sure she made enough money to fill Gringotts.

But she gave much of it away. Moreover, unlike other rich Britons who flee the country to avoid taxation, she hung around because she believes in the system. She’s not trying to masquerade her greed and pettiness behind some shitty “philosophy” trying to justify her avarice. She experienced the benefit of social assistance and now wants pay it back.

Can you think of a better investment? Rowling probably cost the British government thousands of quid and now she’s contributed millions in taxes, donations, and whatever contributions from her books and films.


The culture war over taxation exhausts me. On the one side you have these butthurt millionaires and their militia of useful idiots who whine and moan like they’re under the boot heel of British mercantilism. And then on the other you have a group seething with ressentiment and want to punish rich people by taking away their money through taxation. My issue with the latter is at point is someone “rich”? It usually means someone who makes more money than you (although shout to rich guys like David Simon and Warren Buffet who feel they themselves aren’t paying enough taxes).

The discussion should be less focused on who should pay X amount of taxes, but what should we be doing with out taxes. Maybe if the public were more informed about where tax dollars were going, we’d get a better sense of how taxes should be levied. Vis a vis understanding the value of investing in social programs.






Winter is Coming (Again and Again and Again): The Eternal Return in Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and True Detective

•December 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I saw The Force Awakens (TFA) on Christmas eve because Star Wars is the closest I’ve come to a religious experience. I loved it. I have my various quibbles, but it is in the nature of a Star Wars fan to merrily nitpick.

The biggest complaint, so far as I can tell, is that it repeats too much of A New Hope (ANH). I think the creative team really wanted to reassure fans that this was going to be the Star Wars they know and love; that the sequels wouldn’t be cut from the same cloth as the prequels. Fans deserved to have their faith restored by a familiar feeling crowd-pleaser.

Perhaps the subsequent sequels will go in all kinds of unexpected directions, and TFA was simply meant to ground fans and establish trust. Either way, I’m excited to see where it goes.

However, I think there’s another, deeper, reason why TFA repeated so much of ANH. The dialectic of the Force is a metaphysical phenomenon: Jedi vs. Sith, Light vs. Dark, Good vs. Evil. This is the nature of the Star Wars universe (and perhaps our own). Various political entities manifest themselves throughout history, exhibiting the different spectra of the Force, but the Force remains. So the Resistance comes from the Rebellion and First Order arises from the Empire.


In philosophy we call this the eternal return. There are many different schools of thought around this concept and many philosophers have written about it. Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps most famously, discussed the idea throughout his work. But I want to talk more about Gilles Deleuze, who was influenced by Nietzsche. I find Deleuze extremely difficult but very rewarding. So try to bear with me as I work through this because I’m not really sure I understand it myself. This post will be an essay in the original sense, from the French verb “to try.”

The most famous instance of Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return comes as a thought experiment. He tells the reader to consider the possibility of living her life over and over again. The exercise is meant to galvanize the reader into living a more authentic life, or to love one’s fate (amor fati). Nietzsche takes it a step further, later asserting that the law of conservation of energy demands the eternal recurrence, that physical patterns will constantly be repeating themselves over the course of eternity.

Working with these principles, Deleuze builds a concept of ontology that is based on repetition and difference.

Deleuze asserts that things are constantly in a state of becoming; matter is dynamic not static. This makes a lot more sense when you think of entropy, or the arrow of time. Our bodies, for example, are always getting older, changing over time. Deleuze would say there’s no separate “meta” version of your body. Your body is thus always in a state of becoming.

Therefore, because things are always in flux, they’re always in a state of difference. Things are disparate entities, discreet from one another. Moreover, it is only when beings are repeated as something other that their disparateness is revealed.

As you can see this is a paradoxical idea. It reminds me of a great quote that’s attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.”

Someone once told me it’s a lot easier to understand Deleuze’s ideas when you apply them as opposed to trying to figure them out in and of themselves. So, let’s apply these concepts of difference and repetition and see what happens.


We can see how difference and repetition plays out in TFA.

In many ways, Rey is similar to Luke; a Jedi raised on a shitty desert planet who encounters a drone that leads her into an adventure that is eventually reveals her true identity. But in many ways they’re different. She’s a woman, she has a new dynamic with Finn, and her training will be different under Luke than his was under Yoda’s.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kylo Ren is repeating Vader’s journey to the Dark Side. He fashions himself like Vader with the all-black-everything and spooky mask, and like his grandfather he is conflicted about which side of the Force he belongs. (I would suggest that the Skywalker gene carries a predisposition towards bipolar disorder.)

But again, he’s different. On a superficial level, unlike Vader, he wears the mask for affect not because he’s scarred. Also, we’re not sure what drove Ren to the Dark Side, but it certainly seems to a different motive than wanting to protect his mother.

If the Force is the ontological substance of the universe then it must be in a constant state of becoming. Therefore we see it repeatedly manifested in different ways.


Jon Snow tries to understand difference and repetition in puppies

Let’s move onto another series to explore the political dimension of difference and repetition: Game of Thrones.

The Targaryens are replaced by the Lannisters who are pretty much the same. Jaime and Cersei have inbred children and use the state’s resources to achieve their own personal goals and people are trampled beneath their follies and whims.

The story begins with Robert’s grip on power slipping and a long summer coming to an end. Many people thought it would be the never-ending summer, but winter is *totally* coming. Likewise, all the hope that Robert’s reign would put an end to the despotism of House Targaryen is all but dissolved.

The nature of the political system of Westeros and the power dynamics force characters into a wheel of repetitive motifs. Tyrion, for example, is always getting captured or arrested then trying to get himself out of trouble through his brainpower. Twice he undergoes trial by combat with different results.

By employing the infinite return and difference/repetition, Martin is subverting the fairy tale narrative of happy endings. It reminds me of TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which revolves around the myth of renewal. What if spring doesn’t come? Or what if spring isn’t what we thought it was in the first place?

There’s this myth that a hero will come and save us or a glorious revolution will solve all our problems, but then we just keep ramming our heads into the same old problems, again and again.


Close, McConaughey.

Nietzsche’s concept of the infinite return is expressly referenced in the first season of True Detective. (I haven’t seen the second season yet so I don’t know if they come back to the concept again.)

When Cohle and Marty get Leddoux and Dewall, Leddoux tells Cohle that this is all going to happen again, “time is a flat circle.” This becomes a sort of mantra for Cohle, often repeating it.

Nietzsche cautions against overly simplistic interpretations of the eternal return. That’s why I find Deleuze’s concept of difference/repetition so useful. Accordingly, the events of True Detective repeat, but in a different way, forming a kind of diptych.

Although Cohle and Marty think they’ve solved the case of the murdered women and kidnapped children, Cohle soon learns that the case is much bigger than they imagined and that the real killer is still out there. As the plot continues, Cohle becomes further unhinged. He cannot stop replaying the events of not only the raid but also of his daughter’s death.

They eventually find the real killer and kill him. However, Cohle again despairs because they didn’t get all the conspirators. Marty reassures him that they did as good as can be expected. Cohle looks up to the stars and remarks on all the darkness, but Marty takes a more optimistic perspective and looks at the stars, observing that the light is winning.


I think if you strip away all the highfalutin jargon and dramatic plot lines, it rings true to our personal experience. We often find ourselves struggling with the paradox of difference/repetition in our daily lives. In order to achieve that state of amor fati Nietzsche talks about, you have to own all the circumstances in your life and turn them into something positive.

Rey, Tyrion, and Cohle all find themselves repeating seemingly deterministic patterns.What makes them heroic is that they find the possibility to achieve something new and worthwhile within their circumstances.

After all, if things are constantly in a state of becoming, then you have an infinite potential to achieve something different.