I saw Children of Men
last night. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should, and if you are lucky like I was, it’s still showing somewhere, maybe a giant multiplex movie theater out in the sprawl whose airport parking and neon tubing and way-technical sound and truly comfortable seats will remind you that you are watching a UNIVERSAL motion picture, for if you forget that Children of Men
comes to you through corporate channels you will lose out on a good share of analytical pleasure later as you work through its—wait—the theater is getting dark…
A young, handsome man opens a can of Pepsi, and as he drinks, the red-white-blue, wave-in-circle logo on the can becomes a swirling, fluid ball, and it rolls the man away, down the spiral ramp of a parking garage and out into San Francisco, the articulations of whose traffic infrastructure have become bumpers and flippers in a pinball machine, the terminal shaft of which dumps the man into a stadium in Oakland, where the scoreboard declares “Free Play” as a bonus pinball rolls out like a movie boulder to absorb the man in a pleasure-sphere of unity with the product, which, since cola is a food and a drug, is basically what really happens when you drink it.
One puzzling close-up graphic makes the pinball look pocked and crumbling like a glossy-on-the-outside, mooncratered-on-the-inside foam ball you might have taken a bite out of as a child; I imagine the animators were using a sort of Rumsfeld logic—the fact that a technology exists gives you a reason to deploy it
—and simply selected some function within their computer program, just because it was available, that turns an even stretch of image into yellow, rotten Nerf.
***Imagine that your death is imminent and certain; what reason would you have not to push a button, at the moment of your death, that would destroy the entire universe?
The instructor of an Ethics course in which I was a TA presented this thought experiment to the class during the final meeting of the term, but before she could call on any of the three or four reliable hand-raisers (who in this class, by some miracle, were not twitchy, out-of-state, Honors College students looking to get the most out of their education
but college radio underachievers who seemed to just like to think), the doors of the lecture hall opened and a half-dozen work-study students came walking down the aisles, symmetrically on the left and right, carrying boxes of Scan-tron fill-in-the-bubble course evaluations and No. 2 golf pencils. The instructor said a quick goodbye, and she and the other TAs and I gathered our stuff and left, done for the semester.
I think it was around the beginning of Reagan’s second term that I began to turn my growing powers of abstract thought to politics and war, and recognizing the prospect of the nuclear demise of the whole species really gave me the willies, more than my own death or my parents’. While my generation has no special historical claim on the fear of nuclear war, it’s a pretty profound, Carl Sagan-level experience for any intelligent-imaginative being, no matter its location in time and space, to recognize for the first time that its species has carefully and purposefully developed the capacity to destroy itself. To a child, it did not appear that the Cold War was almost over. No one taught us to stop, drop, and cover, but we knew about Reagan’s escalation of the arms race, and nuclear worry saturated popular culture. “Communism” was not a concept for me—the struggle between ideologies was not part of my education—I just knew there were two opposed world powers with massive, impossible arsenals, and that the deployment of one would automatically trigger the other. My brain burned with a question pretty much the opposite of the philosophy instructor’s: if you knew that the horrific destruction of you and your countrymen was imminent and certain, how could you wish the same fate on everyone else? I feared annihilation without warning, shelter life, radiological anamolies, etc., but the deepest existential dread and anger I reserved for the thought that my government would choose the destruction of the whole species if faced with the destruction of just its own part.
Carl Sagan dismisses the suggestion that the universal mystical-mythic content common to religious revelation and psychedelic experience is the function of some brain structure favored by natural selection, or even the accidental result of some naturally selected neural circuit’s getting fried.
The only alternative, so far as I can see, is that every human being, without exception, has already shared an experience like that of those travelers who return from the land of death: the sensation of flight; the emergence from darkness into light; an experience in which, at least sometimes, a heroic figure can be dimly perceived, bathed in radiance and glory. There is only one common experience that matches this description. It is called birth. (Broca’s Brain, 356-357)
I was jubilant when Hilary told me that a wild child had been discovered in Cambodia—maybe the last one in human history, I fantasized in sad, sick awe—but this Guardian
article sobered me up pretty quick—it’s more likely that the girl survived not in the wilderness but in some terrible form of captivity, and that her disengagement and feral impulses are the result of years of abuse and neglect. I hope she will be treated well, with every form of love and comfort she can still experience.