Call me Jed

“Call me Jed, Mr. Ewell was my father”

Unlike his father Jed found conversation unduly taxing, and so he relied heavily on rhetorical clichés and stock jokes (such as this) to guide him through the interpersonal abyss.

His father, who incidentally was almost never referred to as Mr. Ewell, was a man-of-the-people, a welder, and the pinnacle of masculinity. Mr. Ewell would strike up conversation with anyone that met his eye and Jed had deeply admired this quality (if envy is a requisite component of admiration).

Like his father, Jed too had entered the welding profession; he even readily admitted to himself that his becoming a metal worker was merely a transparent attempt to both emulate Mr. Ewell’s potent masculinity, which he felt he lacked, and to earn his respect, which he felt he also lacked.

The tone of his and his father’s conversations had begun to change as he drew further into the secrets and skills of the profession. They were equals now. Ewell and Son adorned the front of shop, where once it had read Ewell and Ewell for Jed’s uncle, Frank Ewell, who died suddenly some time ago, and whose shoes Jed was now struggling to fill both professionally and familially.

Jed’s middle name was Frank after all, after his uncle, and he was despite appearances a Ewell also. To Jed this was akin to a religious calling; Ewells were a sacred order, blessed by rugged charm and incomparable work ethic. Even if Jed did not possess these qualities naturally, he was damn sure going to mimic them until even he could no longer mark the difference.

But welding is hard to mimic, it is a genuine skill, impossible to imitate but hard won only through ceaseless labour in the stiflingly hot workshop that now bore his name. Steel was his particular weakness; he felt his father’s eyes burning into him whenever this unruly, inflexible beast failed to yield to his torch and tongs. Other metals would comply with his art, but never steel; Achilles’ iron alloy.

. . .

Years later, Jed is accomplished at his craft, he still feels a pale imitation of his father but at least he is to some degree a genuine man, a genuine Ewell. Except in one aspect, hot panic overtakes him whenever a new contract is signed and he knows he is to work with steel.

A construction company now wants 30 beams reshaped to specification; Mr. Ewell is too old to oversee such a large contract, his worsening arthritis has rendered him a mere administrator.  A crisis of identity ensues for Jed, keeping him up at nights reconsidering the products of a lifetimes worth of small decisions. Maybe metal work had always been a mistake, maybe he doesn’t need his father’s approval as much as he thought he did, as now he had it it proved insubstantial, evaporating on contact with air.

Maybe Ewells could be artists or teachers and not just welders, maybe men don’t have to work with their hands to be men. Jed is single minded now, an unfamiliar determination possesses him, and so he calls the foreman of the construction company whose contract has triggered his spiritual revolution.

‘I’m sorry, I can’t do it’ he says solemnly ‘Jed F. Ewell can’t melt steel beams.’

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Science and the Silver Screen

Science and cinema have something of a complicated relationship.

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Despite being just over a century old, cinema has expanded to become a cornerstone of modern culture. Numerous movie classics have become firmly cemented in our collective consciousness, many of which take science and its consequences as a central theme, or as the backdrop against which the drama unfolds. But how important is it, if at all, that film makers ensure the science depicted within is realistic?

Major productions now routinely employ science advisors and consultants, even when the plot itself is inherently fantastical. Cosmologist Sean Carroll served as science advisor on Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Thor’; presumably his job description was something like ‘despite heavy references to the Norse Gods, help us ensure a level of realism’. Films such as these are fairly innocuous in terms of scientific realism, the plot itself requires one big suspension of disbelief (ie that Thor exists, or that Natalie Portman is a physicist) and then the science advisor steps in to ensure the script is free of any glaring errors. For movies in which science is as peripheral as Thor, it is fairly inconsequential that Stellan Skarsgård says ‘Einstein-Rosen bridge’ instead of ‘wormhole’ (yes, Sean Carroll actually prides himself on this indispensable contribution to cinema)

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What about when science isn’t on the periphery, when the plot brings it to the fore, does this necessitate a higher degree of truthfulness? The short answer is: it depends on the genre, or at least the purpose of the film. This is a good time to make the distinction between ‘science fiction’ and ‘science fantasy’. Author Ray Bradbury characterises science fiction as a ‘sociological study of the future’; essentially this genre explores the societal impacts of particular technologies or scientific principles that have been allowed to permeate civilization, like the Replicants in Blade-runner, medical technology in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or cloning in Jurassic Park.  Science fiction puts a scientific principle at its centre, and as such a certain degree of faithfulness is necessary if you want to be effectual. The best in this genre seem to give equal weight to scientific realism as to philosophical implications; the uniquely human struggle to co-exist with the ‘other’, whether it be machines, aliens or a new and pervasive technology. The more credible this ‘other’, the better the audience can identify with the struggle.

star-wars-1-vader-2400x1200-660808050818Science fantasy on the other hand is typified by Star Wars, the science is not integral to the plot but it threads itself throughout. The setting is vaguely futuristic and advanced on the surface, but the bare bones of the plot could be mapped onto a different context without much damage. Feudal Japan would my first choice for a Star wars re-hash, swapping lightsabres for Katanas, Sith for Samurai and well I suppose the emperor is still an emperor, but the plot could be left largely alone save for any explicit references to technology.  Accuracy in science fantasy films is almost irrelevant; it’s missing the point to debate whether the Death-star is feasible. Films in this genre prize drama above reality almost by definition. However that’s not to say ‘anything goes’ in science fantasy, these films must still strive to create a sense of consistency in tone, it must quickly establish the limits of possibility otherwise no real drama could unfold. The reason ‘Prometheus’ felt quite insubstantial is that it was never established what the black gloop is and what it can do; it had wildly different effects in different contexts (dissolved one person’s face, zombified another, impregnated a third), a sloppy ‘deus ex machina’, conveniently advancing the plot wherever the writers were too lazy to concoct something more engaging, therefore the tension dissipates quickly. Incidentally my failure to engage with the Harry Potter franchise is for the same reason. The rules and limits of magic are vaguely explained, such that any serious danger to the protagonist is undercut by the possibility of a convenient new spell we haven’t yet heard of fixing everything.

 

Scientific accuracy takes on paramount 0058273 - Copyimportance in another genre. The scientist’s biopic is enjoying something of a renaissance currently, with producers queuing up to buy the rights to the biographies of esteemed scientists. Disappointingly these tend to be very light on the science itself; typically there will be a montage of the hero scribbling equations on blackboards looking deeply bothered, followed by an explanation to the lay-person using a hilarious metaphor. Ta-da, the science is finished. This is more aggravating than any inconsistencies in science fiction and fantasy; these are real people who made great contributions to society, and like any matter of historical fact there is a certain responsibility to be faithful to the facts. In The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking appears to have an unending series of eureka moments, despite getting his jumper stuck on his head. Obviously the long process of refining and testing cosmological equations doesn’t make for gripping drama, but I’m left wondering how many people leave the cinema appreciating that the great bulk of any scientific endeavour consists in exactly that. According to Hollywood, all it takes to win the Nobel Prize is to go to any sufficiently romantic setting with a constipated facial expression, and then simply count down the seconds until revelation strikes.

Scientific accuracy will never be the most important element in any film, even the scientist’s biopic. Plot, dialogue, acting, cinematography, and score still overwhelmingly determine the quality of any movie, but just take a moment to consider what makes ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ so resoundingly brilliant, and ‘Angels and Demons’ so instantly forgettable, and it should be apparent that the level of scientific realism can be the icing on the cake, or the final straw.

 

The Sarah Palin Philosophy of Science (or Dumb people in High Places)

Though the years have marched by with apparent indifference, the world is still in recovery, still haunted by the shocking appearance of Alaskan beast far worse than those of Native American

Artist's depiction of Sarah Palin

Artist’s depiction of Sarah Palin

lore, more repulsive than the Sasquatch or Wendigo. This creature did not emerge from the Sea of Japan to crush cities underfoot in retribution. No, this monster came to us in the much less threatening guise of a concerned mother, bible in one hand, and a high-powered rifle in the other; Governor Sarah Palin was thrust into the public eye in 2008 as a hopeful vice president under John McCain, and she has remained attached to the political establishment ever since like a blood-engorged tick.

Her sphere of influence has grown through books, newspaper columns and even a potential second run for the vice presidency. None of which would be very alarming, if it weren’t for the fact what she utters is so frighteningly banal; so ill-considered and ill-informed, that we’re forced to ruminate over the sad fact that worryingly ignorant people occupy very high offices.

There’s nothing new in this, I suppose. People have perennially lamented the limited mental capacities of their leaders, and arguably only Marcus Aurelius approached anything like the idealistic philosopher-king envisioned by Plato. However, one particular ‘Palinism’ has stuck in my mind. In a pre-election interview Palin was asked her thoughts on science funding, to which she responded that she thinks the US government has been lax in its allocation, she expressed concern that scientists were wasting time and tax-payers money; essentially just dicking around for the hell of it. Her example? She cited the existence of scientists in France who are exploring fruit fly genetics, “I mean can you imagine? Fruit flies” she repeated indignantly, implying that she considers this to be as useful as burning piles of cash outright. There would be none of this time-wasting fuckwittery from the scientific community if she were in charge.

Drosophila Melanogaster

Drosophila Melanogaster

Now this ignorance is understandable on the face of it, high school biology was probably a long time ago for the Governor, so how was she to know that the fruit fly is the most widely used, and arguably most useful, model organism in genetics; and through studying it we have learned nearly everything we know about heredity, development and genetic disorders. Its rapid growth and reproduction, abnormally large chromosomes, and low maintenance, make it ideal for an varied array of investigations into genetics, pharmacology, developmental biology etc. etc.

 Flies though. It just sounds so much like scientists are using a much time and energy to investigate pointless questions. You can imagine the rusty cogs of Palin’s brain, and others like hers, grinding in consternation: Didn’t scientists once put an ear on a mouse? They probably make crabs run on treadmills and stick extra legs on badgers just for fun, the useless bastards.

There does seem to be a pernicious public conception of scientists of overly-curious star-gazers, heads in the clouds, examining phenomena that only they find interesting, answering questions no one asked, diverting resources away from more pressing matters. Shouldn’t all biologists be trying to cure cancer all the time? In fact this notion of aimless scientists predates science itself; a play aptly named ‘The Clouds’ written by Aristophanes satirized Socrates by imagining a fictional school of enquiry called ‘The Thinkery’, with Socrates as the head who announces, after tireless work, that he has devised a unit of measurement to determine how far a flea jumps, a comically useless enterprise according to Aristophanes. So Palin certainly isn’t the first to worry that the great ‘thinkers’ of the day have more money, and more curiosity, than sense. But she is, quite frankly, wrong.

I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream - Van Gogh

I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream – Van Gogh

This conception of scientists as overly-curious time wasters, divorced from the real world and absorbed in their pointless and endless puzzles, is not only naïve, but even if it were accurate, it would still be a worthwhile pursuit and worth every penny that is put into it. Here’s why:

Firstly, as with the fruit fly genetics example, what looks on the surface to be an esoteric and useless avenue of enquiry is in fact a very ingenious and more efficient way to study a very important problem. As noted above, fruit flies have made it easy to study heredity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in other organisms, and helped us to unravel the mysteries of gene networks that govern development. The scientists aren’t interested in the fly’s development per se, although after years working with them I’m sure they develop a certain fondness for the bastards, but more for what they reveal of the common principles and important genes with homologues in humans, for instance, they can infer laws and principles with speed and manipulate the flies in ways that it would be unethical to do so in higher organisms. This holds true for most any other case you can name where it appears that scientists lost themselves in some pointless endeavour, usually the overly-specific and seemingly useless problem they are addressing is part of some greater whole, or indirect method of getting an important conundrum, whose solution will be of great benefit to mankind.

The other reason this view of scientists as time-wasters is flawed is that even if they are just star-gazing, listless students of the ‘Thinkery’ as Aristophanes would have it, the massive element of serendipity and luck that exists in science still means useful discoveries would be made all the time. 19th century physicists analysing the light spectrum of the sun noticed small gaps in the spectra, explained only by the existence of a new element, called ‘helium’ (from helios:  sun). The gaps in the spectra of light absorbed by different atoms also helped pave the way for the understanding of atomic structure, and thus eventually the quantum revolution itself. Now arguably the entire quantum revolution is arguably just as esoteric and irrelevant itself to the general public, most of us live our lives entirely and blissfully unaware of the mathematical descriptions of electrons and their behaviour. Only, as Brian Cox points out, silicon transistors which comprise a broad swathe of our modern technology are a purely quantum phenomenon, only possible to be built only once we understood this esoteric and pointless world of the electron.

Circuit board with silicon chips - product of the quantum revolution

Circuit board with silicon chips – product of the quantum revolution

Literally by staring into the sky and wondering about the nature of sunlight, and peering down into the energy absorbed by atoms, perhaps the two most extreme examples of arcane and abstruse behaviour, there occurred the discovery of a new element, and a quantum revolution, without which a great deal of our modern luxuries wouldn’t exist.

Back to Governor Palin. Yes there are geneticists in France, and most developed nations actually, working all day, every day on fruit flies. They have taught us a great deal, and continue to do so. Yes there are physicists who spend night after night in observatories, staring into the deep expanse of space, and others who delve into the impossibly small world of the atoms, and both of these groups have completely changed the edifice of technology and innovation in the past, and will do again in the future no doubt. However seemingly random and esoteric a scientific problem may appear, it just isn’t a good barometer of how beneficial the results might be. A revolution is always around the corner and they come from the funniest places. As it happens Socrates’ name has far out shined that of Aristophanes, and although ‘The Clouds’ was supposed to satirize the perils of thinking too deeply, historically it is in fact always been those with their heads in the clouds who made the greatest and most impacting discoveries. Now if only those in charge of allocating science funding were aware of this then people like Palin would concern me a lot less.

Palin in comparison

Palin in comparison

Science and faith: a re-consideration

science-religion  For millennia people have understood the world through the lens of faith, the firm belief in teachings handed down by a select few anointed individuals, or prophets, with a special connection to God. Biblically, there appears to only be a few people in each millennium considered worthy enough to be God’s mouthpiece; today many Catholics believe the Pope fulfils a comparable role, and other religions have similar characters who are able to delineate truths revealed from on high. On the surface, the sphere of science seems a million miles from the domain of faith, perhaps almost its opposite; after all science operates on principles of falsification and scepticism, not trust. However, from the position of a lay-audience science and religion have much more in common than you might expect.

Someone unfamiliar with the scientific theory on a given subject is expected to accept scientific truths on the authority of a few esteemed scientists whom, as far as they are concerned, are individuals with special insight. This is much the same way in which people revered the prophets of old. An obvious objection to this comparison would be that, according to the principles of the scientific method, people who doubt a scientific principle or observation are invited to disprove it, therefore the longer a certain idea lasts the more we can be confident in its truth value; whereas in religion such open enquiry has historically been discouraged, thus faith belongs in religion and should have no place in scientific discourse. I agree with this basic distinction and of course in essence science and religion are completely different entities, but to an uninitiated individual the overall experience is much the same. Can we reasonably expect a lay person to have the necessary resources, or even the requisite understanding of theory and experimental protocol to go about falsifying or systematically disproving modern scientific theories? How would any of us go about deciding whether the Hadron-collider data that glimpsed the Higgs Boson is accurate or not? We are simply expected to believe the scientists involved in such projects have the ability to know these things and trust that they do. Obviously this ability isn’t divine, but that is irrelevant to those of us who aren’t educated particle physicists, because it is unlikely we will ever have the requisite understanding to check, and know, for ourselves that what they say is true. Therefore we must accept what they say on authority, not on evidence. This is a species of faith.

Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan formulated the idea of ‘Le sujet supposé savoir’, or the ‘subject who is supposed to know’.  In BYU3vmSjeMdIB3wVgZVb3Dl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9Psychoanalysis this represents the faith the person being analysed places in the knowledge of the analyst, which Lacan considered more important than the knowledge itself. The psychoanalyst is the one ‘who is supposed to know’, and therefore the patient puts far more stock in what they say because of this supposition. Scientists fulfil this role for society, we think they are the ones who are ‘supposed to know’, and therefore we collectively heed their advice, when once we invested in the advice of prophets.  Now it is scientists, not prophets, who commune with governments, inform policy, and receive extensive tax-payer subsidy; they are the Levites of a new age.

For the scientific illiterate, Science’s usurpation of Religion is like the invasion of a foreign king as seen by a peasant, it’s a purely nominal change and life continues much the same. The king himself may be the complete opposite of his predecessor in nature, but the peasant will never be close enough to either king to understand this difference, what is asked of him does not change. Science requires no less faith and fealty than religion, it may operate on completely dissimilar principles, but to the lay audience (incidentally: ‘lay’ is originally a religious word meaning ‘non-ordained’ finding new meaning in scientific society) they are equally beyond the horizon of their understanding. Arthur C. Clarke wrote ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, in this case the quote should read ‘For most, any sufficiently advanced method of discerning truth is indistinguishable from special revelation’ (Although that’s much less poetic).

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The man who saved a billion lives.

If someone were to ask which scientist had saved most lives in history, perhaps familiar names like Alexander Fleming or Edward Jenner might come to mind, whose work in combatting disease has been indispensable in creating a new era of health and longevity.  But arguably the work of these great men would be rendered nearly inconsequential if it were not for the work of another, a man whose name is regrettably absent from the common list of scientific saviours. That man is Norman Borlaug, and he has transformed the world.

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What did Borlaug accomplish? He saved wheat. It doesn’t sound too exciting does it? Certainly it doesn’t seem as exhilarating as the race to vaccinate an ailing population, or discovering new antibiotics; which is doubtless why so few people are familiar with his work. However, this tale becomes far more stirring when you consider that wheat accounts for around 20% of the calories consumed by the entire world population, coupled with a rapidly accelerating rate of over-population, and it’s plain to see why the survival of wheat is paramount to the survival of humanity.

In the 1940’s Borlaug journeyed to Mexico to attempt to bolster wheat production, which had become dangerously low. Over the next 16 years he and his team worked tirelessly to ‘back-cross’ important traits into wheat, and eventually succeeded in creating a high-yield, disease resistant new variety, with the startling ability to be grown in double season, instead of once a year. However, there was a major set-back; this variety’s tall, thin stems caused the wheat to collapse under its own weight, making harvest ineffectual. Undeterred, Borlaug’s team pressed on and succeeded in crossing their line with a species of Japanese dwarf-wheat, producing a new ‘semi-dwarf’ species with shorter, sturdier stems. Once again Borlaug’s ingenuity and relentless work ethic prevailed.

From success in Mexico, Borlaug’s wheat was taken to Asia to feed an exploding population. In the 1960’s it was becoming horrifyingly apparent that there wasn’t enough wheat being produced to feed the extra 200 million people expected to appear in the next two decades. The subsequent famine and population crash would be among the worst in human history. Despite fiery Mexican politics and a burgeoning Indo-Pakistani war, Borlaug succeeded in shipping seeds from Mexico to the continent to begin trials. The results were more than impressive. Initial yields were the best ever harvested in South Asia, leading to a mass import of his seed lines. Over the next decade yields doubled in Pakistan and India, even leading to the closure of schools in some areas to be used for grain storage, and ever since, the rate of yield increase has exceeded the rate of population growth in many regions, a phenomenon we now call ‘The Green Revolution’. Without Borlaug, the world would not have emerged from the 20th century ignorant of the horrors of famine, but thanks to his brilliant work we were spared this unconscionable reality.

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I finished a poem that Edgar Allan Poe began.

Among Edgar Allan Poe’s possessions was found a single poetic line that read: “Deep in earth my love is lying, and I must weep alone.” Heart-breaking, especially given the early death of his wife. Well, I thought this was far too powerful not to continue on a few lines, and although my poetry skills are nothing compared to Poe’s here it is:

 

“Deep in earth my love is lying, and I must weep alone,

I long to join her in her dying, to sleep beside her bones,

But such a thought no comfort brings,

To contemplate the end of things,

Life it seems, my soul denying, has reaped what I have sewn”

Facing the Absurd: Albert Camus and the Joker.

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There is a gaping expanse that separates our desire for life to have meaning, and the chaotic unfairness we actually experience. French philosopher Albert Camus called this feeling ‘The Absurd’; bad things happen for no reason, we work repetitive and probably meaningless jobs, and eventually die, and we spend a lot of that life suspecting that there is supposed to be some master plan or purpose. Camus encapsulates in his concept of the absurd the awareness that these expectations are simply unfounded, which he outlined eloquently in his essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’.

However, he is not the only person to promote such a notion. Another man expresses startlingly similar sentiments, he is a fictional person, and he is to be found in the annals of the DC comic book universe. Recently played to perfection by the late Heath Ledger, The Joker espouses a philosophy that bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Camus’s ‘The Absurd’. “It’s all a joke” the Joker reminds us in almost every film and comic appearance, maintaining that life is inherently ludicrous. It seems Camus and The Joker are in agreement about our sorry state of existence, yet they diverge wildly when it comes to how to react in light of this.

Camus wrote “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide”, if life is pointless, why should you go on living it? Because, he writes, that’s just avoiding the problem, it’s taking the easy tumblr_men7f5Tvnp1rs7i8ao1_500way out. Nor should you try to dismiss or rationalize the apparent absence of meaning in your life. Many people do this and make grand claims about the meaning of life; religious and spiritual teachers all claim to know some higher truth that will cause all the little pieces fall into place, but Camus says these people are just wasting their time, it’s the blind leading the blind. Camus calls this act ‘philosophical suicide’; it’s just another easy way out. The Joker agrees with sentiment this, as he quips:  “You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.”

So what does Camus, and his fictional grim counterpart, prescribe for those trying to engage with a truly Absurdist life? What should we do if we are not to end it or deny it? This is where the two make a wild departure from eachother.

Camus says we must be like the Greek hero Sisyphus downloadwho was condemned by the Gods to push a boulder up a mountain every day, only to watch it roll back down each night. The minutiae of our lives are just like Sisyphus’ futile task, repetitive and completely fruitless, but Camus says we have to imagine that Sisyphus is happy, walking down the mountain with a wry smile on his face; Sisyphus eventually recognises that all anyone is doing is rolling boulders up hills and watching them roll back down. The joke is on the Gods, they thought they were punishing him, but when they told he’d be doing a meaningless task forever, they freed him from the illusion that life was supposed to be meaningful, he became awake to absurd, and this allowed him to be truly content. He’s no longer struggling to find that ever-elusive fulfilment and meaning, he knows its basically bullshit, so now he can simply be.

The Joker, like Sisyphus, recognises the absurd, but he goes a step too far. He decides it’s not enough to go on pushing your boulder up your hill, smiling to yourself wryly that this all anyone can do. He makes it his life work to make everyone else see it too. “I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.” If the world is inherently chaotic and random, then not only does that render all attempts to impose a meaning on it pointless (as Camus says), in fact they are positively ridiculous. A bad joke, as the Joker puts it.

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The blockbuster movie ‘Dark Knight’ depicts the joker enacting a veritable crusade against purpose; he blows up hospitals, assassinates a mayor, and even robs banks only to burn the money. He is essentially a terrorist without an agenda. “I’ll show you.” He says “When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

The Joker is, obviously, fictional, but I don’t think that should give us license to reject his associated philosophy out of hand, why should we prize Camus’s advice over the Jokers? I can think of a few misguided individuals who chose the latter. In 2012 James Holmes walked in to a Colorado movie theatre armed with several automatic weapons, he opened fire indiscriminately on the defenceless audience. 12 people died, and Holmes was arrested. His apartment had been laced with explosives and he had been planning the attack for a considerable amount of time. His obsession with the Joker character, specifically the Heath Ledger incarnation, was obvious. Here is a man who is clearly mentally deranged; I don’t mean to imply that he made a rational choice to engage in a philosophical act when he murdered all those people, but it is also clear that from his diaries and subsequent james-holmes-trialinterviews that he definitely recognized the inherent absurdity of life and was also clearly a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. Holmes decided against embracing meaningless as Camus would want, but instead he chose to actively inflict it on others, becoming what the joker calls ‘an agent of chaos’. A living reminder of Joker’s warning: “You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!”

For no real reason, we are here. We must realise this if we are to be intellectually honest, and not try to shy away from it by convincing ourselves otherwise, or stepping down from the challenge and taking our own lives. Ultimately the Joker’s philosophy is self defeating, ironically so, his scheme to show everyone how pointless and purposeless everything is, is in fact just another pointless scheme on the pile. His quest has become for him a sort of meta-purpose, he essentially rejects the absurd and superimposes a purpose onto a chaotic existence, and this puts him squarely within the ‘philosophical suicide’ category that Camus outlines in the essay, he is simply not facing up to the true reality of existence by embracing the absurd. Unlike Sisyphus, the Joker does not recognise the pointlessness of his struggle, therefore he is not truly living.

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