Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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Fun survery results. The overall freakitude between Zorak and I are similar, but click on the links and look at that wild variance in the second and third categories. This probably explains the paradoxical fact in our relationship: She likes me, even though I am an obnoxious trad from time to time (because being trad is countercultural these days), but whenever I try to get her to do something trad in our own circle of conservative friends or co-religionists (e.g. wear a veil at church), it's suddenly like trying to put a cat in a bag.

I'm 41% freak!!

My wife:
I'm 45% freak!!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/30/2003 02:26:00 PM | link

In a May 9th interview, Keanu Reeves said he starting reading Schopenhauer and worked his way back to Kant in the course of preparing for his role.

(Apparently he is getting initiated into the more recent themes of philosophy by working backwards rather than forwards. I like how he describes tracing philosophical succession as seeing who this or that philosopher "killed." I do this myself, although the philosopher usually only gets a trouncing in my imagination, rather than being totally annihilated.)

To quote from the full article:

"I tried to understand the whole tapestry of this piece. I felt it was important so I could do my role."

To accomplish that, Reeves dipped into the philosophy embraced by the Wachowskis - universally referred to as "the Brothers" by the cast - but he didn't get too far.

"I got a little bit into Schopenhauer, but with Schopenhauer, you have to just keep going backwards," Reeves says wearily.

"Then I've got to go back to Wagner, and . . . Who does he kill? He hates Hegel. So then he goes into Kant, so then you've got to start reading Kant. (I'm like), 'OK, I've got to do some stretching and some kicking.' "

Ultimately, however, the Matrix is "a love story" according to Reeves. (Article from Keanuette).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/29/2003 02:20:00 PM | link

Woo hoo! I'm famous on Matrix Essays.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/29/2003 02:20:00 PM | link

Revenge of Matrix:Reloaded -- More Unresolved Questions
(chock full o' spoilers, like the other posts)

Several shorter questions have come in via e-mail. Thomas Crown had several points in an e-mail I'll treat in pieces. In my second post I gave the background meaning of the Merovingian's name. Crown wrote:

Thanks for reminding me where I've read the word Merovingian before.

There's also a long-lost bon mot, "Merovingian Decadence," which refers to a high level of self-indulgent, egotistical moral abandonment, which also fits with the Merovingian's character. (Sadly, no one I've ever talked with outside my Pythagorean brotherhood has ever heard that term before, but we smiled when we saw that the Merovingian was indeed decadent in the movie.) His wife is named Persephone. In mythology, Persephone is the (abducted) wife of Hades, god of the underworld. But the name Hades comes from the place over which he rules. In Latin, Hades is called Pluto or Dis, and Dis means riches. The Merovingian is clearly affluent and confined to his own underworld now that more powerful gods (the Architect, Agent Smith) rule the better portions of the matrix. Persephone in Latin is known as Prosperina, and is known to do favors for her husband's enemies on occasion (since she was abducted there in the first place by a ruse on Hades' part). Tangential question: Is the quest to the underworld in order to get the Keymaker a "golden bough" allusion from Book 6 of the Aeneid?

But back to the Merovingian. If there is one king who stands out as the paradigmatic Merovingian, it is Clovis, the first Frankish king from whom the entire dynasty descends. He's blood-thirsty, impetuous, and a hold-over from an earlier era when the tattered remains of the Roman empire still determined the political stability of the region.

Wildly hypothetical plot prediction #1: The Merovingian converts to Neo's side in the third movie. Clovis the Merovingian, after years of self-indulgent, blood-thirsty domination of his corner of France (analogous to the Merovingian's rule over his corner of the 6th Matrix), converts to Christianity in his old age, and brings 3000 of his subjects with him. Persephone tells us that she has grown tired of her husband because he's not like he was in his youth. When she wants her kiss, Persephone explains to Neo: "When we first came here, he was different; he was like you." Perhaps the Merovingian shakes off his decadence, and finds a higher purpose than pleasuring himself, especially since having a purpose was such a key part of his lecture to Neo.

T. Crown continues:

The ramifications of Smith being a free agent after being killed by Neo are really itching my craw. It's not that he's a free-willed app; it's that I'm not clear if it was his death, the manner of his death, or the fact that the death was at Neo's hands in particular that changed him, and what that means in larger terms.

It took a second viewing for me to discover that Agent Smith is now an entirely different program from the other Agents who police the Matrix (and are presumably ultimately loyal to the designs of the Architect). The Matrix-Agents have earphones in their ears, but Agent Smith does not. (He sends it back to Neo as a "thank you gift" in the opening scenes of the second movie.) I admit that Agent Smith's freedom has something to do with the fact he dies in the first movie. Yet, at the same time, it also has something to do with the fact that he interacts with Neo, and he says as much in the speech to Neo in the park, before the big fight. In general, I wonder if Smith doesn't progressively update himself every time he interacts with Neo? Remember the highway fight scene? Remember the moment when one Agent Smith leaps off the roof of a car, onto a gray car, and hops like a bullfrog way up to the top of the truck trailer? Remember how the gray car is dramatically crushed under the weight of the leap, and the camera dwells on it for a while? Is this Agent Smith's baby-step toward mimicking Neo's superman-like flying ability which also begins with a leap that sends a shockwave through the ground beneath him?

Thus, hypothetical plot prediction #2: Smith begins to progressively match Neo's abilities. (The Antichrist is supposed to mimic the Christ, after all.) This forces Neo to define his raison d'etre in a positive way, since merely reacting to the threats of Agent Smith become a less and less satisfactory way to resolve conflict.

I personally believe that Agent Smith is free because he's found a way to zap himself "outside" the Matrix, and enter the world of Zion as a spy and assassin. While we're on that topic, Carolyn writes:

Here's another biblical reference I picked up: The Smith clone who snuck his way into Zion in the form of a crewmember. He wishes Neo & Co. luck when they set off to consult the Oracle after cutting some symbol into his palm.

Is this an allusion to the Israelites' warding off the Angel of Death by painting their doorframes with blood? He's pointed out as the only survivor of his crew in the last scene in the movie where he is in the sick bay with Neo head to head. Something's obviously up there.

I replied:

I don't know what to make of the hand-slashing part, but it seemed to me that the guy intended to kill Neo at that moment by stabbing him in the back so that Neo couldn't re-enter the Matrix again once he boarded the Nebuchadnezzar. The assassination is foiled mid-attack because the teenage guy comes running up from behind Smith yelling "Neo!" because he is trying to catch Neo before he departs so he can give Neo the spoon from the young boy from the first movie. The teenager doesn't see the assassin, nor does Neo and company, and after the teenager yells and Neo turns around, the assassin has to awkwardly explain his presence.

As to the two slashes in his hand, a few of us were puzzled after the second viewing as to what it meant. My only guess is that the guy was getting himself sufficiently angry to kill Neo. (A killing rage...the guys in the group understood this, the girls didn't quite see why a man would want to hurt himself just to get angry...) If the Passover thing is true, the Smith-turned-crewmember would be doing Neo a favor by spreading blood over the doorway, but it seems his intent is malevolent in that scene. Moreover, he doesn't actually spread his blood anywhere, does he?

She returned the following, with my responses interposed with the italics:

The killing rage idea sounds plausible, esp. given Smith's hatred of Neo. But it struck me as too weird that the W Bros would just put something so gratuitous in there.

Yes, you're right. It's too conspicuous in the scene to be random.

I agree that it was a foiled assassination attempt, but the sentinels would still be trying to kill off freed humanity even with Neo dead. The hand slashing was to mark himself as one to be passed over by these Angels of Death. Actually spreading the blood over a doorframe wasn't necessary. Oh well, the question will be answered in the next installment....

You may be on to something there, especially since in the scene near the end, when the ship captains are discussing the slaughter of the ships which attempted to stave off the sentinel drilling machines (which they begin to suspect was a sabotage), they are puzzled by the fact that the machines systematically slaughtered everyone except one person, who is, of course, Smith in disguise. The slashes may be a sign to them.

Yet still the typology doesn't quite fit. What's the analogy? Squiddies = Angel of Death, Zion = Israel, Smith = Egyptians? That makes sense insofar as Smith wants to destroy Zion, but it doesn't make sense insofar as Smith isn't Zion's captor, and the Angel of Death isn't coming to kill Smith. He who is "passed over" by the Angel of Death must be in the role analogous to an Israelite in order for the analogy to hold, but Squiddies = Angel of Death, Smith = Israelite who is "passed over" leaves Zion = ??. Zion = Egypt doesn't make sense either. The problem is that the Angel of Death ultimately fights for Israel as an agent of Yahweh, but the Squiddies are not fighting for Zion in any way.

Which brings me back to T. Crown, who continues:

My big question is sort of an obvious one: Is the world outside the Matrix really outside of it? Might the whole Zion-Neo-freedom thing be a safeguard built into the computer to give a vent to the human need to perceive themselves as free, or at least somewhat
free, or exercising choice? It would certainly explain how Neo is capable of holding off the squiddies.

I think you're right that by the end of the second movie, one must abandon the presumption that there is a clean dichotomy between the virtual world of the Matrix and the "real" world where Zion is. This is true for several reasons: 1) The Matrix affects things in Zion. People die in Zion if they die while in the Matrix. 2) Smith is able to zap himself into Zion. 3) As you observe, Neo's powers start working in "the real world."

Alexander thinks there are two matrices. He has two posts on it so far. Check him out. The matrices-built-upon-matrices and the subsequent worry about whether one will ever reach a "foundational" level of "absolute" reality is usually where the lit. theory people come in with their post-modernist connections and hermeneutics-talk. I can talk that talk, but not as a native language, so I'll let somebody else talk about Foucault. I'm reading Pickstock, Gadamer and Derrida right now, and that's quite enough to wear out that portion of my brain. Alexander? Tushnet? (Tushnet won't do it because she doesn't like the movie.)

By the way, Alexander has played the Enter the Matrix video game. I know the Wachoski Bros. put a huge effort into the game, and gave it unique parts of the story which we don't see in the movie (yet which also don't seem essential to figuring out the film, since you couldn't expect every movie-goer to get the game). But I've been worried that regardless, the video game would be a big disappointment, as many spin-off games are. At the same time, despite the levels of realism we see in games like RTCW or Battlefield 1942, it's still super easy to get carried away with the expectation that the video game will be like sitting down and jumping into the movie itself, and therefore easy to get disappointed. That level of quality just isn't there yet. (The PC version requires 850 MHz P4, 128 MB Ram, and a Radeon-level graphics card as a minimum requirement! I can't image what you need to get it to play smoothly.) Any more detailed comments by those who have played the game?

And just in case anyone thought the idea of apparently free-willed apps fighting each other to gain control of the entire memory space was too futuristic, I remind everyone of Doom as a Tool for Unix System Administration.

Back to the previous question about levels upon levels of the matrix: I'm not sure. They're related somehow, and yes, that would be an easy answer to how Neo is able to manifest his powers in the "real" world against the squiddies at the end of the second movie. It also is a good way to explain the fact that the Architect tells Neo that Zion has been destroyed five times before, and in the course of that conversation, the Architect admits that he depends on the existence of humans for his survival in some capacity.

I guess I was expecting a more straight-up Gnostic idea that knowledge gained in the abstract, esoteric world of the Matrix is alone sufficient to transform the Neo and unlock abilities he didn't know he had. (Ditto for any other human sufficiently enlightened.) Moreover, if the "real" world is really just a more fundamental construct, related to the matrix in some way, why don't the Agents know about this fact and exploit it to their advantage long before the humans get anywhere close to an upper hand? I'm not against this reading, but I don't know where it ultimately leads and whether the movie will end up affirming or denying a "bedrock" reality. Perhaps I need to read Baudrillard. Or wait until the third and final movie comes out. Which brings me to:

Wackiest possible ending I know won't happen: On Nov. 5th, everyone sits down to watch the third movie. The lights dim, the screen lights up. Then the lights come back on again, and the Wachowski Brothers explain: "There is no third movie. You've had six months to puzzle out an ending, so now we want everyone to get up and share their theory about how the movie will end" which will spark a global discussion about the film, and possibly a riot.

Zorak has a cool theory about how the Council knows about what the Architect told Neo, but I will let her do that.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/29/2003 06:02:00 AM | link

More Matrix (Filled with Spoilers)

Saw The Matrix: Reloaded again, which has clarified some things. But, first things first: I didn't intend this post to be a review. I've gotten lots-o-links calling it a review, and it's really not. It was more of a gut reaction. My real point was to try to think out some of the questions I had after the first viewing. So too here. If this was a review, I'd have to say all sorts of snarky things, as follows. Skip to the next italic header for more constructive observations.

Snarky, review-like comments
Morpheus' speech to Zion at the beginning of the movie was lacking. It wasn't that deep, didn't really do anything except to introduce the dancing scene, and rhetorically, wasn't motivational. After Cmdr. Lock and Morpheus debate the issue of whether to tell the plebs of Zion that the machines are coming, and raising the question of whether some people's faith in Neo should be allowed to influence public-policy decisions (Counselor Hamann), the speech falls flat. But technically speaking, Hamann does not call upon Morpheus to deliver an address. He recognizes him in order to close the prayer. From the previous shot (the young boy removing his sandals before entering the great hall where everyone is gathered), we are to infer that the people are celebrating a kind of religious ceremony. A concluding prayer would have a purely exhortatory character like that.

The highway fight scene could have been half as long. Ditto the fight scene in the hallway of Le Vrai, where Neo fights the Merovingian's henchmen.

In an off-blog gathering at the House of Oligarch after the second viewing of the film, Eve complained that Trinity was little more than the typical "woman as plot device." I disagree, but I think Trinity could have gotten some better lines. The generic, "I'll be there for you, Neo" doesn't really build her depth of character. She is, ultimately, a woman of action rather than words. What's with the weird quasi-erotic resuscitation at the end of the movie? (The gasping, the kissing...) After you've just been shot and administered CPR, I'd expect her to be a little too tired out for that kind of enthusiastic display.

The flashes to Link's commentary after key scenes ("I can't believe it!" "Yes!") -- generally used to break the tension -- get tiring, especially after you've scene the movie once already and know they are coming. As a post-modern generation, we are still afraid to have unalloyed scenes of pure heroism, unchecked positive emotion, etc. without something to break our concentration: making a snide remark, pointing out some irony, calling us to check our instinctual desire to fully resonate with the film. This trend in pop culture is a disease. The Wachowski's are not responsible for it, but I'd prefer my climactic scenes uneditorialized for this reason.

Remember: Matrix: Reloaded is a trilogy. The Empire Strikes Back movie has a hard time escaping being the weakest one among the three. The middle of Crime and Punishment lags. As I mentioned in the first post, Reloaded has to lay out a lot of things on the table which will get resolved in part three. This expository work is basically interposed with action scenes. If these were cut down, and the film was 20 mins shorter, that would have been fine by me. At the same time, as I've said in the first post, the philosophical depth of the movie expands considerably.

Constructive commentary
My own ideas further down.

Father K. wrote to say that he didn't think the movie was all that deep. It's not a substitute for actual philosophy, but I think the sheer volume of commentary the movie has aroused is case enough that there is something evocative about the philosophical content of the film. Some might argue that it is easy for The Matrix to stride like a mental giant among the flatlandia of American cinema with its endless supply of movies like "Exploding Bus XVIII" "My Prurient Summer" and (for real!) Freddy vs. Jason, but kudos anyway to the Wachowskis for reversing the otherwise vapid atmosphere of the movies. The movie is also wonderfully packed with all sorts of hidden little hints and symbols. On the sheer level of keeping the mind busy with the details and density of the film, this is a laudable trend in cinema.

Zorak has already provided these links inter alia on her blog, but in case you didn't see them:

Julian Sanchez makes his case that Guy Debord is one key to the themes of the film.

Christian Science Monitor has some interesting interpretations of the symbolism, and some keen observations of small hints throughout the film. Two juicy ones:

Postmodernism: Neo hides his illicit software within a chapter titled "On Nihilism" within a volume called "Simulacra and Simulation," by Jean Baudrillard. This seminal work of postmodernism advances the idea of a copy without an original. The Wachowski brothers assigned Keanu Reeves to read this book before filming began.

(from the opening scene of the first movie:) The name Jesus is often used in association with Neo, most explicitly when Choi, a drug user, thanks Neo for providing him with illicit software. "Hallelujah. You're my savior, man. My own personal Jesus Christ."

Contrary to what CSM and many others have said, I don't think one needs any recourse to the Buddhist tradition to explain themes of "appearances are illusory," "through knowledge, we can access ultimate reality," etc. These are patent enough in the Western (Greek) mystical tradition. CSM's take on some things ("Logos") is stretched. Nice observation that the music at the end of both films makes allusions to waking up and figuring out the riddles of the film.

Regarding Baudrillard, also see this essay.

Alexander at the Gordian Knot -- others know him as the Christ-Carrier -- has two sets of comments 1 and 2. He didn't ever say exactly what about my first post was "ultimately wrong." (Can't I ever be penultimately wrong for once?) And I certainly didn't claim to be complete in that post. Nor do I here.

Matrix essays is a whole blog devoted to figuring out The Matrix.

My own two cents:
The pivotal question to the whole movie, I think, is revealed in the Merovingian's speech to Neo at Le Vrai (which means "The Truth" for non-Francophones). The Merovingian is a "left-over" program from an older instantiation of the Matrix (there have been five before, this is the sixth Matrix, as we learn from the Architect's speech), just like the Merovingians were the "left over" French dynasty whose 5th apogee waned with the rising empire of Charlemagne in the 8th.

In any case, the Merovingian berates Neo for coming to him just because other people (Morpheus, the Oracle) have told him to do so. Like other pitiful human beings (the girl who eats the cake), Neo has failed to escape the ubiquitous dynamic of cause and effect. He does not act with his own innate sense of purpose, according to goals of his own design, like the free programmers do (such as the Architect, Merovingian, Agent Smith). If the third movie is going to solve anything important, it is this question, and with relation to Zion.

Heretofore, Neo has acted simply out of reaction to the amazing events of being drawn out of the Matrix, unplugged, and launched into a battle whose scope and purpose he has yet to fully comprehend. What will Neo's telos be? What positive goal will he end up adopting as his mission, rather than simply staving off evil? Moreover, until Neo makes sense of the purpose of life outside of the illusory world of the Matrix, it is hard to give a complete answer to Cypher's Dilemma at the end of the first movie, which is the major question of that film. (Cypher is willing to take the red pill, forget he was ever unplugged, and live happily ever after in the illusion of the Matrix -- a privilege he gets in exchange for betraying Neo.)

On the metaphysical level, I think there's a classic question of philosophy going on here. The Merovingian is a determinist. Nothing is free. At the same time, Counselor Hamann's speech about the machines and the whole movie-long struggle to escape conditions forced on the protagonists make the opposite point just as clearly: Despite anyone's wishes -- even the Architect's -- no one is completely and utterly free. Even the Architect has to deal with conditions which he did not desire, and which ultimately thwart his designs. Is there a philosophy that can explain the interdependencies of existence in a way that avoids both the extremes of determinism and the impossible fantasy of utterly unconditioned freedom? How is choice reconcilable with, or related to, a world of entities whose nature does not make sense without reference to their ultimate goals?

Aristotelian teleology is just such a philosophy, and I think it's no accident that Neo's discovery of his purpose (telos) is bound up, hand-in-hand, with his quest to answer the determinist assertions of the Merovingian and to answer his own question to the Architect: "The problem is choice."

At this point, I have a choice to make. I'd either have to explain myself in great detail, or let it suffice with this: One German physicist has already had similar thoughts: Read Werner Heisenberg's essay on teleology vs. Leibnizian determinism in his Physics and Philosophy, specifically, chapter 5 "Development of Philosophical Ideas Since Descartes in Comparison with the New Situation in Quantum Theory" and chapter 9. "Quantum Theory and the Structure of Matter." I guess I chose the latter.

Candy, anyone?
That's the other cool theme in the movie: the relationship between foreknowledge and determinism. Any trained Christian theologian will know that foreknowing does not imply forecausing -- i.e. in se they are different things -- from doing some theology of God. Yet the question is stickier with man, who usually only foreknows because he has established relationships of causality between things which allow him to predict the future based on the present. The Oracle's speech to Neo in the park raises this question, when she asks Neo whether he wants the piece of candy. She raised the same question for Neo in the first movie when she told him not to feel bad for breaking her lamp before he accidentally knocked it over, and then told him it would really "bend his noodle" later, when he asked himself whether he would have knocked it over had she not said anything. Neo grapples with whether he's really free to take the candy, and finally asks her why she has asked him if she already knows whether he will take it.

Against Neo's worry that all his choices are illusory, the Oracle explains that, on the contrary, the outcome of the present situation is merely a product of decisions Neo has already made. She says that his present perplexity results from the fact that he has not understood why he has made those choices which have led him to the present moment. Understanding, more than choice, is crux of the issue, she seems to say.

Some people really grimace at this, since the Oracle, ostensibly the good figure in the movie, seems to be endorsing determinism as well here. I think this is a mistake. One need not come to this conclusion. The Oracle does not say Neo's present choice to take the candy is determined by something or someone else, but rather by what Neo himself has already chosen, unconsciously, in moments up to now. So what does this mean? I suggest the following: In contrast to a thin, 19th-century concept of will as the immediate deliberative power which exists only in the present moment, I think the Oracle presents a richer view of the will that one sees, once again, in early Christian and Middle Platonic writings. For example, cp. St. Augustine's De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis (often titled in English "On the Free Choice of the Will"). For Augustine, liberum arbitrium (free choice) is different from, but related to voluntas (the will). If you know this distinction, great. If not, sorry for losing you.

Voluntas is what enacts our actions, but voluntas, for the classical mind, includes habits, the motivations of nature, personal history and free choice. Rather than a completely plastic, ephemeral, moment-to-moment choosing faculty that creates itself anew at every moment, and does whatever it wants in untrammeled freedom with each new decision, voluntas and liberum arbitrium have a more complicated relationship. I like to compare the classical conception of voluntas and liberum arbitrium to a boulder-sized stone that is rolling on a playing field and a man who has sole charge of where it rolls. The stone has momentum. So, likewise, our will has its disposition. The environment can draw the stone in one direction more than the other, i.e. external circumstances partially determine appetites. The liberum arbitrium in this example, is the man, a homunculus as it were, who can slow or accelerate the movement of the stone, and alter its course. But the stone is more massive than the man. Individual acts of exertion cannot completely alter the direction of voluntas and send it instantly careening in another direction regardless of past acts. If the stone is rolling in the wrong direction, a forceful push can avert it from its "inevitable" course, but the man cannot instantly stop it, pick it up, bring it back to its rightful place and trajectory, and send it on its correct path as if nothing had happened. He simply doesn't have the strength. Likewise our will when it gets accustomed to, or "disposed" to evil. Liberum arbitrium can prevent the necessity of running headlong into sin, but it takes a long, concerted effort to undo the cumulative effects of the many half-witted, unconscious decisions we made which created in us a sinful disposition. End tanget.

I think the Oracle makes a similar observation about the will. What the will does -- especially in unconscious, unreflective people -- is 90% the product of decisions already made. This, too, is a common observation from psychoanalysis. People whose behavior has unwittingly worked up a neurosis within them need therapy to bring to light how past decisions have made present ones seem ineluctable, but really, they aren't. Psychological integrity, like philosophical self-awareness, restores the proper relationship between the runaway boulder and the man, simply because the man is paying attention now to what he is doing at every step along the way. Between total self-awareness and the life of unconscious drudgery comes the difficult task of recounting what one has been doing up to the point one when one realizes one needs self-awareness. Neo's at the stage of figuring out what he has been doing up to now, and more importantly, why, and then after that, what he should want instead, why he wants that, and how to get it.

In case there are people out there who think I'm off my nut or have used a bad metaphor (common problem with me), I'll give a simpler example. When I play Quake or Wolfenstein and enter my own Matrix, as it were, most newbies (new players) are fragbait (easy to kill). Although they are undoubtedly free beings, they are utterly predictable, for two reasons: 1) The conditions which limit them are known to me. These are the rules and workings and quirks of the game. 2) People learn in similar ways. Thus, when I jump down from an overhang and target the newbie with a sufficiently threatening weapon, he's dead because: a) He will turn to run out of surprise, in which case I shoot him in the back at my leisure, or (b) He'll return fire like a spaz because he is nervous, and has been surprised, and is unsure about how quickly I can kill him. So he over-reacts and fires like a nutcase, without really thinking. I can move back and forth slowly, avoiding his wild shots (most miss anyways) and, shooting less frequently, kill him with a few, well-placed headshots. I seem omnipotent, and emerge unscathed. Until the newbie stops and reflects about why he behaved like that, he won't become a good player.

Likewise, the mediocre player, foresees his visceral unformed responses at work (He thinks: "If I get ambushed or surprised, I'll freak out, lose my focus, and be killed") and takes appropriate countermeasures ("so I must concentrate before entering this large room with many enemies, and stay low at all costs"), but still struggles to do well. His liberum arbitrium knows what to do, but hasn't managed to get the voluntas fully attuned to this way of playing. A veteran player has mastered all his skills. He's achieved complete integration between his strategizing liberum arbitrium and his voluntas which actually affects his actions in the game. Thus whatever he chooses is immediately willed and whatever he wills brings about an appropriate course of action. Just like Neo when he is kicking ass in the Matrix.

When the master player has mastered the game, we say that his responses come as second nature. (This is a curious and insightful colloquial expression. Once again, language is the repository of meaning and the house of being.) In saying his combat skills are "second nature," one might think this implies determinism about the master player: his actions are not "free," i.e. matters of deliberate artifice, but rather they are "natural," i.e., "automatic." But this is not so, for this "second nature," while often pre-reflective, is a nature one has created for oneself. It is nothing but the product of previous choices, and therefore, nothing other than a manifestation of one's freedom when properly understood. There. Did that help? Can I add a philological twist of lemon? If one has remade oneself with a "second nature," one is, by definition, reborn. (Natural --> Natus --> "Born")

So I don't want anyone griping that the Oracle is a determinist too.

Omigosh, do I dare expand on the long, long dialogue Eve and I had about Foucault and whether there is an ultimate reality in the Matrix? Not now. Back to work!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/28/2003 06:10:00 AM | link

Explosion Rocks Yale Law School
I have a few friends there. Initial reports are that no one is injured. According to another account, the bomb exploded in a mail room. I was on campus whent the Unibomber attacked Gelerntner, and working distributing mail to the physics dept. at the time. Not fun. I am sure things will be tense for all those in analogous positions. Say a prayer further reports come back that everyone is OK.

from The Hartford Courant:

An explosive device blew up in an empty Yale University law school classroom late Wednesday afternoon. No one was injured.

"We understand there was a device and it went off in an empty classroom," spokeswoman Karen Peart said. "There was limited damage."

Authorities believe a bomb detonation caused the damage, said an official at the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

There were no initial indications that an international terrorist organization set off the bomb, according to two U.S. officials who are familiar with intelligence information. They spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Peart said she wasn't sure whether any classes were being held in the building at the time. There are usually not too many people in the law school at this time of year; Yale's undergraduate commencement exercises are scheduled for next Monday.

Yale-New Haven Hospital spokeswoman Jan Taylor said the hospital had not treated anyone injured by the blast and said emergency medical officials at the scene told her there were no injuries.

Witnesses reported a loud boom and flying debris shortly before 5 p.m. Police shut down the city block around the law school.

Alexandra Alperovich, a law school student, said she was sitting in the student lounge when she heard the explosion. She saw a wall to the alumni lounge collapse.

"It was very smoky. Everything started falling and I just ran out right away," she said.

Alperovich said she wasn't sure whether anyone was in the alumni lounge at the time. She said she couldn't tell where explosion originated.

Several people said the explosion appeared to originated near the student and alumni lounges.

Sari Bashi, another law school student, said she was about to get into an elevator when she heard the explosion.

"There was a lot of debris and dust coming down. Some doors to a classroom have blown out," she said.

Law student Bob Hoo said he was standing in the hallway of the ground floor when he heard the explosion.

"I saw a huge fireball come out to the middle of the hallway," he said. "It was an instantaneous blast. It was there and then it was gone."

Hoo said he did not see anything catch fire and did not see anyone injured. He said he fled the building as fast as he could.

The incident came as the nation was on elevated alert for possible terrorist attacks and several hours after President Bush - a Yale alumnus - visited the state to speak at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremony in New London.

A spokeswoman for the FBI in New Haven said members of the agency's Joint Terrorism Task Force were dispatched to the scene.

"We treat this kind of incident the same no matter what alert color we're at," she said.

A Yale professor, David J. Gelernter, was seriously injured June 24, 1993, when a Unabomber mail bomb exploded in his campus office. His right hand, arm, ear, lungs and other internal organs were injured.

Theodore Kaczynski was sentenced in 1998 for that and numerous other attacks that killed three people and injured 23 from 1978 to 1995.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/21/2003 07:21:00 PM | link

Had dinner with His Eminence Avery Cardinal Dulles today. This was the first time I've met with him since he received the red hat. More later.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/16/2003 11:50:00 PM | link

The Matrix: Reloaded (Spoiler section tagged further below)

Woo! What a production! Saw it tonight, and already I need to see it again to figure the whole thing out. If you are familiar with the first one, you know that the whole movie bristles with philosophical ideas about epistemology and causality, as well as what some have called "Gnostic" religious symbolism that begs to be decoded. Zorak and I liked both Matrix movies because they are symbolically loaded and keep you engaged in figuring them out. Matrix I showed discretion in hinting at possible questions and symbol sets without forcing the reader to engage them, focusing instead on the major epistemological question of the film: "How do you know you're not in the matrix?" In Reloaded, the scope of philosophical questioning broadens, and the film becomes much more heavily laden symbolically.

Very fine work in terms of cinematography, action and acting. Great on a visual level, even the backgrounds are meticulous. The film at times overloads the viewer visually, and there are sometimes great little clues in the background (watch the TVs, etc.)

No spoilers yet, but last things first: You must stay to the very end, after what are perhaps the longest credits in the history of cinema. (There must have been a few thousand people working on this movie, and they are all listed.) You'll get a nice treat.

So does anyone else besides me think Neo is wearing a Roman cassock? He is, of course, the New Adam who will save Zion, and thus a priestly figure:

Rumor has it that Fr. Tucker, who also zips around working miracles in a Roman cassock, performed some of the actions scene as a stunt double for Keanu Reeves. And while we are on the subject of Keanu Reeves, can we all give the guy an amazing amount of credit for coming so far from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure? Who would have thought he could have pulled off as deep a role as this film? So well, and twice?

We finally get to see Zion in this movie, and learn that since the last one, 250,000 souls have been liberated from the matrix to live there, but the matrix and its vengeful program "Agent Smith" are staging an all-out war in retaliation. Morpheus' apocalypticism and the dire fate of Zion both escalate into what seems to be heading toward a moment when lots of people will need to make a definitive act of faith for or against "the prophecy" and Neo in particular, who is already taking on the status of a Messiah figure on the margins of the Zion society.

In the first Matrix, we manage to escape unscathed from any lusty exchanges between Neo and Trinity. Not so in Reloaded, where the question of the meaning of their love takes on a more central role in the movie. In the first movie, the idea was not well-integrated into the rest of the film, but here the importance of sacrificial love is emphasized more strongly. On the downside, to establish the depth of the love between Neo and Trinity, the viewer has to sit through an extended coital scene, which thankfully consists of mostly back shots of the two lovers in the (extra-)marital embrace. (But the scene goes on for like 5 minutes: I had time to leave, visit the lobby, stroll back, and get lost finding my seat all the while.) Yet part of the purpose of the scene, interposed with festival dancing going on outside, is to set up the second nexus of questions which make the movie tick: What is the difference between man and machine? Machines don't dance and engage in nookie is definitely part of it...but the utility of that demonstration is not redeemed for a while.

Questions about the role of the emotions, unconditional commitment, self-understanding, and fate vs. free-will are all tastefully deployed throughout the movie. The philosophical net is cast a little more widely than the first movie, which already enjoys currency in Enlightenment epistemology courses everywhere because of its focused intensity on the question: "How do you know you're not in the Matrix, Mssr. Descartes?"

And speaking of Descartes, mockery of the French is also tastefully done. The nation which brought us terms such as decolletage, douche, and demi-vierge is chosen to represent the sensually decadent program Merovingian, who also sets out to oppose Neo, Morpheus and Trinity in their quest to destroy the Matix.

Question: Will the kiss of Persephone come back to haunt Neo?

Second Question: Are the Agent Smith programs learning from Neo's advances?

Another cinematographic feature of the movie is its depth of allusion to other films. The Wachowski brothers (the writers) are clearly aiming for greatness with this set of films, and in Reloaded, they are not afraid to add blatant allusions to other major blockbusters, including (believe it or not) Superman -- at least twice, especially towards the end. (Clark catching Lois, from Superman II, I think?)

The question of the traitor (Judas-figure), left over from the first movie, is still clearly brewing.

Lastly, does any Catholic blogger have a coherent decoding of the symbolism of the names, etc. in the Matrix? I thought the names in the first movie were vague plays on religious motifs, but ultimately not coherent. For example, Zion is clearly good, but Nebuchadnezzar -- the evil Babylonian king who destroyed Zion in 582 BC -- is the name of the ship which fights for Zion in the movie. That seemed incoherent to me, so I assumed the symbolism isn't that deep. Does anyone else have a take on what's going on here? The only other coherent connection I can make beyond Neo as the "New Adam" and "knowing ultimate reality = salvation" is that the "programs" are like the heirarchy of "emanations" in the gnostic worldview.



I was super mad that the movie is continued!!. After Neo meets the Architect, I thought for sure we were going to wrap up neatly and see the salvation of Zion within 20 minutes. I couldn't believe the "To be concluded" ending. What cojones to string us out like that! Here again, the Wachowski brothers are clearly going for greatness: either the Matrix is an epic on the scale of Star Wars aut nihil. But unlike the interminable Star Wars series, the producers assure us everything will be wrapped up by Matrix: Revolutions, which is the third and final movie. If you stay past all the credits, you get a teaser for the new film, which is apparently coming out in November, and is planned for a globally synchronous release.

I am going to see the flick again, just to make sense out of the many layers of plot. If you think about the movie once you've seen it, you'll realize that you should have seen a third part coming: So many figures are introduced and never fully utilized, and many tensions unresolved. (The "Judas" figure, Commander Lock, the council, the love triangle between Morpheus, Niobe, and Lock, etc.)

I thought the way that the recurring dream sequence became integrated into the climax of the movie was great.

If I understand everything correctly:

At the end of the movie, the matrix is destroyed, because Neo succeeds in blowing up that enormous black building immediately before he rescues Trinity. That means that at the close of the film, millions of humans are waking up to their horrible realities: being harvested for energy in a slime-filled tube guarded by sentinels. They have no other reality now, because Neo has destroyed it.

At the end of the movie, we also see a twist: Neo not only has supernatural power in the matrix, but in the scene where he saves Trinity's life by massaging her heart, Neo gains miraculous power in the "real" world because his events in the matrix heal Trinity in her chair at the link terminal. This is confirmed when Neo manages to avert the sentinels from killing them once Nebuchadnezzar is destroyed. Neo is clearly becoming a master of the "real" world, but in a slower and more limited way than in the matrix, at least for now.

Zorak and I don't know what to make of what the Architect tells Neo. One of the difficulties of the movie is that it tends to alternate the following three kinds of scenes:

Tremendous action scene / plot development scene / philosophical scene where a character gives a really dense speech, and you suddenly feel like you are in a lecture and forgot to bring your notebook. Problem is, the elements of philosophy in the speeches are key to figuring out what will happen in the dramatic action of the movie, so what the philosophy of fate and free will mean for the resolution of the film, I have yet to hash out. I will certainly see it again.

Did the Architect (roughly God, or is this a lower level "emanation" in the Gnostic hierarchy?) tell us that his co-creatrix invented free will as a way to get people to accept their programs? And: to settle an argument between Zorak and I: doesn't the Architect tell us that the Oracle is the co-creatrix? Question: Where is the architect? Do we really see "him" or does that scene take place in the matrix itself?

Is the Architect lying to Neo in order to save the matrix from destruction when he tells Neo that if he saves Trinity, everyone in Zion will die? My bet is yes. And what's with the weird bargain: You take 16 men and 7 women, and you can start a new Zion somewhere else, provided the Architect gets to destroy Zion? What's that all about?

OK. I may revise this later. It is late, and I have to attend commencement exercises all this weekend.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/16/2003 03:09:00 AM | link

Zorak and I are off to see The Matrix Reloaded on its opening night this evening.

(Psst! It's Zorak's Birthday tomorrow)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/15/2003 04:59:00 PM | link

More Rumblings from Rome about the Return fo the Latin Mass? There's no mention of the universal indult, but I'll take what I can get:

The Return of the Latin Mass? from Inside the Vatican.

Exclusive: The Vatican is preparing to call, in the clearest way since the Second Vatican Council, for an end to liturgical abuses -- and for far wider use of the old Latin Mass

“The do-it-yourself Mass is ended. Go in peace.”

By Robert Moynihan

VATICAN CITY, May 13, 2003 – Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, after four decades of liturgical "experimentation" which has troubled many of the faithful, Rome is about to issue a major disciplinary document, ending years of a generally "laissez faire" attitude toward liturgical experimentation and “do-it-youself” Masses.

The document is now in draft form and is expected to be published between October and Christmas this year.

In a bombshell passage, the document will also encourage far wider use of the “old Mass”, the Tridentine rite Mass, in Latin, throughout the Roman Catholic Church.

The new, stricter guidelines for celebrating the liturgy, and the mandate to celebrate the old Latin Mass more widely, even on a weekly basis, in every parish in the world, will be contained in a document to be published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, headed by Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze.

“We expect the document to be published before Christmas,” Arinze told "Inside the Vatican" in an exclusive interview. “We want to respond to the spiritual hunger and sorrow so many of the faithful have expressed to us because of liturgical celebrations that seemed irreverent and unworthy of true adoration of God. You might sum up our document with words that echo the final words of the Mass: ‘The do-it-yourself Mass is ended. Go in peace.’”

We will be reporting in more detail on this historic document in future issues of "Inside the Vatican."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/14/2003 09:48:00 AM | link

John sends an important correction to this earlier post in which I said the FCC created the National "Do Not Call" List. In fact, it is the FTC, not the FCC. One letter makes a significant difference. John explains:

"On your blog you say that the FCC has done something amazing, but link to the *FTC* website explaining the do not call registry. The registry is, in fact, an FTC project, not an FCC one. Why does this matter? Mostly because the fact that the FTC's done it means there are some exceptions -- people who are, in fact, allowed to call. Some industries (airlines, long distance telephone companies and a few others) aren't subject to the jurisdiction of the FTC and therefore are not subject to the Telemarketing Sales Rule and aren't affected by the Do Not Call registry (if, though, they contract out for telemarketing services rather than do it in-house, they are bound by it). Had the FCC done it, these industries would have been caught as well, since it has more general jursidiction over communications.

"But, your blog may well turn out to be right in the end. While the FTC was making its rule, the FCC began a rulemaking considering a similar registry. When congress authorized the FTC to implement the registry, it included in the bill an order to the FCC to complete the rulemaking and coordinate its activity with the FTC. Many people think the likely result of this will be an FCC rule that closes the gaps in the FTC's."

Thanks, John!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/14/2003 09:46:00 AM | link

Eve has an excellent post on rituals of transcendence and rituals of addiction. Call it a thumbnail sketch for a phenomenology of grace and fallen nature in their performative expressions.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/13/2003 10:18:00 PM | link

A reasoned answer to a long-standing question of casuistry in the blogosphere: Is "I forgive you" a valid substitution for "I absolve you" in the formula of absolution in the sacrament of confession? Kudos to Msgr. William B. Smith for an excellent short piece on this in Homiletic and Pastoral Review. For the lazy, I include the text below, which covers several common confession gaffes:

Valid Absolution? -- Fr. Wm. B. Smith

Question: Once, in confession, the priest used the formula: “It is my privilege to absolve you and I do it in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” for absolution. Another time he said: “I forgive your sins” instead of “I absolve.” Are these valid?

Answer: The teaching and practice of the Church require close attention and exact observance when exercising the valid form of sacramental absolution. The new Rite of Penance (12/2/73) clearly states the essential formula in large letters: “Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti.” To which the penitent responds: “Amen” (Ordo Paenitentiae, n. 46).

The formula has undergone changes in the course of the Church’s history. The direct indicative form now employed in the Latin Rite is, of course, obligatory. The prayer that accompanies the “form” (“Deus, Pater misericordiarum . . .”) is not required for validity.

Session 14 of the Council of Trent (25 November 1551) taught that the form of the sacrament chiefly lies in the words of the minister: “Ego te absolvo etc. . . .” to which words by a praiseworthy custom of holy church some prayers are added which do not affect the essence of the form (DS. 1673).

The classic textbooks of moral theology (“approved authors”) address this point in some detail. All the “approved authors” admit the validity of: “Absolvo te a peccatis tuis”—I absolve you from your sins.” The same authors are in near agreement on what is probably valid but insist: (1) it is not lawful to use other forms; and, (2) there is no reasonable excuse for permitting forms that are no more than probably valid (cf. D. Prummer, HMT [1957] n. 648, p. 294).

In your second example, to use the word “forgive” instead of “absolve”—the rest being proper— M. Zalba argues these are materially equivalent words (his examples: remitto or condono) and are valid (M. Zalba, TMC, II, [1958] n. 830, 1, p. 462).

However, of your first example, I am not so sure: “It is my privilege to absolve you and I do it. . . .” Noldin-Schmitt give careful attention to what constitutes the essence of valid absolution. Their conclusion is three-fold, it must include (1) the one absolving (absolvo); (2) the one absolved (te); and (3) what’s absolved (a peccatis) (Noldin-Schmitt, STM, vol. 3 [1962] n. 234, p. 205). The strange formula you report does mention the first two but it does not mention the third—what’s absolved. Some might judge this probably valid; in my opinion, it’s probably invalid. We are not free to invoke “Probabilism” where the validity of a sacrament is at stake.

The sadness in all of this is that it is so unnecessary. Also, when we focus exclusively on validity, we tend to forget that what is illicit or highly illicit is, in fact, sinful disobedience (on the part of the confessor). If we all did faithfully what the Church provides and proposes, such sorry abuses would not even exist. If novelties continue, seek another priest: sometimes those who play fast and loose with solemn laws are the source of fast and loose advice.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/13/2003 04:54:00 AM | link

The FTC does something amazing!

I've said it before, and will say it again: there should be a jail for these people! As a recently-moved NOVA resident, I must get five or six unsolicited calls a day.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/13/2003 04:48:00 AM | link

O.O. became the proud owner of a Glock 23 during his month-long hiatus from blogging. The Glock 23 is a compact format .40 caliber pistol. His buddy Trav set him up with a pair of nice pre-ban 13 round mags and mil-tech cleaning supplies. He also schooled the Oligarch in the finer points of breaking down, cleaning and reassembling the weapon. Thanks Trav!

Anybody know a cheap way to buy .40 cal ammo?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/13/2003 04:13:00 AM | link

Yes, I'm finally back. Retroactive content update below. More soon.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/11/2003 07:35:00 AM | link


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