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Don't Look Up
On the conscientisation montage near the film's end
This weekend I finally saw the Netflix film Don’t Look Up.
Written and directed by Adam McKay - who adapted the Michael Lewis book The Big Short - Don’t Look Up is a darkly satirical analysis of the political gridlock on climate change; information cascades on social media; Transhumanist utopian technological philosophy; and how the Executive branch in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries has been captured by the 0.1%.
It skewers the media and pundits - so many of them hated the film.
The cast is brilliant. Leonardo DiCaprio (Dr Randall Mindy) shows how the media co-opts scientists as media personalities - and gives a powerful speech about extinction level events. Jennifer Lawrence (Kate Dibiasky) accurately captures why PhD students can be a neurotic mess. Meryl Streep (President Orlean) conveys the worst aspects of both former President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The rest of the cast are very strong - including music appearances by Kid Cudi and Ariana Grande.
Partisans who agonise over the film’s satirical portrayals have missed the point. This film is the equivalent wake-up call on anthropogenic climate change to what The Day After (1983) and similar films were about Mutually Assured Destruction, and nuclear conflict escalation. Anthropogenic climate change is what has motivated colleagues like Dr Stephen McGrail and Dr Darren Sharp to pursue their respective industry and research careers. It became the most important issue for many fellow students in Swinburne University of Technology’s former Strategic Foresight program, which I studied in from 2002 to 2004.
One of the film’s most emotionally powerful moments is a montage near the film’s end of existential human and global responses to a comet that will directly impact Earth. This is a conscientisation moment - an idea I took from the Graeco-Armenian philosopher George Gurdjieff (the ‘remorse of conscience’) - and which I taught and wrote about in 2009-10 for the Oases Graduate School with my colleague Dr Jose Ramos. It’s the moment when Earth’s humans finally Understand that an extinction level event is very Real.
For Gurdjieff, most of ‘civilised’ humanity spends a lot of its time in ‘wiseacreing’: the pre-packaged media interviews, political polling, sentiment analysis, activist music concerts, technological ideals, and ultimate in-action in the face of looming catastrophe that Don’t Look Now delightfully mocks. This was no abstract ideal: although he is best remembered in New Age and Occult circles today, Gurdjieff managed to get his followers out of revolutionary era Russia. He also sheltered them whilst living under Vichy era France in World War II.
The ‘wiseacreing’ is a distraction from the Real: Don’t Look Up depicts a sequence where Mark Rylance (a billionaire named Peter Isherwell who is a synthesis of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Peter Thiel) attempts to mine the comet for the estimated trillions of dollars in rare earths that will benefit his phone company’s stock price. But the hoped for ‘'alpha generation’ of this arbitrage opportunity doesn’t work out quite as he planned.
Anthropogenic climate change is Real. Read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports if you need to be convinced. What we instead see is policy in-action due to the 0.1%’s regulatory capture of the Executive. You don’t have to believe in Karl Marx’s framework of the base (economic relations) and the superstructure (ideological institutions) to clearly see how these elites reshape our political leadership, institutions, and policy cycles in their own interest.
If you watch Don’t Look Up keep an eye out for the conscientisation montage. Try and experience a moment of being Awake: what Gurdjieff called the Shock of the ‘Terror of the Situation’ that we are all in. Then go and spend some time in nature and visit some animals. What would you Do if faced with an extinction level event?
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