THE PHILOSOPHICAL PRIMER
In 1637 René Descartes wrote the words that would become the foundation of the way I see the world, “I think, therefore I am.” I discovered them in a book he later published called Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes argues that whatever we seem to be experiencing, there is something inside us that is experiencing it. In other words, the very fact that we are having an experience means that we exist because something must exist to perceive the event.
This idea shattered the philosophical world at the time. His goal was to find a level of immutable truth and construct a reality from that irreducible place. In so doing, he forced every thinker who came after him to question existence to the core.
Descartes also developed a way of looking at the world as a series of parts that can be deconstructed. Once taken apart, the components could be studied and we may then have a pretty good idea of what the combined parts would do when reassembled.
Of course, that argument breaks down as science discovered the staggering complexity of the universe, that even the simplest single-celled organism is more complex than anything we’ve been able to make, by far. To solve the complexity problem required a different way of seeing the world, not as a series of parts that can be dismantled and studied, but as a set of interacting systems.
He used the model of a clock to demonstrate his deconstruction/reconstruction idea and argued that the existence of the universe, with all its intricacy and beautiful complexities, implies that it’s been engineered.
Descartes went on to argue that since the universe works and is vastly more complex than a clock, it must have a vastly more complex designer. In other words, he was arguing the existence of God as a divine watchmaker.
WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN
The graphic novel and movie Watchmen wrestles with the idea of a divine watchmaker. The story essentially argues there is no God, that the only morality is the one that gets us where we want to go. So, The Owl isn’t right, Dr. Manhattan with all his power and knowledge isn’t right, and Rorschach with his utterly inflexible moral system isn’t right. In fact, Rorschach’s inflexibility, his zeal means his only possible fate is death.
No, it’s Adrian Veidt who is right! He’s willing to do what appears to be evil, to kill the moral centers known as Watchmen to create the new world and prevent World War III, which will inevitably lead to humanity’s extinction. Deception, murder, lies, all perfectly justified since it keeps us alive.
In the end, everyone but Rorschach accepts this argument.
THE EXISTENTIAL CORE
Descartes could be called the father of existentialism since he was asking the fundamental questions about the nature of existence and he stripped it to the single irreducible point of the conscious of the individual. Anything beyond that is speculation and assumption and must be taken on faith, as clearly demonstrated by Elon Musk’s recent reiteration of the theory that we’re living in a simulation.
That’s where I am. Not with Musk but with Descartes, or more accurately, with Søren Kierkegaard. I know I exist, and everything beyond that is an assumption.
SERAFINA AS CATALYST
I bring all that philosophy up not as a shallow dive into my university theories, but to let you know where I was as I drove Serafina Kernberger (ALGORITHM’s production coordinator), Chris Panzera (ALGORITHM’s lead actor) and myself into San Francisco, to the various locations each morning.
On those drives, Serafina argued women were being mistreated, they didn’t have equal rights, and sexism still existed. I argued sexism was a construct and it only existed as long as we chose to act like it does. And, that her arguing against sexism helped perpetuate it.
I was entitled, coming from a position of privilege I hadn’t seen the suffering of the half of humanity surrounding me. I had yet to realize that while sexism may not be an inherent immutable reality, like my own existence, it was a way of seeing the world that so dominated human perception as to lead people to act, and those actions were harmful.
It took asking the other women around me, who confirmed Serafina’s position. It took opening my eyes and seeing the way most men treat most women. It took watching movies and reading magazines and seeing women portrayed as nothing more than sexual beings, be they objects of lust (girlfriend/hero’s prize for doing right), or human factories whose only value is reproduction (mother/wife of hero).
I slowly began to understand that the thing in me, that experiencer of reality, wasn’t determined by the form presented to the world–it’s part of every single person on the planet, which means every single person on the planet has equal value to me because we are all fundamentally the same.
The forms we take change the way we deal with new experiences. If I were black I probably wouldn’t get a sunburn as easily as my white anglo heritage causes. And, I’d probably see the police as a threat instead of a point of security. If I were a woman, I probably wouldn’t feel as safe when I walk down the street.
THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE
And then I read a profoundly powerful book called The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. To say this book changed the way I see Western culture is an understatement. It revealed, through Friedan’s careful research and long hours of study, and brilliant logic, that women had been and continue to be systematically disenfranchised in order to create the idea of the nuclear family.
Few things make me angrier than cruelty. And systematized cruelty (intentional or otherwise) enraged me! I was furious! I could no longer live as I had lived in the past. This problem is big enough that I can’t stand by anymore.
I must act.
So I took my burning fury and buried it deep inside. I compressed it until it became my molten core. And it drives me to be vocal and active, to listen to what women and people of color are saying, and to make the change that must come if we are ever to achieve equality.
THE POWER OF CINEMA
Movies are the most powerful propaganda tool for social change that we have ever created. They allow us to take large ideas and compress them in the form of metaphor and then deliver them to the masses who then ingest them and act.
During times of war the power of movies have been used to galvanize entire populations to sacrifice their lives on the unquenchable maw of the battle. Advertising also uses the power of movies and videos to teach us we’re not whole unless we by the latest Mustang, Gucci, Apple, or house.
The race and sex of the heroes we see portrayed in the movies affects the way we imagine heroes. If all we ever see are white men as Thor, Ironman, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Superman, etc., then little white boys will grow up thinking they too can become heroes. And little girls can only hope to be the wife/girlfriend of the hero.
That, to me, is totally unacceptable. I will not participate in a system that crushes people’s dreams. The world is better when it’s filled with hope from every possible perspective.
We don’t know where Elana Musk is. Maybe she’s in school in Indonesia, Sudan, China, Columbia, or Rio right now. Maybe she needs to see women can be heroes for her to dare to dream big enough and give her enough courage to study hard and figure out cold fusion, run the next LHC, or pilot one of the spaceships to Mars where she’ll lead the colony.
A TIME TO ACT
To that end, Intelligent Design will include roles for women as fully human. They will be thinkers, heroes, villains, and antiheroes. They will live deep rich lives that include innovating, spying, sexuality, and psychology. They will be alongside the men, changing the world through their decisive actions.
And the same goes for the persons-of-color and people of non-binary sexual preferences.
I want to talk about the way we see life, across the entire world. I want to talk about how the billionaires and the poor see it, how the Russians see it, how the Chinese, Brazilians, Indians, South Koreans, Europeans, men, women, black, white, Asian, gay, straight, and everything in between.
I’m not just writing inclusively for characters that are seen on the screen. I’m also hiring women and people of color to help me write, to help me make Intelligent Design. My goal is gender parity, equal parts men and women in the cast and crew.
I didn’t spend 11 years studying philosophy contentedly watch the grass grow and say “Would you like fries with that,” with conviction. If my thinking deeply about things doesn’t lead to decisive intentional action, it’s worthless.
Intelligent Design is massive: I’m trying to make 18 movies at the same time, filmed all across the world, spending the next 7 years of my life. It’s a revolution in every aspect of the way it’s funded, made, and the story it will tell. I’m doing this because I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.
And, for me, the time to act is today.