If you’re anything like me (first of all, God bless you — it’s messy up there, huh?) there are few things as amazing as stumbling across a movie, a book, a philosophy, anything that sort of lays it all out there in a way that not only connects seemingly disparate kinds of things and thoughts, but also does all that in a way that seems true (and you don’t know how you feel about this idea of “true” to begin with — that’s sort of what makes it special). Oprah would call that a light bulb moment; I’d call it learning something really cool, feeling a little more clued in to what’s really up.
So, in the event the foreshadowing has been inadequate, I had one of those experiences or, rather, the catalyst for one of those experiences watching Half Nelson the other day. The movie itself I really liked, but it’s this idea of dialectics that it deals with in explicit and more subversive ways that has me thinking about it still. Before the movie I really wasn’t familiar with these dialectics, but was very much attracted to how the protagonist (Mr. Dan Dunne) was teaching history — not how he was teaching high on crack, which admittedly leads to some practical problems, but that he was teaching through this dialectical lens, if you will. The lessons were dynamic and weird — I question whether the kids were getting it, but I choose to believe kids are as smart as I think they are, so I’ll give them and the movie the benefit of the doubt on that one — and I wanted to learn more about this philosophy that had gotten idealistic Dunne in such a frenzy, to both good and bad effect (to simplify: good = caring and engaging teacher; bad = self-hating drug addict with terrible personal relationships). So, I did what any self-respecting office job holder would do and googled dialectics at work. Suddenly I was reading Marx and Hegel and Wikipedia! Now I’m not going to try and explain the whole thing to y’all because 1) I only know what I know about it, which is relatively little and 2) I wouldn’t want to condescend to anyone who does actually really get it, especially the linguistic conventions of talking about philosophy. But, to the point, it has to do with conflict, paradox, change, progress, movement and uncertainty. In the context of history (of Half Nelson), we can understand events, changes and history itself as reactions to internal and external conflicts, as struggles between opposing forces: it isn’t cause and effect (if a then b). Dialectics doesn’t really work for science (or rather the scientific method; Darwin was all about this shit), but, if you ask me, science can teach us how to make an iPhone (debatable), but not how to live our lives. So, opposites and contradictions have at least three properties: 1) they’re interdependent, 2) they interpenetrate and 3) they’re in union. A lot of Eastern thought, to be totally Orientalist, relies on this — hence the beautiful green yin-yang you see, which is probably why I dig it and subconsciously why I found myself consulting the I Ching the day after watching Half Nelson. But, if it’s valid, to use a word, it ought to hold up to any part of my life, like, and here it is, my hatred of cilantro. How can dialectics inform my understanding of this hate? Well, as it turns out, it has totally shed some light. First, there’s hate in every love and love in every hate (that’s the interpenetration part — the little white and black dots in the yin-yang). What that really means to me is that nothing is pure, nothing is the real ideal of the thing ever, certainly not in reality. So, I can hate cilantro as much as pure hate is possible (and I do; I hate it more than mean people), but it’s only so possible. What’s more interesting to me is the interdependence of love and hate. For better or worse, I need cilantro lovers both to define myself, as in opposition to something and for tons of fodder — I love making fun of those morons. Without cilantro love, cilantro hate couldn’t exist, cilantro would just be. It couldn’t be loved or hated, or it would have gone extinct from lack of consumption or taken over like a weed or who knows but it certainly wouldn’t be like this: the silent culture war instigator that it is. Then, there’s the union of opposites, that the closer you get to the extreme of something the more it is it’s opposite. It’s like my friend Miki’s always saying, hate isn’t the opposite of love, indifference is; I think she’s right. In my case, it’s not so much that I hate cilantro so much that I love it; it’s that it’s become so much fun to hate it I kind of have a soft spot in my heart for it. I hate cilantro, but I love it too.