Hans Zimmer’s inspiration for the best movie theme in film history

Listen to this gorgeous piece of music that Spotify teed up for me yesterday. Does it sound familiar?

Do you hear it? One of my favorite movies of all time is True Romance. And that movie features one of the best themes of all time — You’re So Cool composed by Hans Zimmer.

I’m not the only one who has called out the similarity. And Wikipedia calls You’re So Cool a “cover version” of Gassenhauer!

And now I desperately want to see the Terrence Malick film Badlands, which apparently uses Gassenhauer and other songs by Carl Orff. I’ve never seen it.

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Apollo 11 and Mother Country

My daughter Neve and I saw the incredible IMAX movie Apollo 11 last week. And the emotional climax of this very emotional movie is the playing of this song by John Stewart, the folksinger and alum of my alma mater Pomona College.

Despite already being a John Stewart fan (check out the amazing album “Bombs Away Dream Babies”), I had only discovered this song earlier this year. And it made my day to hear it in the movie.

The kicker is that the Apollo 11 astronauts actually did play a tape of this song on their return journey to earth.

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Finished a first draft of the new book yesterday!

This one isn’t quite as whimsical as Huck & Miguel. But I have been utterly fascinated by this subject over the last two years, and I think you will be surprised by some of the things we’ve uncovered. Public education is governed, in large part, by a set of little-known laws that dictate who’s eligible to go where. Look for this book in early 2020. Credit to Daniel Gonzalez, of course, for the incredible cover.

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Religious not spiritual?

Pew Research reports that there’s been a 40% increase — just from 2012 to 2017 — in the portion of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” The percentage of people who label themselves as religious has dropped in just five years from 65% to 54%. The trend isn’t surprising, but the speed is extraordinary. If this rate were to continue (which it won’t), then there wouldn’t be any religious people left by 2042.

But I’m also looking at the bottom category of “religious but not spiritual.” Just 6% of Americans put themselves in that bucket. And it’s flat from 2012 to 2017. What does that look like in real life?

And — while we’re at it — what does it even mean to call yourself “spiritual”? How does that help you live your life to the fullest? Does it allow you to connect more strongly with other people?

It’s easy to see the flaws in organized religion, but I wonder about what we might be giving up by emphasizing spirituality divorced from religion. I suspect some of the “religious but not spiritual” folks may be getting the better end of the bargain.

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The most interesting idea you’ve never heard of

On this Easter Monday, I’m reflecting on the most interesting new idea that I encountered in the last year (new to me, not new to the world). This is Rene Girard’s interpretation of the Christian crucifixion myth. I’m using “myth” to mean a story that tells us about who we are and how to interact with the world. I believe Girard is a practicing Catholic, but his theory should be no less interesting to the non-believer.

What I love about this idea is that it cuts across many different disciplines and levels of analysis — from psychology and anthropology to theology, politics, and comparative geopolitical history.

I’m astounded that I never heard of this extremely important idea until this past year. It seems monumentally important, if true. And — even if not true — still extraordinarily interesting and provocative.

Have I built it up enough?

I’m going to restate the idea in my own words without consulting any outside reference, so this account will include all the ways that I’ve been processing this Big Idea over the last few months:

  1. Life is hard. Even in the best case, every person suffers horribly.
  2. Trying to explain the suffering, we can’t help but look outside ourselves. We blame others.
  3. We are social animals, and the mob tends to concentrate this blame into a scapegoating of one person or group of people.
  4. Left unchecked, the scapegoating builds to a crescendo, and the mob kills the scapegoat. Or one representative of the scapegoated group.
  5. This problem — the potential killing of the scapegoat — is common to all human societies.
  6. The Christian crucifixion story centers on one archetypal instance of this type of scapegoating leading to mob murder.
  7. The government is completely powerless in the face of this type of mob. Government power (as represented by Pontius Pilate in the story) is corrupted or co-opted by the bloodlust of the mob.
  8. The essential plot twist in the story is that the mob got it wrong this time. This person we killed wasn’t the scapegoat. He wasn’t just innocent. He was divine. We killed God.
  9. But it was all for naught because God is immortal. Thus Jesus is resurrected.
  10. This myth-with-a-plot-twist has tremendous social utility. It bolsters the social compact that is necessary for a modern society to flourish, because…
  11. First, it puts the brakes on the mob’s rush to judgment.
  12. Second, for those who are scapegoated, it gives them the strength to carry on and — perhaps — the forbearance necessary not to retaliate.
  13. Also, in this idea is the seed of democracy, since it recognizes the sovereignty of the individual (who may indeed be divine).
  14. And modern Western democracies — as displayed so brilliantly in our own Constitution — balance the competing goals of (1) popular rule, and (2) protection of those not in the majority.
  15. By providing a social structure that constrains this universal human phenomenon of murderous scapegoating, the Christian crucifixion myth sets the stage for Western democracies to be (relatively) stable and peaceful.
  16. And that stability and peace allows for the emergence of the modern world.

I’m pretty persuaded by #1-12. It’s transformed the way I think about religion and human nature and the purpose of myth. The second part — #13-16 — is intriguing but I’m less sure.

Of course, there are lots of examples of Christians engaging in scapegoating, sometimes even murderous. So the prophylactic effect isn’t 100% reliable. But even a small improvement could be important.

UPDATE: HT Rod Dreher (and indirectly, Peter Thiel) for turning me on to Girard.

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“I would have expected a big religious revival to explode any minute now”

On EconTalk, Harvard historian Jill Lepore says something that I’ve been thinking — that we are overdue for a religious revival. Russ Roberts asks her about the revival of nationalism and nationalism’s attraction as a “feeling of tribal belonging.” Here is her response:

I think it has a lot in common with religious revivals… I would have expected a big religious revival to explode any minute now, because religious revivals tend to happen in the aftermath of a very significant… sea-change in the body of knowledge… or received notions of how we understand the natural world. So, I think… the accelerating, the sort of knowledge-vault metaphor of the Internet and the kind of revolution of machine learning and artificial intelligence and all the anxiety about a world of knowing that most people don’t understand, at all, is just the kind of thing to set off a religious revival. 

Two other factors: (1) massive economic changes that have left some people behind and added a level of anxiety to modern life even for those who’ve benefited, and (2) the weakening of traditional social relationships due to social media.

I know a lot of very lonely people. And I know a lot of people who have very little economic security. And often the two go together.

The Left seems to be settling on “Antiracism” and an aggressive progressivism as the new “religion.” (See John McWhorter’s brilliant essay at the Daily Beast from 2015.) But I suspect that

I think it’s more likely that we’ll see a religious revival centered around some form of Christianity. Will it be some sort of hyperlocal form of orthodox Christianity as proposed by Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option? Will it be something that comes out of the Emerging Church movement, perhaps a form that borrows elements of progressive political ideology? Will there be a new wave of televangelism empowered by Youtube and social media?

Or maybe it’s already started…

Is the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon a type of religious revival?

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