“But I’m 100% certain that if you gathered some passages from Marcus Aurelius and hired a halfway intelligent blogger to produce content made to sound like Marcus Aurelius, nobody would be able to tell the difference.”

A bit of an aside, but wait until he finds out about Ryan Holiday lol. I’ve read some of his stuff and I’ve read Aurelius, and boy are they very different experiences.

Expand full comment

I didn't even know books not being worth reading was a elite intellectual meme lol. Well, these rationalists are the same people who drink Soylent right? Joyless nerds? I'm not in the rationalist scene, if anything I'm in the irrationalist scene

Expand full comment

Christ, Mills, I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know how I happened upon this post but, wow, and thank you.

A couple of things; my beloved is a therapist, he hails from The Black Country (in the UK), called so because it was full of iron foundries, and everything was coated in black soot (as an aside, the molten iron would glow red in amongst the black at night; Tolkien based Mordor on the place). In The Black Country, culture dictates that love and respect are expressed by offering up cold, hard truths. All that to say, your therapist went Black Country on your ass—may we all be so blessed.

Also, the incident you described reminded me of something I read in a book by Richard Rohr (I think it was Breathing Under Water):

The preferred ego pattern is:

sin ----> punishment ----> repentance ----> transformation

The grace pattern is:

sin ----> unconditional love ----> transformation ----> repentance

And, actually, a third thing (there could easily be many more, I’ve watched Tree of Life upward of 40 times). When I read “I felt a familiar set of sensations: the “rising” metabolism, the feeling of pitching forward as one’s posture arranges itself for combat, the surging, transporting ecstasy of violence gathering” I was shocked by how eagerly my own body responded to these words, especially the “ecstasy of violence gathering”. I (delusionally) think of myself as being relatively peaceful, and this was a wonderful reminder of how unintegrated the rageful and violent parts of myself are. I’m so glad to have found your writing. Thank you again.

Expand full comment


Expand full comment

Thanks for the thought provoking post, I’ve been meditating on the confrontation story for a few days.

As best I can, I would like to expand on it a little, I'm going to try not to write an essay.

There's the 'self' that exists when not under threat, and then there's the primal self that takes over when we are. When we sense danger we will zip into a fight/flight response, which means analytical reasonings goes off-line -- because the part of the brain that executes this function ‘dims' when we're in fight or flight. It's an ancient mechanism that has contributed a lot to our survival as a species. Whether we sense there’s a threat to our physical self, our ego, our new trainers, or our overall sense of safety that’s been shaped by beliefs, values and codes, the same primal system will kick-in — because we over identify with them all.

The euphoria we feel after the threat had subsided, and we move out of the threat response cycle, is in part due to the sustained presence of adrenalin, the subsequent blood sugar spike, endorphins and probably a splash of dopamine. All powerful spirits that move through us from time to time. The euphoria may also be a response to the fact that physical conflict was avoided, not an insignificant detail as, most probably both you and the raging man still had enough self-awareness present to realise that things had gone plenty far enough.

In the calm of a therapist's office, when our inner primal/autonomic nervous system is doing its everyday job of maintaining homeostasis, and our executive function is gliding along like the second hand on a Rolex, these spiky primal moments are often judged to be found wanting. This primal/civilised dissonance confounds us repeatedly, in moments big and small, every day. Imagine that, with some practice, we could effect a conscious choreography between our inner wild and our sophistications, so that our exchanges when in a state of disagreement, confusion, fear etc look more like a graceful waveform than a series of spikes and troughs.

Let's not forget that this inner wild also shapes the experiences of thrill, elation, passion, sexual arousal, euphoria, desire etc — all of which are correlative to an elevation in the sympathetic nervous system.

To your therapists point, if we can remember that in any given moment, what is being directed towards us most often isn't about us, we won’t feel threatened, and then there's a possibility for empathy. The 'higher self' has some sway over the primal self. (I appreciate his ire was directed towards his ex-beloved, but the point remains, his behaviour towards her was disproportionate most probably because of preexisting trauma, and you were in that shared field of experience, so you felt her fear.)

Let's not forget, sadly, we may not always be able to subdue rage in another, especially when there's the real potential for physical and/or sexual violence, through reasoning, empathy and compassion. Aikido exists for a reason.

There's a line in Arsonists Lullaby (Hozier) "Don't you ever tame your demons, but always keep them on a leash". Guilt is the leash, it shows up as a reminder to keep the empowerment we feel when angry in check, and perhaps to guide us into an exploration of why there’s a disproportionate amount of anger there in the first place?

May we all learn to embrace our inner wild, without becoming defined by it — unless we're on the dance floor.

Expand full comment
Jun 10Liked by Mills Baker

Loved this!

Expand full comment

Reading your pieces always feels like a children's fun house - I mean this in an absolutely complimentary way. I can enter a few different ways, explore particular rooms, go down a slide or two and get tied up in a ball pit. Which is to say, I enjoyed this one a lot.

"But because I love Malick, I was willing to endure and entertain elements of the film I’d likely not have tolerated, or sought to interpret favorably, in another filmmaker."

I totally agree with this sentiment, especially when it comes to Malick. I don't necessarily look forward to his films, but I know they're made with the utmost care and craftsmanship, and I appreciate certain artistic choices, whereas with another filmmaker, I'll deem the same choices a mistake. Maybe this comes with being foundational to a style? I can't count the times I've used the term "Malick-like" as a knock against a film, but Malick himself with Malick-like the hell out of a movie, and I'll love it...

That being said, I skipped Knight of Cups and will remedy that small misfortune this month!

Expand full comment

I mean, really good therapists are the paid-for parents we actually needed (said with no shade at all to the parents we got).

So happy to have discovered you guys, and to have you over at D&B. I’m about to re-read this beauty of a post. Thanks again, Mills

Expand full comment

Anger is a boner made me laugh. Accurate though.

I've only watched "A Hidden Life" which I thought was a great movie. However, now I'm curious to watch these two movies.

Expand full comment

This was great in so many ways. But what I appreciate most is the nuance of it all. That, and the undecided - yet keen to ponder - humility with which you explore the ideas present in Malick’s film.

Expand full comment

Lmao Hanania - imagine having no understanding of STYLE!

Expand full comment

Re: Hanania and great books, I agree with your take. There is no substitute for seeing for oneself how the greatest thinkers in history actually thought and worked through their ideas. Many other good reasons to read the great books, although I went to a great books college so I'm biased.

I wonder if a lot of this comes down to how much someone actually enjoys reading, as opposed to seeing it merely as an instrumental means to knowledge acquisition. I got the sense in his essay that he is more the latter, but that's just speculation. I'm sure it's related to your great point about one's ability to internalize the author and immerse oneself in the world of the book. The greatest of the greats-- Homer, Plato, some parts of the bible, Cervantes, Shakespeare, pretty much require that ability in order to actually enjoy them.

Expand full comment

Here's a serious question, since you alluded to it. As a young viewer did you identify the most closely with White? It seems that way from this anecdote.

Expand full comment
May 31Liked by Mills Baker

“Hanania is, these paragraphs imply, on the hunt for discrete insights, or knowledge, and he notes that can get these as effectively from “scientific papers and news magazines” as he can from non-fiction books. Each insight is, he suggests, basically fungible.”

Ugh. This ruthless drive for *efficiency* and parcelled-up nuggets of information. You nailed it. 🎯 Such a great piece.

Expand full comment

I hope you stuck with the therapist. She’s good.

Expand full comment