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The End of Memory

Updated: Apr 9

Author's Note: This took me all day to write. The last blog post of 2022. I hope you all enjoy it. Here's the song I was listening to on repeat as I wrote this below. I highly recommend you give it a listen.

I'm terrified that I'll die as man that's mentally weak

I watched Top Gun: Maverick the other day with my family.

It was a fantastic film from start to finish; I enjoyed almost everything about it.

The writer in me loves the narrative. The engineer, however, had some questions.

During the opening sequence, you see Lockheed Martin's company logo on the control stick on the right-hand side of the cockpit.

As soon as I saw that, I instantly thought: Skunk Works!

Lo and behold, there was their famous logo on the right vertical tail of the experimental aircraft, Darkstar. (I missed that during my first watch of the movie!)

Apparently, Lockheed Martin collaborated with the movie's director to create a fully fleshed-out experimental hypersonic plane. (Some speculate that this plane is based on the experimental SR-72 Blackbird or the fabled Son of Blackbird.)

It was cool seeing how real-life aerospace engineering and military prerogatives shaped the technological aspects of this movie. Seeing Pete Mitchell going beyond Mach 10 was awesome!

However, the presence of the Darkstar hinted at the absence of an actual Lockheed Martin plane.

Where was the F-35 Lightning II in this movie? The very kind of fifth-generation fighter that would have put the Top Gun pilots on evening footing with their unnamed "rogue nation" adversary (read: Iran!)?

At first, I thought, did the military not want the fighter shown for secrecy reasons? Or was it because of the constant negative press around the F-35 program's cost overruns, poor overall functionality, and other boondoggles in its development?

Cynical initial takes from me, I know. The true reason is simpler.

The reason the F-35 gets limited screen time is that it is a single-seat jet. What are the implications of that design parameter of the plane itself?

It means that the film crew would be unable to install their equipment and film Tom Cruise and other actors "flying" the jets. Yes, "flying" is in quotes because neither Cruise nor his fellow cast members were allowed to operate the planes on their own (for obvious reasons!). The F-18 Super Hornets and F-14 used in the film are dual-seat jets. The actors sit in the rear seat, and the real Navy pilots are in the front seat flying the plane.

It's a straightforward reason at first glance. Yet, with further scrutiny, the choice not to work the F-35 further into the movie beyond its short cameo at the beginning has serious narrative consequences for the rest of the movie.

Top Gun: Maverick as an "underdog" narrative could not have worked if the F-35 was the main jet of choice for their combat operations. This narrative is best represented by the phrase uttered by Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, "It's not the plane. It's the pilot."

Having the Top Gun pilot be at a technological disadvantage against a better-equipped enemy creates the underdog story that we all love. To reinforce this point, the movie's writers anticipate my inquiry about the F-35 and try to explain away why it isn't suitable for the bombing run against the "rogue state's" uranium enrichment facility in the clip below.

Mitchell says, "Well, normally, this would be a cakewalk for the F-35 Stealth, but GPS jamming negates that…," which effectively rules out the F-35's in the story going forward.

(In reality, that's not true.)

The rest of the dialogue in this clip is important, too, as Rear Admiral Solomon "Warlock" Bates remarks that Mitchell is proficient in "dogfighting" in response to Mitchell saying it would be a "dogfight" all the way home.

Dogfighting is slang for air-to-air combat, that is, two pilots in opposing fighting aircraft aiming to down or shoot out of the sky, the other first. It was the prime form of aerial combat operations for decades, but now, it is extremely rare.

It is a very telling choice to take an archaic style of aerial combat and have it center as a central plot mechanism in 2022.

On the surface level, it serves as narrative continuity between Top Gun: Maverick and the original Top Gun, where we first saw Maverick's iconic dogfighting skills, as Warlock astutely references in the mission planning scene.

Peeling back the layers, however, Top Gun: Maverick is a film mired in nostalgia that doesn't even attempt to overcome. And why would it? The film grossed over $1.4 billion globally, as reported by CNBC in September of this year.

The past is monetizable.

Money aside, even the film itself smirks at this tension between the past and the future and explicitly refuses even to address it in the present.

In the prior clip shown, Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (played by the marvelous Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame) makes this exciting quip:

"Seems like we're not the only ones holding on to old relics."

Obviously, Simpson is referring to Maverick, but his point strikes a much deeper vein. The original Top Gun itself, as a movie, is a relic—a relic of nostalgia.

The American nostalgia of the past is gripped so tightly in the present because it does not want to face the future.

That future is made explicit in an interaction between Maverick and Rear Admiral Chester 'Hammer' Cain, played magnificently by Ed Harris.

I cannot understate how important this scene is in the movie. Watch it again and again if you have to to get the point it's trying to make. (Unfortunately, I can't find a transcript of their conversation, so you'll have to watch it in its entirety.)

Hammer reviews Maverick's distinguished service record yet openly wonders why the latter is still only a Captain. A fair question to pose! Maverick attempts to deflect with a joke, but Hammer presses the point further.

Maverick yields. "I'm where I belong, sir."

It was a sincere yet telling response. Maverick doesn't want to move on. Top Gun doesn't, and therefore, we, as Americans, don't want to either. That line cuts so deep on so many levels and in so many different directions that one can only think its writing and delivery were engineered with the same precision and expertise he relies on to fly the Darkstar.

Tom Cruise is a master actor. Give this man his flowers!

Back to the story itself, as the conversation clearly doesn't end there. Hammer expresses his view of human pilots and their future obsolescence. The Navy won't need pilots anymore, with autonomous military aircraft and drones beginning to come into the picture. (This is true, but only to a certain extent.)

Hammer drops this line on Maverick's head, "The future is coming. And you're not in it."

Powerful. Harrowing. Hammer speaks with an air of inevitability.

After sending Maverick off to return to Top Gun, he ends the conversation, stating, "The end is inevitable Maverick. Your kind is heading towards extinction."

Maverick wryly responds, "Maybe so, sir. But not today."

If it isn't obvious, one of the core themes, if not the main theme, of Top Gun: Maverick is time.

Hell, Maverick even says it himself here as he briefs the twelve elite Top Gun pilots for the first time on the mission parameters: "Time is your greatest enemy." (emphasis added)

The times are a'changin. For Maverick. For human pilots. For men in general.

While it's an open question whether human pilots will go "extinct" in Top Gun (the movie declines to elaborate further after the Hammer and Maverick conversation, unfortunately), many men in real life feel that they are going by the wayside.

No man is more vocal about this online than Andrew "Cobra" Tate. He has risen to be the preeminent figure, or 'Top G,' in the right-wing, red-pill manosphere. I don't need to spare real estate to expand on who he is or what he stands for other than the fact he's a self-avowed sex trafficker based in Romania, a state that is apparently lenient on prosecuting or even investigating such atrocious.

Andrew Tate. (The picture speaks for itself, doesn't it?)

Men, particularly American men, are struggling, and the more online contingent of them look to Tate as their role model, their savior, in a world that has disposed of them.

You can certainly blame them (as I do), but it would help more to understand why someone like Andrew Tate has a growing following.

Time has not been kind to American men.

Their economic prospects are declining across the board.

They are lonelier than ever.

They are dying are greater rates, especially from suicide.

The ones who remain retreat from the world. They spend more time in the digital realm, consuming content to their heart's desire. They endlessly play video games because gaming is the one place where the rules are predictable, and the grind yields rewards. Gaming gives a sense of control that cannot be found in their own lives.

Because they don't have the economic means to self-actualize, that is, to become the individuals that society needs them to be and the person they want to be, they stay stuck in place.

They stagnate. They regress.

They die.

This is happening in parallel to women, who, on average, are attending college at higher rates; their pay is increasing faster relative to men. In fact, more households in America now have female breadwinners.

Women's collective success makes them an attractive target for Tate and the manosphere to criticize to feed men's resentment about their own social and economic decline.

There are more men who are struggling to reach adulthood, leaving them as fodder for a man like Andrew Tate to prey on them. The salvation they hope to find by following Tate is as hollow as he is.

It can only be found within themselves.

I can't lie; Tate's rhetoric is seductive. But he can't fool me, for I am familiar with his game.

Closer scrutiny reveals he trafficks in nothing but lies and deceit. But what is bitter, raw truth to a sweet lie? The latter has always been easier to digest.

Those lies are the opioids that men following Tate get addicted to and permanently hooked on. Tate's strength lies in preying on the weakness of men.

Which begs the question: What is masculinity in today's society?

For Tate, it would be someone who has other men envying his status and position in life, multiple women under his strict, draconian control, and the money and clout to ensure he never answers to anyone but himself.

A man's worth, in his eyes, is the power he can exert over others. It is a negative, destructive ideology that hollows a man out. He becomes nothing more than a desire-seeking machine seeking whatever way to satiate his worst impulses. Masculinity is performative to the extent it gives you power over others.

Tate's ideology alienates men from women. They are at odds, corroding the bonds that keep them tied together.

Despite such an answer, it's hard to say exactly what a man or masculinity is. I asked the same question to a lovely lady I deeply admire in the hopes of getting a woman's perspective, and she didn't have an answer.

Maybe that is the answer, that masculinity isn't easily definable. Despite being two distinct biological sexes, there are infinite ways to express the gender of each sex.

For me, my conception of masculinity is simple.

Someone masculine protects. Someone masculine provides. Someone masculine endures.

My definition is more fixated on what a man does rather than what a man must represent. Masculinity isn't performative or merely something you can act. A concrete example would be this story of a good Samaritan: 'I had to do it to save everyone': Man breaks into school and shelters more than 20 people from blizzard.

Jay Withey, the man at the center of this story, broke into a school to save more than 20 people from freezing to death in Erie Country, New York.

Withey protected his fellow human beings from unforgiving Mother Nature.

Withey provides shelter to those who need it most.

Withey endured the cold and ran afoul of the law to ensure others didn't have to.

He didn't have to. Yet, he still did. That's what makes him a man in my eyes.

Would Tate do the same for others?

Here's a more abstract example: Shinji Ikari of Hideaki Anno's legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series. Ikari is a young child who must pilot a mecha, or giant robot, to defend humanity from the Angels, which are massive alien creatures that aim to destroy humanity.

Neon Genesis Evangelion's Shinji Ikari.

Ikari isn't your typical anime protagonist. He's shy, slim, lacks confidence, emotional, and reluctant. He fears that everyone hates him.

But he's also courageous, moral, daring, and, most of all, vulnerable.

It's his vulnerability that gives him great depth as a character. Ikari subverts the traditional view of self-confident, assured, prideful male antagonists in anime and literature in general.

His flaws and shortcomings make him the perfect man to demonstrate masculinity. Countless times he overcomes his own doubts and insecurities to protect, provide, and endure for his friends and the rest of humanity.

While I don't want to give spoilers about the anime series, I do want to discuss one core theme of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is human connection. Throughout the series, Ikari struggles to connect with other human beings. He is afraid of being hurt by them. He is afraid of rejection. Attempting to connect with others opens him up to the risk of being rejected and hurt.

It's a fundamental tension that he tries to address throughout the saga. Without giving away too many spoilers, in the movie, The End of Evangelion, Shinji has to choose between humanity being united together as one, which would rectify human's individual flaws through collective unity, or allow human beings to remain as individuals would inevitability be in conflict with one another.

Shinji in the End of Evangelion.

Shinji chooses the latter. He understands the risks of individuality but would rather attempt to try and form human connections with others despite the rejection he could face.

Shinji decides to take his place in a fundamentally broken, bleak, and nihilistic world that has nothing to offer him in the hopes that he can connect with other human beings.

If that isn't masculinity, I don't know what is. Shinji isn't a boy any longer; he is truly his own man.

That's what being not just a man, but a human is: to connect and bond with one another.

This is what American men need. The question for them in the coming years and decades is will they find a similar courage Shinji found to persevere and find their way in a world that doesn't need their masculinity anymore? Will they endure the challenges and risks of trying to integrate themselves into a society that has utterly disconnected itself from them and their needs?

Or will they stay hooked into the digital world, forsaking human connection and embracing parasocial bonding (read: manipulation) by Tate and other 'red-pill' influencers?

The image that Cruise's Maverick presents is an attractive alternative to what Tate and others have for sale, but that's just an image. It's not real in of itself. It's performative in a commercial sense but more honest, as opposed to Tate and his antics, which are more cynically motivated.

Nevertheless, American society fails to recognize the dire position that American men have been left in. Instead, our society cheers would rather cheer on the (assumed and unchallenged) perpetual, enduring success represented as being the "end of history."

The concept of the "end of history" was first introduced by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, expanded upon by French statesman Alexandre Kojève, and most recently popularized and re-defined again by Francis Fukuyama. For the sake of time and focus, I am not going to unpack the evolution of the concept of the "end of history." I will only refer to Fukuyama's conception as it's the prevailing view in our times. (By the way, it's wrong. But more on that later!)

Fukuyama's definition of the "end of history" is (from Wikipedia): "[Fukuyama] believes that in the realm of ideas liberalism has proven to be triumphant, meaning that even though a successful liberal democracy and market economy have not yet been established everywhere, there are no longer any ideological competitors for these systems…This does not mean that Fukuyama believes that a modern liberal democracy is the perfect political system, but rather that he does not think another political structure can provide citizens with the levels of wealth and personal liberties that a liberal democracy can."

While his opinion has shifted and wavered over the years, Fukuyama (and virtually everyone else in power in America) explicitly believes that all American government is the perfect form of governance, and thus, all other civilizations and societies will naturally tend towards the liberal democracy because of the human flourishing it allows.

As we can clearly see on the domestic and foreign stages, this isn't true now. There is an immense amount of suffering within liberal democracies such as America. To say this is the pinnacle of human organization that cannot be surpassed is pure hubris.

As a wise fella once said, "History has not ended, nor can it possibly end."

As much as I want outright to dismiss Fukuyama's claim to the end of history, I want to take it as seriously as he does. If America is truly the "end of history," then American men cannot expect their suffering to end. The end of history necessarily implies the end of progress, for necessity driven by existential challenges to liberal democracy is eliminated. If there is no more progress, then the suffering that occurs within our system isn't seen as to be overcome and resolved but merely measured and recorded.

Suffering becomes an inexorable feature, not an accidental bug, at the "end of history."

At a deeper level, if there is no more progress because we have reached the end, then how do we measure change? How does one moment differ from the next if everything stays the same?

Thus, the "end of history" also implies the abolishment of time.

Time. Ah, yes, that funny thing. The overlooked theme of Top Gun: Maverick.

Returning to our fantastic movie, Top Gun: Maverick is the quintessential "end of history" movie. American liberal democracy inevitability triumphs over a technologically-superior adversary with fifth-generation aircraft while only needing outdated F/A-18s and F-14s fighter aircraft.

Remember: "It's not the plane. It's the pilot."

Who has to worry about future adversaries threatening America when you can always assume that even if you're outcompeted technologically, you'll always be able to rely on the skill of individual pilots, fighting in a mode of combat that realistically rarely ever happens in modern-day aerial combat?

Who needs future technology when the machines of yesteryear get the job done against your present-day enemies?

The film can't answer these questions because it isn't designed to. It opts to ignore them outright because it doesn't have to at all.

There was never a point in the film that Maverick and the other pilots would fail their mission or outright lose. Their eventual success was never in question. (This is what we call plot armor!)

As much as Maverick understands the problem of time from the perspective of the plot, the movie abolishes time and its consequences. As said before, it never revisits the question of future technological systems potentially replacing human pilots.

Similar to Elon Musk, Top Gun: Maverick presents a vision of the future (Darkstar) that it suggests it will realize but never truly tries to do so, sticking with the past (F/A-18s and F-14s) at its disposal.

The present (F-35s) is barely heard or seen. The future can only be marketed but not actually built. The Darkstar becomes The Future That Never Was.

The future itself is not necessary for a nation that is at the "end of history." Therein lies a fundamental contradiction at the heart of this film – it wants to suggest a future without human pilots but cannot bring itself to do so because there is no external or internal force threatening the existence of liberal democracy that would necessitate change or evolution.

Welcome to Top Gun: The End of History, directed by Francis Fukuyama. Enjoy the show!

We've discarded the future. We refuse to change the present.

What happens to the past?

We mine the past endlessly for nostalgic content and inspiration that can be monetized.

The "end of history" reduces our memories to dollar bills.

This is what the End of Memory is. The past's, or history's, primary use in the "end of history" is to be exploited for profit rather than serve as a reference point both individually and collectively to shape and guide humanity's growth and development.

Memory is money. Remembering is profit; forgetting, is loss.

One can't have a healthy relationship with their past when memories are exploited like this.

America can't properly use its past to help it move forward. America instead refuses to grow up.

We either desperately cling to its past, refusing to see the rest of the world trying to move on, or we will completely disavow it, severing its collective memory from Time itself, thus being isolated from others in an endless present. People already choose one or the other option on an individual level, to disastrous results.

Hell, even I have oscillated between the two at times in my own life. But I've learned that there is a third path to be taken. That path starts with an honest reckoning of one's past, accounting for all the triumphs and failures. Accepting the past for what it is allows one to move forward into the future, which is what could be.

It's only by doing this that we can move forward. LT Tom "Iceman" Kazansky says so himself in his meeting with Maverick before his death.

Iceman types on the computer: "It's time to let go." He is saying this in response to Maverick's grief of losing Rooster's dad, Goose, in the original movie when the two were in Top Gun school as students.

Maverick himself doesn't have a healthy relationship with his past, and it clouds his judgment until Iceman gives him the wisdom to forgive himself and do what is necessary to help Rooster succeed.

It's a beautiful, touching sentiment between former rivals now turned friends. Beautiful.

Iceman's intervention saved Maverick and, ultimately, the mission itself.

They say revenge is best served cold; the truth is also. We could all use an Iceman in our lives.

Iceman's lesson is one that I take to heart as well. As I've said before, 2022 hasn't been my year. I've struggled to accept the things that were done to me in the past this year. The struggle has prevented me from moving forward.

Sometimes I would cling to the past before the bad things happened. I let nostalgia take over my mind as I turned my back to the future.

Then I would try and forget this whole year. Pretend that everything that has happened didn't happen and try and face the future.

Neither way worked, as both paths were nihilistic and self-serving. They were coping mechanisms designed to protect me from the pain of my failures and shortcomings.

But that's no way to live life, as Maverick and Shinji realized. The latter consciously made the decision to rejoin a world that was ugly and broken in the hopes he could make it beautiful and whole again.

That is what I seek to do.

I've spent too much time ignoring my friends who have reached out to ensure I'm okay. I hope to reconnect with them in this new year. I pray I'm not too late.

As I've spent all day of New Year's Eve writing this, it's helped me recognize the truth of my situation in life and appreciate the things that I have despite my losses this year. I hope others, especially my fellow men, can do the same.

Let them find hope amid their despair.

Let them find the strength to overcome their weakness.

Let them have the courage to reconnect with society.

History hasn't ended. We still have a say in how things go. Memory begins anew.

It's not over. Not yet.

May the New Year bring new memories.

Memories that reflect a wonderful past and a promising future.

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2023!

So tonight you should go and take a chance with her
She could be everything you wanted
Everything you wanted boy
Don't let that get away
Don't let that slip away
Don't let that love escape
Don't let that get, don't let that get away, don't let that
Don't let that slip away
Don't let that love escape
Don't let that get away
Don't let that slip away
Don't let that love escape


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