Toward a Unified Understanding of the Human Condition

For thousands of years, scholars, philosophers, artists, and religious teachers have struggled to understand the human condition. Elaborate theories, both moral and pragmatic, have been propounded to explain the bredth and diversiy of the human condition; everything from battling angels and demons to the hidden workings of the id and the superego have been believed to be responsible for the things we feel and the way we understand and interact with the world around us.

All of those ideas are wrong, as I realized while showering this morning. The human condition is varied but bounded, and it took Hollywood to give us a model that explains the diversity of the human experience while also showing us how it’s bounded.

All of life, you see, exists somewhere within the space delineated by the movies Reservoir Dogs, Being John Malcovich, and The Princess Bride.

Each of these three movies represents the extreme outer limit of one aspect of the human condition. All of humanity–all religion, all philosophy, all creation, all expression, all experience–falls somewhere within the space marked off by these three movies.

The human condition is not represented as a three-dimensional spece with each of these movies along one axis, because no part of the human condition can fall at the origin of such a space; that is, nothing within the human experience contains no relevance to any of these three movies. Instead, if some part of the human condition has very little, say, Reservoir Dogs in it, then it follows logically that it must therefore contain a great deal of Being John Malcovich, The Princess Bride, or both, as illustrated below:


This triangle represents the whole of the sum of the range of the human species. Any part of the human condition, or anything to which we have a reaction, can be represented as a point plotted within this triangle.

For example, take the experience of eating a banana split. There is little of the essence of Reservoir Dogs in this experience, unless one assumes some factor not inevidence in the original premise (such as eating a banana split in a diner at the beginning of a Quentin Tarantino flick); and it’s a common, everyday event, not usually remarkable for its surrealism. Ergo, this experience would fall in the lower right-hand corner of the human experience, quite near The Princess Bride.

On the other hand, the experience of seeing one’s neighbor be struck and killed by debris falling from Air Force One after it had been violently commandeered by Communist activists would be both weird and quite violent; ergo, this would fall near the center of the left-hand portion of the human experience, between Being John Malcovich and Reservoir Dogs, and quite far from The Princess Bride.

Other common parts of our everyday human reality can be plotted like this:

With this understanding of the human condition, I believe wars of religion (which fall near the lower left-hand corner of the human condition), books on popular psychotherapy (which fall near the upper right-hand portion of the human condition), and college classes on philosophy (which fall toward the lower center of the human condition) are now obsolete. In Hollywood, we have been given a tool far more powerful than anything previously at our disposal to understand ourselves.

God (middle left) bless Hollywood (upper left)!

22 thoughts on “Toward a Unified Understanding of the Human Condition

    • Well, you know, I thought long and hard about that, but…

      Having seen Condoleeza Rice give TV interviews, and after watching Colin Powell heroically keep a straight face while describing the nonexistant “mobile biological weapons factories” on CNN, I have to say that there is a dash of Princess Bride in the Bushies thqat’s lacking in the RIAA. I mean, you just can’t get entertainment like that anywhere else!

      I think the Bushies do need to move up a bit toward “Being John Malcovich,” though. They are, as you say, rather weird.

  1. nit-picking

    It has been pointed out that this model seems to be biased towards white middle-class concerns in the developed world. Where, for example, would the Holocaust or slavery be represented?

    Saying that it’s in the Reservoir Dogs corner would be to trivialise it somewhat; saying that it’s Reservoir Dogs multiplied tenfold would break the assertion that the model represents the outer limits of human experience. Perhaps we need a fourth corner (how about Bus #174 or The Pianist or Irreversible (that French film with the harrowing 10-minute rape scene), thus making the model into a 3-dimensional pyramid.

  2. nit-picking

    It has been pointed out that this model seems to be biased towards white middle-class concerns in the developed world. Where, for example, would the Holocaust or slavery be represented?

    Saying that it’s in the Reservoir Dogs corner would be to trivialise it somewhat; saying that it’s Reservoir Dogs multiplied tenfold would break the assertion that the model represents the outer limits of human experience. Perhaps we need a fourth corner (how about Bus #174 or The Pianist or Irreversible (that French film with the harrowing 10-minute rape scene), thus making the model into a 3-dimensional pyramid.

  3. Nice, but you seem rather confused in how to measure things. Why do you say that those three points are the limits and then give two (seemingly) independent scales (weird-prosaic and dangerous-cute)? That would imply four limits: weird and cute, weird and dangerous, prosaic and cute, prosaic and dangerous.

    How about we do what you said not to, but with a modification. There are three axes with each movie along one of them at a unit distance. Then everything will have some portion of all three movies, but the portions must add up to 1 (thus restricting to the triangle between them).

  4. Nice, but you seem rather confused in how to measure things. Why do you say that those three points are the limits and then give two (seemingly) independent scales (weird-prosaic and dangerous-cute)? That would imply four limits: weird and cute, weird and dangerous, prosaic and cute, prosaic and dangerous.

    How about we do what you said not to, but with a modification. There are three axes with each movie along one of them at a unit distance. Then everything will have some portion of all three movies, but the portions must add up to 1 (thus restricting to the triangle between them).

  5. Well, you know, I thought long and hard about that, but…

    Having seen Condoleeza Rice give TV interviews, and after watching Colin Powell heroically keep a straight face while describing the nonexistant “mobile biological weapons factories” on CNN, I have to say that there is a dash of Princess Bride in the Bushies thqat’s lacking in the RIAA. I mean, you just can’t get entertainment like that anywhere else!

    I think the Bushies do need to move up a bit toward “Being John Malcovich,” though. They are, as you say, rather weird.

  6. I thought about doing something like that, but then realized that it’d actually be work, and what’s the point of explaining all of human existance if you actually have to work to do it? Besides, that means doing math, and nobody likes math! ๐Ÿ™‚

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