Friday, April 20, 2018

Random Thoughts VI


This will just be a series of questions:

Why has Donald Trump done a complete 180 on his views regarding Syria and American intervention in the middle east? Why are both the United States and Britain bombing the capital city of a foreign nation without a declaration of war or even bothering to seek approval from relevant legislative bodies? Why would Assad use banned chemical weapons against his own people when he was already winning the war in his country? Why did the countries that bombed Syria not bother to wait for proof of Assad's crimes given the fact that the United States spent over a year making the case to attack Iraq back in 2002-2003? Why are so few major media outlets questioning this narrative? Why is the anti-war left silent even though there is a hated republican president in the white house? Even if Assad did gas his own people, how does bombing him aid American interests? Why does anyone think regime change in Syria is a good idea given our experiences in Libya and Iraq?

Book Review: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

When I was in school I read about half of this and then skimmed the rest. I recently gave it a second look and recalled why I read it the way I did. As interesting as Aurelius' thoughts are, he does tend to repeat himself a great deal. You can sum up about 70% of the book with this sentence: "Life is short, you will die very soon, live honorably." Given the way the book was written it isn't surprising. These are really just Aurelius' random thoughts (hey, wait a sec...) over the course of many years. He wasn't trying to write a philosophical treatise. Taken from that perspective, Meditations is a nice book to travel with and a good primer on Stoicism. It is easy to read in tiny bits - say taking in three or four aphorisms while waiting for your order at Denny's. 
Grade: B
Hogg and Ingraham

An old rhetorical tactic is that of the unimpeachable messenger. When you want to push an ideological message, you find someone that people cannot easily criticize - someone that, if they do actually attack, it will make the critic look bad. Such is the case with David Hogg. He's a poor traumatized kid which makes him a perfect attack dog. He's been vicious too. He dismissed older critics of gun control by just saying, "We will outlive you." He went after Laura Ingraham hard too, calling for a boycott after she mildly criticized him. Ingraham was taken off the air for a time and then apologized. Hogg refused to accept the apology, saying that the boycott should continue until Ingraham disavows all of Fox News.

Refusing to accept an apology is pretty mean-spirited. Ingraham's mistake however, was assuming that this was a human interaction - two individuals communicating in good faith. It was not. Hogg is not acting as a person but an ideological tool. He (well, his handlers anyway) smelled weakness, he pounced, and then twisted the knife. This is how you get your money's worth with unimpeachable messengers. Of course, to the more intelligent observer, the use of such messengers ought to make one MORE skeptical of what they advocate. If the only way you can get me to support gun control is with an emotional appeal from a victimized kid, then it doesn't sound like a very rational idea. The real question to ask is why the media has chosen to lionize these kids and not, oh let's say, children of terrorist attack victims who want tighter immigration restrictions.

Fundamental Differences Between the Sexes

This scene from Picket Fences is illustrative. I could not find the complete scene in one video on YouTube, so watch this clip and then this one. Just watch it and absorb it. Now imagine the sexes are reversed.

"I don't care about society"

There's an old saying that you can gauge the quality of a civilization by the number of old people who plant trees that they will never live to sit under. The generations that lived before we did cared about us - cared about their posterity. They prioritized leaving behind a functioning society for descendants they would never meet. After posting my article on MGTOW one of the common responses I got from self-described members of the movement was, "Well I don't care about society anyway, so it doesn't matter whether or not MGTOW will actually solve our culture's problems." This sort of nihilistic view is fairly common among this crowd, particularly those who have been badly burned by women in some way.

The thing is, it isn't true that you don't care about society. You care about having running water. You care about being able to buy food at the grocery store. You care about the fact that you live in a peaceful town because of the police and in a peaceful country because of the military that keeps out foreign invaders. You care about the million different unwritten rules people follow when they interact with you every day. Refusing to contribute to society through active work or helping to create the next generation is everyone's free choice. Making that choice while enjoying the myriad benefits society offers you and then claiming some kind of victim status is depraved. Really any adult that claims to not care about society is operating on a level of awareness comparable to a spoiled six year old.

There are two groups of people that morally have a right to not care about society. 1. People who produce more for society than they consume and 2. People who live completely outside of society in the forest (even then they benefit from that nation's military, police, fire departments, infrastructure, environmental policies, etc.). Everyone else ought to care. Also remember that if you don't care about society, society has a right not to care about you. One could argue that single, childless, unproductive people ought to be last in line for any public benefits and should suffer a higher tax rate.

CS Lewis Quote

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Game Review: Fallout 4

tl;dr - it's fun with mods.

Slightly longer: I played this a bunch during the winter. I loved New Vegas and was in the mood for some more post-apocalyptic open world goodness. What I got with Fallout 4 was a step down in terms of actual role-playing. The story is not nearly as open-ended as previous games. The factions are mostly lame. The endings aren't very satisfying. Overall it feels like a missed opportunity. Still, it is a lot of fun. The graphics are solid as is the core gameplay engine. The music is amazing. With the right mods on PC, you can make a really atmospheric game with just the right amount of challenge. The Far Harbor DLC alone I think makes it worth while. It is some of the best Fallout content of the last decade in my humble opinion.

Grade: C- (Vanilla) B (modded)

White Sharia

I just watched The Handmaid's Tale on Amazon and started reading the book. It's quite a provocative concept. I'll probably do a separate review. The series got me thinking about the white Sharia meme I started seeing among far-right types last year. There are rational arguments one could make for affording men and women differing legal rights because of differences between the sexes (I'll probably do a separate write up on women's suffrage and coverture laws). Sharia law, I think, is the reducto ad absurdum of this. I oppose it for several reasons, one being that I don't think men and women are that different. Furthermore, I find it odd that it is so-called "traditionalists" that have a favorable view of white Sharia. Sharia law is not traditional for whites. It isn't even really that traditional for Muslims, at least not some of the implementations in the world today. Advocating greater modesty and sexual propriety need not require denying women the right to read or travel without a male escort.

Jordan Peterson's Individualism

I actually spoke with Jordan Peterson not long ago. I have a lot of respect for him. He's one of the more thoughtful and brave public intellectuals of the day. Still, I do have my disagreements. One area where I think he is off base is in his complaints about "Identity Politics." This is a common whipping boy of radical centrist and civic nationalist types. It lets you attack SJW's while making it slightly harder for people to call you racist. However what I have noticed with Peterson and his ilk, is that they tend to only criticize white identity politics in majority white countries. They don't criticize non-whites having strong in-group preference. I recall another right-wing blogger quipping about how, on the issue of black South Africans murdering white farmers, Peterson would tell the black Africans to "stop buying into identity politics." Yeah, good luck with that.

I have never heard Peterson or any of the critics of identity politics complain about Japan's lack of individualism. Quite the contrary they often admire how Japanese people have maintained their culture and traditions for centuries. But even if they were consistent it would still sound chauvinistic to tell some Japanese guy to stop slurping his ramen, stop bowing in social situations, and not feel any sense of kinship with his ethnic group. He has every right to enjoy that sense of solidarity and value it. If he has that right, so do all other ethnic groups. So long as people seek an identity, identity politics are not going anywhere. At root, all politics are identity politics.

The Martian vs. Interstellar

Two space movies that came out around the same time. Both are well-acted with great effects, music, and all-star casts. The two films could not be more different thematically. The Martian is about the importance of the individual. Even the early trailers with Matt Damon's narration talking about how humans form search parties to help each other, emphasizes this theme. One man, stranded on Mars, is worth years of effort and billions of dollars of resources to save. (never mind how many starving Africans that money and time could have saved...) The theme appeals to the ego. "I am so important that if I were in trouble, the whole world would stop everything to try and save me."

Interstellar has the opposite theme. It is about the lengths to which an individual will go to try to save humanity. Cooper is not trying to save only his loved ones - in fact he ends up sacrificing his chance to be with his children. As Michael Cane's character says in the amazing trailer to Cooper, "We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species." Interstellar calls us as individuals to care not only about society and humanity at large, but also future generations - people we will never meet. It is a more challenging moral idea than what we see in The Martian.

"I just want a normal life"

What do you think of a person when they say, "I just want to live a normal life."? I have heard unmarried women in their 30's and 40's say this, seemingly burned out on a dead end career and a series of boyfriends who would not commit. I have heard middle aged men say this after spending their youth chasing super stardom and quick riches. "I just want to be normal." "I just want to have a nice husband and some kids, maybe stay home." "I just want a decent job and a kind wife to cheer me up." When you hear people say these kinds of things, do you think that they have given up on life - that they have resigned themselves to mediocrity? Or do you think, "Good for them. Sounds like they have finally grown up." Your response says a lot about your personality. My personal view is that strong societies make 'normal' seem like a great way to end up.

Movie Review: Gattaca

Gattaca is one of those movies that you wish were better because it deals with such an interesting issue. It is a story where people's lives are determined by constant DNA screens. It presents us with the sad vision of a genetic underclass. Of course a genetic underclass exists today, we just don't call it that. Ethan Hawke's character is a member of this class even though he is obviously brilliant. A bad heart makes him eligible only for menial labor, which doesn't really make sense. The hacker in me roots for him as he fools the system day in day out(though it's a pretty shoddy system in truth) even though what he does is incredibly dangerous and selfish. The treadmill scene demonstrates that he really is unfit to be an astronaut. Hopefully he doesn't conk out during the mission and get his co-pilots killed. Overall it's a nicely done flick. Uma Thurman and Jude Law were good and I enjoyed the aesthetic.

Grade: B-

Did Liberalism Fail?

I have read a few interesting pieces on this subject recently. Has liberalism reached the end of its rope? Understand that by "liberalism" we are not referring to leftism. What is meant here is the more classical western notion of liberal governance and the atomized society - the society of individuals liberated from one another. Are we destined to "regress" to tribalism because of the inherent incompatibility of the liberal ideal with human nature?

The thesis has merit I think because to a large degree I don't think even white western societies were ever all that liberal. The United States was a largely conformist tribal society throughout the 19th century. It just so happened that it was a tribalism based on constitutional rights and capitalism, so it prospered economically. It was a liberal monoculture. Throughout the 20th century the enfranchisement of women and the importation of millions of non-European immigrants has drastically altered the political landscape. Now America, like many other western countries, is trying to be a liberal multicultural society. This is historically new and very likely not sustainable. Most of the non-European stock act in explicitly tribal ways. Chinese immigrants in Australia form insular communities and are loyal to their homeland. African Americans and Hispanics vote as a bloc in the United States and many openly despise white culture. Muslim migrants in Europe seek to institute Sharia law and demand that countries like Sweden respect their right to practice polygamy with underage brides.

So my answer would be, "No, liberalism did not quite fail yet, but it is failing." Unless westerners can find a way to get the rest of the world on board with the liberal concept, or kick out all of their minorities (who won't be minorities much longer), they will be eventually swept aside by those cultures more in tune with man's evolved tribal nature.