Saturday, September 15, 2018

Random Thoughts VII

Book Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune is among my top five favorite science fiction books. I re-read it recently and decided to go through the extended universe books written by Herbert's son. Here's a quick summary for the uninitiated: Son of royalty goes on an adventure in a mystical desert planet discovering the secret of a powerful drug known as spice melange while battling an intergalactic conspiracy. It is a classic tale of Planetary Fiction and very much a "hero's journey" as the teenage protagonist Paul gradually discovers his latent powers. What makes it so good is the vividness of the world - the touches of color regarding the Freman, the desert, the worms, the space guild, etc. It's just all so dang cool. The blending of mythology, religion, and science is superb. If you have heard of it but never bothered to give it a read, you're in for a treat.

Grade: A+

The Essence of Masculinity and Femininity

I'm going to take a shot at concisely defining these terms:

The essence of masculinity is Accountability and the essence of femininity is Vulnerability. This is most easily understood by considering the differences in reproductive organs (or even differences in gametes if you want to go even deeper). The male's is assertive, penetrating, colonizing, possessive. The female's is yielding, passive, nurturing, waiting to be claimed. The essence of being a man is being responsible - for oneself, for one's family, for one's community, for one's nation. It is about looking at the state of one's life and one's surroundings and saying, "This is on me."

The other biological differences - men's greater strength, size, speed, spatial intelligence - grant him a natural physical authority over women. Thus men have greater agency and women are more objectified. By contrast, nature imposes a different obligation on women - one of submissive endurance derived from the burden of creating life. In the state of nature childbirth is a harrowing experience that many women do not survive. Unlike men, nature forces women to confront death to fulfill their biological destiny. It is what gives women inherent value and is why traditionally only men have to undergo initiation rights in a society - to prove their capacity to be responsible. Both masculine accountability and feminine vulnerability demand strength but also cooperation and acceptance of differing roles and authority.

On Traditionalism

Even though I believe in preserving cultural traditions I don't consider myself a "Traditionalist." To me traditionalism is not much better than libertarianism. Both are philosophies that avoid the question of values. Libertarians avoid it by saying, "everyone do whatever as long as there is no force." Traditionalists say, "just do what people have always done." Neither stops and asks, "Well what exactly is good in the first place?" Some traditions, like marriage, are great. Others, like female genital mutilation, not so much. We need some standard of value for deciding which traditions are good and which should be abolished. I also think we should err on the side of preserving traditions generally for two reasons.

1. A thing only becomes a tradition if its practitioners survive for a long time. This makes a tradition a good heuristic for identifying positive cultural practices that aid in a society's thriving.

2. Even if a tradition is negative (honor killing) or wrong (belief that the sun revolves around the Earth) the very fact that everyone in a community abides by the tradition makes it powerful. It helps bind a group of people together enabling a high trust society where people can work cooperatively and achieve longer range goals. This is, by the way, one of the better arguments for religion.

Game Review: Spiderman PS4

Played through this over the last few days. I had fun. It's the best Spiderman game to come along in a while and is a must have for fans of the character. Spiderman PS4 gets three big things right: Traversal around Manhattan using web swinging is fun as heck, the graphics are really really good, and with so many different suits, gadgets, side missions, and collectibles, there is plenty to do. What keeps it from being a truly great superhero game like Arkham City is the lackluster story, bad pacing, some unpolished gameplay elements, lack of replay value, and some poor design and characterization choices. While I liked the setup with an older Peter Parker in a universe not riding the MCU's coattails, I did not like being forced to play as MJ and Miles nor did the plot really keep me interested. There's a good foundation here at least and a strong ending. Tighter gameplay (more intricate web swinging please) and some new content could make this into a long-lasting franchise.

Grade: B

How Far We'll Go

It is interesting how we take the future for granted. What if we never make it to some Star Trek type of future society? Some say that we will not make it because our societies are too dumb and we are likely to destroy ourselves. However what if the technology necessary to create such societies is simply impossible? What are the limits to how far we can go as a species? In my view, there are three limits: 1. The human brain's capacity for understanding and possibly extending its own abilities. 2. The cultural contexts in which all innovation occurs (some societies will stifle innovation, for example). 3. The physical laws of the universe. Some technologies (teleportation, FTL travel, etc.) may simply be impossible no matter how clever we are. I don't think we have come close to reaching limit 3 though. Limits 1 and 2 are the only ones we can control to some extent, so we must focus our efforts there.

The Stupidity of Horseshoe Theory

Horseshoe political theory is so strange to me because it is so obviously stupid and wrong. Who honestly believes that right wing Christian fundamentalist has a lot in common with a member of AntiFa? Who would honestly argue that the Christian has more in common with the AntiFa member than a moderate republican? It doesn't bear even the slightest bit of scrutiny. The only thing that right and left wing extremists have in common is extremism, but then this is like saying that the North Pole is similar to the Equator because both have extreme temperatures. Why do smart people buy into horseshoe theory? What does this belief accomplish? Political hipsterdom I would guess - the ability to take a superior, independent-seeming pose that lets you dismiss both the left and right while seeming reasonable and objective. Horseshoe theory serves the ego of its adherents, not reality.

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

I read this back in August. A friend said it had good advice for creating a successful startup. While I wouldn't call it essential for anyone starting a business, it is a good read. Thiel is clearly a brilliant and successful entrepreneur with a lot of unique observations. His discussion of the green energy industry I found particularly cogent. He epitomizes a lot of "startupisms" - not trusting people in suits, working super long hours, living and breathing for your business, open offices, believing in innovation as an end in itself, etc. I no longer agree with a lot of that stuff and ironically this ideology puts him more in lockstep with Silicon Valley than he'd like to admit. Still, there is a lot of wisdom here if you don't think of it as a recipe for success book. His advice will help make success more likely by getting you to ask the right questions. In this regard, the chapter on secrets is really good. What is it that you know that most other people don't? This is something all entrepreneurs should ask themselves.

Grade: B

Why Transgenderism Destroys Feminism

Imagine if, during the era of slavery, blacks could simply choose to identify as white. Imagine if they could just tell the plantation owner, "I feel like a white person deep down, so you have to respect that and treat me the same as a 100% white person." It would dismantle the entire system of slavery overnight. Feminism, similarly, is premised on an oppressor / oppressed dynamic. In order for it to work, it must be immutable; you can't have people switching from one to the other whenever they feel like it. You also cannot argue that men and women are equal but also fundamentally different in such a way that a person can be born in the wrong body. "Separate but equal" doesn't work for human sex differences. Either there are deep, inherent differences between men and women (the transgender argument) or all of those differences are cultural and readily engineered away by progressive social policy (the feminist argument). Both things simply cannot be true simultaneously.

Vetting a Potential Spouse: Advice for Trad Women

Because of my matchmaking site I have interacted with a number of "trad" women online. "Red Pill" women face unique challenges when looking for a partner because there are increasingly fewer men seeking traditional relationships. Furthermore there are a lot of cads who would seek to take advantage of women who are virginal, attractive, and submissive. So I asked myself, if I had a daughter like this, what sort of advice would I give her for choosing a man? I narrowed it down to six points:

1. Do not have sex before marriage. This will scare off 99% of the cads.
2. Ensure he has a good work history, good job, and good prospects. (past, present, and future)
3. Discuss your specific expectations for married life. Maybe even write them down.
4. Encourage leadership. Ask his permission for lots of things. See how he handles power.
5. Gauge how highly you think of him. Would you trust his judgment over your own for something important?
6. See how he interacts with his family, service people, and children.

Battlefield 5

Battlefield V garnered some controversy for its early trailer emphasizing female soldiers in WW2. Why exactly is this a problem? Let's start by dispensing with the whole, "it's just a video game lol why do you care?" argument from pettiness. Since there were indeed some female fighters during WW2, it isn't technically an example of replacement, which I would also oppose. Instead the issue is more subtle. Implying that women fought in WW2, "just like men," is a form of historical appropriation that degrades the unique and vastly disproportionate sacrifices made by men. Imagine if someone were to make a movie about the history of blues and jazz music, but focus largely on white people. We wouldn't say, "well hey, there were some white musicians that helped establish the art form." No, we would recognize the dishonesty of such a portrayal.

The same applies with putting women on the front lines of WW2. It is not about historical accuracy. That is a red herring.  Rather it is about envy. It is about not allowing men any uniquely masculine pride for their sacrifices defending their homelands. It's an effective strategy because it feels petty to point it out. Men don't envy women's unique roles in society. They have no interest in colonizing female spaces - they're not interested in getting nail salons to play sports games or getting romantic comedies to have action scenes so that they'll be more welcoming to men. Women, however, do envy men. The cause of that envy happens to be a point on which I agree with feminists: Modern societies are deeply misogynistic. They have contempt for womanhood, nurturing, family, and feminine virtues. Where I disagree with feminists is in their solution, which is to encourage women to become like men. This is like attempting to fight Islamophobia by encouraging Muslims to become Christian.

I'll also add that women served their nations in many ways during WW2. Given that there are already a million video games about shooting people, would that some company would employ some creativity and make a WW2 game with female protagonists that isn't focused on combat. Could be interesting.