Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Argument from Pettiness

A Short Fable


A man owns a nice bit of land. On it he has a great big apple tree. He loves the tree very much. His neighbor is jealous and wants the tree for himself. One day the neighbor drops a brick in front of the tree. The man sees it and asks the neighbor about it. The neighbor responds, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's just one silly brick." Each day he drops another brick and each time makes a similar excuse about how the man need not worry about it.

One day the man wakes up and finds that a brick wall is blocking his tree. Irate, he asks the neighbor to tear it down. The neighbor is mystified. "Tear it down? But why? You didn't have a problem with this brick, or that brick, or that brick, or really any of them. Tearing it all down now would be rather extreme don't you think? Perhaps we could have a discussion about adding bricks more slowly?"

The Moral

"Is this really the hill you want to die on?"

"It's just a stupid movie. Who cares?"

"Really? You're going to sperg out about some commercial?"

"How can you be such a man child as to get upset about a few changes to a video game?"

You hear these sorts of responses when people argue about social issues. Conservatives do it to feminists when they are mad about a sexy character in a TV show. Progressives do it to conservatives when they are upset about some celebrity talking about politics. The goal is to shame someone into feeling that their complaints are petty. Because the offense is small, we are told, tolerating the offense is the virtuous thing to do. However it only takes a moment's examination to see the irrationality. An evil doesn't become good simply because it is small. A small amount of poison is still poison.

In social disputes the general rule is that whichever side is least tolerant will win. The social justice left understands this and it is why they still are culturally quite powerful. While edgy right wing YouTubers make "Feminist FAIL," and "SJW ownage" videos, the snowflakes are busy running higher education, news media, public schooling, Hollywood, sports leagues, tech companies, regulatory agencies, and legislative bodies across western governments. They're even dictating to religious denominations. These "intolerant," "cringey" SJW's are literally codifying their world view into law. The tech giants handle the censorship of dissidents while the surveillance state is empowered to punish people for "hate speech."

How have they managed this across the last several decades? There are many reasons, but one approach was simply by working one brick at a time and effectively employing the argument from pettiness. It has worked well because the argument from pettiness plays on a very simple cognitive bias; the desire to feel strong and generous. People don't generally like to complain. When we detect a small offense, we want to be kind and overlook it. It makes us feel magnanimous. We feel that we are doing a good thing by simply letting the other person get away with it. We often don't realize that this reaction is exactly what the other person hoped to trigger by specifically using a small offense.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Dating is Stupid


Imagine you were trying to land a dream job with a really cool company. You go to the company unannounced one day, chat up a few employees, and make a good impression. They decide to let you work there with no contract. You start working there immediately. You put in extra effort to make a great impression. The company loves you. They start paying you an amazing salary because they love you and want to keep you around. Everything works out so great that after a few years, your manager says, “Lets make this official and sign a contract to keep you as an employee for the rest of your life!” The contract is actually blank; all it says is that you’ll work there until retirement. You shrug and say, “Why not?” and sign on the dotted line.

After the contract is signed it isn’t long before things start to change. The company gradually starts to treat you differently. They reduce your benefits, cut your bonuses, and eventually just outright pay you a lower salary. You don’t like this, of course, but what can you do? The contract is blank, so they can do whatever they want. Then you realize one day that the blank contract works both ways. You start putting in less effort. You show up late and take lots of sick days. You do just enough work to not get fired. Before long, you hate your job. You cannot imagine what attracted you to it in the first place. You’re miserable. The company is miserable. The relationship ends badly.

The structure of modern relationships is very similar to this story.




The fundamental error in dating as a means to achieve marriage is that the process entails negotiating the terms of a relationship while engaged in that very relationship. This would not be so bad if people actually put those terms in writing and held each other accountable. But since most people do not – rather they just get married with a blank contract – dishonesty is rewarded. Both parties have an incentive to offer more than they can sustain. A man can lavish a woman with expensive gifts, vacations, jewelry, and dinners, all in the hopes that once they get married, he won’t need to keep it up. A woman can put more energy into her looks, maintain a flawless figure, be extra adventurous sexually, pretend to enjoy her boyfriend’s nerdy hobbies, all on the assumption that once he puts a ring on it, she can dispense with the facade.

Now to be clear, I do not think most people do this out of malice. Most of the lies we tell in relationships are small and well-intentioned. The act of putting the best version of yourself forward in order to win commitment from a romantic partner can be motivated by love and admiration – positive things. We justify the little embellishments about our careers, the lies of omission about our relationship history, the implied but unstated promises we do not intend to keep. It’s all swept under the rug out of the blind hope that once the wedding day comes, it will all work itself out somehow.

Often it doesn’t, hence the near 50% divorce rate in western countries. And of those couples that manage to stay together a large portion are unhappy – trapped in loveless marriages of convenience and complacency. Those in unhappy marriages often feel as though their partner has gradually stopped putting effort into the marriage. Unfortunately, precisely what 'effort' is needed is hard to determine since the expectations were never clearly established.

Why do we no longer understand marriage as a contract with mutual obligations? Most would take issue with the idea that romantic relationships are comparable to employment relationships with written agreements. Certainly there are differences, but I argue that the two are similar enough to share some basic principles. Both marriage and a job are at root a relationship between two parties seeking mutual benefit.

In a career, a detailed, thoroughly negotiated contract allows a person to do their best work. The boundaries it creates paradoxically grant you the freedom to take risks. With your salary guaranteed in writing you can budget and plan for the future confidently. The company benefits similarly. Written marriage agreements could create the same outcome by keeping both parties honest.

Some might argue that a contract shouldn’t be necessary and that if you need to put relationship terms in writing then you are with the wrong person. I don’t think evidence bears this out though. Most unmarried romantic relationships end. Marriages have a higher probability of not ending. Furthermore, marriages already involve a written contract. This is why divorce creates legal obligations in the first place. The reason divorces get messy is because people do not put any thought into the contract they create when they get married. So they end up in divorce court arguing he said she said.

Dating as a means to secure marriage makes acrimonious divorce more likely. Dating itself is a time-consuming, inefficient process. People often go through several multi-year relationships, particularly frustrating for women given their limited fertility. While dating, couples rarely settle the hard questions that come up in divorce cases. In most modern relationships people spend years trying to tease out their romantic partner's intentions about career, children, life ambitions, etc, while simultaneously trying to entice commitment. At no point do the two people actually sit down and write out their expectations because that would be, you know, awkward and not cool.

Dating also fails because it is historically recent. Throughout most of human history, marriages were arranged by families and communities. Before that, in the prehistoric era, most pair-bonding was tribal and often coercive. Courtship has only been around for a few centuries and 'dating' in the modern sense only a few decades. It should not surprise us that societies that have embraced dating all have undergone massive declines in marriage and birth rates. They have millions of years of evolution working against them.

So what is the solution? Perhaps there are multiple. Critical as I have been, dating does clearly work for some people. There are things people can do to make dating both enjoyable and a decent path toward marriage. For others, perhaps we need a new paradigm – a modern form of courtship where marriage terms are clear up front.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Five Movie Reviews

I enjoy superhero / sci-fi flicks from time to time. Most are not very good by any fair standard of film criticism. They tend to be riddled with cliches, plot holes, and often just straight up bad writing and acting. However I grew up reading comics and my morbid curiosity compels me to see how these stories are interpreted on the big screen. I also can enjoy them on a technical level by just focusing on the directing, music, effects, costumes, and set design.

So as an exercise in concision I present five quick reviews all just one paragraph in length. Enjoy!

Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman is the DC movie universe's first completely inoffensive film. The best word for it is, "passable." Gal Gadot looks great in costume, the story is coherent, the themes are straightforward and exemplified by the plot, the special effects are solid, and the directing is competent. That said, it is vastly overrated. Gadot is not a very good actress. The final scenes and battle were awful. The plot was predictable and boring. There were a lot of missed opportunities given the unique setting and all the build up about the First Wonder Woman Movie Ever! But DC played it safe and we ended up with a serviceable origin story. Oh well. Wonder Woman is at least a pleasant film that is easy on the eyes. Sure, it's a sexist appraisal, but it's also an honest one.

Grade: C+

Spiderman: Homecoming


Mediocre on most fronts. Homecoming is Marvel at its laziest. Instead of letting Spiderman tell his own story the film uses the reliably bankable Iron Man as its foundation. Robert Downey Jr.'s snarky Avenger provides the film with its villain, moral authority(!?), comic relief, and multiple deus ex machinas. It's a tedious story that only works in moments, such as Childish Gambino's two brief scenes. Given the tangled web that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is remarkable how unnecessary this film feels. The film's only real saving grace is the delightfully menacing Michael Keaton as Vulture. He looks like he's having fun. Tom Holland also put in a good effort. He is a natural at embodying Peter Parker in a way that feels true to the comics.

Grade: D+

Valerian


Valerian is a beautiful mess. It is ambitious and earnest, but still, at root, a mess. It was supposed to be a classic sci-fi adventure. It shoots for the stars (bad pun) but falls way short. The consensus view that Dane DeHaan is unbelievable as a leading man is accurate but he's not the only bad casting. Cara Delevingne is also exhausting to watch. Her character, ostensibly the heroine, was written to be as surly and unlikable as possible. This of course makes her irresistible to the male lead who throws away all of his convictions in the film's final big choice just to make her like him. There is zero consistency both in terms of story and characterization.  It's a shame because, as with Luc Besson's other films, Valerian is just really pretty. Watch the film on mute and every few seconds you will be treated to some gorgeous and imaginative work of CGI. It is a successful technical exercise but a bad film.

Grade: D

Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner is a solid but frustrating film. In its best moments it really shines. In those moments the movie is not just a cheap cash grab nor is it trying to recreate the magic of the original. In those moments the film is blazing its own trail. There are a number of great scenes. The cinematography is fantastic as is the sound design and music. The movie is A E S T H E T I C. It plays with great ideas about artificial intelligence, identity, memory, and genetics. And then in comes Harrison Ford to ruin everything. In comes Harrison Ford taking top billing in all the trailers and posters for about ten minutes of phoned in screen time looking like he didn't even bother to get in costume. Even his action scenes seem cheap and forced, as if Ford himself insisted they be there to make him look tough. His contribution to the film is to make it overlong and convoluted. The story is so well paced for the first 90 minutes and then just goes down the drain by outgrowing its own carefully crafted frame. It's a shame because the original was so good in part because the plot was so simple and small in scale. Blade Runner 2049 had the makings to surpass it.

Grade: B-

Thor: Ragnarok


MCU's formula is still meeting Disney Corporation's quarterly profit expectations and getting decent reviews. Even as a comic fan who can enjoy, "turn your brain off," action movies, the formula is wearing thin for me. This movie felt like a long episode of Family Guy. I cannot recall a single scene that didn't have some forced quip. Even towards the end of the movie when Thor and his people befall an incredible tragedy, the scene is punctuated with a joke. They just couldn't help themselves. They are so terrified of sincerity. It just makes you not care about the story or characters at all. Viewers need some contrast. Thor: The Dark World was awful but it at least had the nerve to be serious occasionally. The funeral for Thor's mother is the best example. It is the film's most powerful scene. Ragnarok is funny at times but shallow and unmemorable. As bland as Ragnarok often feels there are two decent consolation prizes: Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett. Both are fun to watch. I also have to give the film credit for its amazing costume and set design. The technical effects are generally good. Also, given my recent article about Black Panther being an Alt-Right story, it was funny to hear Odin remind Thor that Asgard is, "a people, not a place." An interesting bit of likely unintentional right wing nativist ideology.

Grade: C-

Saturday, October 21, 2017

How the Internet Is Ruining Gaming

TL;DR

Unlike for other media such as books or movies, the internet connection makes it so that we play games while stuck forever in a game store with a salesman harassing us every five minutes.

More detailed breakdown:

DLC


The cost of developing a triple A game has increased dramatically over the last two decades. As a result studios have had to find ways to milk more revenue out of them. Downloadable content (DLC) is one common approach. With the spread of broadband internet in the 2000's, consoles started to see regular DLC and updates during the PS3 / XBox 360 era.

Most players do not mind DLC that feels like a genuine expansion - a separate story that isn't necessary for completing the main game. However game studios have become more cynical with the practice and now regularly cut out plot essential content from a release only to resell it later often as on-disk DLC (meaning the content is already on the disk you paid for, you just need to shell out extra money to access it).

Game companies have begun pushing this even further with the trend of selling separate "season passes," with games. Every big title that comes out now includes a $20 - $40 season pass promising access to future DLC. This has incentivized companies to release barely finished versions of games. Capcom has done this twice recently with Street Fighter V and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. They get away with it by promising updates (released over several months and years) and eventually more content (which you will have to pay for) all downloadable for you to enjoy.

While it is good that internet access allows for patches and bugfixes, the negative consequence has been companies treating version 1.0 players like beta testers. Several games have launched totally broken. Ultimately what is happening is that gamers are being conditioned to tolerate poorly tested "minimum viable product," games in hopes of hooking them into a games as a service model.

Loot Boxes / Microtransactions


The whole point of the "games as a service," model is to change the basic nature of what it means to buy a videogame. You are no longer purchasing a discrete, well-defined piece of reusable content that is solely yours. Instead, because of the internet, you are now purchasing the right to temporarily access some company's private servers. Many games now just don't work at all once the company shuts down their online service. This is intentional. The game is a means to a constant internet connection and the internet connection is a means to get in your wallet. The paradigm has switched from 'make a good product and sell it' to 'leverage the consumer's connection to our system to continually extract money from him.'

Loot boxes and microtransactions are obvious manifestations of this. The former is a version of the latter. Microtransactions are often what make free-to-play games profitable. Like DLC, they are not necessarily harmful. If someone wants to spend $3 for some virtual furniture, that's their business. It gets a bit annoying when it is shoved in your face, such as fighting games that show you selectable characters and skins but then take you to a shop when you try to use them. It becomes even more of a problem when the microtransaction system starts getting in the way of playing the basic game. We have seen this in the several of 2K's sports games, Forza, and Gran Turismo, to name a few.

Loot boxes add an additional shady element of gambling to the wonderful microtransaction mess. Forza 7, Injustice 2, and Star Wars Battlefront 2 are just a few of the recent games relying on these randomized goody bags to generate additional revenue. Nothing makes you feel more like a number on some big corporation's spreadsheet than paying real money for the privilege of spending hours clicking through loot boxes in hopes of finding that one cool skirt for Supergirl.

eSports


The internet has done a lot to make eSports popular and lucrative. I'm not really a fan, but I don't have a problem with the concept per se. While I may not be interested in watching a professional StarCraft tournament, I do not begrudge the people that enjoy it. I think it is great that there are more opportunities for hardcore players to pursue their passions and win recognition.

The problem is that, now that there is so much money to be made from eSports, game developers are beginning to cater more toward that scene than traditional fans. Some recent examples can come from franchises I have already mentioned: Gran Turismo Sport, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite and Street Fighter V. In the case of Capcom's recent fighters it was clear to anyone who bought them at release that they were half-baked games released as quickly as possible to get in on fighting game tournament revenue. Particularly in the case of Street Fighter V, if you were not interested in online competitive play, there just wasn't much to do in the game.

With Gran Turismo Sport, the issue is a bit different. Gran Turismo Sport is not a half-baked game. Given that it is not meant to be a complete official entry in the series (Gran Turismo 7 is still years away) I did not have a problem with the reduced car count and simplified tuning options. I was however frustrated by the lack of single player content and the fact that the game needs to always be online.

Why is Gran Turismo Sport so focused on online play? Because they plan to be formally licensed by the FIA and do several big eSports events every year going forward. Very cool. Unfortunately it means that the things old-fashioned car nerds cared about are no longer a priority to the developer Polyphony Digital. No longer is Gran Turismo that one game where you could probably buy your IRL car, tune it up like crazy, and then race it on famous tracks. For my money, nothing was more fun than crushing the campaigns in Gran Turismo 2 with my tricked out Mitsubishi Eclipse, the same car I got from my older brother when I was in high school. Gran Turismo Sport is so online focused that players can't even access single player campaign content or even just save their game data without an internet connection. The game is virtually unplayable when the servers are down for maintenance. As eSports become more popular I can't help but wonder which franchise will be ruined next.

Piracy


There is some debate about whether or not piracy really hurts company bottom lines. I have read stories of small studios that claim to have been ruined by piracy. Others argue that it is just a way to test a game before buying it. As a software developer I am somewhat biased and in general I don't agree with most of the justifications individual pirates offer.

Leaving aside the question of its effect on sales, what is unarguable is the awful consequences of studios trying to fight piracy. For one, it means fewer games get ported to PC, since the internet has made piracy as easy as a Google search. It also means more "always online," functionality baked into games and more intrusive DRM to eat up your CPU cycles. Companies also use piracy as a justification for things like season passes, loot crates, DLC, and microtransactions, as they argue that they need to monetize more aggressively to make up for lost revenue. And so we end up with a vicious cycle where the industry uses piracy to justify bad practices and pirates use the industry's bad practices to justify piracy, with neither side willing to change until the other side unilaterally changes first.

Honorable Mentions

Dishonest Marketing and Hype: These are not new problems, but the internet has made them worse. No Man's Sky is a good recent example. The carefully crafted trailers from E3 - the slow tease over years that results in a final product that looks nothing like what was promised. The constant contact studios have with consumers via the internet gives them more opportunities for dishonesty and goalpost shifting.

Politicization: I wrote about GamerGate years ago on this blog and my opinion remains unchanged. Similar to the NFL anthem protests what I find sad is the injection of politics into a space that should transcend such divisions. Both sports and gaming have had political moments (Metal Gear Solid 2, the Olympic black power fist, etc) but they have been the exception and not the rule. I never wanted a new normal where every Sunday I get to look forward to some new political protest no matter what the cause. Likewise I'm not crazy about implicit diversity quotas in games, endless pearl-clutching about sexy female characters, and on-the-nose anti-Trump commentary in every other open world game. At the very least let's at least be artful about this stuff. Greater character variety is good. Tackling mature subjects can be good too. But please, spare me the sermons.

Toxic Communities: Maybe it's my own fault for being terrible at Dark Souls. The fact that every game these days has an online component seems to have energized a wider community of griefers and trolls. Most gamers know what I am talking about here. I don't dare play any first-person shooter online with people using microphones or headsets. I have received some pretty horrible hate mail from defeated opponents in fighting games. I have had people sabotage my game multiple times in Souls titles each time forcing me to start over. The pseudo-anonymity mixed with the sense of power is apparently a drug to some people.

Conclusion

The internet has done a lot of good things for gaming too. It's created new communities, new game genres (MMOs), and a range of new possibilities for competitive and cooperative play. Unfortunately the market has sort of failed us in terms of incentivizing game companies and publishers into doing right by the players. We have the industry that exists today because people are willing to pay for what is offered. As a result there are no easy answers to improving things.

If it were up to me, I would say that triple A games should just cost more. Perhaps if they cost between $80 and $100, publishers wouldn't have as much of a need to bilk players every five minutes. Then again, maybe it wouldn't make much difference. The existence of the internet connection just fundamentally changes the game (pun very much intended). It gives the suits a seat right next to you in your living room, hounding you with paid extras, loot crates, and cool new costumes after every load screen. The logic of capitalism makes it hard for companies to ignore that.

All I can do is be more discerning as I get older and play fewer games anyway. I can't help but imagine how much worse things can get as a new generation grows up playing games with no memory of how things used to be. Maybe it's better that way. No nostalgia to ruin their fun.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Japan and White Entitlement

A friend referred an interesting blogpost to me the other day about Japan. It is from a British photographer who goes by the handle Uchujin. He had lived in Japan for many years and in the post, he explains in detail his disillusionment with the society and his reasons for ultimately leaving.


Storey is clearly a very smart and creative guy. His bio reveals a number of successes in film making and photography. Thus I cannot help but feel a bit bad being critical of his post on Japan. I was bemused by it. It is a fascinating read in so far as it really exemplifies many white people's incredible sense of entitlement when they go to foreign countries. Here is the short version of his complaints: He is annoyed that Japan does not have a western style criminal justice system, a western style work culture, a western belief in gender egalitarianism, a western belief in multiculturalism, and so on. Why he should expect a non-western country to hold western cultural values is a mystery.

Do foreigners have a right to live in a country for years and then aggressively criticize it? Sure. As I wrote in my piece 'Standing,' foreigners have every right to their opinion. Hell, I even agree with a lot of Storey's complaints. The work culture in Japan is pretty awful. There is an underbelly of racism. The criminal justice system does not have the same protections as in America. The country is so safe that I don't worry about it much, yet if I had to choose between getting arrested in America or Japan, I would definitely pick the former.

Another point I made in my 'Standing' article is that the views of expats need not carry much weight. And Storey is an expat not an immigrant. By his own admission, he only speaks, "a reasonable level of Japanese," after living in the country for 10 years. One might think it praiseworthy that a country is able to allow foreigners to thrive for decades even if they don't bother to learn to communicate with natives. I don't dispute the specific facts and observations in his piece. However if you haven't spent hours drinking with Japanese coworkers after a hard day's work - if you haven't had several lengthy social experiences exclusively speaking and understanding native level Japanese - then maybe people need not put much stock in your opinion when you call an entire race ignorant (as Storey does of the Japanese).

Storey isn't the first case of this. Three times I have met foreigners that have lived in Japan for more than ten years yet did not speak the language. All were white. I have seen tourists in Japan loudly complain about the lack of English signage or the fact that a restaurant only has chopsticks and no forks. Always whites, usually Americans but also sometimes Australians. It never ceases to amuse me - this assumption that western culture is some sort of international default. It is a natural consequence of globalism. Hell you could even call it white privilege - this taken for granted idea that they can fly anywhere in the world and expect to feel at home.

I specifically call out white people here because I almost never see people of other races do this stuff. In Japan I have met Filipinos, Mexicans, Indians, Arabs, Africans, and all manner of nonwhite men and women. Not once have they ever lamented Japan’s lack of progressive values. From the Thai waitress to the Brazilian street musician to the Indian IT worker – every one of them busts their ass to assimilate and make a good life for themselves and their families.

They tend to master the language much faster than white people from wealthy countries, often because they have no choice. They don't have cushy office jobs where people will try to speak to you in English and kiss your butt because you correctly pronounced konnichiwa. The Vietnamese dude working 12 hours a day in some kitchen getting yelled at by a Japanese boss learns real quick how to properly conjugate honorific forms of verbs because he's out on his ass if he doesn't. But even middle and upper-class nonwhites do a better job of acculturating. Nonwhites may not care for a few specific Japanese customs. They may miss some of the foods and traditions of their homelands. But they adapt and thrive in Japan without complaint. Their attitude is generally, “This is Japan. They do things their own way here. It is on me to adjust and get used to it.”

So where does this specific form of white people entitlement come from exactly? At first I thought maybe it was because white countries are wealthier. Perhaps all people from wealthy countries have a kind of arrogance about the superiority of their own culture. This seemed to make sense as it explained why whites from poorer countries tended not to complain as much about Japan in my experience. For example, I have met several eastern Europeans who have lived in Japan for years and absolutely love it. Yet immigrants from wealthy nonwhite societies (South Korea, Singapore, UAE, etc) tended to thrive in Japan. So if the cause isn't economic, could it perhaps be cultural? Is it perhaps something about the nature of societies that value multiculturalism and diversity?

Many predominantly white countries make tolerance one of their most fundamental values. They define themselves by their lack of a norm-imposing identity. This I think gives them a confused understanding of precisely what a culture is. A culture is, at root, a series of norms. Norms can be small or large. A small norm in Japan is that people slurp their noodles loudly when they eat in restaurants. A bigger norm is that women are expected to quit their jobs once they have kids and become housewives.

When your cultural identity is defined by a lack of norms, it can be jarring to try to live in a place where norms are taken for granted. It isn’t merely that you disagree with the specific norms. Rather you are outraged that the people have the nerve to try to impose any sort of norms in the first place. It makes sense that people coming from a culture defined by its ability to accommodate foreigners would find it difficult to live in a place that expects foreigners to adjust themselves. I think this is also part of why we are seeing more ethnic tension in western countries, be it racial division in America or Muslim and migrant populations in Europe. The only culture white western nations can impose is a judgment-free non-culture that leaves a void nonwhites will inevitably fill with their own values.

So in a way the entitlement of white foreigners is kind of sad. It reflects just how thoroughly modernity and globalism have gutted their heritage and shared identity. It's as if they have forgotten what it means to have a culture in the first place. Good immigrants recognize norms in their new homelands and try to either copy them or at least tolerate them. They do this in part because they have an implicit understanding of the importance of norms having come from a homeland that imposed its own.

I have no illusions about Japan after three years living here. I recognize many of its flaws. I don't love every cultural norm. I accept that as a black man I will always be an outsider. That didn't stop me from becoming fluent in the language (not really native level yet, but trying) and assimilating as much as possible. It doesn't stop me from bowing in social situations, buying cheap souvenirs for coworkers when I'm on vacation, and ending meals by saying, "Gochisousama deshita." Japan is my home after all. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don't get mad that the Romans aren't acting like Egyptians.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ten Points on the Alt-Right


1. The Alt-Right I think has the potential to be a powerful political movement and do some good. The one area where I strongly agree with them is on the issue of sovereignty and immigration. A nation without control of its borders is not a nation. Demographics are destiny. If a society is to become thoroughly multi-ethnic, or seek to preserve a single ethnic identity, it should do so intentionally and in a principled fashion. There are other parts of the Alt-Right platform (to the extent that that is even a thing) where I have strong disagreements, however this is true of just about any ideology or movement. The goal is to have a robust political conversation with a wide spectrum of views instead of just two flavors of corporatist globalism.

2. Now, as a matter of strategy, The Alt-Right needs to take the advice of the Dead Kennedys and tell the Nazi punks to fuck off. They should do the same to the KKK supporters, skinheads, and even the confederate soldier cosplayers. They are a new movement and this is their Sister Souljah moment.

3. The legitimacy of National Socialism and the actions of Hitler during WW2 are an interesting academic debate worthy of investigation. However the question for the Alt-Right is whether or not openly associating with Nazism is a path to political relevance. This should not be a hard question.

4. Consider the movement for gay rights. From the early days, NAMBLA and other pro-pedophile organizations have tried to piggyback on the success of the homosexual rights movement. Conservatives have continually smeared people who believed in gay rights as secretly endorsing sex with children. Thus gay rights activists for decades went out of their way to disassociate the two movements. As a result, gay marriage is legal throughout much of the western world. Pedophilia is still universally reviled, just as Nazism is. Neither the Nazis nor the pedophiles have had much success normalizing their views over the last 70 years. Thus any political movement that associates with them will likely fail.

5. Personally I think the Alt-Right should focus on a more positive message. Instead of arguing about IQ or the “JQ,” focus on rebuilding America's lost civic virtues. Charles Murray's book Coming Apart does a good job explaining the declining rates of marriage, civic engagement, employment, and social trust among white Americans. In the book Murray presents a wealth of data arguing that Americans are no longer as good at working hard, creating healthy families, supporting their communities, and acting honestly. It has led to a society with greater inequality, a perpetual underclass, the normalization of children growing up without a father, greater crime, more ethnic conflict, reduced birthrates, and less overall self-reported contentment.

6. Politically the Alt-Right can still focus on immigration, sure. However as a social movement it would be great to see them work toward rebuilding America's traditional civic virtues – industriousness, family formation, civic engagement (religious or secular, either is fine) and social trust. This could be a grass roots movement – family by family, block by block, town by town, state by state. Teach people how to be productive, manage a household, homeschool, invest, hunt, farm, eat healthy, find a good spouse, etc. etc. That is something regular Americans can get behind. In this regard I was happy to see Tara McCarthy spread the hashtag “AltRightMentorship.”

7. The Left won the culture wars in large part because it was seen as a positive movement. People feel good about supporting equality, social services for the less fortunate, and more political rights. They don't feel good about discriminating against minorities, leaving refugees to starve, or treating women as inferior to men. If you want to promote nationalism, you have to present it in a positive way that makes people feel good about endorsing it. If you want to promote traditionalism or anti-feminism, you have to present gender roles in a positive way. Cheesy as it sounds, people (the young in particular) want to be inspired.

8. Actions speak louder than words. Stefan Molyneux did an interesting video where he talked about the importance of demonstrating commitment. I think there is some truth in this. Traditionalist and Alt-Right folks need to walk the walk. As toxic as western culture might be, nothing is stopping them from building homogeneous communities and having big families. The Amish, the Hasidic Jews, and the Mormons all seem to be doing just fine. Nothing is stopping white people from reliving their 1950's Norman Rockwell glory days if they really want to do so. If they are so scared of dumb and evil brown people ruining their culture then why not focus on fortifying their own communities instead of some pipe dream about exiling nonwhites? If the government gets in the way with forced busing / housing / migrant policies, fight back. They've got a sympathetic administration and Supreme Court at least in the United States.

9. Why am I bothering with trying to aid a movement filled with people that likely despise me because of my skin color? Because I think nationalism is important. World government I think is a terrible evil. Humans are a tribal species. We need a diversity of civilizations to bring out the best in us. We need competition among political philosophies and the ability to vote with our feet by moving to different countries. Given the potential reach of the modern technological surveillance state, a true world government would be inescapable. It would represent the end of history. Unfortunately too many modern liberal and conservative political movements are unquestioningly moving in the direction of global government whether they realize it or not.

10. Nationalism is often bound up with questions of ethnicity. I don't think that is going away because race does matter. So long as we seek to live as homo sapiens, we have to work with the hardware and software nature gave us. We should not be surprised that ethnic groups have different cultures, different outcomes, and often seek to band together. Similarly we should not be surprised that men and women differ in their proclivities and outcomes. If and when technology evolves to a point where all racial and sex differences are easily erased by human augmentation, then we will no longer be dealing with homo sapiens. We will have a whole new slew of tough questions to face at that point. However I am pessimistic about the likelihood of us reaching such a future.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ten Points on Trump and Charlottesville


This will be sort of free form. I have another set of thoughts on the alt-right generally that I will put in another post.

1. I followed the rally in Charlottesville closely on both cable news and Twitter. It was interesting seeing the contrasting presentations. My impression is that the rally was made up primarily of traditional conservatives and white identitarians (white nationalists). The Nazi / KKK / Confederate component seemed to be a clear minority. The rally appeared to only become violent when the right-wing protesters were attacked. This is a relevant detail.

2. In light of point 1 it is telling that the media characterized the event as a “Nazi Rally.” There is a significant difference between white nationalists and Nazis. There is also a significant difference between white nationalists and white supremacists. One can be an ethnic nationalist without hating all other races. Indeed I think most Japanese people are like this.

3. Trump's response was a blunder. He made a weak initial statement, then (foolishly) tried to appease the media with a second statement, then did a third press conference where he just spoke off the cuff. This set him up to look like he was sympathetic to white nationalists even though he didn't really say anything wrong. He condemned racism. He condemned white supremacy and Nazism. He also pointed out that AntiFa was also violent and partly responsible, which is of course true.

4. The media is attacking Trump for not buying their narrative – that violent Nazis were solely responsible for injuries and loss of life at the rally. This has been a common trope since the election. Even when Trump supporters were attacked and beaten at rallies the media characterized them as violent and gave AntiFa a pass.

5. Trump should have made a passionate defense of free speech in his first and only statement. He should have condemned the Nazis and also AntiFa. He should have then said that both sides have a right to free speech so long as they are not violent.  He should have pointed out that people who supported feminism and civil rights for black people were once deemed offensive and were similarly disenfranchised and deplatformed.

6. On a personal note, this is why I am so dismayed to see big tech companies like Google try to ban white nationalists from using their services. No one who believes in free speech can cheer on a huge corporation censoring a political minority. I too am a minority. It was not too long ago that people felt justified in persecuting people with my skin color. They made the same arguments about private companies having the right to do whatever they want. It is amazing how leftists, who have never met a government regulation they didn't like, quickly become absolutists about private property when they see their political enemies being victimized. It speaks again to the fact that we live in an age where there are no principles, only gangs – only “good guys and bad guys” all seeking power.

7. People forget how quickly moral fashions change. A few decades ago people didn't think twice about a gay person getting beat up for being too “out,” about his sexuality. Decades before that it was totally cool to harass interracial couples and women who tried to enter male career fields. 30 years from now, be it from ecological disaster or political instability, the pendulum could swing back and the moral fashions could be totally different. And then today's leftists could be the ones being disenfranchised and silenced. It will be funny to see them scream and protest in favor of free speech again, as they did in the 1960's before they became the establishment. The only problem is that to anyone with a memory they will have zero credibility.

8. Trump also should have pointed out the evil of the Orwellian idea of removing historical monuments on the grounds that they conflict with today's values. Utopians always do this, be it ISIS, the Taliban, or the Chinese under Mao Zedong. They try to cleanse society of past “mistakes,” to create an eternal purified present. But historical monuments are not blanket endorsements of their subjects. If anything, today more than ever, we need monuments of controversial historical figures that we might learn from them.

9. The random acts of destruction of monuments across the country constitute yet another "trial balloon" on the part of the far left. The naked censorship being practiced by big tech companies is another "shot across the bow." They want to see how much they can get away with. Conservatives predictably have been mealy-mouthed in their response. Republicans were quick to turn on Trump and seek the media's favor. I heard Mark Levin on the radio say essentially that he had no problem with monuments being removed, but that leftists should do it "the right way," and respect municipal process. This will not inspire anyone to change their view. Similar arguments were made against every major revolution and civil rights movement. If something is believed to be morally wrong, passionate people will take matters into their own hands. You have to attack the core moral belief.

10. Ultimately I think those right-wingers at the rally who were protesting the removal of monuments had a legitimate grievance. I think the torches were bad PR, and the fact that they let Nazis and Klan members march along side them spoke volumes about their political savvy. Though the alt-right has become more relevant in the age of Trump, the movement is destined for irrelevance if they keep making it easy for the media to label it a Nazi organization. I have watched interviews with Richard Spencer, one of the leaders of the alt-right. He is not a Nazi, yet he has on multiple occasions been at public events with people doing Nazi salutes and wearing swastikas. So to the extent that he is the face of the movement, he and other alt-right people cannot really be surprised at the media coverage they get.

I have a separate post I will publish soon about the alt-right.