Flotsam: Various and Sundry Life Things and the Mario Movie

1. I’m beginning to settle in at last as the final few necessary tasks and purchases are being wrapped up. Having a new apartment is like having a giant toy; there are all sorts of things you can do with it and you can’t wait to get the chance to play with it.

2. Internet is up at last, though I have it on a kill switch (via the simple expedient of plugging the router into a power strip) so I can turn it off it becomes too much of a distraction.

On that note, I’m working out a schedule for myself to hopefully improve my (frankly appallingly slow) output. So far setting up has kept on interrupting, but even so I’ve found an uptick in production. Amazing what sitting down and just doing the damn work can accomplish.

3. Part of my schedule is anticipated to include Saturday movie nights (don’t like watching movies during the week, since they eat up so much time), and last night it was Megamind. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but that’s another film I’ve been meaning to do an essay on, since it ranks high on my list of underappreciated gems. It’s an example of the best kind of satire: the kind that provides the genuine thrills and particular joys of the genre it’s spoofing, even as it uses the material for comedy (The Princess Bride and Galaxy Quest are other examples of this sort of thing). In this case it pokes fun at comic book superhero tropes while also providing some excellent comic-book-style action / adventure heroics.

It’s also almost infinitely quotable: “Warming up? The Sun is ‘warming up‘?!”

4. The voice cast was announced for the upcoming ‘Super Mario Brothers’ animated movie (entrusted to Blue Sky of all people), and no one seems particularly happy about it. I like Chris Pratt, but him as Mario? I don’t know about that. And last time I checked, Charles Martinet was alive and well. Granted you might not want the high-pitched Mario voice for a whole film, but I happen to know that Mr. Martinet can do many voices (e.g. he was one of the dragons in Skyrim): all he has to do is tone it down a bit.

I really don’t understand why studios do this (it also bugged me when Roger Craig Smith was replaced by Ben Schwartz for Sonic. Schwartz was fine in the role, but it’s annoying nonetheless). Or rather, I understand, but it makes no sense from a fans’ perspective. Studios figure that mainstream audiences will want to see familiar names in the credits, not the relatively obscure voice actors of the games. Filmmakers, and especially studio people, are notoriously out of touch and so don’t realize that the days of star-driven films are largely in the past. No one is going to go see Super Mario Brothers to hear Chris Pratt and Jack Black: they’re going to go see it to see the Mario Brothers (assuming it looks tolerable from the trailers). Keeping Charles Martinet in the title roles would have been a surefire way to garner immediate fan support, which I think is frankly a lot more valuable these days than star power, especially for an animated film.

I still hope the film is good, and I’m not judging it yet, but this isn’t a good sign. Please, please at least be better than the live action film. That should not be a challenge.

(Though for my part, all will be forgiven if they give John Leguizamo and Samantha Mathis cameos. Or if they bring Lance Hendrikson back as the king / chancellor of the Mushroom Kingdom. Come on, people: he never turns down a paycheck!).

5. By the way, I suspect the above is the reason why My Little Pony: The Movie jettisoned most of that show’s fantastic supporting cast in favor of a bunch of new characters with celebrity voice actors. They probably would have re-cast the Mane Six if they thought they could get away with it (“Starring Scarlett Johanson as Twilight Sparkle”).

6. Also, regarding the Mario movie: Dwayne Johnson should have been Donkey Kong. How does one fail to see that?

Flotsam: New Apartment, No Internet, and Rabbits

1. Last week I realized a nearly five-year goal and finally moved back out into my own apartment. I’ve been too busy setting up to settle in yet, but already I feel the enormous relief and joy of having my own space once again.

2. The chief downside, at present, is that I don’t have any internet. My provider sent a router and set up instructions, but after wrestling with it a bit I got a connection…and found it directing me to a different provider. Two different tech support conversations later (one on the phone, one over a live chat at a nearby coffee shop) yielded the information that the wiring in the junction box was overriding the signal with the previous occupant’s provider. So now they’ll be sending someone out in the middle of the week to perform the necessary offices. Until then, I’m down to using coffee shops and other people’s homes (with the owners’ permission, of course; I’m almost sure that’s what they’re trying to say behind their gags).

3. I’m actually rather glad to have taken a break from internet. I’d been far too attached to it lately and an enforced fast is a bit of a relief, particularly with so much else to be done.

4. During and before the move, I read through an old favorite: Watership Down, the epic adventure novel about the founding of a rabbit warren. I was struck even more this time by the military imagery and tone often employed: at times you could almost lift passages out, tell someone they’re from a WWII novel, and no one would be the wiser. At one point, Holly, the upright veteran, ends up escorting Clover, a freed pet rabbit, out onto the grass to feed, appearing for all the world like a well-bred British officer taking charge of a nervous refugee (she ends up as his mate).

5. Which, incidentally, points to another clever touch. Mr. Adams knows and reminds the reader that rabbit breeding is not like human romance: survival and propagation is the main point, and males will fight over available females. When Clover becomes ‘ready for mudder’ (as Kehaar the seagull puts it), we’re told that the bucks in the warren are all fighting over her, but at that point the narrative has moved elsewhere and so we don’t actually see it (Hazel, our protagonist, upon learning of it, simply comments “I suppose it’ll work itself out” and moves on).

This is a good way to present something that you know the reader won’t like to see. No one wants to watch these characters that we’ve been traveling with and cheering on for half the book getting into a petty squabble over who gets to breed with their one available female. That’s something humans, or at least civilized, western humans of the sort likely to be reading the book, would find repulsive, even granting that the characters are explicitly not human. It’s a point where our sympathy for these animals, as animals, simply will not go beyond. So Adams tactfully keeps it off stage, letting us know that it is happening, but not rubbing our faces in it. We are thus allowed to pass it over as another element of the ‘rabbitness’ of the story without being forced to emotionally engage with it.

See, some things have to happen in a story that would be tonally at odds with the emotions we want the audience to experience, or which would be so alien to their experience as to rip them right out of sympathy, even they are necessary for the setting. One solution, therefore, is to simply allude to it, but not to show it in any kind of detail or dwell upon it. The audience thus gets the information they need, but aren’t forced to navigate delicate and disturbing emotional territory unrelated to the main thrust of the story.

The fact that rabbits fight over mates is part of the setting and premise, but has no real relevance to the real point of the narrative, which is the courage, devotion, and selfless loyalty of the heroes. Therefore, the fact is passed over with a nod, while scenes and incidents relative to the real narrative are depicted with great emphasis and feeling.

You don’t have to show everything or give everything equal weight. Keeping irrelevant or off-tone notes out of sight and out of mind is as important a skill as any other.

Flotsam

1. I’m currently in the process of preparing to move, something I’ve been looking forward to and trying to achieve for several years now. I’ve been rather surprised at how disruptive the process really is, not just in terms of consuming time and energy, but in the way it creates the sense of ‘no point in starting anything right now; can’t settle to anything at the moment because there’s a huge disruption coming’. Yeah, probably just an excuse there; another one of the ‘infinity of excuses for non-action’, as Theodore Roosevelt put it.

These underlying mental impressions that don’t really follow logically, but are an aggregation of the whole tenor of a time period are probably a lot more responsible for human actions – and thus history – than we usually give them credit for.

2. Do you notice how most non or formerly Christian Americans (and even some continuing to claim the title) seem to still have the idea that going to church is a way to demonstrate virtue rather than to acquire it? That someone praying and fasting and attending Mass is presenting himself as a very good, righteous person, rather than trying to become one?

This seems to me to be a consequence of the fact that we were born a semi-Puritan, or formerly-Puritan nation: since, as I understand it, in the Calvinist tradition good deeds and worship and such are seen as signs that one is saved, not means of seeking and preserving salvation.

This is a big topic, of course: once you start to notice the Puritan thread in the American mind, it pops up everywhere.

3. I’ve heard – can’t remember where at the moment – that in the Middle Ages there really were Thieves’ Guilds and Prostitutes’ Guilds, and their members would attend Mass every week. They wouldn’t receive, of course, being unable or unwilling to give up their sinful professions, but they would pray fervently to be preserved until, say, they could make a big score or find some way out of their lives, or at the very least be granted the chance to confess and repent before death. Everyone knew who they were, of course, and everyone expected them to be there.

That’s the sort of thing that comes from a Catholic understanding of salvation and which the Puritan tradition would look upon with shocked disapproval.

4. I went to an 80th anniversary screening of Citizen Kane tonight. My hot take is that it’s a pretty decent little movie, all things considered. Actually for most of the run time I was grinning uncontrollably at the shear quality of filmmaking, acting, and writing on display. There’s a reason this is often called the best film of all time, and though I personally wouldn’t give it the top spot, it’s certainly a respectable choice.

5. Perhaps it’s just the way my mind is going these days, but I think Orson Welles hit on a key weakness of the Capitalist / Classical Liberal system. See, when Leftists go after capitalism or the United States, they tend to point at poverty, or the striated class system. This is actually it’s greatest strength: nothing alleviates poverty or creates more social mobility than capitalism. But the great weakness is that it tends to starve its adherents of the deeper human needs: of family, community, love, spiritual elevation, and so on, commoditizing and stifling these things so that men are left without roots, culture, or identity, knowing “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Of course, Leftist variations of liberalism tend to be even worse in this regard, though that doesn’t stop them from sometimes appealing to it, just as their rotten track record on social mobility doesn’t stop them from appealing to that either. I really have to wonder why anyone takes Marxist doctrines seriously anymore, but I digress).

In the movie, Charles Foster Kane has everything: inexhaustible wealth, social prestige, the power to move governments, but he’s a profoundly lonely man, starved of love, but incapable of giving it himself. All he can do is throw spectacular gifts and extravagant gestures at people, but his fundamental selfishness makes it impossible for him to really love or to accept love in return. He has a massive art collection, but he never looks at it or appreciates it. He has a set of principles that supposedly govern his newspaper, but he abandons them whenever it suits him. He’s a very intelligent, commanding, powerful man, a man who has everything the world can give…but he lacks the ‘spiritual’ dimension entirely and thus remains a hollow, frustrated, pitiable figure.

All the prosperity and material advancement of the liberal west, whatever else may be said of it, cannot replace the spiritual needs of man. “Man does not live on bread alone.”

6. David Stewart touches on some of these same ideas here with regards to the ‘Woke’ religion:

Flotsam: Mostly Batman

1. I’ve been re-watching some of Batman: The Animated Series lately, reminding myself of just how good it really was. Those gorgeous black-paper backgrounds, that wonderful Fleischer-style animation (the creators said they wanted it to look as though it had been made in the 1940s. I think they succeeded both in look and feel), those striking musical scores (I want to say they made a new one for each episode, certainly a new motif for each character), and of course the wonderful stories and stellar voice acting: Kevin Conroy at Batman. Mark Hamill as the Joker (I’ll admit, I almost associate him more with that role than with that sci-fi movie). Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred. Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon. Roddy McDowall as the Mad Hatter. Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman. Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. Paul Williams as the Penguin. Ron Perlman as Clayface. David Warner as Ra’s Al Ghul. John Glover as the Riddler. Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. Not to mention one-shot roles from the likes of Tim Curry (who was originally slated to play the Joker, but was considered ‘too scary’, which…given Hamill’s performance makes one wonder), Thomas F. Wilson, Dick Miller, Bill Mumy, John Rhys-Davies, Harry Hamlin, and of course Adam West. As the saying goes, I’d watch a cast like that read a phone book (at one point, that’s pretty close to what happens).

2. Watching the episodes, though, I was struck by how different this is from what has become the usual Batman fare, and even from the subsequent direction the character took in future shows ostensibly set in the same universe (New Batman Adventures, Justice League, etc). The stories here tend to be much more subdued and down-to-earth: ordinary crime stories and dramas (e.g. one episode has a ruthless tycoon planning to stage a gas explosion to clear out a neighborhood he wants to develop). Batman doesn’t always deal with supervillains, and even when he does the villains are themselves a bit more low-key than in other versions. Like, you’ll see scenes at Arkham where Joker, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter, and Scarecrow are just hanging out in the lounge playing chess or watching TV while a couple of guards stand watch, occasionally intervening to break up a petty squabble. In other words, they’re…actual mental patients! A more contemporary Batman story would have all four under Hannibal-Lecter-style maximum security restraints and still murdering guards left and right.

3. The show also emphasizes Batman’s status as a detective. He spends most of the episodes following up clues and interrogating suspects (one of my favorite scenes has him interrogating a germaphobic gangster in a hospital storeroom full of viral samples: “Hm, crimson fever. Nasty way to go…”), or else trying to escape a death trap. Nor is he an infallible fighter: he’s skilled and quick, but he has to work at it to take down even normal thugs, and the show emphasizes that he’s always in danger during the action scenes (this despite the fact that most of the bad guys have an aim that would make a Stormtrooper blush).

(He’s also a lot more…well, normal. He’s less relentlessly grim, in and out of costume, than he would become, expressing fear, shock, and even amusement at times, cracking jokes with Alfred, and so on. BTAS Bruce is much more well-adjusted than later DCAU Bruce. And that’s kind of saying a lot).

Frankly, I like this a lot better than the idea that Batman’s the greatest fighter in the world (along with being the greatest everything else). I much prefer him being an extremely skilled, but still limited human being whose abilities are all tailored to his mission in life (very much like Sherlock Holmes), but which inevitably come up short sometimes, forcing him to think outside the box. I really don’t like when Batman simply pulls some obscure new skill out of his utility belt whenever it comes up, or when he’s played as being so supremely cunning that he can defeat anyone with prep time.

The big example of this sort of thing for me came in an episode of Justice League (a show I really like, by the way), where they’re dealing with a plot in some small Eastern European / western Asian nation. Batman confronts a guard, who taunts him that he can’t understand a word he’s saying anyway. Batman answers in the same language, proving himself to be fluent in it. See, that’s the sort of thing that bugs me: he would have had no reason to learn that language, it never would have come up but for this one incident. But he’s Batman, so of course he has any skill he needs because it makes him ‘cool.’

(Ironically enough, this means I have the same problem with some versions of Batman that most other people have with Superman: that’s he’s too infallible and over-stocked with abilities).

Me, I much prefer the ‘Animated Series’ style to the character. It feels to me like BTAS exists in a kind of separate, parallel world to the rest of the DCAU: a world where there isn’t a Superman or Themyscira or Green Lanter Corps, just a city full of broken, twisted human beings, some of whom have, through mad science run amok, gained powers beyond the ordinary, and where there is a hint of the supernatural, but where for the most part it’s simply all-too human heroes and criminals fighting over the lives of the ordinary citizens.

Again, I like the DCAU as a whole, and of course I love Superman, but it has a different flavor, and overall I think I like Batman best when he exists apart from ‘all that’ (it also lets me imagine that there’s a version where things turned out happier for everyone involved than Batman Beyond indicates. Among other things, I want Dick and Barbara to end up together. And no version of Batgirl should have a romance with Batman: that’s just wrong on multiple levels. But now I’m getting on even more of a tangent…).

Short version is that, as I see it, there are two versions: ‘pure’ Batman and ‘Justice League’ Batman. For my money, as far as Batman’s concerned, I prefer the former (simple way to distinguish: in ‘Pure’ version, Dick ends up with Barbara. In ‘Justice League’ version, he ends up with Starfire. Easy!).

4. On another note, still going through training at my new job. It’s much more enjoyable now that it’s getting more relevant to my actual position (still a lot of training to go, though).

That said, the on boarding process at a large corporation these days feels a lot like this to me:

“There’s no escape, but then, who would wanna leave?”

Friday Flotsam: Tribalism and Boomers

1. I started my new job this week, which was pretty much just all orientation. A little irksome, but if they want to pay me to sit in a room and listen to someone talk for eight hours, I’ll take it. No idea how my actual job will work out, since I’ve not done anything related to it yet.

2. The company that bears the name of Disney continues to descend ever further into self-parody. This week I heard that they are not only making a live-action adaptation of Snow White, but that they cast a distinctly non-white actress in the role. Again, this is the sort of thing you’d joke about, but here we are.

I’m hoping that messing with Snow White will prove the “sailing in force into the West” of Disney, and result in the company being swallowed up in a great chasm, leaving only a remnant of the faithful behind (still reading Prof. Tolkien’s letters).

(Of course, it’s still not as ridiculous as the BBC race swapping Anne Boleyn).

3. Going through training at my current job (which is a very, ah, self-impressed company, though to be fair one that seems to have a good deal to be impressed about), it occurs to me that this is basically just a tribe: we have our chief, who acts as the active will of the collective and whom people talk about with reverence and respect, a hierarchy of senior nobility who have received their positions from the chief and are particularly invested in the well-being of the tribe, and so on. My training thus far has largely been an induction into the tribe and learning why I should appreciate it and be loyal to it, and the good of the tribe is presented as the great goal to which we are aiming.

I think our situation differs from that of our ancestors not in that our tribes are fundamentally different in nature from, say, feudalism or tribalism, or so on, it’s that we are less bound to them. We can easily move between tribes, and in fact most of us are obligated to do so. The company-tribe was always a looser bond than natural tribes – nation, church, etc. – but these days it’s looser than ever.

What we have here, in fact, is something like no-fault tribal divorce. Though since the ‘tribe’ is a natural human need, we overcompensate by being extremely tenacious in clinging to those tribes we actually do feel an emotional attachment to and which we don’t expect to have to divorce from. So, we obsess over fandoms, or sometime political parties, and so on; whatever we can feel relatively ‘safe’ within.

Just a vague, half-formed thought there. Maybe something there.

4. A very interesting and on-point video by David Stewart on the growing hatred for Baby Boomers:

Friday Flotsam: Mostly Random

1. Something has intruded on my personal life, which I’m still learning to deal with. It’s knocked my attention (already unbalanced) for a real loop, so this’ll be kind of haphazard. It’s a personal matter, but just know that…well, I don’t know what things will be like going forward.

2. I saw Godzilla vs. Kong last weekend, and intended to write up something about it, but the aforementioned something has rather gotten in the way of sitting down to it.

The short, spoiler-free version is that I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of stupid bits and the human story, especially on Team Godzilla’s side, needed a lot of work, but the two stars were given full and wonderful scope and the fights were very satisfying. I’ll probably do a post detailing fuller, more spoiler-filled thoughts sometime in the future.

3. My own ‘ideal’ for the Monsterverse moving forward would actually be to end it here and take a break for a few years, then come back with a full-on MCU-style ‘verse’, with solo films for Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Ultraman before bringing them all together for a massive team up film. Save Ghidorah for the team-up, maybe start Godzilla on Biollante or Hedorah (whom I really would like to see done with modern special effects), Mothra on Battra, Gamera on Gyaos (who can always come back, since she’s a species more than an individual), and Ultraman on Bemular/The One (saving the Baltan for later).

Either that or, even more ideally, a Spectacular Spider-Man / Batman: The Animated Series animated show to serve as a kind of synthesis of the entire mythos (e.g. having the Red Bamboo as the arc villains of the first season and building up to King Ghidorah, etc.). Never going to happen unless / until my schemes of world domination take off, but I can dream.

4. Coming down from writing about the Snyderverse. Something that i noticed in looking back over the films (via clips, etc) was how unimaginative and blunt Superman is with his powers. I mentioned this in the rundown, but it irks me a lot. The writers seem to have no notion of either having any kind of fun with his abilities or even just using them in a half-way restrained and sensible manner. It’s like the only things he can think to do are “hit things really hard” or “laser them into oblivion.” No squeezing gun barrels shut or finger-flicking people to the ground for this Superman: gotta just smash everything.

By the way, the many creative ways that Superman uses his different powers is another source of the immense amount of fun you can get out of him. Like, in the animated series there’s a bit where he shaves by reflecting his heat-vision off of a mirror. Or in Lois & Clark, where Clark lies there absentmindedly juggling a basketball with nothing but his breath before sending it into a trashcan in the same way. Superman’s supposed to be a pure fantasy figure in many ways: a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ character. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just fly to China to get authentic Chinese takeout? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could type 5000 words a minute? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could refurbish your whole apartment in about five minutes?

Come to think of it, this is a major reason why I liked Godzilla vs. Kong so much: it’s fun. Not just ‘so stupid it’s enjoyable’, but it actually tries hard to give the audience a good time, to adopt that ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ mentality. “Wouldn’t it be cool if Kong had a giant ax? Wouldn’t it be cool if Godzilla just sliced right through a battleship? Wouldn’t it be cool if they duked it out on an aircraft carrier?”

I’m reminded of a line from the extremely profane and kind of unpleasant, but oft-amusing video-game critic/comedian Yahtzee: “Remember fun? That thing video games were supposed to be before they became an ‘experience’?” That comes to my mind a lot these days.

5. As a post-Lenten treat, I recently re-listened to my audiobook version of Emma. You know, one of the things I love about Jane Austen is just how comfortable she is: that 18th-19th century England sense of being a well-established, ordered society where, if you keep out of trouble, nothing too terrible can be expected to happen: no invading armies, no desperate criminals, no prospect of total societal collapse; a society that can be counted on to be there and to function the way it’s supposed to.

I have often wished heartily that I could retire to an English country village about the late 18th, early 19th century, just for the quiet and the retirement. I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t want much happening around him. Quiet, secluded country living: that’s my goal.

Friday Flotsam – Psych Issues and I Get a Review!

1. First and foremost, my appalling ego requires me to advise you all to hop over to A Song of Joy for a review of my first published book: The Wisdom of Walt Disney. It’s also the first review of that book that I’ve received. To say more would be unpardonably self-aggrandizing.

2. In celebration of this fact, I offer the accompanying video tribute to Mr. Disney that I made to go along with an updated release of the book a few years back. All the films shown in the video are discussed in the book.

3. As I’ve noted before, I suffer from what I’ve been calling ‘Depression’. Now, the thing to keep in mind is that psychological issues are different from diseases. In a typical disease (at least, most of them) you have an objective constant in the form of the micro-organism that is causing it: the Smallpox virus or the pneumonia bacteria are species of organism that have certain characteristics and behave a certain way. But psychological issues don’t really have this; the brain begins acting in a particular way which may or may not stem from one of several causes and which may or may not follow the pattern of other brains under similar circumstances. In any case, when it comes to the brain, we only have the symptoms: there is no ‘depression virus’ where we can say ‘Ah, there’s the constant!’ In other words, as far as we know (at least from what I understand), a bodily illness is a substance – an objective thing – while a mental illness is an accident – a pattern.

Yes, I know that we have brain chemistry, but the thing is that 1. there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with that: do the chemicals cause the thoughts or the thoughts release the chemicals? The fact that we can direct our thoughts and recognize them as rational or irrational suggests the latter, at least in part. 2. Neurochemistry is such a new field that I wouldn’t hazard anything upon it that isn’t backed up by more established knowledge (brain scans have gotten results from dead salmon, so something’s not quite right there) and 3. Whether we call the symptoms thoughts or brain chemicals doesn’t really change the question: it’s still something that is happening in or being done by the brain, not, as far as we know, an objective entity that is reacting with it.

Which means that there is no real limit to the form of the pattern. The Bubonic Plague always acts within a certain range of behaviors because the Plague is only a particular bacteria. But theoretically there could be as many mental illnesses as there are potential unwanted connections in the brain.

4. Anyway, long story short, after being frustrated by various different approaches for recovery I’m working on developing my own. My particular issues seem to be an odd cocktail of depression, anxiety, a dash of OCD, and maybe a few other things (not that these ‘official’ diseases aren’t often found together), all tumbled together with a base character that’s fairly out-of-the-ordinary to begin with. So I’m trying to draw whatever seems useful from a bunch of different approaches designed to combat these various constituent issues and work out something tailor-made to my own situation.

Just starting off, in the ‘gathering info’ stage, but so far there have been some interesting results. At the moment I’m working through ‘Brain Lock’ by Jeffry M. Schwartz, which details a self-directed therapy for combating OCD. I’d definitely recommend it, even if you don’t think you have OCD, since I believe the approach could easily be modified to other issues: it’s simple, but makes sense and the methods advised have a solid pedigree, such as the insight that behavior changes thought, so that the key to change is to act contrary to inclinations: a fact embodied in the practice of ritual and objective moral law. Seeking to alter unwanted thoughts by recognizing their irrationality, dwelling upon the truth and acting accordingly is essentially just “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

In short, your feelings are secondary: your actions and your beliefs are primary.

I tend to trust insights and advice that A). recur across multiple different books from different authors dealing with different problems – the ‘action reinforces thought and thought directs action and both trump feelings’ insight keeps coming back again and again – and B). harmonize with traditional philosophical and religious thought: that is, with the ideas of the people who actually built functioning societies rather than the people who parasite off of them.

I’ll probably share more of this as time goes on.

Friday Flotsam: Pro-Life and Depression

1. Discovered that the March for Life is today. All things considered, I’m rather surprised they’re actually having it. You know, I’m thoroughly against abortion (whatever arguments can be brought in its favor, the answer is always “would that logic still apply if the child were born and we were talking about smothering it with a pillow?”), but I’ve never much liked the pro-life movement. If they succeed, then wonderful. I’m all in favor. But I don’t think they will, and they sure as heck won’t in the near future.

The trouble is that abortion is a cornerstone of the sexual revolution, which a large portion of our current culture is based upon. You are either going to keep abortion and with it the perspective on human sexuality and human nature that informs our economy and social structure, or you are going to lose abortion and with it many of the basic assumptions that underlay how we as a society do things. No more casual sex as a matter of course. No more women devoting themselves to a career unless they’re either married or willing to be celebate for a time. In fact, no more holding ‘gender equality’ as a societal goal, because we’ve got this huge, objective difference staring us in the face without being able to sweep it under the floorboards anymore.

Not to mention the fact that we would have a large number of the population having to come to terms with the fact that they’ve committed a terrible crime.

This is why even if you legally overturn it, it will come back in a few years as soon as the political winds shift, because it’s embedded in the worldview of a significant portion of the population.

You see, we are never going to end abortion until we have a seismic shift in worldview in the west.

Again, I wish the pro-life movement well in this. I hope they prove me wrong.

I also find it rather amusing to hear the March for Life described as ‘powerful’ when it hasn’t achieved anything substantive in half a century. By definition, that is the opposite of powerful.

2. Honestly, all that isn’t really the reason I dislike the pro-life label. Again, I hope they succeed, I just am pretty certain they won’t. The real reason I dislike it is that I think many people have a habit of prioritizing the ‘pro-life’ label over Christian teaching. “How can we create a truly pro-life society?” “Pro-life means anti-poverty” “A truly pro-life position prioritizes the dignity of the human person, meaning that it includes forcing ever increasing dependence upon giant corporate entities is anti-poverty.” Or, to take the most obvious example “You cannot be pro-life and support the death penalty.”

Meaning that you are claiming that a truly pro-life worldview is contrary to that of nearly every other Christian in history up until a generation or two ago. Oh, Thomas Aquinas, King Louis IX, all those other saints? Yeah, those guys just didn’t really understand human dignity like we moderns do.

This, of course, only reinforces and feeds into the modernist narrative that we are unique among the generations of man and thus can ignore any experience, arguments, or insights from the past. A ‘Reset’ mindset if you will.

And I find that ‘pro-life’ usually devolves into simply being a cudgel which some Christians use to beat others for not following their preferred socio-political views (“climate change is a life issue”). All too often, this results in the absurd spectacle of proudly ‘pro-life’ people supporting ardently pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they somehow ‘foster a culture of life’.

If someone says “you aren’t really pro-life unless you accept such-and-such,” the answer is “then I guess I’m not pro-life. Who cares? I am not obligated to conform my views to the implications of a bumper sticker.”

3. Didn’t really mean for today’s flotsam to turn into a rant of everything I don’t like about the PLM, but such things happen.

I was originally considering writing about depression, if that is what I suffer from (on the subject of the PLM: we today get way too hung up on labels and slogans to the point where we miss the reality that the thing is supposed to be pointing to). It’s what most people seem to call it, so we’ll go with that.

I’ve mentioned it in a Catholic Match post from a while back, but depression, in my experience, isn’t so much feeling constantly down or continually sad. It’s more of experiencing continual emotional pain. Like having an open wound inside you that keeps getting prodded.

If you know someone with depression, odds are they’ll often seem to be losing their temper or flying off the handle at seemingly minor things (this kind of anger is often a symptom). Know that that’s the equivalent of a dog snapping at you if you poke at a sore spot. They’re not trying to be mean, they’re trying to send the message: “that hurts: don’t do that!”

Because when someone prods that big open sore inside of you, you can’t really just say “ow! Stop!” Because they don’t know what they did that hurt you, and you probably don’t either. And it probably wouldn’t be anything reasonable that you could explain in any case. “Don’t poke my broken hand!” is easy to understand and follow. “Don’t reinforce the deep-seated impression of powerlessness and personal inadequacy that I’m trying to convince myself is not a true perspective of reality”, not so much. It isn’t like you can give a lecture on your own psychology a la the end of Psychonauts (“As shown on page 41 of your handouts”) every time someone or something jabs at that open wound so that they’ll know how they hurt you and how to avoid doing it in the future.

The last thing they want to hear is you telling them ‘calm down!’ or being asked ‘why are you so angry?’ To their mind, that’s you saying “this shouldn’t hurt you, so I’m going to keep acting like it doesn’t” or “it’s your fault that you’re in pain and it’s up to you to act as if you weren’t.”

I haven’t come close to solving my depression issue, so I don’t have any real recommendations at the moment. This is more a set of observations. I know lots of people suffer depression these days (my therapist calls it ‘the common cold of psychology’), mostly, I think, because we’ve created a world that is thoroughly unsuited to human nature, so perhaps writing my own experiences will at least help any readers to get some clarity on it.

4. Well, this one has certainly turned into a downer, hasn’t it? Let’s end with a Dilbert:

Dilbert Has To Be Right  - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Altering Thoughts

As I’ve shared before, I suffer from moderate depression. Lately, in my effort to combat it, I’ve been reading a book called Feeling Good by David Burns, MD. Though I’m very skeptical of most modern psychology, this one is actually based on pretty solid insights, ones that harmonize with what I read from older authors (always a good sign) and which make philosophical sense. The author also makes a point of proudly noting that his therapy is actually scientifically tested, which apparently is not standard procedure for therapy methods (“cognitive therapy is one of the first forms of psychotherapy which has been shown to be effective through rigorous scientific research under the critical scrutiny of the academic community” – Feeling Good: chp 1. Translation: “most psychotherapy is pure snake oil”). In any case, I highly recommend the book, especially to anyone suffering depression, though I think the principles can be applied to many other disorders, as you will see.

The central principle of Cognitive Therapy is this: thoughts create emotions. We feel the way we do because of how we think, and we also act accordingly.

Now, thoughts are reflections of reality; there is the real thing, then there is our idea of it as perceived through the senses. A true thought is one that is accurate to the thing perceived as it really is (“Actual knowledge is identical with its object.” –De Anima, III, 5. “The idea of the thing known is in the knower,” –Summa Theologiae 1.Q14.A1). Basically it’s like we’re constantly making drawings or descriptions in our minds of what we perceive with greater or lesser accuracy.

Our emotions follow from these thoughts; because we perceive a thing a certain way, we react to it in a certain way. If your mind forms a picture of a beautiful woman, you react one way. If your mind includes the detail that she’s pointing a gun at you while brandishing an Antifa flag, you react another way. But which reaction you have, which of the passions is engaged, depends on the image you provide to them.  

Therefore, if your thoughts are a fair reflection of reality, your emotions will be reasonable and valid. If your thoughts are distorted, your emotions will be distorted and invalid. “The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your ‘cognitions’ or thoughts…You feel the way you do right now because of the thoughts you are thinking at this moment. ” (Feeling Good: chp. 1. Emphasis in original).

The interesting thing about this is that it is exactly the same principle presented in the book Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow Ph.D. regarding how to effectively reform people with criminal mindsets. Criminals commit crimes because of the way they think; because their minds are fundamentally fixed on what they want. They are reformed when their habits of thought are altered, which generally involves intensive, uncompromising therapy and refusing to allow excuses: “How a person behaves is determined largely by how he thinks. Criminals think differently…Our approach to change must be to help the criminal radically alter his self-concept and his view of the world. Some criminals can be ‘habilitated,’ that is, helped to acquire patterns of thinking that are totally foreign to them but are essential if they are to live responsibly” (Inside the Criminal Mind – Chp 1. Emphasis in the original).  

In the field of eating disorders, the lovely Beauty Beyond Bones also recounts a similar principle for how she was able to overcome anorexia, recounting the grossly distorted thoughts surrounding her disorder and how replacing those thoughts with the truth is what ultimately saved her. “She’s doing this to herself because of an inner voice that’s got a grip on her. An inner Lie that is louder than anything else… To beat the disease, you have to: A) name the Lie B) discredit the Lie and C) replace it with the truth.”

Even more encouraging, this is essentially the traditional view of the matter. What did the old Saints and Homilist’s say? “Meditate upon Christ.” Just as one example, much of St. Francis de Sales’s  Introduction to the Devout Life consists in telling people what to think about. “To attain such a conviction and contrition you must faithfully practice the following meditations. By the help of God’s grace they will be very helpful in rooting out of your heart both sin and the chief affections for it” (Introduction the Devout Life: The First Part, 8.).  

Our Lord Himself alluded to this: “The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!” (Matt. 6:22-23). The eye, that is perception, determines one’s condition. If our perception is distorted or evil, our evil shall be great indeed.  

In short, this principle of thought creating emotion, leading to action keeps cropping up in different contexts, yet always, it seems, with actual evidence and actual successes to back it up.

Now, you will note the corollary; if thoughts determine emotions and consequent actions, and distorted thoughts lead to distorted actions, then mental health means having thoughts that adequately reflect reality. Basically, true thoughts. Everyone would agree with this; I would call it an axiom that of course we are obliged to think honestly. It is arguably the fundamental duty of mankind.

But if thoughts, as everyone agrees, can be true or false, accurate or distorted, that means that emotions can likewise be true or false, valid or invalid.

That’s great news when you’re dealing with depression or other painful psychological disorders. It’s somewhat less great news when you realize that this pretty much invalidates most modern thought.

For instance, you take this opening statement from a ‘Psych Central’ article found with a two-second Duckduckgo search: “Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive. Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging.”

The idea of emotional invalidation is now pretty much out the window, or at least heavily altered. Because your emotions can be invalid, and if so, the kindest thing to do would be to convince you of that, if possible, and the worst thing would be to validate them. Whether and how you can do that in any given situation is, of course, another story. The point is that emotional reactions are not somehow independent of objective reality.  

“When you do this, I feel mad.” But the question is, is that a reasonable response? What is the actual situation, and how are you perceiving it? What would be a more accurate perception?  

Because you see, when you validate someone else’s false emotions and false thoughts, you strengthen them. It’s right there in the word: you reassure them that their false thoughts are not false. You reinforce their habit of thinking that way and experiencing those emotions. The more you ‘validate’ someone’s invalid emotions and false thinking, the deeper you drive them into that pit (the bigger question, of course, is ‘just how do you convince them their emotions are invalid?’ Which I confess I don’t have an answer for).  

In short, since emotions follow thought and thoughts can be distorted, the mere fact that you experience a given emotion says absolutely nothing about the validity of that emotion. That has to be established on quite different grounds.

If distorted thoughts lead to distorted emotion and consequently to things like depression, criminality, and eating disorders, then you can see how distorted ideas can affect society at large. A given religion or ideology frames how we will perceive the world; that is, it provides the baseline for our thoughts and consequently for our emotions and actions. In the old days, societies were very cautious about the ideas they allowed or encouraged to be at large in the public mind, precisely because they understood this dynamic. Whether they were right or wrong to have done that is another question, as is the whole point of the specific ideas they opposed. However, it does rather undermine the whole idea of pluralism. The proposal that every man has the right to create his own view of the world and that all ideas are to be received as equally valid as far as society is concerned rests upon the notion that our ideas, our thoughts, do not substantially affect our actions or make us good or bad people. But, in fact, they are the only things that do (the fact that no pluralist society – including our own – actually lives by this principle further undermines it; try publicly suggesting that there are fundamental differences between races if you want to see how pluralistic we really are when it comes to ideas we as a society actually care about).

You see, if thoughts determine emotion and behavior, then whether people think truly or falsely is very much in the public interest and “all points of view are valid” is both false and dangerous.

I suspect, though I can’t prove, that pluralism factors into this dynamic in another way. As Uncle Screwtape explained, people in the old days used to be pretty well aware of the thoughts that governed their actions and were prepared to alter their lives on the strength of a line of argument. But we moderns are not like that; with the modern media and other such things, we are bombarded from morning until night with dozens of contradictory ideas and points of view, while at the same time we are encouraged to think of them less as true or false than as interesting or shocking or offensive or liberal or conservative or inspiring. In any case, the pluralistic environment we live in gives us an instinctual check to thinking anything absolutely true or false and acting accordingly.

The result, as I see it, is that we have a massive amount of mental static cluttering up our brains, and the actual ideas and beliefs that govern our actions slip by unnoticed. This might be one reason why there seems to have been an exponential increase in psychological and emotional disorders as pluralism became more widespread (there are obviously other factors, such as the breakdown of community, but that’s another story).

But to go back a little ways, if thoughts lead to emotions and distorted thoughts to emotional distortion (e.g. depression), and if ideas and worldviews provide the baseline for thoughts, then evil, false, and just plan insane ideas spread throughout society will create emotional distortions on a massive scale. Depression writ-large, in fact.

So if you have, say, the idea “men have always oppressed women, looked down upon them, and tried to keep them subservient,” abroad in society, then many people, perhaps most, will perceive the world through that lens. Whole institutions, laws, practices will be created accordingly, reinforcing the idea (again, action reinforces thought: when you live an idea, the idea and its consequent emotions becomes more fixed in your mind).

The result is…well, what we see. Widespread misery, injustice, and a maniacal, ongoing effort to fix the problem by continually reasserting the lie, like trying kill the pain by popping methamphetamines. Just like in matters of depression, where you think things like “If I can only stay in bed and do nothing today, I will feel better,” or “if the world weren’t set against me, I would be happier.”

One of my favorite games is Psychonauts, where you play as a young psychic who travels into people’s minds and battles their inner demons. One particular level has you helping a manic-depressive actress and concludes in a boss fight against her bloated inner critic, who fights by shooting words of criticism at you. You defeat him by shining spotlights on him. That is, exposing him and leaving him vulnerable to attack.

That’s how we defeat distorted thoughts, by exposing them to the light of truth and then mercilessly pummeling them while they’re down. Whether inside our own heads or abroad in the world, whether they take the form of actual statements of fact or emotional reactions, the thing to do is to show them for what they are and take them apart.

Because emotional reactions, that sense of hopelessness and despair, that feeling that the world is so cruel and unfair, those are only symptoms; symptoms of how you think. They are consequences of lies. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Stop Feeding the Beast

I struggle with what is called Depression, though recently I’ve had better success in dealing with it by stumbling onto a very important insight, which I call ‘Don’t Feed the Beast.’

See, Depression takes the form of extreme negative thoughts, sometimes explicit, more often present as a kind of underlying assumption. E.g. “I am never going to amount to anything.” That these are, objectively, often untrue isn’t really relevant; they seem plausible enough, and you can always point to something that you do or don’t do, to habits and facets of your personality that seem to lend credence to them (every lie has some degree of positive evidence in its favor; just ask Herr vom Rath. It is usually the existence of counter evidence that shows it to be a lie).

A lot of the time it works something like this: we sit down to work and hear the thought “You’ll never amount to anything, so why bother putting in the time? You’ll only humiliate yourself”. For fear of humiliation, or because we just want the painful thoughts to go away, we comply, hoping that, perhaps later, we’ll feel better. But then an hour or a day later, with nothing much to show for our time, it becomes, “See? You just wasted all that time doing nothing instead of working. That’s why you’ll never amount to anything.”

But if once we realize that our depression is based on the fear that we’ll never amount to anything, we ought to see that a reluctance to work is exactly what would make that fear come true, and thus in giving into that fear, we only make it stronger. We are feeding the very beast that we’re trying to escape.

So, per the advice of the great therapist Bob Newhart, stop it.

A lie becomes stronger the more it is believed or acted upon. The more you treat as if it were true, the greater the hold it will have over you. It may even become true in the end.

I bring it up both because I hope it’ll help anyone reading who has a similar problem and because I think we’ve been living this pattern on a societal level, especially in the Church, for quite some time now: acting on lies that we know are lies in the hopes of sparing ourselves pain. The attitude of “Yes, this isn’t true, but…” But we don’t want to be thought intolerant. But there are people like that out there (remember Herr vom Rath). But people might turn away if we make a fuss about it.

And in so doing, we confirm the lie and lend our own credence to it. By saying something like, “this is true, but we can’t put it like that because people will think we’re bigots,” we only vindicate that interpretation. We are, in effect, agreeing that this particular truth is bigotry and thus cannot be spoken, when what we ought to be doing is challenging that interpretation: not “that’s intolerant; we don’t believe that. We believe (same thing in weaker words),” but rather “we believe that and it isn’t intolerant because….” In trying to be charitable, we in fact surrender.

As with depression, we really need to stop it; to stop admitting to lies or trying to make accommodations because we’re afraid of what others will think about us. By so doing, we only, in fact, confirm their worst ideas by acting as if they were true. Then we wonder why we keep losing ground.

Stop Feeding the Beast.