Thought of the Day: 11-7

So, apparently they’re planning a gender-swapped Zorro TV show. Because that sort of thing has been so successful with GhostbustersBatwomanOcean’s Eight, Terminator: Dark Fate, and so on.

You just know that the writers are patting themselves on the back for being so modern and up to date, calling it a ‘modern re-imagining’. The funny thing is, this has already been done. In the 1940s.

Well, kind of. Technically, the wonderful Linda Stirling didn’t actually play ‘Zorro’ in the 1944 serial Zorro’s Black Whip: The Zorro name was mostly just used for advertising purposes, though she did play a masked vigilante called “The Black Whip” fighting for justice in the old west.

This is a major reason I always laugh when I hear contemporary writers preening themselves on their ‘strong female leads’ as though they were pioneers. I remember heroines like Linda Stirling’s Black Whip and Tiger Woman, Lorna Gray’s Daughter of Don Q, Frances Gifford and Kay Aldrige’s Nyoka the Jungle Girl, and so on, not to mention the innumerable courageous, determined, skillful serial heroines who didn’t make the title card. Basically, we’ve had ‘strong female leads’ in film pretty much since we’ve had films (that’s not even considering the features, because this is just a quick thought and not a book).

The thing is, I suspect that most of these filmmakers and writers and such probably don’t know about any of this. I get the impression from most contemporary films that those who make them have very limited knowledge of their own medium and its history. Their knowledge of the past is a vague and highly limited impression gotten from film school, probably tailored to illustrate a particular narrative that they never bothered to investigate for themselves.

The same is my impression of, well, most of the contemporary world: we receive a particular, highly selective and colored narrative about the world in school, then never bother to check it for ourselves. Thus we go about in a kind of mirage, fixated on the illusions around us and wondering why things don’t turn out the way we expect.

Talking Climate Change at ‘The Federalist’

Another post is up at The Federalist: in this one I give some reasons why I’m skeptical of what is now called ‘Climate Change:’

You see, I can’t judge from what I don’t know (e.g., climate science), but I can judge from what I do know. I know something of history, something of philosophy, and something of human nature. I can observe what people are doing at the moment and listen to what they actually say.

Doing so, I note that the vast majority of people, including the cause’s most vehement advocates, are no more qualified to judge it scientifically than I am. Does anyone really believe that any of those people marching in Washington have the knowledge and ability to interpret data from a global climate survey? Have they sunk the necessary hours of study and objective research into this subject to be able to say what they say with any certainty, assuming they could ever be certain?

Of course they haven’t. They are going entirely off of what certain experts have told them — namely, a specific selection of experts who have come to their attention because the media has elevated them and political groups have championed and funded them. These climate change apologists are in no position to critically examine these expert claims.

Average Voters Cannot Verify Climate Change Claims

Now, if there is, for instance, a genuine international crisis (e.g., Venezuela), then people have resources to verify it. They can read testimonies and see photos and video of the event, and in the last resort, they can go there to see for themselves. If it is a question of domestic policy, people can consider their own experience and knowledge to judge which approach to, say, taxation seems to be the best.

People cannot do this with climate change. The signs of the crisis come down to weather and to intensely complex reams of data that require specialized knowledge to interpret. The latter is out of reach for almost everyone. The former could be used to justify just about any theory since it is a proverb for unpredictability and changeableness.

If you tell people the earth is getting warmer, they will remember all those hot summer days and snowless winters they experienced and say that warming is very likely. If you tell them it is getting cooler, they will remember the mild summer days and bitter winter nights and say cooling is also very likely.

The fact is, the average voter has no way to adequately judge the question of climate change. Yet he is assured that it is an existential crisis that must be dealt with immediately and by any means necessary. Politicians and media activists are thus urging him to favor certain actions to combat a crisis that he has no way to verify. Worse, this message tends to be directed toward impressionable young people — that is, those with the highest emotions and the least ability to examine these claims.

That is an extremely dangerous state of affairs for a representative government.

Read the rest here.

Realist Catholic Climate Declaration

WM Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, presents the second draft of what a Catholic Declaration on Climate ought to look like. Short, sweet, and to point:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church has no, and should not have, an official position on the earth’s optimal atmospheric mean temperature, nor on the best rate of change of this temperature. Neither optimum is known to anybody.

The earth’s climate has always changed, is changing now, and will never cease changing. There is no earthly force capable of stopping climate change.

Mankind influences the atmosphere, as does every creature and thing. The extent to which man is responsible for climate change is not known, only surmised.

Extreme caution, even skepticism, is warranted in any statement about global warming given the decades of failed and overreaching forecasts and hyperbole from official and interested sources. Beyond individual prudent stewardship, no Catholic is obligated to support any environmental measure.

There is no evidence any particular global temperature will cause fewer or more souls to descend into Hell. Pray to God and pray for your neighbor, not to the planet.

It is an appalling state of affairs for the Church that the Bishops waste their time on trendy issues like climate change in an age where the very foundations of not only Christianity, but rational human culture itself are under such relentless attack (people are being hounded and losing their jobs for saying that male and female are real categories and you’re issuing statements about the weather). It would be as if, after Pearl Harbor, the US directed the bulk of its forces to prevent a resurgence of the Mexican Empire: ignoring a clear and present danger to guard against a theoretical one that isn’t even relevant to your responsibilities.

There is honestly no excuse for this kind of negligence and incompetence.

Talking Dying Franchises at ‘The Federalist’

First article in a while is up on The Federalist, talking about why dying franchises matter:

The imaginative power of Star Wars’s IP has been systematically stripped away into a confused and contradictory mess loaded down with contemporary politics. The simple, yet rich story of the originals (and even of the prequels, for all their faults) now suffers from a soulless and pointless tumor that grinds the rich characters of the originals into the dirt in order to set up hollow new ones.

“So what?” you might say. “Why does this matter? It’s just a fantasy film franchise. There are other, more important things in the world. Who cares?” Evidently, quite a few people care. But here is why it matters.

We’re Losing Wholesome Entertainment

In the first place, in practical terms, this means the loss of yet another source of wholesome and uplifting entertainment. Not much of that remains in mainstream American culture. This is important because the stories we tell and listen to affect how we see the world. They are part of how we communicate values and ethics. They are part of how we pass on our understanding of life and humanity. And they are an essential element in the continuity of culture.

A hopeful tale of good triumphing over evil, leavened by rich characters driven by familial love, courage, and decency, and bounded over by a mystical power delineating good and evil, cannot but have a positive effect on its audience as a whole. It isn’t the best story possible, nor the only such source, but in terms of mainstream media, there are precious few such stories left, and they grow fewer every day.

“Star Wars” was an atavism in its own time, a throwback to an earlier, more hopeful trend in Hollywood in contrast to the grim, nihilist fare that was all the rage in the late 1970s. It sparked a renaissance of that kind of storytelling, but now we are in an arguably worse state of affairs.

In our day, mainstream media is increasingly preaching a socio-political agenda. No hope, no uplift, no joy is permitted. Only instruction. Something that made people happier and better, something that helped communicate a healthy understanding of the world, has now been gutted for the sake of scoring political points. That matters.

 Read the rest here.


Whistling for Dogs at the Everyman

This week at The Everyman, I discuss the ‘Dog Whistle’ trope:

For instance, if a candidate talks about ‘States’ Rights,’ that is a signal to white supremacists that he’s secretly in favor of bringing back segregation, because back in the day segregation was partially justified on the basis of ‘States’ Rights.’ Therefore, any mention of ‘States’ Rights’ is code for segregation.

Basically, a dog whistle is a coded message embedded in a politician’s public statements.

It is disturbing how often contemporary discourse involves arguments that would be considered signs of mental illness in daily life.

But let’s not be too hasty. Just because there is such a thing as paranoia doesn’t necessarily mean the mailman isn’t trying to kill you. There is no essential reason why a politician could not signal his ideological fellow travelers by means of a coded message. I will even concede that he may have a reason for doing so—to maximize his results by appealing to mutually exclusive groups (though that would require at least one group to be convinced that what he says is a dog whistle while the other isn’t, and that the two groups differ enough that one would not vote for him if he appealed to the other directly, while being near enough that they wouldn’t be averse to voting for him at all, and that the issue being ‘dog whistled’ on is important enough to the one group that they wouldn’t be likely to vote for him if he didn’t signal them on it. And they would also have to believe he would act on a subject he is unwilling even to speak aloud of. As I say, not impossible, though I’m not sure what the real-life examples would be).

Evasion Through a Mirror Argument

There are, however, reasons why the ‘dog whistle’ trope is stupid.

There is an old argument that goes something like this: belief in God is obviously a matter of wishful thinking. Primitive man, faced with a hostile and seemingly meaningless universe, invented a benevolent supreme being in order to make sense of it and maintains the belief because it is comforting.

The problem with this is that you can just as easily turn it around by saying that non-belief in God is obviously a matter of wishful thinking. Men, conscious of their guilt, desirous of forbidden powers and pleasures, and fearful of the judgment of God, tell themselves that He does not exist in order that they may do as they please and maintain this belief because it is comforting.

I call this a mirror argument, and if you look you can find many examples. The issue isn’t that one side is clearly right and the other wrong; it is that from a logical perspective they are equally plausible and so cancel each other out. You can’t get anywhere with either one of them, except to confuse those in doubt or rally those who are already on your side.

Now, the dog whistle is a mirror argument. Say that Senator Smith (R) gives a speech where he promises to be ‘tough on crime.’ Senator Payne (D) then says “Aha! That is a dog whistle! Senator Smith is signaling to the white supremacists in his party, because ‘tough on crime’ really means ‘tough on black people’!” Senator Smith can then answer back, “Senator Payne is evidently trying to change the subject. He knows he doesn’t have a counter to my position, so he is pretending that it’s a racist code phrase so he doesn’t have to actually address it.”

Read the rest here.

Talking Violence at the Everyman

My latest piece is up at The Everyman, where I share some thoughts on mass shooters and violent crime in general; thoughts that have been percolating one way or another for quite a while.

It is this: back in, say, the 1950s there was comparatively little violent crime in the United States. Oh, there was some, especially in urban areas, but the rates were far, far lower, and mass shooting events were vanishingly rare. Going off of Wikipedia’s list of the 27 deadliest mass shooting events, only one dates from before 1960: the Camden, New Jersey killings of 1949 (the next earliest one is the Charles Whitman murders of 1966).

Today, that is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time; more than half of that list dates from the past fifteen years. Meanwhile the national violent crime rate peaked in 1991 (at nearly five times the 1960 rate) and has been trending slowly downward before rising again in the past couple years, though at its lowest it was still more than double what it was in 1960, according to the FBI crime statistics.

Taking these two facts, there is a single, logical conclusion: something happened between those two periods to change the course of society.

Do you remember those puzzles in children’s magazines which presented two pictures and invited you to spot the differences? Play that game with the two time periods. Between 1958 and 2018, you will find many, many differences. At least one of those differences, and likely many of them, must be why we have mass shootings today.

Read the rest here.

Qui Bono, Everyman?

My latest piece is up at The Everyman discussing the always essential question, “Who Benefits?”

For instance, take the issue of marijuana. I have heard many things from both sides of the argument whether it should or should not be legalized, and I don’t personally know what the truth is in regards to whether it is in fact dangerous or not. But I notice that there seems to be very little attention given to the question of, “Who, exactly, benefits from legalizing and promoting something that leaves people stupid, pliable, and pacified?”

Whatever else you may say of the drug, that doesn’t sound like something that would actually promote the wellbeing of a society, or of most individuals. Especially considering that we live under a representative form of government, where people are expected to make a sober and judicious choice of candidates every few years; does marijuana use seem like it would render someone more or less able to do that?

I am not here (primarily) advancing an argument against marijuana: I am only making the point that the question of, “who benefits from this state of affairs?” seems important here.

Now, the thing is, this question applies whether a person is telling the truth or not. The wife may not, in fact, have killed her husband, but that doesn’t affect the question of whether she benefits from his death: either she gets something from it or she does not. There may be very good reasons, for instance, to legalize marijuana, and someone may advance the position in all good faith. The question remains of what the concrete, objective results will be, simply as a matter of fact, and who will benefit from them.  

Read the rest here.