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.

Ambiguity at the Everyman

My latest piece is up at The Everyman discussing the common trick of arguing from ambiguity: you know, you say “a man isn’t a woman,” and they answer “who gets to decide the definition of ‘a woman’?” Turning obvious and object concepts into mush in order to win an argument:

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress where the hero has been imprisoned by a giant called the Spirit of the Age, whose glance turns everything transparent so that one can “see through” it. The jailor who works for the giant furthers this process by debunking ‘social constructs’ with graphically brutal descriptions of the food he provides to the prisoners. One day he offers the prisoners milk while making a sneering comment about how they might as well be drinking the cow’s “other excretions.”

At this point the hero exclaims “Thank goodness! Now I know you don’t really believe what you’re saying!” and then proceeds to point out that there is an obvious, objective difference between milk, which is given to feed the young, and, say, urine, which isn’t. It’s not a question of convention or habit or mythology or belief; it’s a question of what in fact happens.

Our own zeitgeist hasn’t lost the taste for this particular game, which indeed is a very old one. It might be called the argument from ambiguity, and how it works is that, rather than trying to establish a given position, one instead claims that the relative concepts and categories cannot be clearly defined and thus cannot be objectively applied. This often manifests in terms like “shades of grey” or “who’s to say?” or “spectrums,” and it has a superficial credibility in that hard cases can be found in most subjects, and bringing these up can lend the speaker an air of intellectual sophistication.  

Read the rest here.

Giving to the Poor in Spirit at ‘The Everyman’

Today at ‘The Everyman,’ I talk about the issue of beauty, modern churches, and who these hideous, spare edifices are actually built for:

The beatitude runs “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” But one of the marks of the poor and meek is that they love wealth and glamor. The very celebrity gossip magazines and reality TV shows understand this. The quality of beauty, glamor, and majesty is that they inspire admiration and can only be enjoyed from a position of comparative inferiority, or at least self-forgetfulness, which is why the poor in spirit (those who don’t put on airs or try to see through the world to prove how clever they are) love these things. There is no merit in enjoying a beautiful painting or a beautiful church, which is precisely the point—there shouldn’t be. It’s a pleasure not designed for those who think overmuch of their own merits.

And this, at bottom, is the practical principle of what modernism actually does; take from the poor to feed the rich. When art becomes more about the glory of the artist than the enjoyment of the audience, then it loses all appeal to the humble. ‘Avant-garde’ means, in the end, ‘for the rich and rich at heart.’ When a large part of the population can say, “I don’t get art,” or poetry or literature, that means that these things have been stolen from them.

Read the rest here.

“Games as a Service”

I’ve been following this fellow’s work for a long time: he’s a very entertaining game critic and comedian (he has a great style of saying outrageously odd things in a perfectly normal tone), but he also draws attention to a major issue in the gaming world. I’ll let him explain it, since he lays it out better than I could. Though I’m not a big gamer, I care about all forms of creative art and the issue he discusses is disturbing (light language warning, I think: he sometimes swears, but doesn’t do it non-stop or anything). It’s kind of a long video, and a bit of a niche issue, but I think it’s something that ought to be better known and understood.

A Record of the Past

One way or another, I watch a lot of old films, whether old TV shows, old movies, or even old instructional videos.

It’s informative, and not just in the way the original filmmakers intended. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, consuming work produced in a different time doesn’t just tell you what the work is about, but also how people thought and their basic assumptions about life. The point isn’t that it’s completely accurate to how life was back then, but that it does show what at least some people thought and felt at the time regarding the subject. It also gives a sense of how that subject might have been generally viewed by the audience, depending on the assumptions the creator felt he had to cater to.

For instance, viewing 1946’s Miracle on 34th Street, we can tell that having a woman in a position of authority in a major corporation like Macy’s Department Stores was not considered particularly unusual or surprising at the time it was made, since no one comments on or expresses surprise at Maureen O’Hara occupying such a position, and the film feels no need to provide any explanation for it. We can likewise gather that having a Black day servant was fairly normal for a well-off businesswoman, since again, the film feels no need to explain the character’s presence. On the other hand, the film does need to explain the difference between a hearing and a trial, because it’s not something the average audience member might be expected to know or take for granted, and they might become confused as to what the stakes are and the rules of the proceeding.

A steady exposure to the thoughts of many different ages is an indispensable defense against blindly following the zeitgeist and prejudices of one’s own particular age. Because what you get is actually what was said or filmed or thought at that time; not someone’s reconstruction of it.

For an example, consider the following short. It was intended for a proposed Mystery Science Theater 3000 tie-in CD that never got off the ground. Looking past Mike and Bots’ typical irreverent humor, we see an image of what Venezuela used to be like (sorry for the poor sound quality).

Now, obviously it’s a very positive portrayal, since the film is Creole Oil showing their employees how great it can be to work there, but look at what’s on screen; the clean, busy streets and beautiful buildings of Maracaibo and Caracas (many of them recently constructed, according to the film), the Sears store, the full car lots, the stores crammed with American products. This is, at least in part, what the country looked like in the 1950s, and how an American company interacted with the country.