Friday Flotsam

1. So, we had surprisingly massive influx of views this week to my Quick Word on Disconnecting post. If you’re joining us from elsewhere, welcome and I hope you stick around, though don’t expect a whole lot of content like that one. I try to minimize my commentary on current events and politics, though I suppose there might be somewhat more of that in the immediate-ish future.

2. Another thing I would add is that we ought to adjust our habits when it comes to media and…well, how we think of society in general. To keep things simple: we have the habit of thinking that it is important to get a ‘new’ movie or a ‘new’ book or a ‘new’ game. As if there were something special about a piece of content just because it’s recent. The thing is, though (and I’m sort of borrowing this from David Stewart, whose content I recommend you check out), any piece of fiction that you have not yet experienced is new to you. If you want to see a new movie, for instance, you have literally thousands of options available to you. There is nothing special about the films that happen to be being made available for the first time at the moment (unless you are already invested in the story or the world). This is not even considering the fact that many / most films being released at the moment are garbage.

I think this is a leftover societal habit from the days when people actually had little to no control over what films were available to be seen and so they watched out for what was coming to the theaters. After the video and then the DVD market came into being, we kept doing it, mostly because going to the theater was a special event: something out of the ordinary (that plus our natural love of novelty). But it’s long past time to break ourselves of the habit of thinking that it is at all important to seek out the newest films etc. We have about a century’s worth of material, most of it fairly easily available, to go through in preference to the junk that the people who hate us expect us to buy. If we decided to simply ignore current Hollywood, television etc. altogether, we would not lack at all for entertainment options, and most of it of a higher quality (yes, most of that is still owned by the people who hate us, but that’s another issue altogether. In any case, I can’t help thinking it must be galling to them to know that we would rather watch something made fifty years ago by people they despise than whatever they make today)

3. Of course, the big sticking point in the above is video games, which have a serious backwards compatibility problem. Emulators can do something to solve this (though coincidentally I just read how that’s likely to be more difficult in the future. Back up your roms now!), but it’s an issue I’ve long thought the industry needs to address. I would like to be able to feel sure that I’ll be able to play Half-Life and Command and Conquer in the future, as well as games for the SNES and so on. These are a part of our culture, and I want to see them preserved.

I think the console companies should invest in a kind of ‘universal’ system that can play games from all the company’s previous consoles thus far: so, a single console that has ports or at least the opportunity to play games from the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, and Switch (not sure at all what that would require, but that’s what I would want to see).

In general, I really wish people with more programming knowledge than I have could work up some kind of preservation plan for these works: something akin to a great library or better yet a series of great libraries for games. Maybe some are. I certainly hope so.

Though it seems much of the industry itself is hell-bent on making sure whole generations of games die out entirely, but again: that’s a topic for another time.

Friday Flotsam

1. I have been feeling oddly harried these days as I try to hunt for a better day job and try to prevent too much of my headspace from being occupied by insane nonsense that I can’t control.

2. I’ve disliked the designation ‘Conservative’ for some time now. In the first place because ‘conservative’ is such a vague and broad term, the second because they have never once won a battle in this country, and third because at this point there isn’t really much about our political or social system that I want to conserve. ‘Restorationist’ would be much more accurate, as I would much more see things restored to how they once were, or to something approximating it. Although that term makes it sound like I fix art work for a living (I don’t. I kind of wish I did).

Some people have been starting to use the term ‘Based’, and I think there’s a good deal to be said for it (slightly painful etymology aside): it implies rootedness, solidity, and decency against ‘Debased,’ which implies vagueness, arbitrariness, and debauchery (an entirely accurate assessment of the other side). So I suppose that’s the term I’ll be using going forward, at least until a better one comes along.

3. Been watching The Rifleman with Chuck Connors lately. My goodness, what a great show that is! Writing is solid and thoughtful, characters grounded and believable as real human beings, the action (when it comes) is tight and viscerally satisfying.

The story is of a widowed Civil War veteran named Lucas McCane living with his young son Mark on a ranch on the New Mexico frontier. The title comes from the fact that, instead of a pistol, McCane carries a modified Winchester rifle as his primary weapon, and quickly gains a reputation as a deadly shot. Every episode he and his boy face some new problem or obstacle, often ultimately solved with a rifleshot, though not always the way you might expect.

I find the show does a very good job of not being obvious. Things play out according to the logic of the characters, not so much to a tidy formula. Some episodes don’t have particularly happy endings, and young Mark is sometimes left with a hard lesson, like one episode where his new friend turns out to be a murderer. Another episode had a brash young acting sheriff (played by a young Robert Vaughn: one of many current or future stars to show up) let his pride stir up more trouble than was needed or that he could handle, leaving him facing a duel against a vastly superior foe. It’s his own stupid fault he’s in that situation, but you’ve been shown why he thought he had to, leaving you with seemingly only two possible outcomes, neither what we want to see.

I won’t give away what actually happens, but it’s an excellent study in one way to keep the audience invested: make them sympathize with both sides while thinking only one can actually win. The show also tackles issues of prejudice, corruption, addiction, and the use and limits of violence. I’m enjoying the heck out of it and would heartily recommend it.

4. On that topic, one thing I would recommend to those who want to remain sane is maintain a steady diet of older media. C.S. Lewis recommended reading at least two old books to every one new book. When it comes to TV or movies, the ratio should probably be more like ten to one these days.

It isn’t really a question of relative quality: a new TV show may be objectively ‘better’ than The Rifleman in some ways. What’s really important is that older shows and older movies allow you to see how people in the past thought and acted. I don’t mean in the sense that, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a documentary of how people actually lived and spoke, but in the sense that these shows were made by people of the time for people of the time and reflected the values, tastes, and ideas then prevalent. As that famous detective Malachi Burke put it, “what people tell you is not a fact: that they tell it to you is.”

So, that hugely popular shows like The Rifleman were preaching the evils of prejudice and showing the use of racial slurs to be an ugly thing in 1958 is a fact. It’s objective. Any description of the time period has to include it. If you are presented with an image of the time that says such things were simply accepted and not questioned, you will now know that is not true, or at the very least an incomplete picture.

Besides which, whatever prejudices and blind spots there were in the past (and there always will be), they were not the same prejudices and blind spots that we experience today and thus are more easily seen and avoided. The more times you experience, the more you have to compare and contrast with the present. I have no sympathy for chronological bigots who hate the past simply for not being the present.

5. I have more thoughts related to current events, but I’m trying to space things out, both for my own sanity and because I think there is more good to be had offering positive posts that distract from the present than in adding yet another dreary take on things. I’m going to be making an effort to blog more often, in spite of the above mentioned sense of harassment, so stay tuned.

Friday Flotsam: Black Swan

I’m reading The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb at present. I haven’t gotten very far, but it’s quite interesting. A Black Swan event is one that is an outlier with a heavy impact which was predictable in retrospect, but not in prospect (that is, you can see where it came from with hindsight, but no one foresaw it). The point being how little we really know about the world, how complex reality is, and how little we can really understand or predict. This fits in well with somethings I’ve been learning from other sources, such as how the real question of evolution is not random mutations of the bodily structure, but mutations of the protein strands that make up DNA: something that is astronomically more complex and less likely to result in useful mutations.

The conclusion I’m drawing from all of this (which is still in its early phases and will need more work) is that the impression given by modern science that we understand how the world works, even in part, is largely illusionary. We know what some mechanisms look like up close and have some idea of how they function, but that’s it; we have absolutely no capacity to understand reality as a whole, or even a small portion of reality. The idea that we understand the world enough to predict what will happen and adjust our behavior accordingly, or that we understand enough even about the human mind and human society to craft new and better societies to replace the ones we are born into is ludicrous; like a man imagining he can reverse-engineer an iMac Computer because he’s been through a two-month programming bootcamp (hey, that’s me!).

So, the principles of The Black Swan seem to me thus far to point (as so much does) to two key principles: one is Revelation. We could never understand the world enough to gain an adequate picture of God, or even of the world itself enough to know what is behind it or how we are to act in it. Hence, revelation is a necessary component of a complete human life.

The second is objective morality and with it the Medieval idea of the Wheel of Fortune. Since we cannot adequately foresee what our actions will lead to or predict, much less control the flow of world events, the only thing we can do is to adhere to objective values, which we can perceive and discern through both revelation and reason. That is, it is senseless to compromise on virtue or principles to get the outcome you think you want, because you have no capacity to actually ensure that outcome, or to control any subsequent consequences (murder mysteries are really all about this; the killer commits a crime to get what he wants, but finds events inevitably spiraling out of his control owing to the limitations of his ability to predict the world around him).

So, since world events are largely outside our capacity to either predict or influence, the image of Fortune’s Wheel is actually closer to the truth than the “go change the world” principle of today. Some countries or people get elevated for a time, only to be ground back down, and it is largely independent of anyone’s dessert. The only thing to do is to fix your attention on Eternity and behave as soberly and virtuously as you can in your own sphere of life.

Friday Flotsam: Good and Bad or Social Types

One of the key dividing lines in the world, as I see it, is between those who think in terms of good and bad and those who think in terms of this or that kind of person. Of course, there’s a lot of overlap there, and the latter would say that they are thinking in terms of justice and right, but they think of these things in terms of abstract group dynamics rather than principles.

The example I like to use is when someone gets angry that a given person has a big country estate and all the comfort in the world, while hundreds of other people can barely make ends meet. The thing is though, it is highly unlikely that the former has his comfort because the latter are suffering. In any case, to be free from money worries and to live in a beautiful home is itself a good thing as far as it goes. Though, by its nature, it’s a good thing that not everyone can have. Is it really better that no one should have it? That this particular kind of good should never be experienced because it will not be experienced by everyone? Are there no benefits associated with such a state of affairs, either for individuals or society as a whole?

This is one reason I’m in favor of aristocracy; I think financial independence, family honor, and high titles are good things as far as they go, and I’d much rather have a world where such goods exist than one in which they don’t. Such a world would be (arguably is) infinitely the poorer for it.

That’s what I mean by thinking in terms of good and bad and not this or that kind of person. The issue is not if someone is rich or poor, the issue is the qualities he shows and the object state of his situation. If a man is ill, that is itself a bad thing that commands pity; the poor man is entitled to more concern only because and to the extent that he has fewer resources for dealing with it. I can easily imagine a scenario in which a poor man and a rich man are both in straights, but the rich man is the more deserving of the two: e.g. both find themselves in financial difficulties, the rich man because he was robbed, the poor man because he gambled.

To think in good or bad terms — the traditionalist mindset — means to judge by eternal, objective values; is this person kind or cruel, liberal or miserly, polite or rude, wise or foolish? It means to prefer good qualities over bad, regardless of what ‘class’ the person fits in. Of course, you don’t expect the same kind of manners from a Mr. Peggotty as from a Mr. Copperfield, but you expect courtesy and kindness from both. This is why things like people saying that Charlie Chan is a racist caricature because he is courteous and non-confrontational are simply meaningless to me; those are good qualities, whether they’re stereotypes or not.

The people I admire tend to have certain qualities; honor, dignity, intelligence, conviction, moral fiber, and so on. So, people like Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass, Saigo Takamori, St. Louis, St. John Henry Newman, and so on. People I dislike or do not admire lack these qualities. It is a matter of indifference to me what social group they fall under.

However, you will note that this also gives what I think is the only rational basis for a non-prejudiced approach. If what you admire is a given quality, then you will seek it and acknowledge it whether it is found with an Englishman, an American, a Japanese, or an African. It may, for whatever reason, be more common here or there, but what does that matter? The quality itself is the important point.

This is, in fact, aristocracy in the truest sense; rule of excellence.

Friday Flotsam: The Best Animals

I love dogs. I miss having one, and I hope (once I have a life again) to be able to get one of my own. That’s one of the many things I’m looking forward to.

Most people like dogs, and I think it’s fair to say that people in general like dogs (with a few exceptions). We like them because they’re loyal, trainable, and affectionate.

People like horses too. I haven’t spent enough time around horses to say that I like them, but I would like to like them (see above re: having a life again). There’s a great bond between a good man and his good horse; someone once said that “A good man on a good horse is the noblest creature to be seen.” We like horses, well, much the same reason we like dogs; they’re trainable, loyal, affectionate, strong, and useful.

It’s interesting: the animals that people in general love the best are not what we would ordinarily call the best animals. Chimps are the most intelligent animals, to the point they seem almost human. But almost no one has chimps in their houses or trains them up as pets. Chimps were never domesticated. Apes and monkeys in general are novelties. Same thing with the big cats. Elephants are domesticated, but only Asian elephants.

In any case, I think it’s fair to say that the animals that humans love the best and have done the most for are the dog and the horse, along with perhaps the cat. It isn’t exclusive, of course; you will find people who are particularly attached to just about any animal. But these two are the ‘elect’ among the beasts.

I rather think it’s something similar with God. The people He loves best are generally not those whom we would think are the best people. Love and loyalty and trainability (to put it in a somewhat flippant tone) seem to be what He values most, just as we do.

God, of course, is higher above us than we are above the beasts, but there is a parallel there, I think. Man is the summit of earthly nature, being both animal and spirit. The animals, therefore, are his responsibility and under his authority (“let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth” Gen. 1:26). As man is to God, so, in a sense, are the animals to man, being his servants, over whom he has the power of life and death, for whom we are to care and nurture, partly for their sake, but primarily for our own. The highest thing we can do for the animals is to make them, as it were, a member of the family.

And the somewhat eerie thing about it is that when we do this, the animals rise to be something almost human. Stories abound of dogs saving people’s lives, displaying uncanny intuition, mourning by their master’s graves, and so on. They seem to sort of take a bit of our nature into themselves by being exposed to us and loved by us.

There are a few consequences I want to draw out here. First, I had never thought of it before, but I wonder whether the switch from animal power to mechanical power was quite the morally neutral thing that it appears to be. It might be that man was meant to have animals rather than machines as his chief servants, and that in turning away from them, we’ve lost a part of ourselves. The switch after came at the same time as, and indeed was a direct cause of, the dissolution of community. I won’t go so far as to say I think it was certainly a bad thing (much less that there’s anything to be done about it now), I’m only noting it.

More important, I want to draw out that point of the best not being the best loved. Qualities like intelligence or strength or beauty, while they are valued and admired, are not, in the end, what people look for in animals. In the same way, they aren’t what God primarily values, though good in themselves. I rather think that God sees our squabbles over who has more money or status or authority as if a dog were to try to impersonate a chimp. It’s not only doomed to fail, but it’s a matter of trying to trade more desirable qualities for less. Because even if a dog could become a chimp, he would simply find himself sitting in the monkey house at the zoo with strangers staring in at him, rather than curled up comfortable at home with his family.

Or to put it another way, animals that do very well and grow high in the wild are usually not well suited to domestic life. A lion does very well on the Savannah, probably much better than a domesticated dog would, but it would be a very rare lion indeed that anyone would bring into his house. In the same way, someone may do very well in this world, but what does that matter? The important thing is whether we are welcomed into the King’s house.