Friday Flotsam: Don’t Like ‘Like, Comment, and Subscribe’

1. More and more it seems to me that where modern psychology is correct, it ends up being a complicated way of saying the same thing that Old Wives and monks have said for time immemorial. This week I watched a couple videos on dopamine, its affect on brain, and the means to counteract it, and all I could think was “so, deliberately moderating our pleasures and periodic fasting.”

2. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos recently. Or let me clarify: I’ve been watching videos from a lot of new-to-me channels and topics recently. Mostly involving finances, bookkeeping, budgeting, DIY, and pop-psychology. Thus far, my impression is that everyone seems to be copying everyone else: jump cuts, multiple takes spliced together to form one long-ish take, pretending to lose your train of thought in the middle of a sentence, “be sure to like, comment, and subscribe / smash that like button” (everybody smashes that like button), “what’s up guys?” (seriously, everyone uses this introduction), “studies have shown…” etc. There’s definitely a remarkably consistent style across a surprisingly broad spectrum of videos.

It may be just me, but I don’t like being asked to subscribe to YouTube videos, or to like or comment.

3. I seem to have lucked out without realizing it. See, I’m a creature of habit to a possibly-pathological level, so when I find content I like, I tend to simply stick to it until I start to get tired of it. So, the few YouTube channels I actually follow, I tend to just stick with rather than venturing out into the wild to search for more. This is partly because of my aforementioned sedentary approach to these things, but also because I think if I do venture out there, about 99% of what I find will be junk. Maybe entertaining junk, but junk.

The few YouTube channels I do follow all buck this trend, and indeed usually make fun of it. Ross of Accursed Farms did a whole video commenting on how strange it feels to him to be asking for money to make funny videos about weird games and laying down promises of what he’d be doing with it and who should and shouldn’t donate. Mauler likewise only brought up the subscription question in distinct sections are the tail-end of his videos, and then was very transparent about what people would be buying (though he’s been a little disappointing lately as his reviews have slowed to an absolute trickle, to the point where I think I’d be feeling annoyed if I had backed him, but that’s another story. Then again I’m averaging about two videos a year right now, so maybe I shouldn’t be throwing stones…).

I don’t remember Razorfist ever asking for money or subscriptions either (though I’ve heard him tossing some typically-colorful invective against creators who do from time to time), and when he expanded onto a subscription site he explained it was just a way to maintain independence: a subscription site can at least maintain itself in existence if YouTube tightens the noose. David Stewart does invoke the ‘like, comment, and subscribe’, though he saves it to the end and honestly is so low-key about it that I forgot he even does it until I double-checked.

I’ve watched videos where a big ‘SUBSCRIBE’ animation pops up about every thirty seconds or so (not exagerrating). Or where the host just stops the video two or three times to ask for subscriptions.

I know that people have to try to work the algorithm and all, especially if they’re trying to make money, but I have to think there’s a better way. Actually, I know there’s a better way: let the content speak for itself and only bring up money and subscriptions when you have to.

If I ever expand my video production (which I hope to do in future), I hereby vow I will never play the ‘like, comment, subscribe’ game.

(And while I’m talking about channels I like, definitely check out Modern History TV, where a modern knight – OBE – delves into the practical side of Medieval life, especially of Medieval knights. He also doesn’t do the ‘like, comment, subscribe’. Though to be fair, something tells me he isn’t in it for the money).

Friday Flotsam: Slack Tide

1. As I think I’ve mentioned before now, I don’t currently belong to a parish, mostly because my living situation is not one that I want to ascribe any kind of permanency to. However, I have been attending one particular parish as a rule for some time now, mostly because they kept offering the Sacraments throughout the Imposition through a combination of parking-lot Masses / Confessions and just having a lot of space for people to filter out (that and they are not fussy about masks). They’re what I would call a ‘faithful Novus Ordo’ parish: they engage in the usual post-conciliar nonsense (Communion in the hand, children’s masses, etc.), but they at least attempt to center their worship and their preaching on Christ. In short, they strike me as sincerely trying, so it goes down a little easier than it might.

This week on Tuesday, they actually offered a Latin Mass for what I think is the first time. I of course made a point of going (that’s ‘of course’ because I want them to keep doing it, not ‘of course because I’m so bloody wonderful it’s only what you’d expect of me’) and intend to make it a regular thing if they continue it. Attending the Latin Mass after months of Novus Ordo is unspeakably refreshing. But the real surprise came on Ash Wednesday Mass. It was a Novus Ordo of course, but about halfway through I realized that the priest was celebrating it ‘ad oriens’ (facing the tabernacle for those who don’t know).

I think something is happening at that parish. We’ll have to wait and see how it all goes, but I took that as an encouraging sign. Perhaps the slack tide has begun.

2. ‘Slack Tide’, for those who don’t know, is when the tide has stopped advancing one way or the other before beginning to turn. Basically it means that everything still looks the same, but the underlying mechanics have already begun to reverse. So, historically speaking, early 1942 was ‘Slack Tide’ for the Axis powers: Germany was making rapid advancements in Africa and the Soviet Union, most of the Soviet Army had been trapped and destroyed, Rommel was closing in on the Suez Canal, and in the Pacific the Japanese were nearing the point of establishing bases within range of Hawaii and the West Coast.

Only, the underlying mechanics had already changed: they weren’t fighting the swaying, overspread British Empire alone anymore, they were facing the world’s largest nation, the world’s largest Empire, and the world’s largest economy. The Soviets were relocating their industry beyond the Urals where the Germans could never hope to touch it, neither Germany nor Japan had the capacity to strike any part of the American homeland, let alone its industrial base in the Midwest (not to mention that the US was functionally invincible as far as an invasion was concerned), and Britain alone was outproducing Germany in military material. Basically, if you could have looked at the actual facts of the situation, you could have seen that, contrary to all appearances, those facts were almost all against the Axis.

I sometimes have a sense that we are in such a period of Slack Tide both regarding the Church and the secular society. I obviously can’t say for sure (I don’t follow current events nearly closely enough to even approximate certainty), but that’s the overall impression I get. I think that what seem to be the obvious trends around us don’t actually represent what is going on ‘under the surface’, and that the next, say, ten or twenty years will be very different from what most of us expect at the moment.

That’s as far as I’ll go in terms of prediction.

3. Rather than trying for a third topic, I think I’ll just throw a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan at you

Friday Flotsam: The Possibility of a New Constantine and the Chance to Buy Me a Drink

1. First let’s talk coffee

You may notice the new tip-jar in the right-hand menu or the footer. If you’ve been making the rounds of our little corner of the internet, you’ve probably heard of Ko-fi by now. Simply put, it’s a service where if you like what you see here and want to show your appreciation in a substantial way, you can click the button and tip me a fixed sum of $3. Or about the price of a cup of coffee. I like my coffee (actually used to work in a coffee place), and $3 is strictly in the ‘token of appreciation’ rather than ‘greedy scammer’ range, so it’s a pretty good system.

You can learn more about how Ko-fi works by going here Naturally only drop some coin if you feel it’s worth it to you, and rest assured that it will be appreciated.

2. Here’s a thought that came to mind the other day: is anyone praying for the conversion of Zuckerberg, Gates, Musk, and the other tech giants?

Because here’s the thing: if we were going to have a Constantine moment in this country, it isn’t going to come from the political world. Politicians, frankly, have only a minor impact on the culture or society (thank God). Besides which, the structure of our system is such that only about half the country at best actually supports the leader, while the rest would regard whatever his position might be as the opposite of what they should take.

But the tech dictators, now that’s another story. They actually have power and influence (as we are being daily reminded). If one of them had a conversion experience, that would shake things up.

Sure, it seems impossible, but that’s only what we should expect, isn’t it? Though honestly, it strikes me as more possible than the conversion of, say, the Criminal Biden or one of the other major political figures of our time. I don’t think they’re even capable of real conviction: they’re soulless pits hungering after money and power, morphing into whatever they need to be to satisfy those who can provide them these things. As Prof. Von Hildebrand said of Hitler, they’re so stupid they don’t know what ‘God’ means.

But the Zuckerbergs and the Gates and so on of the world, I think they are capable of that. They seem to me to be at least more real, closer to actual, functional human beings then the likes of, say, the Clintons. They have some substance to them, even if it’s confused, misguided, or corrupted.

Likely? Obviously not. But God doesn’t deal in likelihoods. So, my suggestion would be to start offering up prayers for the conversion of the tech giants.

3. I’ve often thought we need an apostolate to the rich: people who are dedicated to reaching out to and ministering to the wealthy and influential. First and foremost, of course, because their souls are no less valuable than anyone else’s and are liable to be in much greater danger. But also because their power and influence largely determines what kind of society we have, and whether it is easier or more difficult for the Church to do its work.

If someone out there has a sense of mission, but doesn’t know what to do about it, this might be something to think about. Minister to the most neglected of souls: the rich and powerful.

Just imagine what could happen if even some of these elites genuinely turned to Christ.

Friday Flotsam: Sensing Desperation in the News, then onto Godzilla and Dickens

1. I mostly ignore the news these days, except a few sources. News takes up too much ‘headspace’ without there being anything I can do about it, which is a very bad combination. My headspace is frankly too busy as it is between creative projects, looking for work, and depression, so I try to keep current events out of it. Not very successfully, but I at least don’t seek out any more news than I can help.

However, for what it’s worth the impression I get from what does slip in is of an establishment that feels itself to be on the way out. Not only that, but is desperately, frantically trying to cling to life. Look at how over-the-top their actions and rhetoric is becoming, how they seem to be getting more and more uncompromising even as their share in public opinion grows less and less. Whether in Church or State, the modernists seem to me to be trying to push back a wave of backlash by raw force.

It’s weird when you think about it; the trends and views that have held sway for two or three generations now somehow want to claim immortality for themselves even as people start giving them up. This in spite of the fact that they got their initial start by preaching ‘rebellion against the establishment.’

You see, the current establishment became so under the idea that it was the birth of a new age: a modern, progressive age in which the tired, out-dated traditions and modes of the past would be thrown over in favor of something better. This is one reason (I think a key one) why political and religious ‘progressives’ are so hostile towards traditionalists and so reluctant to face up to the real-world results of their policies. What people want most of all is to think well of themselves, and these people have staked their self-view on the idea that they are the future.

How could, say, an enthusiastically post-conciliar Bishop face up to the fact that not only is the modern Church a disaster, but that almost the only signs of life are in places where his favored changes were either reversed or never took place? To enthusiastically work for what you think is going to be a renewal, and then find out that not only did it cause great harm, but the real renewal came from the very things you were trying to change?

Basically, what must it be like to realize that your life’s work is going to go down in history as a colossal failure, at best a curious fad that came and went and at worst a key signpost on the way to collapse?

And the worst part is that if you are embracing these kinds of ideas in the first place, you’re likely the kind of person who thinks in terms of historical verdicts. The kind of person who advocates for kids to go out and ‘change the world’ and who thinks being left out of the history books somehow affects one’s satisfaction in life.

Hence their desperation, their frantic clinging to the ever more dubious idea that they are the future, that their ideas work, that they are on ‘the right side of history’.

History is an excellent teacher. It’s a cruel god.

This is, of course, assuming a modicum of good-will and sincerity in these people. But in either case, it seems to me that they can feel their own tottering credibility and are frantically trying to cling to it. What the result will be, I don’t know. The fact that they control most of the levers of society may mean that they have the power to hold off their own death for a long time. We’ll see.

Hearing these people talk makes me think of Batman’s comment to Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Beyond, upon learning that Ra’s sacrificed his own daughter to prolong his life even further:

“Sure, Ra’s, anything to hold off the Grim Reaper for another few seconds. I take it back; you don’t cheat death, you whimper in fear of it!”

2. On a completely different note, everywhere that I’ve seen the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer (I mean literally everywhere), someone makes the comment:
Kong: “Save…Mothra!”

Guess we know what this brings to mind for people. At the very least, I think it’s a safe bet that this will be better than Batman v. Superman. If nothing else, we won’t have Jesse Eisenberg’s skin-peelingly bad interpretation of Lex Luthor (though if they announce him as playing the Controller of Planet X, then screw it: I’m out of there).

(Oh, God: I just realized that I need to do a full Batman v. Superman essay at some point, because I hate that movie so much it really needs a full tear-down. It’s on a short list along with The Last Jedi and Captain Marvel as one of my most hated films of all time).

Me, I’m hoping for something more like:
Godzilla: “Stay down. Final warning.”
Kong: “I could do this all day…”

3. I’ll just say it: at this point I really would rather have a Godzilla vs. Gamera film. I think there’s a lot more you could do with those two playing off each other. Plus there would be less, hm, adjustment needed to make it work. Kong needs to be dialed up so much to make him a match for Godzilla that he’s just shy of a different character whenever they meet. Besides which, attempts to the contrary not withstanding, Kong really only has the one story: attempts to use him in other contexts or give him other adventures always feel kind of haphazard and unconvincing to me. Gamera, on the other hand, is not only much closer to Godzilla in terms of size and power (though his abilities are very different), but like Godzilla he’s a serial character with his own adventures and rogues gallery, so having those two finally meet on screen would feel a lot more meaningful.

And just imagine King Ghidorah commanding a swarm of Gyaos…

4. Reading Nicholas Nickleby at the moment. Not the first time with the story, but the first time actually reading it (I listened to an audio version the previous two times. Actually started this time in audio as well, but switched to text about half-way through for reasons that make sense in context). I generally like Dickens. He’s a master wordsmith, and his command of the sound of English is almost without parallel. On the other hand, I find his caricature and exaggeration a little annoying at times, and he overdoes the pathos so much at times that it becomes sickening. Plus he relies on coincidence way too much: characters in Dickens novels keep just running into one another whenever he decides to introduce someone or bring someone back from an earlier chapter. But once get past that and he’s a lot of fun. Nickleby is a rollicking good time: a nice, solid melodrama. And I really like melodrama.

I especially appreciate Dickens giving the villain, Ralph Nickleby (our hero’s evil uncle) some touches of humanity, like how he genuinely is fond of his niece and actually feels ashamed of himself for exposing her to abuse at one point. Same with Lord Verisopht. And Newman Noggs is worth the price of admission all on his own. That’s one of the best things about Dickens; his chaaracters are so over-the-top and so odd that they’re often a ton of fun.

By the way, I can see Mrs. Nickelby giving Mrs. Bennett a run for her money in the ‘most obnoxiously troublesome parent’ event in the British novel Olympics.

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

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.