Quick Word on Disconnection

Like many people these days, I’m looking into ways to deal with, shall we say, changing world circumstances. This is going to be a condensed version of my thoughts on this subject: I’ll probably do something more fleshed out later.

Short version of our current situation: our civilization rests upon extremely complex, delicate technology that runs a limited number of operating systems controlled by a relatively small number of companies. The vast majority of the market is run through one of these companies. This includes a large amount of commerce, communication, research, news, entertainment, and even basic things like being able to perform simple office operations. This means that these companies are de-facto the government: if you say or do something they don’t like, they can simply withdraw their services from you. Since they aren’t formally the state, they suffer no legal consequences, and if it looks like will they can simply use their money and influence to ensure that the people who will support their interests get into power (we just had a large-scale object lesson in this fact).

Now, the reason they can do this is that, as noted, most of the country is dependent upon them for basic services, including business services. If, say, you sell books through Amazon then if Amazon decides to cancel your account, you would simply be out of luck as far as the world’s largest retailer was concerned. Are you really going to sue Amazon? Do you think that would go well?

The important point is not to hurt these companies (that’s not really in our power), but as much as possible to prevent their being able to hurt us. If I stop using Facebook, for instance, the impact on Facebook is functionally nil. But it means that Facebook cannot censor or de-platform me.

And even beyond the possibility of punitive measures, there’s simply a question of control of property. As many gamers have discovered, when your ‘property’ is stored on a company’s server behind an account wall, then there is nothing at all preventing the company from altering or even simply destroying it. Hundreds if not thousands of video games have been destroyed in this way over just the past few years.

Now, if you ‘own’ something on Amazon – say, a movie – then there is nothing that could prevent them from altering or even removing that content. Unless you were able to download and run it offline, that property which you paid for is gone forever.

In short, you do not have decision making authority over your own property under these circumstances, which means it is not really your property. You rent it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we basically have a defacto version of Socialism in this country. It’s just that we are managed by a collaborative collection of corporate entities that include the one called the State, rather than a single such entity. Oh, it’s not full socialism yet: we still have some options, but in practical terms it’s pretty close.

As a matter of fact, these labels and categories of thought really aren’t very useful anymore. It isn’t going to be the government that seizes all property in the future, or not just the government. It will be the state plus a handful of companies that will rent you ‘whatever you need’, provided you toe the line. If you buck the trends and get uppity, then they’ll deny you service and preen themselves as being just like those businesses who fought segregation or refused to do business with South Africa until apartheid was lifted. Because that is how they see you; not as an individual with certain rights, but as a backwards sub-human who needs to be forcibly shown the error of his ways and taught that they have no place in today’s world. They think they are making the world a better place (and, more importantly, proving themselves to be good people) by punishing you.

Which brings me to my point.

The way to counter this trend is not through full boycotts of Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. If you can well and good, but for most of us, that’s simply not practical (itself illustrative of the problem). Rather, the first steps to take now, for most of us, is simply to diversify. Not to eliminate our use of these platforms, but our dependency on them.

First and foremost, learn to accept inconvenience. The whole reason these companies have been able to lure us into this position is by offering convenience and low costs. Get your mindset to where you can accept a functional, but less optimized product if it means a greater guarantee of freedom. Me, I’m in the process of switching from Microsoft Office (frankly a con-job to begin with) to LibreOffice. I miss some features of Word, especially full-screen support (which alternatives like OpenOffice do offer, but at the cost of other problems), but it’s worth adjusting my workflow in order not to have the threat of losing version support or having to pay for software that I don’t get to own.

On that subject, always have an alternative for anything you use the internet for, and where possible make it your primary platform. So, use MeWe in addition to or as an alternative to Facebook, and let your audience know you are doing that. Upload videos simultaneously to DailyMotion or BitTorrent and to YouTube.

It is a bit trickier for business matters like self-publishing owing to questions of rights, simultaneous publishing policies and so on. I’m still looking into options there. But the point is to be able to say that the loss of any one of these platforms will not destroy you or lose you anything permanent.

The benefit, of course, is that the more people who do this, the less cost there will be for any one person. The more people use MeWe, the more useful it will be as a platform. The long-term goal, of course, is to get something like actual competition in the internet again, but that’s beyond the scope of any individual efforts.

Likewise, back up your digital property wherever possible. Remember, if you do not own the hard-drive it is stored on, you do not own it. This goes for movies, Kindle books (I’m looking into ways to back those up), videos, software, games, you name it. If you cannot run it offline, cannot transfer it from one hard-drive to another, or if it is dependent on a subscription service then you do not own it.

The Cloud? Anything you own on that is like having you things in a storage locker where the manager keeps the key. He wants to lock you out, he can do it (also remember the manager has dirt on the DA and every elected official, so nothing will happen to him if he does). I don’t care what their privacy agreements say: those only apply to people, not to lawless subhuman racists who dare to question the integrity of our democracy.

Not saying never use the cloud, just know what it is. Just like in gambling: nothing wrong with it as long as you understand that any money you gamble with should be looked upon as spent. Anything you store on the cloud is not being stored on your property, so use at your own risk.

Again, the point here is simply to eliminate dependence on any one platform as much as possible. The point is for us to maintain authority over our property and our businesses. Since the internet is such that one must be dependent on others to maintain a presence on it, the goal is to be in a position where the loss of any one of those supports does us as little harm as possible.

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.

Brief Current Events Thought

I have not been blogging lately in part because I’ve been simultaneously preoccupied with what is happening in our country and desirous of avoiding exposure to it as much as possible. Even small dips left me so angry as to be nauseous. But through one or two trusted sources (there are only a handful of those, and none of them are professional news outlets) I’ve followed events enough to know what’s going on.

I was thinking about trying to do a summary of my observations, but frankly there’s too much there. I may try to do some extended posts in the future detailing each point: American exceptionalism, tolerance and other ‘will-o-the-wisp virtues,’ and a return to communal life being the chief items, but each requires too much discussion to deal with here.

For now all I’ll say is that this is one of those great historical disasters that do happen. We today often have a way of speaking as if all of that – the great wars, national transformations, redrawing of boundaries and so on – were in the past, which we in turn regard rather less as a part of our own identity than as a movie where we don’t like most of the characters. Now perhaps we’re waking up to the fact that it isn’t.

Welcome to history: you’ve always been here.

What the consequences of all this will be, I can’t say. No one can. Only that nothing will be as it was, and that the ways of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

“You shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22)

It’s a Pastel Life

This year, due to circumstances beyond my control, we had the colorized version of It’s a Wonderful Life for our yearly viewing. I’d never actually seen that version before (which James Stewart famously said he couldn’t stand even to watch), so it was at least instructive.

Well, I didn’t find it unwatchable, since with a film this good, that would be practically impossible (to be clear: I consider this the single best American film ever made).

And to be fair, the color allowed me to notice even more of the innumerable details that fill out the screen and which I hadn’t caught before (like, how after both Harry’s party and George’s wedding, you can see a set of chairs set out on the lawn where the photographer – cousin Eustace – had stood a minute before, and the coffee on the table during George’s final conversation with his father is steaming. Something that isn’t often mentioned about this film is just how richly detailed it is. Watching the corners and backgrounds of the scene is often hugely rewarding).

But overall, the effect is a very definite downgrade, and not just because of the filled-in, water-color look that colorized film often has. In the first place, the color pallet chosen is often pretty ugly. There is way too much yellow and light green, giving it a rather sickly tone. There are very few solid colors (contrast Miracle on 34th Street, which was colorized in a far more successful fashion and actually benefited from a vibrant color scheme): almost everything is pastel, giving the movie a faded, half-hearted look.

Worse, though, is that the colorization plays havoc with the lighting, especially during the Pottersville sequence. Watching this version brought home just how gorgeous the lighting and cinematography in this film really are. Look at the misty atmosphere during the bank run (wrecked here by the stark green grass), and especially the dead-black shadows in Pottersville. At times the movie almost looks Noir-ish, like the scene where George finds his house is still a ruin in this world. And it’s here that the colorization makes its presence most known; it fades out the shadows and adds a lot of distracting nonsense filling out the screen. When Bert and Ernie are framed in shadow in the doorway, we have yellow highlights surrounding the black shadow and Ernie’s bright yellow cab sitting in the corner of the scene.

On that note, the colorization is overall very distracting, even in ordinary scenes: George’s now-red-and-blue tie tugs at the eye every time it’s on screen. Or when George is talking with the angry tree owner about his car there are bright multicolored Christmas lights off to one side (this is another scene full of gorgeous shadows).

This is one of the big problems with colorization: a film that is shot and lit in black-and-white usually doesn’t look good in color because black-and-white cinematography is a very different visual style and approach. It isn’t ‘inadequate’ color; it’s an art form all to itself. In a film like Miracle on 34th Street, which is not very distinct in its lighting, it can work fine. In the finest film of one of America’s finest directors, it’s like taking a set of paints to the Pieta.

The only reason to watch the colorized version would be if it’s the only one available or if you want to truly appreciate just how good the black-and-white cinematography of this film really is.

Thought of the Day: The Idiot Elite

It occurs to me that we are in such a strange position: we are, ostensibly, a non-hierarchical society (there’s no such thing, of course, but that’s what we claim to be), yet we are in fact ruled by a malleable class of ‘elites’ whose primary goal seems to be supporting each other while openly despising the rest of the country. The weird disconnect is that they are simultaneously 1). extraordinarily stupid, corrupt, and/or incompetent and 2). equally extraordinarily satisfied with themselves and effuse in their mutual admiration. They also apparently think that the fact of 2 entitles them to every benefit they would receive if 1 were not the case.

Rian Johnson’s a good example. Hollywood and the media journalists fawn all over him as a brilliant, daring writer and filmmaker, with banner articles like “Rian Johnson on crafting the perfect plot twist” published on the IMDB and so on. Yet he apparently thinks the answer to that boils down to “you didn’t expect it, lol!” (“See, you would expect that the forty-minute subplot that occupies most of the middle of the film would have some bearing on the plot or characters but surprise twist…!”). His writing is staggeringly bad on just about every level, but the Right People gush over it, apparently because it ticks off the right boxes. Appreciating his work is part of being in ‘the inner ring’ (as Prof. Lewis puts it).

All the while the rest of us kind of stare at them in fascinated disgust, like visitors at an insane asylum.

Except the ‘asylum’ in this case is every major societal institution.

The Servant Question

It is my opinion that it’s a great pity that our servants are now machines rather than people, and I think it is those who were servants who suffer the most from it. Because, of course, a man suited to be a servant does not cease to be that kind of man when there are no servant jobs available. He is obliged to become an anonymous servant to the public rather than a personal servant to a family.

This is not to craft a rosy picture of the servant’s lot; my view is only that, rosy or thorny, being a household servant was a more personal and more human situation than being, say, a waiter at a generic food chain, which I suspect is what many would-be servants have to be these days.  

My real cause for bringing this up, though, is to note that what most people today would object to is my assumption that there are men fitted by nature to be servants. This is held to be degrading and exploitative, as implying that some people are simply ‘less’ than others.

We moderns like to flatter ourselves as being more just and open-minded than our ancestors, that we alone see the dignity of servants, women, peasants, and other ‘marginalized’ groups of the past. In fact it’s quite the other way around, as shown by the very fact that we consider to be a servant a ‘degrading’ position.

What we actually do is assume a very worldly standard by which to judge of men: one based on intelligence, thrift, beauty, talent, and so on. We then make the bold claim that every man is or may become equal in these fields if only given the chance. Thus, to be a servant is degrading because no man is fitted by nature to be a servant, but rather to be one of the free and equal supermen.

What this amounts to is saying “a worthy man is a man like me, and I believe that with the right training you could be made into a man like me and thus a worthy man.”

Thus we claim to elevate the servant by saying that he could be just like his master, the woman by claiming she could be just like the man, and the peasant by saying he could be just like the landowner. It is not that we admire or appreciate these sorts of people themselves, but that we claim the belief that they could be the sort of people we could admire, and that it is an unjust thing that they are not.

We call this a belief in the equality of man: not that all types and classes of men may be admirable and deserving of their particular brand of respect, but that they would be so if only we could strip away their different roles and make them after the right pattern.

The old way said that a good servant may be as happy, fulfilled, and admirable a man as his master, only of course, the servant and master will not be happy, fulfilled, and admirable in the same way. They each have their own particular sphere and scope of life in which they may be considered an excellent sort of man without comparison of one with the other. They are each triumphantly themselves.

To say that no man is fitted to be a servant, but all could be made fitted to be a lord is only to say that anyone who is a servant is being cheated and is thus either an object of pity or contempt. Saying that there is no difference between a servant and a lord does not actually degrade the lord: it degrades the servant. Because the lord – or the tycoon or the scholar or the clerk or whatever he is – is being presented as the standard.

It is the servant who now must be changed to fit the new standard. The particular virtues of the servant, his particular kind of excellence is the one that is discounted. Oh, we don’t blame him, of course; it’s an unjust society that has caused this. But now he has the chance to become a truly worthy man if he will only become a very different kind of man. And we believe he can do so. We will even adjust our standards so as to be able to say that he has become so.

This is our idea of justice and humanity: to discount the merits of nine-tenths of the human race (for the kind of people we value must be a minority) and compensate by saying that we believe they could be very worthy people if only they were more like us and we are very sorry that, through no fault of their own, they are not.

Or, to put it another way, we judge every beast by its skill in climbing trees, and then consider ourselves very just and open-minded because we try to make out it is the monkey’s fault that the fish cannot do it. We assure the fish that he really could be just as skilled at climbing trees as the monkey if only he would work hard at it and the monkey didn’t keep him down, that he doesn’t have to be stuck swimming his whole life, that there really is no difference between him and the monkey.

We thus disguise from ourselves the fact that we think the only good beasts are monkeys.

Forgotten Man at the Everyman

My latest post is up at ‘The Everyman,’ where I touch a bit on the present attempted coup.

Law has no force of its own. It only has what it is given by those in charge of enforcing it, whether directly (in courts and legislatures) or indirectly (through public opinion). At the end of the day, whether the law has any effect comes down to what some individual person chooses to do.

Sir Josiah Stamp, the English collector of internal revenues, saw the problem back in the pre-war days:

“The government are extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics.  These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays. What must be kept ever in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases.”

Likewise, the news media doesn’t have to be colluding or conspiring with anyone; all that is needed is an editorial staff willing to ignore stories that threaten to invalidate the election of their favored candidate. All that is needed is for those in charge of these networks to be more invested in seeing their ‘cause’ triumph than in telling the public the truth. And we already know that this is the case and has been for a long time.

There are safeguards in place to prevent all this sort of thing, but if the people in charge of them also decide to put ‘winning’ ahead of honesty then those safeguards will break down completely. Because, again, every single one of those safeguards depends upon someone – some person – actually choosing to do the right thing.

Hence, the forgotten man; the neglected fact that all these structures we hoped would guard us from the rule of fallen man can only be operated and enforced by men. Behind every human structure, behind every technology, every law, every regulation, practice, tradition, and safeguard, you only ever find a human face. And that human person can choose to be honest or dishonest, to follow the law or to skirt it for his own ends. No law or regulation can ever prevent that. It all depends on what he believes and what sort of person he is.

Read the rest here