Friday, August 29, 2008

The Obama (TM) Presidency

Of the few who have the insight to perceive amidst the flashing lights and noise of corporate media, the Obama (TM) candidacy and its eventual presidency is greatly troubling. After 8 years of Bush, there was hope that the alternative presented might be an actual alternative. Instead, the preapproved candidate is one who continues abusing the constitution and freedom, continues paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan slaughters, will keep mercenaries in Iraq, threatens war with Iran and Russia and whoever else, is willing to use nuclear bombs, and so on.

Many (or perhaps I should say few), among them Arthur Silber and Chris Floyd, lament at great length each new detail of Obama's (TM) deathly intentions. Yes, he protected illegally spying telecoms with the FISA bill. Yes, he is willing to nuke Iran.. Yes, he keeps voting to pay for the killing in Iraq. Yes, he picked an even more bellicose Senator than himself, with 36 years at the public trough, to be his running mate, while promising a change from the usual. Yes, he insults absentee black fathers in the face of the facts. Etcetera.

The conclusion, as ever, is stupidity (the article linked under stupidity is an excellent read).

(For some of this pathetic stupidity, to use the accurate part of Arthur Silber's term, see the bitches from BitchPhD, who are, to quote Forrest Gump, "so excited they could sh*t" about being in Denver to watch Obama's (TM) pre-coronation ceremony. Or, turn to that mindless goose-stepper Skinner at Democratic Underground, as he duckspeaks effluently on the Party's behalf.)

The conclusion of stupidity, however, is in its own way a delusion, designed to shield the mind from the next layer of perception: the fact that the Democrat/progressive apologists actually want all the terrible things Obama (TM) is promising to deliver.

The reason analysts shy from this conclusion is the conclusion that goes hand in hand with it: that most people are inherently evil. Consider that some 40% of people in America think McCain is the way to go, and another 40% think Obama (TM) is the way to go. That is over 80% of Americans who are ready to watch the president nuke Iran, start up a new "cold" war with Russia, or do any number of other horrific things, not the least of which is continue executing Iraqis (And you can lump a lot of Europe in with that group, since many Europeans are equally eager to fawn over his coattails).

Now, it could be simply because the "progressive/Democrat" Americans are as stupid as the "McCain is too liberal" Americans. Sure, they might have a little more education, and be middle class rather than lower- or extremely-upper- class, but they're clearly just as dumb.

Not so. This conclusion of stupidity fails to take into account how easy it is to see that Barack Obama (TM) is business as usual in America: aggressive overseas "intervention," SWAT teams patrolling the streets and snipers watching the rooftops at home, and all that. Anyone can see it--it's right there. Even Joe Blow knows, deep down, that Congress is taking bribes and doesn't give a damn about him.

So simple! So how could it be stupidity? Arthur Silber touches on this from time to time, when he decries the fact that so-called American progressives will refuse to see things which are in front of their faces.

There is an emotional reason for the Obama (TM) blindness, just as there is an emotional reason that drives most people to McCain. The same emotional reason that has been there since the beginning of our existence:fear. As I explained in Introduction to Ragnarism, the uncertainty of the human mind, and of the larger world, will elicit a reaction of fear from most, if not all, self-aware entities. Thoughts, and outside occurrences, can only be partially controlled, and chance frustrates all attempts at absolutism. As described in the linked essay, this feeds a cycle in the developing mind, whereby the person attempts to assert control, has it broken, then attempts to reassert even more forcefully, which only results in a greater outrush when the unsustainable dam bursts.

Everyone is subject to the uncertainty, beginning with the subconscious understanding that even our own minds and thoughts are not fully under our control. And so, the self-aware entity will be disturbed as long as it fails to surrender to the fact that it cannot control itself--nor the exterior world--wholly.

For more development of the theory, see Symptoms of Ragnarism, more symptoms of ragnarism, The Death Fantasy, and Instinct v. Antilife.

This disturbance is prevalent in most. The fearful mind has as many variations as there are individuals, and not everyone becomes a drooling malcontent preaching the world's end. Instinct is a powerful ally, and it keeps most people on track in some type of regular life. Nonetheless, the fear underlies it all. In the struggle for control, people deeply wish for authoritarianism. They do not believe, deep down, that it can be achieved, any more than their essence believes it can control every thought that ever pops into their head.

And so, like Bible study or political convention, they strive to do what all ragnarists strive to do: get together with other people who believe as they do, and make public professions of faith about the strength of their belief.

This does not actually have the result of making things true, but surrounded by other people who believe as they do, they can blind their inner senses, and maintain the conscious illusion of "control of the mind" and "control of the outside world." This is evangelism, convention and rally: the uncertain speak loudest.

Ergo why American "progressives" and Democrats support Obama (TM).

Consider what the ragnarist McCain supporters need from their candidate:

1) Violently protective
2) Authoritarian; willing to do anything to bring the "order" to the world that they seek (be it financial or military)

Now, consider what the Obama (TM) supporters, suffering from the same mental sickness--ragnarism--and yet, who are a little more intelligent and insightful, require from their candidate:

1) Violently protective
2) Authoritarian; willing to do anything to bring the "order" to the world that they seek (be it financial or military)
3) Well-mannered and vocally respectful of culture and diversity
4) Softens bellicosity with dialogue that comes more smoothly; and, does so with a larger vocabulary

Functionally, Obama (TM) is so similar to McCain, because he will satisfy the underlying need for absolutism and violence, and the impossible quest for order, but he will do so with everything softened a touch, and more intelligently so. He will murder people with airstrikes and sanctions--like Clinton the Democrat did in Kosovo and Iraq--instead of with soldiers on the ground. He will be patient and respectful with allies, then do what he wants anyway, instead of being rude and short, and then doing what he wants anyway (as Bush did). He will look 150% better in his suits than McCain will; he will protect 2.3% more of the environment than McCain; and he will invest in renewable energy at a slightly higher rate.

But he, and those like him, will continue to lead us all toward the killing fields of ragnarism, until we can begin savings minds from it, one at a time. The antilife fear is the sickness that drives good, living minds to crave impossible absolutes and insane destruction. It is emotionally stupid, yes, but that is a weakness that the better part of our race succumbs to, and as with the viral diseases of the body, we must find a way to overcome the sicknesses of the mind, and let more of us think unfettered as we go toward the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On the modern western academic tradition

From aufheben:

"It's perfectly valid criticism [to point out] an obvious flaw in [someone's] writing. For instance, if an author writing on the role of race in welfare who completely ignores anybody who's not white or black."

No, that is untrue. You can write about race in welfare and only consider two races. Food for thought:

P1: No single work of any kind will ever be utterly comprehensive;

P2: This means that, in detail, there will always be something more that can be said about a subject;

P3: Whenever an academic produces a work, it will therefore not be comprehensive;

P4: Whenever an academic produces a work, there will always be something more that can be said about it.

So, either all academic works are failures before they begin, OR, it is possible that you can examine something and contribute usefully to a dialogue without saying everything that can ever possibly be said.

Ergo, anytime any work (academic or otherwise) comes out, it is a non-sequitur in the worst sense of the term to say "The author did a poor job because he did not also discuss _________." Only if the author claimed to be producing a completely-comprehensive work could he be criticized so. There are only so many pages, and so much time, in the world.

You can discuss welfare race roles using white and black alone. You can also discuss them using Inuit and Chechnyan. Both studies, if done well, could contribute knowledge to the overall picture.

Imagine that you did a welfare race study that took into account, say, 100 races. And then, when asked about your work, someone called you a poor writer because you did not take into account the 101st race?

How far does "comprehensive" have to go?

Answer: it can never be attained, and academics are going to keep bitching in literature reviews* about whichever nitpicky part of something wasn't discussed simply because if they stop producing articles to that effect, they won't get their tenure. A few brave souls have tried to challenge the system, and emphasize teaching quality and original research over that kind of crap, but they were handily shot down by the book and journal mills, and the future does not look bright.

* (Literature reviews defined in brief: before you are allowed to write about anything, prove that you know what you are talking about by describing the last X books written on the subject by people who had accepted positions within any given debate by virtue of their professorial jobs at the right universities at the right times. Most academic articles, and especially books, are considered incomplete without a sizable literature review to prove that they are worth reading. Nach, academics spend a lot of time writing literature reviews about the same literature in the same terms, over and over and over...)

That kind of discussion--bloviating about what was not said--distracts from what WAS said, and discourages floating original ideas. Original ideas do not necessarily require the support of seven pre-existing professors at seven prestigious universities.

The absolute terror to some academics is the thought that someone, somewhere, might have a great idea without having been molded through the western university system first.

Novel, dynamic ones would shatter the old, or reconceptualize it in such a way that it would be crippling to try to link them. And if you waste time tying original ideas back to 10 other respected articles in the field, research space is lost in favor of yet another literature review. Hasn't Harvard gotten enough head, yet?

Life is dynamic change. Academic ritual tries to hobble that change to the tenure publishing system, so that there is a new crop of books to churn out of the press and sell at $60 apiece to each new class of undergrads with predictable regularity.

It is an awful habit, when presented with anything nonfiction, to postulate in learned fashion about all the things it did not cover. There will always be something not covered. It is banal to spend time talking about that, even though it passes for learnedness among western academia--every new idea you hear is not an opportunity for thought, but instead an opportunity to recite what you have most recently read or are working on. It is reassuring, when you see someone else publish something new to you, to be able to critique it for not having cited to the last three articles you read on the subject. It's the same defensive habit as snickering at someone who walks into the room wearing a striking new fashion choice: "Oooh, she thinks she's so unique, but what a wasted attempt--she failed to take into account Prada and Gucci." Repeat ad nauseam with music, social decisions, marketing departments, or articles about the early twentieth century Russian Revolution.

Academics cling to this kind of behavior because it justifies their jobs, and the system in which they operate. If they weren't busy pointing out that no single work is comprehensive, then, why, normal people might be able to become authorities on things! People who haven't gone through the western university mill! Onoes the end of life on Earth!

Take it from Karl Mannheim: people (even academics, despite their massive educations!) tend to believe ideologies that support their economic well-being. For an overly lengthy and complicated discussion of this, see Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia.

Commentary on Wahopo article

Twilight sinks its teeth into feminism

Synopsis: author claims girls are drawn to "Twilight," a fantasy literary sensation with traditional gender roles, because they cling to traditional gender roles despite 3 decades of feminism. Conversely, author claims boys are drawn to violent video games and internet pornography, for the same reasons.

Madness ensues elsewhere. A few comments:

I think where the author was going is saying that, instead of appreciating one another for their inherent qualities, (young) men and women are instead spending time apart from another, which time they employ fantasizing about those qualities.

The suggestion is that they would be better off to put down the computer games/trashy romance series, and spend the time getting to know one another instead. And additionally, that it is their failure to get to know one another that drives them to such pastimes.

The linked article is relevant to more than just young female readers of fantasy literature. The "fangirl circuit," like any other circuit of western escapism, is a realm where people have been turned away from one another, and seek to find missing humanity in some other medium. Powerlessness? Excessive interest in sporting competition or violent gaming. Economically disenfranchised? Make money virtually in a virtual world. Unhealthy? Make up a healthy online character. Insufficient sexual options? Escapism to the rescue.

What we are lacking from ourselves and our fellow (hu)man, we search out virtually, and spend increasing amounts of time and desire in it. It can be healthy or unhealthy; indeed, given the state of the world, it is perhaps more healthy (at least for the mind) to spend more time escaping it. That is the province of imagination and wonder, which will not be regulated and taxed until things are very near the darkest.

Yet, it is human to seek necessary things that are lacking: food, water, meaning. Some accountants camp out for baseball tickets and pretend it really matters if the team wins. Others gird their World of Warcraft character in armor + .001%. Many, sadly, let their bodies go and forget that their mental health (and ability to escape/imagine/dream) depends on them for fullest potential.

There is more reality in fantastic escapism than in outer society of social ritual, debt gambling and corporate events. You can still find human decency, conviction, courage, and truth in those places--even if these qualities only conform to the fantastic worldview created expressly for the fantasy. It is sustenance for the soul.

Ideally, escapism would not need to be so total, because there would be more meaning in reality. But in the crushing soulless of now, where individuals are partitioned through economics and find it unable to meaningfully connect, it is one of the best option available for the searching mind.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A brief ragnarist interlude

From Symptoms of Ragnarism:

Desire to repress sexual behavior and physical bodies through social or governmental controls.

Easy to recognize: involves disapproving of expressions of sexuality, including public kissing, movies with nudity, navel rings, homosexuality in general, “gay marriage,” or other reminders of sexuality.

From Bitch PhD:
Egyptian women, let's all, together, throw off the veil. Let's flood the streets in tank tops and shorts, armed with baseball bats and ready to yell at anyone who cocks a leering eye our way.

The sick mind violently represses its own thoughts. Manifested physically, the sickness fantasizes about lashing out in brutal fashion against someone who would dare to look.

Note also:

1) Absolute polarization of "those who look" and "those who are looked at." (The good/evil with us/against us dichotomy of the sick);

2) Absolute authority is vested in the holder of the weapon to decide whether a look is "leering" (ungood look) or "innocent";

3) Desire to walk through the streets armed and dressed a certain way, not because of a desire to go for a walk or to feel the breeze, but rather a desire to elicit a target response and have something to bash in return.

The Sad State of Art, Part 2


Part 1

Epic attempt 3: Common identifiers

A good epic builds up a sense of empathy and understanding with the setting, so that the viewer cares about what happens to the world after the climax. This is, of course, difficult to do in the time span allowed.

To efficiently (economically efficient) create a movie that evokes a sense of epic, moviemakers take a shortcut: instead of creating their own epic, they use an epic that someone else has already created, and make a movie out of it. The benefits are obvious: someone else has already invested the (artistic and/or economic) energy in getting the audience ready to feel that something is important. All they have to do is invest, tack on a surface story, and the underlying cultural knowledge of their target audience will do the rest.

When an audience feels that something has a history and tradition, half (or more) of the work of the movie is already done. For example, people have a cultural sense of gravity around "Rome" and "Batman" and "the U.S. Army." So, it is easy to create a 90-180 minute movie with a sense of "epic" about it. A battle fought for the future of Rome, Gotham City, or the salvation of the soldier's creed has canned significance. Prepackaged and ready to go. So, the writers don't need to invest half as much (or any) effort (money and screen time) in building up a plot that justifies a grand finale.

What does this mean? Firstly, characters do not need to be developed as much, in order to have the audience care about them, because the audience already knows that Gotham City (or whichever comic-book city) needs to be saved; the audience already knows Rome should not fall to the sinful barbarians; the audience already knows that. Secondly, the setting does not have to be developed as much. A few sweeping CG screenshots can handle it. If the audience didn't already identify with Gotham City, they might ask--why bother saving it (as Liam Neeson's character did in Batman Begins)? If the audience didn't already have a preconception of Rome, they might ask what made its hordes better than the barbarians. Precious effort would have to be invested to portray both sides of the conflict in a way that helped the audience understand the importance of the final battle. All of that can be saved to trim screen time down by going with canned settings.

The result of this is stagnation in art. When writers, directors, et al. can get the same "epic" result from a movie about Rome in 120 minutes that it would take a movie about a different, unknown place 220 minutes to convey, they will go with Rome, because it is cheaper. Unfortunately, tapping into this supply of "automatic epic" means that movies in this vein will have to conform to the audience's preconceived notions of the prepackaged concept--the audience's image of Rome, Batman or the U.S. Army. When you take prepackaged history to give your film gravity, you can't waste time challenging the core conception, or core misconception, that the audience brings to the film--that would defeat the purpose. So, the same themes about the same things keep coming back, again and again.

This is why, instead of writing new stories, the studios keep churning out old tales over and over again, in new form with new actors. If people go into a movie knowing it is a remake of something successful, they already feel that they know something of the characters: the characters are successful characters, with a history and tradition, and that automatically makes them have more of an impact. The studios kick out comic book movies, and show pages of comics at the beginning, along with a familiar corporate logo, to convey history and tradition. In 10 seconds, the audience feels, "This is all about something; something that has been going on for decades. How I want to see how it turns out!" without having been shown any actual footage. If they remake Gone with the Wind, or churn out yet another Shakespeare rehash, it is the same effect. The knowledge of previous success invests the story with automatic momentum--just the way George W. Bush grew up with an automatic headstart (a good metaphor for more than one reason, for most of the dross the studios churn out nowadays--solely economically gifted, and revered most by the unfortunate).

This is not to say that effort is not invested in producing a story. It is, and sometimes the result is a very interesting one. But even then, the amount of time that has to be invested is reduced--and the overall artistic experience (how enjoyable it would be to watch the full story) goes down.

The Sad State of Art, Part 1

On the Systematic Barriers to Art in Movies

Time constraints Movies operate under a number of conflicting forces. The first of these is the time constraint. It is obvious how the operation of a 90 minute suggested limit, with a 180 minute absolute maximum, can impinge upon dialogue, plot, character development, music and setting exploration. However, what is less obvious is the way this requirement juxtaposes with the cultural expectation placed upon movies.

Culturally, movies are one of the grandest culminations of entertainment. They provide a visible and auditory highlight of acting (closer up and more intimate than even participating in a play; ability to hear whispers and see acting occur in more dynamic environments than possible on stage; static art [when placed onscreen]; environment-building [360 degree sets]), technology, music, and other sensory experiences. The grandeur of movies, though, places an expectation upon them: that they use these tools to deliver an epic show.

The nature of "epic" suggests length of experience (for characters), dynamism, and the extraordinary. This is the force that causes moviemakers to attempt to outdo one another (and even their previous selves) with bigger, louder explosions each time, in an attempt to create drama thereby. They are grasping for something epic, because that is what moviegoers want: they want to take advantage of the great technology and presentation of movies to experience something epic.

Yet, the time constraint works against this. "Epic" cannot be conveyed well in 90 minutes, and it is not so much easier to do it in 180, either. Epic requires sequences; pauses (in the movie and out); reflection. It requires camera time where the camera is not moving, and the characters to be able to reflect to themselves and others.

What most movies are as a result of the time constraint is actually short stories. In that, movies can do very well. Quirky little tales about someone in modern life; a children's adventure; a brief comedy. These things work well in 90 to 180 minutes. And many of them are produced, and manage to be reasonably inoffensive and quite creative. This is because the "short story" or "novella" medium offered by commercially-approved movies (with lengths of 90 to 180 minutes) can be well done, and cheaply done, in such a time constraint, without much affecting the art.

What does not work well, though, is when moviemakers attempt to cram epic granduer into 90 to 180 minutes. The nature of epic suggests world-changing, so naturally, an epic story has to present the climactic challenge (usually a battle of some kind) in a grand way. In order to make something appear grand, and feel grand to the viewer, the viewer has to have an attachment to the character(s) or situation(s) of the movie, so that they are personally invested in the outcome.

This is done well when the viewer has had time to develop that attachment through clever plot-building. Learning to like the characters (which takes time, because you have to know them, first) leads to investment in what happens to them in the grand conclusion.

Moreover, in an epic situation, viewers have to care about the outcome of the battle/climax in that they must have concern about what will happen to not only the character, but the fictional world as a whole. A sense of impending doom for the world (if the heroes fail) is what makes an epic battle so grand: it suggests that there is a lot riding on it, both personal and social. It tugs at the main concerns of the species, namely individuals known to the viewer, and the general state of the rest of the world which the viewer has some natural empathy with.

Given this, when movie producers attempt to cram "epic" into 90 to 180 minutes, they use a number of techniques to attempt to convey "epic" without going to the effort of actually investing in the careful thought (and time allowance!) that must go into an epic:

Epic attempt #1: the montage

A montage attempts to convey something that the epic requires: namely, a passage of time, to develop the severity of threat to the world/setting which will come to a head in the epic battle. It also attempts to convey character development at an accelerated rate.

This can be done well, and indeed, the musical tends to rely upon it. Montages are almost always sent to music, because music is WD-40 for the emotions: it makes them work much more smoothly, and makes the mind suggestable to believing things it might otherwise not.

The epic montage, though, accelerates character growth through unbelievable phases. Like the parenthetical I offered in the previous paragraph, the epic montage, when used poorly (as it is most often used in American cinema) is used to convey aspects of character development that are not realistic.

An example of a good montage in a musical: a young man sings about a girl who vexes him, and as he sings, he realizes he loves her. (Function: the montage conveys character development in his love life, without having to watch the young man sit on the couch for three hours, without talking, before coming to a simple conclusion about whom he desires.)

An example of a good epic montage in a movie: adventurous music plays as the heroes travel over rugged terrain. (Function: the montage shows us that the characters are traveling, without us having to watch them walk, camp, bathe and eat for two weeks straight.)

An example of a standard Hollywood epic montage: thumping music plays while the heroine, a pampered princess, takes harsh sword lessons from a suddenly-introduced side character. (Function: the montage justifies the incredible battle sequences at the end of the movie, where the pampered princess out-duels countless mercenaries who each have fifty pounds of muscle on her, and have years of combat experience.)

The epic montage, in most Hollywood films, is sugar with a bitter pill: it tries to force the audience into accepting the coherence of a supposed epic tale, with a world-ending battle, which the characters have had only an hour and a half to prepare for.

Epics are journeys, and the characters start them out naive, repressed, troubled, un-worldly or in some other state vulnerable to development, growth and learning. Then, by the end, their quest provides the development they are looking for, and the theme of the tale is often expressed. It takes time to break through these barriers realistically--not a 3 minute montage. If a pampered princess were to become a great swordswoman, it would not just involve taking lessons, but would pose a set of fantastic new challenges to her entire lifestyle and self-image. This cannot be conveyed with ten seconds of watching her do pushups in the rain while poppy music plays, and another twenty seconds of her chopping at a log, and so on. Yet, it is what Hollywood forces through, over and over.

(There is often little protest to this. When people have little insight into their workings, they may not notice or care when someone has unrealistic character development. They may be interested only in seeing the big scene at the end, and marveling at how "cool" it is that the pampered princess can suddenly wield a sword. Genuine change doesn't matter any more than genuine character, and they lust for descriptions of people who achieve epic growth without realistic steps: because it suggests that they, too, might experience such a thing.

This is a sad fantasy, dreamed by those who have no realistic hopes for themselves, which is why this state of art works so well [at generative revenue and placating the masses] in a system that works best by destroying most peoples' realistic hopes. But this is not the focus here.)

Much like accelerating clone growth will one day lead to great psychological problems in the clones, accelerating character development in fictional characters lends itself to disbelief. It teaches impressionable humans (a required disclaimer: children and adults alike) that positive change:

1) Is unrealistically fast;
2) Bears no relation to the type of person someone was before (the "conversion" myth central to evangelical delusions in ragnarist minds)

I.e., positive change is unrealistic. A pampered princess might well, in reality, become a master swordswoman--but if we show her doing it in only the most ridiculous, unbelievable of ways, we never teach princesses (or just little girls) that they might actually achieve it some day. Any more than they can realistically expect to fly like Superman.

A caveat on imagination: imagining the fantastic is a good, wonderful thing, but Hollywood's montages are a type of inconsistent imagination, and that is what is bad about them. They lie, in the sense that they portray the world as normal, then violate the rules of normality. They take people portrayed as typical humans (even typical humans in fantastic situations) and then treat them unrealistically. If they had taken citizens of Krypton and then had those characters do fantastical things, it would be believable within the context of the imagined world (i.e., not actually unrealistic for the character). The defining difference between good epic and bad (and good story of any kind and bad) is that a good epic is fantastic in its structure, whereas a bad epic is fantastic in its character--a good epic establishes physical laws and rules about the world and the things in it, which the characters then conform to (whether in amazing ways or regular ones); a bad epic establishes the standard physical laws and rules of the world (the Earth we live on) and then allows its characters to violate them without explanation.

Good example: Z-men

Setting: Z-men establishes a world where men and women have superhuman abilities.

Situation: A character floats up an elevator shaft on a conjured wind.

Result: The setting is not destroyed.

Good example: Lord of the Bracelets

Setting: Lord of the Bracelets establishes a world where (non-Dunedorf, non-elven) men and women have normal human abilities.

Situation: A female princess, trained in sword-fighting from her youth in a country of warriors, disobeys her father and rides to war in disguise. She successfully stabs several enemies and shows great valor.

Result: The setting is not destroyed.

Bad example: Pirates of the Craparean

Setting: Pirates of the Craparean establishes a world where (non-ghost, non-overgrown by barnacles) men and women have normal human abilities.

Situation: A pampered governor's daughter, who has spent her life in restrictive corsets and layered skirts, picks up a saber in a heated moment and suddenly finds (without surprise) that she can wield it as skillfully as any man or woman, fight for dozens of minutes straight without needing a breather, and also dual-wield two sabers at once, using her off-hand, with no diminishment in fighting capability.

Result: The setting is destroyed.

(The Pirates of the Caribbean references will continue; the second and third sequels are a suitable, modern example of most things discussed herein. And they didn't even bother with the "princess doing pushups in the mud" montage, or any other hint, however slight, to explain...! --but I shall not be distracted further.)

When the structure of an imaginary world is violated, the story loses the wonder; it loses the "this might have happened to these people if they had only been in a place where _______."

The "inconsistent desire" is the result of committee writing, or a conflicted mind, which does not produce a coherent story. The writers want to have their cake, and eat it, too. I.e., they want to have a movie where their character is both a dainty lady and a powerful warrioress, and they want to do that without bothering to explain in any realistic detail how that could happen.

Epic attempt #2: the gargantuan horde

Bigger is better is the mantra here. Because visible grandeur is now so easy to produce using computers, moviemakers ruin the coherence of their stories by making epic battles ridiculously large. In Troy, it was so many ships in the battle shot that they couldn't have held the entire population of Greece at the time, in Pirates of the Caribbean it was even more, etc. Why can they not just use a realistic number of warriors, and have the battle still be exciting? Because they are in pursuit of an epic in only 90-180 minutes. They do not have time or skill enough to build up a sense of grandeur through character and world understanding. Instead, they want bigger, better, and more, and they want it right now, without having to go to the trouble of earning it. So they violate the rules of the world, go for the "shock and awe" effect, and grasp for magnificent on the wings of sheer numbers.

Epic attempt 3 in the next part.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sad State of Art, Introduction

Art is not best created in an atmosphere of greed, yet that is its current state. Because artists need time to create art, they cannot simultaneously be purely artistic and economically productive unless they are supported by their artistic output. Therefore, they must be (1) salaried to produce art; (2) entrepreneurs who sell their own art; (3) engaged in another trade and squeeze art into the time remaining; or (4) independently wealthy.

Of these, (1) (or (4), of course) is the most attractive option on a large scale, but is exceedingly rare, as in the market system, there is no incentive to salary an artist unless the return would be greater than the salary. And, if that return is guaranteed, the artist would be selling his or her own art (option (2)), and if it is not, there would be no salary.

Because avarice is our law, individual artists are mostly left to subsidize the costs of their own art. Creativity, then, is relegated to a secondary (or fifth-best) activity, while the bulk of the artist's time and effort is spent in self-sustenance. Thus, as a society, art output suffers drastically under the law of avarice, because individual subsidization is inadequate. Even for those who drive themselves to poor health or utterly refute long-term individual economic goals, the art suffers, and the species, and history, suffers the loss of its never having been created.

There is a laundry list of great artists throughout history whose work has been limited or coerced by the dictates of the churches and the wealthy. We now look at the Sistine Chapel as an invaluable cultural treasure, and countless other pieces of work (pick your favorite), but we will never know what wonders we are missing out on--moving symphonies, impeccable friezes, soul-bearing portraits, fantastical realms--for having been incapable of encouraging and unfettering great minds that have already come and gone.

Now, as the law of avarice becomes so enthroned on rapacious technology that it pervades every aspect of life, we are even more limited. The wealthy patrons of our time invest their resources in producing movies and certain kinds of music, but little else. Music creation is subsidized by individual artists across the world, who work frantically around time constraints to keep the habits alive. The greater culture becomes aware of them only through chance, or through the whimsy of formal attention, whence a financier sights an investment opportunity. Movie creation, for the time and resources it requires, is beyond most; certainly, employing the art with today's high technology requires aristocratic backing.

All of this effort has brought our culture the talents of a few very fine actors, and very skilled musicians and vocalists--when the former can be heard amidst the exploding of ten thousand trucks and the braying of the latest screen megastar, and when the latter can be picked out from the noise of layover tracks and electronica riffs--but on the whole, the process is a failure. Most of what our widespread effort can leave to future generations is a few stale summer blockbusters, inflation-gorged sales figures, and records with a limited temporal appeal.

There are great paintings being done, insightful poems being written, wonderful movies being recorded, and so on. Yet, however striking these may be on an individual scale, they are the exception, rather than the rule, and gaining them exposure to the greater public consciousness (and thereby making them more available to history) rarely occurs. It is a question of scale: life should be filled with wondrous art, not just rarely brushed by it. Surely with so many billion human minds and such vast resources, we should be experiencing more great things than one really good movie a summer, a couple very well-done albums a year, and three or four quite clever Superbowl commercials.

As there is the capability of feeding and comforting all in this vast potential of Earth and its human inhabitants, so there is the capability of swimming constantly in a sea of thoughtful, penetrating art (call it free entertainment if you like). We are the lesser for every day we go without it. The law of avarice crushes this potential, and like savages striving to kill or be killed in the jungle, our economic system aborts countless wonders each day. If we had been raised in art, we would have the capability of being moved to horrified tears at how unwisely we waste the resources we have. The etudes, the operas, the verse, the landscapes, the insights, the architecture, the wonder...! All the things we could have, spent futilely, lost as an opportunity cost in favor of enthroned greed.

First up for discussion will be the way avarice effects movies. Forthcoming.

Money Laundering

World's First Billion Dollar Home

Money is laundering. When the cost of something is discussed only in units of impersonal currency, said discussion is divorced of context, and left largely meaningless.

For example, consider the "home" in the link referenced in this post, the actual cost of which approaches $2 billion. Imagine a mere $100 million invested in a fund for, say, the children in Africa. Imagine that this fund, after deducting administration expenses (and reinvestment to keep up with inflation), had a very conservative income of only $5 million a year. Call it the African Children's Fund. This $5 million comes in every year, year after year, for as long as our market system lasts.

Now, imagine that this fund spent this conservative $5 million a year on $500 a year/job training, $1K a year/child rice, $1K a year/child medical care. That's $2.5K per year, which may be a gross overestimate in price given the continent, but let's go with it anyway.

Simple math, here: $5 million/year income and $2.5K a child means that 2,000 children in Africa could eat, receive medical care, and receive job training for a year. Every year. Forever.

The numbers would be a lot bigger if that $100 million went to them right away, but through investment, the gift could keep on giving. Every year, another 2,000 people would have job training; would be healthy; would have plenty to eat. And this would come at no additional cost after that first gift. These would be children who would starve to death; who would join militias in search of food; who would die of tuberculosis for want of a 50 cent vaccine. And that could all be stopped forever for a mere $100 million, with the gift that keeps on giving.

Of course, this example could seem more powerful than rescuing a mere 2,000 African children if all the money were spent up front. But we're going for sustainability, here.

So, if the Ambani family could settle for a mere $1.9 billion home, they could accomplish great things for those 2,000 people a year in Africa.

Let's not stop at Africa, though. Let's say that, being Indians, the Ambani family decided to create such a fund in India for $200 million--twice the amount they invested in Africa. 4,000 Indian children could eat, see doctors and have productive jobs, instead of starving. Add that to the 2,000 African kids, and you have 6,000. And remember: this lasts forever, as the trust fund keeps kicking out income.

Meanwhile, those people are paying taxes, becoming stable members of their communities, etc.

If the Ambani family could settle for a mere $1.7 billion home, they could accomplish great things for those 6,000 people. Every year. Forever.

Maybe they're feeling extra generous. They decide to fund perpetual hope for another 4,000 kids in China. How about another 2,000 in South America? They're at $1.4 billion on their house. Maybe they'd decide to invest $100 million in renewable energy. Maybe another $100 million to give huge raises, in perpetuity via trust fund, to all of their impoverished employees. $1.1 billion. Maybe they build an extravagant, world-class, tourist-drawing art and architecture museum open to all Indian citizens. Provide free beer and peanuts at all movies shown in Dehli--forever. Build an entire network of modern schools and medical stations across their entire country. Down to $1 billion flat.

If they could settle for just $1 billion for their house, they could do all of the above.

So, here's a better article: Ambani Family Runs Rampant: starves 12,000 children and their heirs; ravages solar plant; scraps museum plans; closes down national museum; reduces employee benefits substantially; cancels popular "free beer at bollywood" program; levels India's schools and hospitals.

All of these things are true, because by taking $2 billion and spending it in a certain way, all its other possibilities are removed. It is within the power of the Ambani family to settle for a mere $1 billion home, or even--gasp--one that costs only $100 million, or $50 million, or--I'm about to choke, but here it is--only $10 million.

That is what money is: it is opportunity; it is tallies of influence. When massed together, it has all the potential to direct people to do things like build schools and hospitals, feed children, educate and uplift, and even brew and drink beer. But when we decide that one person or one group has a disproportionate amount of money, they can scuttle all money's other possibilities in the pursuit of their own hideously avaricious ends.

Money can only do this because of its laundering effect. There is no way--no conceivable way with any technology we now have--that the Ambani family, either individually or with every one of them that ever lived, would be able to actually construct a $2 billion skyscraper. It takes the effort of many, many more people, skilled in many different things, to approach such a project. If all their efforts were added up and valued, it would be a total of creativity, labor, passion and struggle that would obviously not be attributable to the Ambani family.

Yet, while there is no realistic way the Ambani family could amass all that effort, because of the social construction of money, we allow them to direct it. Because the output of labor and creativity has become faceless paper, such horrendous, deadly mismanagement of our species' resources is glorified and celebrated.

Yes, yes, division of labor enhances what we can all accomplish together (and thoughts on how that justifies the disproportionate rewards of those who benefit most from the system shall be postponed). But even considering for division of labor, there is still no way. This is far too extravagant for even a stretched rationality to justify.

Just like the net worth of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet: even allowing that they are a great deal "better" than people with less money, and therefore deserve much more in the way of resources, there is no way to straight-face justify the amount of money they have in relation to your average joe. Their skill at gambling, be it with the odds of a company's success or the odds of someone elses' product's success, is not so prodigiously more worthwhile to the rest of us, or the planet, to justify them having, say, 10,000,000,000.00 times more value than said average joe.

We accept this all much easier because of the faceless character of money. By equating effort and output with money, we allow "effort" and "output" to be consolidated in unnatural ways, so that one person can eventually end up with more "output" than even a thousand people could realistically produce. One person can own more houses than they could ever live in; one person can own more food than they could ever eat.

Money is necessary for "ownership" to be sustained in modern society. Just as mobsters "launder" money to disassociate their wealth with illegal activity, large-scale owners launder effort and creativity to dissociate their wealth with the people who actually created it. And when they spend it, and talk about "dollar amounts," their atrocious lavishness is laundered a second time, as their misuse of resources becomes merely "spending money" rather than what it actually is: taking resources in extreme disproportion to the rest of humanity (/the world).

The total dollar amount wasted is only illustrative; it does not matter in substance. A king of old Egypt might have spent 90% of his population's effort on building himself a massive palace or tomb, while his people starved or languished in slavery, filth and need. That is now common practice, except that instead of viewing it as slavery, which we now view as wrong, we view it as the "decision to spend money in a certain way" (if we even bother viewing it or contextualizing it at all).

When one person builds a third palace and another starves, we may subconsciously rationalize the difference as one of the "worth" of the person, but most no longer challenge the assumption that such behavior is right. It is "right," to most, simply because it is "freedom" of the one to spend his or her money as s/he wishes.

Because the choice is actually made at a deeper level, it is often ignored, or perceived as not about choice at all. Of course, who wouldn't build a palace if they could? Everyone likes living somewhere nicer. The choice is made at the stage of allocation of money; once we decided to allow such a system, the inevitabilities of one person "spending" on a redundant palace while thousands of children starve/languish is merely a symptom.

As in the issue of tax theft, though, because the crime has been designed to be less visible by the racketeer aristocrats, it is harder for most people to perceive that they have been had. Threaten a man and then take his money, and he will feel robbed. Institute a tax system for everyone, then give yourself an exemption, and the same man will pay his taxes and feel less robbed (even if he is still upset and complains). Whereas most people might violently resist the theft, or plot against you to stop it the next time, most people will be lulled by the tax scheme into paying up.

Similarly, call a man a slave, and tell him you own him, and order him to labor to build you palaces, and he will hate you, and may violently revolt. However, if you call him a free worker, and tell him you will pay him to build a palace, he will perform the same labor in the same conditions, and thank his lucky stars that he has a job and his not one of the others you did not select, who are starving.

In the meantime, the situation hasn't really changed, except that most of the aristocracy dropped their titles of nobility for those of republican governments.

Martin Luther King realized, after American blacks had won the right to sit at lunch counters, that the freedom to sit there did not matter much when you could not afford the lunch. He challenged war, and they shot him to death and then glorified him, and we may all now congratulate ourselves at the freedom to sit at as many counters as we wish, while the "money" system continues to tally up its skewed results and order output and effort in as wicked a way as it used to under its old guise.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Starvation Parents Sue Philadelphia

Starvation parents sue Philadelphia

The predictable first response to a story like this is to be outraged at the parents' behavior, and then, at the idea that the parents would dare to sue the city for not stopping their own behavior.

Let's look closer, though. In our legal setup, you are only allowed to sue someone if you have standing to sue. I.e., no matter how much damage an incompetent company/branch of government causes, no one is allowed to sue them unless they satisfy the standing requirement.

Standing is a very narrow requirement. For example, although what happened to this girl was terrible, if I was a concerned American citizen, or if I was even a citizen of the state in which she lived, and I paid taxes to support the DHS, and I voted for representatives of that state's government who hired the DHS administrators, it does not matter. Standing is so narrowly construed that here, only the girls' parents could possibly sue DHS.

Got that? The only people in the country allowed to sue DHS are the parents, because they are the only people who have been "directly" affected by the tragedy, and thus have "standing" to stand up in court and sue them. That means that if the parents don't sue, DHS will never be held accountable for its own terrible behavior.

This, of course, is a poor way of solving problems, because we are all affected by the tragedy. But in order to perpetuate our system of unconnected "individuals" living in a free-market society (see Milton Friedman for more details of this glorious plan) we must prevent anyone from having a legal remedy who is not either:

1) closely related to someone who got hurt physically
2) got hurt physically themselves

You cannot sue simply as a citizen who cares about other human beings. Under our system of justice (sic) that is not an acceptable reason to be in court.

This ensures that Americans cannot be their brothers' keepers, even if they are decent enough to want to be. It also allows corporations and governments to be incompetent and deadly and then be protected from lawsuits by the fact that they did not directly hurt an individual or interested group in particular enough detail to be sued by them.

Our government (actually, the British government during one of their eras of violent colonialism) long ago privatized justice the same way America is privatizing more and more social services. The theory behind civil lawsuits (rather than criminal ones) is that, instead of having the government solve problems when they exist, we rely upon individual citizens to bear the full time and expense of bringing suits in order to correct wrongdoing.

Once people swallowed that idea, more and more justice began to be privatized, and now, child abuse (such as defunding government agencies responsible for caring for living children), loan-sharking (such as dealing in sub-prime mortgages, then foreclosing), slander (credit ratings bureaus) and racketeering (police brutality) are all now civil offenses, where you have to sue for monetary damages to get justice, rather than criminal damages, where the perpetrators get in serious trouble and go to jail. The lessening of severity means that under the civil system, they tend not even to get punished at all, much less punished in a way they'll notice. And when they commit their crimes while employed by an organization (government/corporate), they are immune personally, so who cares if the organization actually does get fined in the end?

So, back to the original point: the parents are the only god-damned people who ever COULD sue DHS over the death of their daughter. And since money is the only thing DHS is structured to care about--budgets, salaries, staff; the same bureaucratic crap as everywhere--the only way to make them listen about the girl is to sue DHS.

If they get hit with a verdict, it will make them pay attention. If their operations drop, it might force their awful city council or state senate to raise taxes and give them the resources they actually need. Because the real problem here is that DHS is terribly underfunded, just like in almost every other American state. The consequences of that underfunding are what happened to the poor girl. Because, as we all know, it is antichrist socialism to spend money helping children who need help (check with the Brookings Institute for details).

So. Only the parents can sue. And that is why this lawsuit is a good thing (if anything that occurs within this hellish, uncivilized mess of our secure homeland can be called a good thing). Because it just might slightly force an increase in budget and public awareness of child-support agencies in our government, which have been gutted over the past 7 years (even more than they already were) by a neurotic chimpanzee president who needed the money to give billionaires that sixth BMW in the garage.

It is rather irrelevant that the parents of the girl might get damages. They might also technically win, but then lose damages because they failed to mitigate the harm to their daughter. The fact that they are eligible to gain money from what happened is the ugly byproduct of our retarded system, whereby money has to be the motivation for any kind of justice. We as a society simply cannot conceive of any other currency than an economic one to justify altering behavior. And where there is a loser, there must be a winner. So, to make DHS a loser (to punish them in any way Americans can see as tangible for the harm DHS caused) there must be a "winner," which has to be the parents.

It is a ridiculous, stupid, truly insane clusterfuck. It's all we have. God bless America.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Dark Knight's Willing Deception, or Die Truth Die

The Dark Knight (2008)

Spoilers for The Dark Knight and Final Fantasy X ahead.

Antilife fearfulness finds terror in the change in the world. Change, and the uncertainty of future change, inspires wonder, delight, love and amazement in the healthy mind. In the sick mind, it is this same change and uncertainty that inspires terror, and results in fantasies of absolutism, lust for the still perfection of death, and, simultaneously, inspires the self defense instincts, and lashing out.

To the sick mind, any force of opposition is (1) unified, and (2) unreasoning. I have discussed the unified quality in previous entries on ragnarism; in short, it involves the belief that all things which disagree with (or do not proactively, automatically agree with) the sick mind are somehow connected. This is the "with us or against us," "black and white" model of the world.

For purposes of the Dark Knight movie, the (2) unreasoning portion of the delusion is highly relevant. This is because the Joker is portrayed, like many villains before him, as a representation of chaos and disorder, in the tradition of Loki and the "mental patient" villain. I.e., the villain who cannot be reasoned with or pacified, because he has no goals other than sensation/carnage. The point is made very clear, as the Joker destroys money he has acquired, laughs in the face of being thrown from a building, does not mind being punched by Batman, etc.

This is an unrealistic villain, if an interesting character. Real human beings have motivations. For example, if you kill someone's family, they may want to kill you in return. If you punch someone in the nose, they may want to punch you in the nose. But the fearful mind sees no depth to the resistance of an enemy; no reason why the "enemy" might be resisting their desires. Ergo, the fearful mind sees its enemies as baseless and reasonless, beyond negotiation or understanding, and therefore worthy only of violence.

To move beyond the abstract: consider (with a groan) the American or Israeli mainstream perspective on "Islamic terror." Rather than viewing violence from other human beings as a result of violence against them, it is viewed as an unreasoning holy crusade to destroy. The national myth goes, "Islamic terrorists are unthinking madmen who seek only our destruction." This perception has been used for barbarians, communists, etc. whenever necessary for those with sick minds. This is why it is useless to: 1) debate or negotiate with more than show; 2) self-examine and concede; 3) show mercy.

Sociopaths exist, to be sure, and they may justify themselves as seeking sensation, if trapped and questioned. If the Dark Knight movie were simply about the Joker as a sociopath (or other unique individual), that would be one thing. Instead, the Joker serves not as an aberration, but as a representation: an example of the type of enemy that good people have to resist. The kind of enemy who destroys with no motive is presented as the natural reaction to someone who is noble, heroic and self-sacrificing.

I.e.: it is inevitable that the world become a fearful, disgusting, violent place that cannot be reasoned with or fixed, except through violence. Of course, this is ragnarism in its purest form: the reaction of the fearful mind, or violent lashing out at a hated world.

This is because the movie says that Batman created the Joker through sheer goodness. At the end of Batman Begins, the predecessor movie to the Dark Knight, the cops show Batman the first of the cards that the Joker has left at the scene of a bank robbery. They inform him that, because his noble Batman stint has worked so well, the criminals are already "adapting." In essence: try to live a noble life, and evil, chaotic forces will inevitably try to destroy you, for absolutely no reason at all.

This theme is hammered home in the Dark Knight. The Joker tells Batman that they are linked, and alike, and that Batman created him; other characters emphasize that the Joker is a necessary reaction to Batman. Because Batman began challenging the normal forces of corruption in the city (such as the mob), the world naturally created an even worse villain, which, unlike the mob, does not desire money or power, but simply unreasoning destruction. As a result, Batman is "forced" to become more authoritarian in his methodology, because to do otherwise leaves him vulnerable to the Joker (and villains in that mold).

The story might now sound familiar to you:

Because I am so noble, evil people with no morals or inner worth will try to kill me. I am thus forced to become cold, hard and brutal so that I can meet their challenge. It is not my fault when I take extreme measures, such as violating the privacy of large groups (which Batman does in the movie), or torturing captives who don't actually know useful information (which Batman also does in the movie). Rather, it is the Joker's fault.

It was the motivation for the American "Cold War" as well as the "War on Terror." The sick mind cannot imagine an enemy who is not obsessed with it. Thus, the Joker is obsessed with Batman. His entire life and career are based around the battle with Batman, which he expounds on at the end of the movie. Similarly, the American narrative imagines that Islamic terrorists spend all day lustfully hating the United States for its superior technology, morals, women, etc.

The most dangerous conclusion in the Batman movie comes at the end, when Batman lies about Harvey Dent (two face)'s murders, in order to trick the ordinary masses of Gotham into believing that Harvey Dent was a perfect saint who did not succumb to evil. Of course, being the noble hero, Batman accepts responsibility for Dent's murders. This is supposed to be a good thing because then the people of Gotham can go on believing that Harvey Dent is wonderful, and that they need this "hope" in order to carry on.

The message here is striking:

1) When a hero seems to have done bad things (such as Batman or the United States killing innocent people), the hero is actually innocent, but is just accepting responsibility in order to protect us all. Thus, it is rude to pay attention when a hero kills innocents (or commits any other sin of your choice).

2) In order to go forward with their hollow, meaningless lives, other people need to be lied to to give them hope. They need this hope because they are trapped in an endless cycle of violence from which they can never break free.

The "endless cycle of violence" and death is the worldview of the sick mind, yet again. The necessity of lying to people in order to prepare them for death and destruction is the next stage.

For those familiar with Final Fantasy X, consider Lady Yunalesca as an example. By killing her own husband to temporarily defeat Sin (a monster which regularly killed thousands of people), an action spawned of fear, Lady Yunalesca believed that she was giving Spira hope. Tainted by this fear, she refused to believe that Spira could exist without Sin, because her fear caused her to believe that life could not exist without being bleak and violent. Because she felt life had to be bleak and violent, she considered it merciful to help other summoners carry on a tradition of sacrificing their guardians, and themselves, to "fight" Sin--even though they could never totally defeat Sin that way. The summoners' quests gave the people of Spira "hope," because although everyone was participating in a great lie--a lie that killed countless Spirans over the ages--the lie nonetheless gave "hope." And so, Yunalesca felt justified in trying to murder Yuna and her guardians in order to stop them from revealing the truth--and to stop them from destroying Sin and breaking the cycle (spiral) of violence.

Yunalesca's perspective is, essentially, Batman's perspective from the Dark Knight, which is the same perspective of every sick, ragnarist mind throughout history: life must be brutal, fearful and violent, and only through lies can we give people enough hope to carry on. If we strive for a better world, where the killing can stop and people can live in peace, we will fail, so there is no point trying. It is better to simply deceive them: to give them a grand quest against an enemy; a quest that can never be won; and in that quest, they will have hope and purpose, and make it through the bleak night. And I am a noble, wonderful person for giving them that hope, even as they live on in violence.

And so, we hunt terrorists, or clown murderers, or communists, or whoever the hell else. Somehow, it never seems to end. Sin claims more people, and our leaders promise us that our soldiers next noble war will be the cure for what ails us.

They're lying, and some of them know it, but those ones congratulate themselves privately for giving us hope to carry on in such a bleak world. The others are just dumb, greedy and afraid, and want to lash out. There is always someone new to kill, and always brave soldiers or false causes to place our hopes in. Harvey Dent, the murderer? Batman, the liar?

Why aren't we good enough for the truth, Lady Yunalesca? Why can't you explain to us how Harvey Dent was a good man who was driven over the edge? Why can't we learn from his mistake and be better ourselves for it?

Because, under absolutism, Harvey Dent cannot be a good man once, and a man in error later. He can't be both, says the sick mind, because the sick mind believes that thoughts are static and controlled--he must be one or the other. And so, the fearful mind refuses to grapple with change and uncertainty, to its own demise.

All this aside, the Dark Knight was an enjoyable movie. The acting was quite good; the technology was interesting. The director and writer managed to artfully dash through rapid-fire detached scenes without making the breaks too jarring--a required skill in an arena where cost cutting is more important than art. And, if you accept the comic book world as fantasy alone, the Joker (and his suggested inevitability) makes for a nice adventure.

Spoilers for The Dark Knight and Final Fantasy X above.