Controversial Subjects

This is post 334. Which is a dystopian soft SF novel from 1972, and the highest score ever in test cricket.

Thoughts upon religion and politics.
  • So there was an article in First Things, that said that Ayn Rand was a philosophy n00b (my words, not theirs, of course) in part because of her upbringing as a Russian Jew. And some commenter, probably Jewish based on the way they said it, said that's not fair, because Rand went against Jewish philosophy, too.

    So she did, and I wouldn't want my culture to be blamed for Ayn Rand, either. But unfortunately, Rand's philosophy fail is nevertheless because of her background (though coming from the Soviet Union was a bigger factor). First off, Jews generally under-emphasize philosophy, especially in the era before the Holocaust; to this day Judaism doesn't really have a systematic theology (Kabbalah, even real Kabbalah rather than Madonna Kabbalah, is not systematic—and it's mystical theology, anyway, not natural, closer to Bernard of Clairvaux than Thomas Aquinas).

    Second off, Rand's philosophical shortcomings are very Jewish shortcomings, analogous to native-language interference in second-language acquisition. Her big error is to assert that "existence is identity". That's poppycock; not only would that imply that any word that can have a referrent must ipso facto have a real one (since "unicorn" refers to an identifiable thing, unicorns must exist), ultimately it's emanationist pantheism (existence is God, identity is the formal part—if identity=existence, every formal part is God). Now, Objectivism essentially consists of elevating the self, and one's identity (it has a sort of short-bus existentialist element), to the status of God; this fact may be said to follow from that basic error, but there's even more to it.

    The reason Rand made this mistake is—and if you read anything she wrote you'll come to this conclusion—she was not interested in metaphysics. No, her interest was ethics. That is something you always get with Jewish philosophers; the "hiccups" observable in Maimonides, who Rand is otherwise not worthy to appear in a paragraph with, are of the same origin. He wouldn't have identified Ha-Shem with the cosmos's formal part (accidentally becoming a pantheist, just as Rand did) had he not been so interested in discussing the Law in relation to Aristotle's conception of the Good—and he certainly wouldn't have said people should believe things they know to be false if it makes them behave themselves ("necessary truths", he called them). Virtually all Jewish thought for 3300 years has been ethical speculation, and Jewish thinkers, from worst to greatest (Rand to Maimonides, in other words), tend to do metaphysics with an ethics "accent". Maybe "Rand to Rambam", if you prefer alliteration and his Hebrew nickname doesn't confuse?

  • I was thinking about people who call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. It is, of course, but, uh, where's the cutoff point for calling a thing a Ponzi scheme? Because the "always need new investment", "if you're not growing, you're in trouble" thing about capitalism is also Ponzi schemish, if you think about it.

    Then again, all of human life is a Ponzi scheme, and actually all life, and indeed all coherent physical existence whatsoever. Why? Second Law of Thermodynamics. If you don't keep inputting energy, entropy takes over. The universe is one vast sucking void of nonbeing into which must be poured a continuous stream of multitudinously varied sacrifices, lest it suck us up.

    And that's your cheery thought for the day.

  • Did you know that the radicalization and incivility of our politics is because both parties' primaries are based on a popular vote? I know, sounds crazy—"Things would be less partisan if the party leadership nominated the candidates, rather than the members."

    But think. Who has the highest voter turnout? No, not old people. Crazy people. Since the people who are most ardent in their views are the most likely to vote in a party's primary, their candidates are the ones who get nominated.

    Then again, I'm not sure I mind partisanship. The fact the two parties don't like each other is a long sight better than how Britain was, pretty much up through Thatcher, with two parties that could've completely swapped platforms and candidates without anyone actually noticing. Read the political writing of Chesterton or Belloc; I forget which of them described parliamentary elections as being, like the Boat Race, between two teams in different shades of the same color.

    Yeah, idiots who don't understand that voting third party is political masturbation like to assert that the two US parties are interchangeable, but again: we know what that would look like, and it does not exist in this country.

  • Speaking of, does anyone else get a colossal kick when Ron Paul supporters call other Republicans RINOs? Because apparently isolationism and defense-slashing is authentic Republicanism. Also, apparently, a confederalist interpretation of states' rights. You know. The Republican Party. The "Party of Lincoln". Big on states' rights, hated involving the US military in anything, that Lincoln, right?

    Ron Paul is the RINO, actually. Point by point, that man is a Democrat. Specifically a Dixiecrat, David Duke endorsement and everything. Anti-Communism, based around a "proactive" approach to foreign policy, has been the cornerstone of Republicanism in this country since at least the Class of '46 (when the GOP, including one Joe McCarthy, took Congress). And it was support for those foreign policy positions that created the Reagan or "Blue Dog" Democrats in the '80s.

    But no, Paulbots, tell me again how non-interventionist Reagan was.

  • Do you think the people at UbiSoft understand that making the Templars the villain of your game means something very different outside France? See, in France, the Templars are the grassy knoll in Dallas, or the Roswell incident; every conspiracy theory has to involve them, and putting them in something pretty much means "this is tinfoil hat nonsense, not to be taken seriously".

    But seriously, the number of Americans who seem to think Assassin's Creed represents an even partially not-bullshit portrayal of that order? Yeesh. The dude who writes those "Extra Credits" videos on Penny Arcade's site, for instance, is not noticeably mentally disabled, but he seemed to disapprove that Dante's Inferno has Dante dressed like a Templar. I mean, sure, Dante was actually a Franciscan (tertiary), but uh, you do know the chief historical fact about the Templars is they all got murdered by their own king, right?

    Again, the Knights Templar were the first people in Europe to definitively rule that the Peace of God's protections for noncombatants extended to infidels. The Peace of God, incidentally, was also the first attempt on Earth to put some teeth in battlefield ethics. Let's ask the children and old people who were murdered in the Hagia Sofia in 1453, just so their mothers, daughters, and grown sisters could be raped and sold into slavery, what the Turkish view on noncombatants was, hmm? Yeah, similar things were done, on a much smaller scale, in 1207 when the Latins sacked the city, but that sparked an outcry in the attackers' own homelands. The Turks? Yeah, that was just how they paid their soldiers.

  • You know how people in the media always act like controversy is always good, and that if you complain about their show, it'll only benefit them?

    Tell it to Bill Donohue. If your thing is anti-Catholic, the Catholic League will get your advertisers to jump ship, or simply get people to boycott your film. They are, for instance, almost the sole reason there will be no sequels to the Golden Compass movie (please, just because it sucked ass never stopped a studio before). A couple of shows that crossed them actually lost advertisers so fast the studios that made them were the only things putting on ads, which is called "losing money" in English. Heard of a little show called Nothing Sacred? No?


    Incidentally, they're actually not that crazy, certainly not compared to the Anti-Defamation League. I can only think of once that they've overreacted, and I've been reading their newsletter since 1998, and their website, daily, since 2003. They misinterpreted one line from the episode of the X-Files with the snakes and the two churches.

    Yes, I remember that, from, what, 12 years ago? Understand, if you are wrong about anything, ever, I will remember it for the rest of my life. Unfortunately my own errors are the same way; bullshit I said in third grade still haunts me.

  • It's always funny to me how people think the His Dark Materials series isn't that anti-Catholic. The villains are a religious group called "the Magisterium". Thought experiment: if your villain is a military organization called "the Pentagon", are you actually so brim-full of bullshit as to deny it's a slam on the US military?

    Then again, I don't blame Pullman, or for that matter Dawkins or Hitchens, for being unpleasant little bigot-shits. Their wholly unwarranted condescension, coupled with historical and philosophical illiteracy, is a long sight better than how their kind used to try to get you to change your religion (it involved forced famine and mass terror-rape, remember?).

  • Speaking of Dawkins, does anyone else find it funny that Dawkins and P. Z. Myers, the only two actual scientists in the "New Atheism", have only published papers in, respectively, beekeeping and aquarium fancy? Biology is the cutoff-point to be a hard science, only one step up from the social sciences (and they're not exactly in the hard parts of biology, either—Dawkins, remember, as a "behavioral entomologist", is actually an ethologist, so he's practically a social scientist anyway).

  • You know that whole "we lost the thing, it sure was great"? People say it about Firefly, and JFK? Yeah, apparently Korea's last empress, who's been the subject of hagiographic plays and movies and books and miniseries, was despised when she was actually alive. Mainly she opened the country to foreign influences, but she was also real scary in palace intrigues, having her husband's mistresses tortured to death on witchcraft charges, for instance. Apparently the Koreans tried to kill her more often than the Japanese did.

    The whole era, too, actually; the Joseon era, that was brought to an end by the Japanese annexing the country, is understandably looked back on as a golden age, but it was kinda the Dung Ages, in real life. A Neo-Confucian ideological state (it's entirely appropriate that North Korea still calls itself Joseon, only the ideology is different), the specific version of Neo-Confucianism was like some anti-Orientalist caricature. Social class was absolute, Buddhism and shamanism were ruthlessly persecuted (in large part so the landowners could loot the monasteries, gee where have we seen that before?), and something like 40% of the population were nobi (slaves). Also, the state had a system of tax-funded brothels, staffed by slave-girls, to cater to its troops—not even in its worst periods did the Tokugawa Shogunate do that.

    I think I've mentioned how bad the Joseon military was? Yeah, well, you needed the approval of a high-ranked officer to even mobilize troops, even if you could see the enemy marching up to your walls, and the officers might be in the provincia capital. With 16th-century communications, yeah, Hideyoshi caught them flat-footed a lot, when he invaded. When they finally did get mobilized, the Koreans kept losing, because actual battlefield experience was almost considered a detriment to an officer. And when the Chinese came to help them, the Chinese troops (who got paid by body-count) actually killed more Koreans than Hideyoshi's men did. But the Koreans had a huge festival in their honor anyway, where the Joseon King performed worship of the Ming Emperor.

    On the other hand, given all that, Admiral Yi, who seriously impeded Hideyoshi at sea, is actually more impressive.

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