As Balzac Said of Marriage

"What a commentary on human life, that humans must associate to endure it." (As quoted by Belloc, I can't find the original but I assume it's in Physiology of Marriage.) Thoughts upon society, mostly not fictional.
  • I think a huge proportion of people's folklore about the "brutality" of the Middle Ages...comes from the freaking Mongol invasions. I know the "throwing dead animals over walls to cause diseases in besieged cities" tactic was a Mongol thing, for example, and I don't know of any Europeans that used it. I don't think Europeans did that even in the Hundred Years War, and remember, that was their World War I/Vietnam.

    But, I mean, seriously? Isn't that kinda like saying "the Inca" persecuted Jews and brought enslaved Africans to work in silver-mines? I mean, a lot of the people involved in those activities in Peru were probably of Inca blood, but those are rightly regarded as issues for which the Spanish Empire must answer.

    Is it too much to ask that when forming opinions about a culture, you discuss things it actually did, and not things its enemies and conquerors did? Seems pretty basic to me, but I guess no?
  • And the Mongols were nuts. In 1207, Beijing (then Zhongdu) and the surrounding area had a population of 2 million. After the Mongols sacked it in 1215, the population was 376,000. Now, some of that was probably population loss due to the Jin Emperor moving his capital (since the Mongols had already besieged Zhongdu once), but still, probably at least a million died, given that the besieged city had 100,000 defenders and a populace of 108,000 households. Remember, this was before the One Child Policy (and also before the outlawing of polygamy)—the 13th-century Chinese had very large families.

    That's one battle, at least a million dead, probably closer to a million and a half, all but 10% of them civilians. Meanwhile, the sack of Jerusalem in the First Crusade? 3,000-3,500 dead. Less than that at Byzantium in the Fourth Crusade. All Crusades combined, over 300 years and with most of the dead being Christians massacred by Turks (who, again, always sacked cities they took), killed about 1.5 million, as many as Genghis Khan taking one city. But somehow people actually talk about the Crusaders as remotely comparable to the brutality of the Mongols.

    The only theory where that makes sense is if we assume that "Abrahamic" monotheists' lives count for several hundred times as much as Chinese Buddhists'—you explain the "Three thousand dead at Jerusalem is just as bad as over a million dead at Zhongdu" analysis, otherwise!
  • One canard that gets trotted out is "Oh, the Crusaders committed cannibalism at Maarat!" But, aside from the fact that I only know of one account of that that wasn't written about a decade after the fact (that of Fulcher of Chartres), that's not atrocity cannibalism; read the context it's mentioned, in Fulcher and in all the other accounts. If it happened at all (which, again, debatable), it was starvation-cannibalism. It's something that happens in sieges, to both sides when the besieged city is in a desert.
  • It occurs to me that the device—I myself have employed it—of comparing death-tolls as percents of global population at the time, is flawed. It can still be useful in some circumstances, but in absolute terms it isn't a valid methodology. Namely, it is assuming "scarcity" affects the value of human life. The lives of the members of small nations are not more valuable than the lives of members of large ones; the value of human life does not diminish as the number of humans increases.

    Again, Japan and China lost equal proportions of their civilian populations in World War II, but the Chinese losses represent ten times as many actual deaths. That means that there were more murders and "collateral damage" inflicted on Chinese civilians than Japanese ones, it does not mean that Japan and China suffered equally. All a larger population-base means is that China also had ten times as many people to grieve the loss of friends and relatives.
  • I recently decided to watch Equilibrium on Netflix. I had to turn it off after forty-seven minutes, and surprisingly, it wasn't the gun-katas that did it. No, it wasn't even the pointless inclusion of a bunch of Christian imagery for an obviously secularist, atheist ideology, nor the tin-eared failure to understand that Christian asceticism is the palate-cleanser of the oenophile, the bland preparation for sublime ecstasies. The movie does raise the question "Do these filmmakers hate Christians more than they hate their audience?", but their hatred for their audience was actually the clincher, and most noticeable in something else.

    It was the the basic premise. Who would be dumb enough to try to ban emotions? Leaving to one side how any drug that could do away with emotions would impede every other brain function, if history shows anything, it's that the emotions are the most efficient means of social control imaginable. And how would a culture like that possibly fail to notice that one of its enforcers has gone off his meds? They spot people in the line for trains who've gone off their meds, neither Batman nor Boromir would've made it past their own front doors in that condition. Lame excuses about "trying to optimize" wouldn't fool anyone (plus, since he wasn't doubting yet, Batman would've reported Boromir's "turning in contraband myself" excuse, and all their comrades would've been briefed on it, so he'd never have got away with using it himself).

    And, seriously. You do exist for the sake of your existence, that's not circular, some things are just ends in themselves. You certainly don't exist for the sake of emotions. Emotions mean nothing, they have no intrinsic value. All they are is cognitive shortcuts, a survival characteristic because it frees clock-cycles in the brain, so it doesn't have to adjust a body's operating parameters in real time. You feel to live, you do not live to feel; if you did then emotions would be worth more than life and the exquisite sensation of a razor-sharp blade separating flesh would constitute "justified homicide".
  • A weird trope, seemingly out of nowhere, that shows up in Japanese works (especially though not exclusively) is the "I will make you sick of war" antihero version of the "war for the sake of peace" paradox. You see it in Lelouch Lamperouge in Code GEACPS GEASS and Treize Khushrenada in Gundam Wing. Does anyone know where that crazy-town idea came from? I suppose it has a certain appeal to a nation that in living memory shocked the conscience of Asia (and see those Mongol entries above for why that's hard to do), but I don't think even the most delusional of Japanese nationalists would seriously maintain that was what Imperialism was about.

    Quite honestly, Mutually Assured Destruction—the embryo of which was probably Tesla's "Peace Ray" and which is probably an outgrowth of the Blue Water School of 19th century British foreign policy—is saner than that. And Mutually Assured Destruction is much crazier than its acronym suggests, lots of really, really crazy people would still balk at "both sides explicitly take each other's civilian populace hostage". I mean, "attack me and it won't go well for your people" is always somewhat implicit in national defense, of course, but the primary reason ought to be "we will water our fields with so much of your blood you won't have enough strength left to protect yourselves"; it's actually still just a little frowned on to explicitly threaten non-combatants, and no sane man is in any hurry to change that.
  • If you needed another piece of evidence that the US nuked the wrong island off the coast of Eurasia, how about the persistent habit of British people of referring to all elements of dialect that differ from their own usage as "slang"? Sorry, but "slang" is a form of jargon used for, among other things, in-group identification and as a marker of informal register. Dialect differences persist across registers and groups, when spoken in the same region—official documents in America don't abruptly start calling elevators "lifts" or trucks "lorries", now do they?

    For some reason the fact that "mad" means "angry" in America, specifically, is always described by British people as "slang" (it does admittedly occur more in informal speech than formal—but not all informal-register vocabulary is slang). Of course, part of it is that the British educational system is both worse than ours (an enormity one might take as some kind of eschatological omen), and somehow even more committed to unwarranted "self-esteem". The end result is a bunch of functional illiterates unaware of the distinction between "American slang" and "an Americanism" who nevertheless think themselves qualified to talk about language.
  • As a general rule, by the way, anything about grammar that's different between British and American English is often a matter of German influence, more Americans being of German descent than anything but—maybe, depending on your stats—Irish. For instance, "math" vs. "maths"—in American English it's singular, in British plural (I seem to recall Canada uses both in different contexts, but don't let's get sidetracked). In German, it's "die Mathematik", with the feminine singular "die" not the plural one. Or "different than", which British people tend to think is grammatically incorrect? "Anders als" in German.

    Incidentally, almost every instance where American is more like German is also one where American is more like Middle English; "mathematic(k)" was the word in the late 1300s (when it replaced a word that'd probably be "tallycraft" in Modern English). "Different than" is what every other Germanic language still uses (and while we're at it, "different to", Britain, seriously? come on, we leave you alone for a couple centuries and you let the language go to seed). Ironically, given their rabid Jingoism where French is concerned, a lot of the differences between British English and American—which are also differences between Modern British English and Middle English—shift English closer to Romance usage.

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