One Last Thought (no, really) on Guardians of the Galaxy II

Somebody check my meds – over the last few days, I have written about 2,000 words on GotG II, and would need another 1,000 to finish off where I was going. This, while I’ve only finally gotten back to the stories I was writing  after my week-long business trip.

And it’s not even a big deal – a relatively minor point raised a couple times by Malcolm the Cynic set off my hair-trigger ‘must EXPLAIN!’ reaction, and BOOM.  Sheesh.

So, going to try to cut it down and be done with it.  This is it – no more overthinking this popcorn flick for me. (BTW: I have about, I dunno, 15,000 words on the Matrix in a folder someplace. It has some philosophical implications, ya know? I have issues.)

Related image
Drax’s backstory is even more tragic than this! And this is a pretty tragic backstory. 

 

However expertly the filmmakers have worked this – and it’s good!  – I find myself after the fact wondering about it.  That’s not good.

The esteemable Malcolm the Cynic and I agree, as can be seen here, that upping the emotional stakes was the only way to go – you’ve already saved the galaxy once, if all you do is save it again, that’s unlikely to be very satisfying. BUT – if our heroes can resolve or at least make progress on their terrible family issues *while* saving the galaxy again, that’s something! That’s what the filmmakers did, and did very well, so well that I paid to see this movie twice.

Let’s reframe my only issue with this by means of a story I read who knows where years ago, told in order to give advice to writers:

A pulp editor was buying a series from a new promising writer, where an adventurer named Flanagan (something like that, work with me) got into and out of a series of tough spots, with each instalment ending with a cliffhanger which was resolved at the start of the next.

One week, the editor gets an episode that leaves off with Flanagan really stuck – he’s been left in the bottom of a deep pit, with razor-sharp spikes lining the walls, and has nothing with him except the clothes on his back. How will he ever escape?

The editor is eagerly waiting for the next installment, dying to see how, this time, Flanagan escapes. When it arrives, he quickly reads until he reaches the part where it is written: “With a mighty leap, Flanagan leapt out!” At which point, we can assume, the manuscript hit the wall.

So, is it wrong for a hero to leap out of a deep pit? The answer is ‘it depends’. If the hero is Spiderman, Superman or the Hulk, no – they leap (or fly) like crazy. The problem in the case of those heroes is that everybody knows they can leap out of a pit, so it’s really not a cliffhanger unless the writer adds other things to the scenario: the spikes are kryptonite, or Bruce Banner is feeling particularly melancholy for some reason, or Spiderman knows that Mary Jane gets it the second he gets out.

Being trapped in a pit is only a problem if something like the normal human rules apply. Batman or Indiana Jones are not leaping out of a deep pit – their escape would have to be set up in some other way.

In short, we have expectations, that the rules set up by the writers will be followed. Hulk can throw a tank, so having him throw a mountain is really not that much of a stretch; Superman can shove a planet, because he can pretty much do anything. But Batman can’t survive a 200′ drop onto pavement without changing the rules. He’s a rich man in a cool suit, not a superhuman.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: what leaps out of emotional hell are we willing to accept? Is the leap plausible enough not to ruin our suspension of disbelief?  I say: in GotG II, in the moment, the leaps are believable, but upon reflection, at least some are not. Further, to believe them upon reflection, I contend that one must accept the modern lie that the abandonment, manipulation, torture and use as tools *of children* isn’t all that big a deal – you can leap out of it. Like a hero falling 20 stories, you just dust those kids off and send them back into the fight. No harm done.

This – the abandonment, manipulation, torture and use as tools of children – is the heart of the divorce and hookup cultures. This is the world – Hollywood, everywhere – in which this movie is viewed. Instead of victims of such treatment being horrible outliers, they are instead everywhere. They are the norm. To recognize how profoundly traumatic divorce and abandonment are makes the emotional leaps in the movie contrived and insufficiently convincing, as if Spiderman could suddenly turn invisible or Batman had laser vision.

How is it supposed to work? Here’s Ed, from City Slickers, describing his best day ever:

I’m 14 and my mother and father are fighting again. You know, because she caught
him again. Caught him! This time, the girl drove by the house to pick him up.
I finally realised he wasn’t just cheating on my mother. He was cheating on us.
So I told him. I said “You’re bad to us. We don’t love you.”

“I’ll take care of my mother and my sister. We don’t need you any more.”
He made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn’t budge. Then he turned around and he left. Never bothered us again. But I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That’s my best day.

What was your worst day?

Same day.

City Slickers is an interesting parallel: friends, each suffering wounds in his personal life, accept a journey that turns out more difficult than they could have imagined, both in terms of physical challenges and self-discovery.  An unlikely emotional leader emerges, then dies. Wounds are reopened, yet, through the love and heroism of friends and the catharsis of achieving their mutual goal, great progress is made.

The difference: in City Slickers, everybody (well, except maybe Curly) is a regular human being, and so regular human being rules apply. In GotG II, nobody is a regular human being – yet, this isn’t Solaris, we’re supposed to relate to their humanity however packaged. The path to healing and recovery must be something a regular human being could do, otherwise, it’s an emotional Deus ex Machina.

Here are the emotional journeys I find unconvincing upon reflection:

Peter: Peter is abandoned by his father, but raised by a loving mother (and her family) for about 10 years. By modern standards, that’s almost idyllic. In reality, Pete’s is probably already a somewhat emotionally messed-up dude, but not in a way he couldn’t normally overcome with the love of others.

Then, his mother dies in front of his eyes when he’s still a child. He is kidnapped, bullied (somewhat, at least) and used by Yondu for about 24 years. Those would be pretty scarring experiences by any measure. And, they do scar him: he grows up to be a free-wheeling playboy adventurer without much of a conscience. During the opening sequence of GotG I, we learn he’s willing to betray Yondu, risk the life of the blue girl whose name he can’t remember and who he’s brought along as a bang buddy.

Despite being untrustworthy in these comparatively small things, is the stuff of heroes.

Believable? Well, maybe. Part of the drama between Gamora and Peter turns on him being a charming scoundrel willing to do plenty of evil if it works out for him – the ‘a little of both’ line at the end of GotG I cements this. So, do we buy that? Upon reflection?

The stakes are raised by increasing the emotional damage. The father who abandoned him returns, talks nice, but is ultimately revealed to be more than willing to hurt, use and even kill Peter, to have used and killed Peter’s mom and be willing to  kill anyone else who gets in the way.  And to destroy the universe to remake it in his own image.

On an emotional level, is this not exactly the way divorce looks to a kid ? In any other context, it stands beyond even Greek myth in its horror, more, perhaps, like Hindu myth in embracing the unreality and ultimate meaninglessness of the universe.

So Peter turns on his father and kills him with the help of his friends. He gets a little kids’ revenge on the parent who destroyed his life. He discovers that his foster dad, who had himself been horrible abused as a child and likewise used and abused him, is nonetheless his real daddy, willing to die for him.

Believable? No.  In the real world, kids do not have a cathartic experience of killing off daddy that makes it all better. This is not so much exploring Peter’s emotional journey as it is acting out 70% of the audiences’ revenge fantasies. As a revenge fantasy, it works. As a plausible plot point, it fails – upon reflection.

Gamora and Nebula: These are the two characters who, under just about any believable scenario, should end up raging sociopaths or curl up and die. Perhaps they had a few years deeply and unconditionally loved by their parents before Thanos murdered their parents and proceeded to torture the girls into becoming killing machines? The problem here is if the girls were raised well enough by their natural parents to have any reserves of decency, love and morality, Thanos would not have been able to turn them into remorseless assassins. He would first have to destroy any residual goodness.

Nevertheless, like Finn in SW:TFA, each woman has reserves of goodness that no amount of trauma, torture and mistreatment could destroy, even as they act as assassins, even as they fight daily. While they are both cripples, they nonetheless can be launched on the road to healing by a little loving, by a boyfriend and by a sister. Harkening back to the divorce and abandonment culture, the relationship between these sisters is also horribly common – you can’t take it out on daddy or mommy, so you take it out on your sibling. Once you can come to grips that your mutual hatred is really simply redirected hatred of your parents, all is good! You only ignored and mistreated your sister because daddy was so mean to you! How could you be expected to notice the physical and emotional destruction – he’s turning sis into a machine on both levels – when daddy is being so mean to you?

All that’s left is to get revenge on the parents…. That’ll have to wait for a future episode.

Again, perfectly functional as a revenge fantasy. But upon reflection, not a plausible plot point. Emotional fantasy.

Yondu and Rocket: We are informed that they are each other. Where Yondu got his moral compass is unknown – again, maybe he had loving parents before his capture and molding into a soldier? But Rocket’s is pretty much inexplicable except by assuming his makers toyed around with giving him a conscience? If they could do that, why not make him obedient and docile?

Really, Yondu is the same as Nebula and Gamora, not Rocket. He just managed to escape earlier, and use his skills to become a captain – of pirates.

(All the pirates seem to be cut from the same mold – damaged children. None, certainly not Taserface, come off as the bloodthirsty psychopaths real pirates of necessity tend to be. They seem, rather, to bumble about like the Lost Boys until one captain or another executes them. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean all over again: they have heavily-armed ships and a homicidal code of honor in order to pick pockets and do a little light burglary? Yet, they’re the *good* guys, like Peter, just a little rakish.)

A 90-second heart-to-heart spot between Yondu and Rocket sets up the grand finale – Yondu’s heroic self sacrifice to save Peter.

Really worked well in the moment. Believable upon reflection? No.

Moral: don’t reflect much on popcorn flicks?

St. Jerome’s Tips on Teaching a Child to Read

Via Twitter:

403 A.D., St. Jerome instructing Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. Over 1500 yrs later I got the exact same education.

First, this is utterly charming, especially given Jerome’s well-earned curmudgeonly reputation. Second, a literate woman teaching her daughter to read is given encouraging advise by a Church Father – those evil misogynistic Catholics at it again! Almost as bad as Francis de Sale’s obvious care and affection for “Philothea”.

But third, here is clear evidence that people believed that a mom could teach her own young daughter to read.  Everybody in every culture always believed that any responsible adult could teach their own children anything that similarly competent adults knew – reading, say, or basic math. Plato, 2400 years ago: Charging money to teach children what every competent adult knows is fraud.  The amazing thing: over the course of 150 years in the West, the newly developed class known as educators have managed to convince hundreds of millions of adults that they are *incompetent* to teach their own kids much of anything at all.

Recall that Horace Mann’s complaint, following Fichte, wasn’t that kids were deficient in reading and writing – they were *morally* deficient. No, really.

So, professional educators, from Day 1, with more or less personal awareness on the part of the personnel involved, have been committed to the *moral* education of our kids. Mann found out that this idea was repulsive to the citizens of Massachusetts, who would not vote for compulsory, tax-funded schools – for their kids. Once the Potato Famine sent a million Irish Catholics their way, then the good solid Americans were ready to make *those* people, patently morally inferior to *our* people,  attend moral reeducation camps – schools. In order to sell this, people had to be convinced, or at least cowed into silence on this issue, that parents, grandparents and so on are incompetent to teach their own children. Talk ‘performing to grade level’, don’t talk about educators’ more or less conscious contempt for the morality of the peons. See: the current phase of the sexual revolution, or critical theory, or ‘truth is relative’ or – you get the drift.

What constitutes morality may have changed, but the puritanical zeal of our betters to educate us, the unwashed masses, in it only keeps growing.

Thursday Links

Got a week on-site with a customer next week doing new product roll-out, Diablo Valley School’s graduation and year-end party (20th anniversary!) on Saturday, while my beloved and overworked wife is getting grandma settled and providing huge amounts of care (grandma needs help to stand, sit, get dressed, etc. – prayers for both of them appreciated)  so I have no excuse to be blogging – here are some links:

A: Climate Science here and here via TOF’s blog. The comments are enlightening.

B. Dear to my heart, an explanation of how a non-scientist can nontheless tell that the current climate change panic is bogus, by the estimable John C. Wright. His explanation is from the perspective of a lawyer (although I strongly suspect his experience as a newsman plays a part as well). My perspective is similar, but, since I’m not a lawyer, flavored more strongly by my life-long love of science. This love includes the realization early on that the claims of science are conditional, limited, and only as strong as the challenges they are able to survive. Planck’s quip – that science advances one funeral at a time – reveals a deep truth about people: that we are not likely to give up beliefs, especially those upon which our careers and livelihoods are built, just because somebody poses a question or provides evidence that doesn’t fit. Since facts can always be understood in more than one way, even, often, contradictory ways, our default behavior as human beings is to choose a way to understand the facts that doesn’t require us to abandon what we hold dear.

The foregoing is how I account for the true believers who are actual scientists. There really don’t seem to be many of those – real scientists preaching unfettered panic and insisting on the institutions of global controls that can only be called totalitarian. Instead, we have scientists in love with their babies – oops, models – who can’t accept the reality of the failure of those models. The existence of multiple models is, in itself, a nearly definitive proof that the science is not settled – what it would settle on, if it were settled, would be one basic model reflecting one nearly complete and useful theory. This, I should think, is blindingly obvious.

What the truth about human nature expressed in Planck’s quip does not account for are the easily-impressed rabble (scientifically speaking – I trust these folks are decent enough where it matters, are kind to their pets and call their mothers often)  who, in the words Robert Bolt places in Henry VIII’s mouth, will follow anything that moves. They do not understand science well enough to notice that Sagan, deGrasse Tyson, or even Bill Freakin’ Nye (1) are cheerleaders, whose pronouncements are not science and as often as not, could not be science in principle. As Belloc said:

…it is the mark of modern insufficiency that it can conceive of no other form of certitude save certitude through demonstration, and therefore does not, as a rule, appreciate even its own unproved first principles.

Finally, we have a few (I sincerely hope) of the fine moral specimens exemplified by Rahm Emmanuel: those who not only won’t let a good crisis go to waste, but will eagerly foment one when it serves their purposes. These Machiavellians find the previous two groups useful, and therefore fan the flames. Our obligations as lovers of truth are to fight these last, seek to inform the vast crowd in the middle, and, I suppose, mourn appropriately at the funerals of the first.

C. An Open Letter to the Author. This is amusing.

D. And Then I Popped Him One is interesting, and reflects what I once read somewhere that Raymond Chandler said: a fight scene can’t go by too quickly in a story, or it will disappoint the reader. If you’ve spent 50 pages working up to it, it can’t go by in a paragraph. This brought to mind the wonderful opening to Farewell, My Lovely, which is one of the most perfect noir detective opening I’ve ever read.  The bar scene, while not the climactic fight scene, it sets the stage for all that follows.

Image result for Farewell, My LovelyA man, described by Chandler as “…a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck” recently released from prison stops by the bar where his girl, Velma, worked when he was put away 5 years ago.  In the intervening years, the bar had become a ‘colored’ bar, an obvious fact which nonetheless escapes his notice. He asks after Velma, who of course no one there has heard of, and encounters the bouncer:

The bouncer frowned. He was not used to being talked to like that. He took his hand off the shirt and doubled it into a fist about the size and color of a large eggplant. He had his job, his reputation for toughness, his public esteem to consider. He considered them for a second and made a mistake. He swung the fist very hard and short with a sudden outward jerk of the elbow and hit the big man on the side of the jaw. A soft sigh went around the room.

It was a good punch. The shoulder dropped and the body swung behind it. There was a lot of weight in that punch and the man who landed it had had plenty of practice.

The big man didn’t move his head more than an inch. He didn’t try to block the punch. He took it, shook himself lightly, made a quiet sound in his throat and took hold of the bouncer by the throat.

The bouncer tried to knee him in the groin. The big man turned him in the air and slid his gaudy shoes apart on the scaly linoleum that covered the floor. He bent the bouncer backwards and shifted his right hand to the bouncer’s belt. The belt broke like a piece of butcher’s string. The big man put his enormous hands flat against the bouncer’s spine and heaved; He threw him clear across the room, spinning and staggering and flailing with his arms. Three men jumped out of the way. The bouncer went over with a table and smacked into the baseboard with a crash that must have been heard in Denver. His legs twitched. Then he lay still.

“Some guys,” the big man said, “has got wrong ideas about when to get tough.”

Makes we want to go reread a bunch of Chandler.

  1. Of the three, NdGT is at least a prominent scientist in real life, meaning I’d pay rapt attention to what he has to say – about the science of which he is a prominent practitioner. Sagan was a work-a-day college professor whose ambitions are better measured in Q-rating than in scientific achievement, and Nye holds less of a claim to being a scientist than I do. Failure to parrot whatever these clowns have to say about anything at all is, nonetheless, seen as being anti-science.

Book Review: Belloc’s Europe and the Faith

Short and sweet: Read this book. It is available free through Project Gutenberg. It’s only a little over 100 pages – a long essay, really – in which the conventional presentations and meanings of many central European historical events as understood by those educated in the second half of the 20th century – me, for example – are convincingly challenged. Think you understand the Fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Saxon and Norman conquests of England and the Protestant Reformation? Even if you disagree with Belloc’s take, you’ll never think of them the same way again.(1)

Image result for Europe and the Faith by Hilaire BellocHis main premise: Europe is the Faith, the Faith is Europe. What he means – and here’s where conventionally educated Americans of the 21st century are likely to recoil –  is that all those things, those institutions, habits of thought, habits, indeed, of soul, that make Christendom special and – hope you’re sitting down – superior to all other civilizations are features of the Church, of the Faith. What positives we see in Protestant and decayed nominally Catholic Europe are the embers of that fire that welded the lands of the Roman Empire into a Civilization, the greatest the world has ever known.(2)  Belloc, being Catholic, understands greatness to necessarily include the welfare of the weak.  He argues that the fracturing of the Faith and Europe lead to the peasants getting a much more raw deal.

Hillaire Belloc might be remembered today more for his friendship with Chesterton than any of his writings. Based on the small sample of his works I’ve read, there is a lot more of fire and less of that pervasive good cheer that characterizes Chesterton’s works. He sees and cries doom, and is ready to take up the sword to die defending the good, the beautiful and the true. It’s not that Chesterton is any less willing to defend the Truth that is a Person, it’s just that in his mind he sees banners, knights, and glory even in defeat – and that cheers him, and comes through in almost everything he writes.

Published in 1920 immediately after the first World War,  Hillaire Belloc’s short Europe and the Faith is, most simply, a defense of Europe’s fundamental Catholicism. Such a defense necessarily must often take the form of  a counterargument to the way history has been told or mis-told for the last 4 centuries.  The long essay covers the period from Rome to the fall of England to Protestantism, with a concluding chapter describing how this history has shaped the choices faced in Belloc’s day.

While Belloc makes no effort to hide or soft-pedal his Catholicism, his most pointed criticisms are most often launched from his position as a scholar. One recurring theme is how it is always wrong to read history as if what happened next, and especially what is happening now, is inevitable, and that the past is to be understood as merely a preface without much meaning independent of those modern inevitabilities. Thus, the great Reformers must have intended to fragment the Faith (and thus fragment Europe) because that is what happened. Belloc points out that there is no contemporary evidence they thought anything of the kind. Rather, the Reformers imagined the uniform and united world in which they found themselves to be a sort of permanent state, not something made by men as the very broad and universal philosophy of the Catholic Church informed their lives.

He denies that Rome fell in the sense of being overrun and replaced by barbarians, and makes the point that the transition from central Imperial rule to decentralized rule under kings was a gradual and to a surprising extent superficial change. The procedures, organization, political assumptions, and most important the Catholic spirit remained Roman even as small numbers of already Romanized peoples – the barbarians of history – fought over who got to be the local king.

He goes into no detail here, but Lafferty’s description of Alaric comes to mind: he was a Roman general of largely Romanized Gothic troops, who, when he was crowned king of the Goths, became the first Catholic king ever so crowned.  He followed in the footsteps of Stilicho, in many ways his model and teacher, another Romanized Catholic ‘barbarian’ general whose life was dedicated and spent to preserve the Catholic Roman Empire. Even as far back as the sacking of Rome in 410, the ideal of a Catholic Empire given the divine duty to preserve and promote the Faith had taken hold – and nothing that happened in the next few centuries changed that. Rome gradually became the feudal society ruled by kings, governed through a complex hierarchy of personal relationships and obligations, and animated by the Catholic faith.

He denies that England was invaded and conquered by Germanic tribes – Angles and Saxons – pointing to the complete lack of historical evidence that such a thing ever happened. Instead, he notes that historian, backfilling from their own biases about what they’d like to have happened, fill in a 150 year gap in the written record with an invasion that never took place. Belloc instead appeals to what we know about what was happening in the neighboring areas, what the people wrote before and after the gap, and how things proceeded after St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived and the writing of history resumed.  He asserts that, just as in all of the rest of the Empire, auxiliary troops made up of barbarian recruits were settled in England prior to 410 AD, and remained behind after the Legions left. Then, constant piratical raids along the coasts and navigable rivers of England’s east coast drove the native populations westward, cutting them off from commerce and communication with the mainland and allowing for some settlements of the pirate peoples. But in no sense did these ‘invaders’ conquer – when St. Augustine arrived, he found Germanic pagan peoples in tiny kingdoms along the coasts and rivers, and more Celtic Catholic peoples inland. In one of those historical quirks, St. Augustine and his missionaries worked with the Germanic peoples they converted to re-evangelize the rest of Britain, leading to the oddity of Germanic languages coming to dominate, instead of Celtic or Latin.

And so on, through a number of other critical events. Belloc wants us to understand what Rome was, how it became Catholic, how it fought off would-be invaders throughout the Dark Ages, how it flowered in the Middle Ages, how it has persisted to this day, and what price we pay for rejecting it. He aims to provide a framework within which to understand the history of Europe and the world.  There can hardly be a more noble and needed goal for a historian.

It also helps that Belloc includes philosophy in this discussion, both from an historical perspective, and by including basic metaphysical and epistemological considerations in the discussion:

There are three forms in which the human mind can hold the truth: The form of Science, which means that we accept a thing through demonstration, and therefore cannot admit the possibility of its opposite. The form of Opinion, which means that we accept a thing through probability, that is through a partial, but not complete demonstration, and therefore we do not deny the possibility of the opposite. The form of Faith, where we accept the thing without demonstration and yet deny the possibility of its opposite, as for instance, the faith of all men, not mad, in the existence of the universe about them, and of other human minds.

When acknowledged and defined Faith departs, it is clear that of the remaining two rivals, Opinion has no ground against Science. That which can be demonstrated holds all the field. Indeed, it is the mark of modern insufficiency that it can conceive of no other form of certitude save certitude through demonstration, and therefore does not, as a rule, appreciate even its own unproved first principles.

Well, this function of the isolated soul, inquiry and the necessity for demonstration for individual conviction through measurement and physical fixed knowledge, has occupied, as we all know, the three modern centuries. We all are equally familiar with its prodigious results. Not one of them has, as yet, added to human happiness: not one but has been increasingly misused to the misery of man. There is in the tragedy something comic also, which is the perpetual puzzlement of these the very authors of discovery, to find that, somehow or other, discovery alone does not create joy, and that, somehow or other, a great knowledge can be used ill, as anything else can be used ill. Also in their bewilderment, many turn to a yet further extension of physical science as promising, in some illogical way, relief.

There is much more worth discussing in this book, and resistance to the temptation to write a comparision of it to Lafferty’s Fall of Rome is only possible due to crushing time constraints at the moment. But do go read this if you wish for more knowledge of European history and a much needed antidote to modern critical theory style ‘history’.

  1. I am reminded of the aha! moment I had when discovering that Sir Francis Drake, never discussed without the ‘Sir’ here, is considered a bloodthirsty pirate in Latin America – because he was. Don’t remember where I finally read about his raids on coastal towns, a la Pirates of the Caribbean, but it wasn’t in any mandatory California History class.  Here, if any mention of Drake’s piracy comes through, what we hear is how he spared the civilians. Very comforting for the soldiers charged with protecting the ships he plundered, I’m sure.
  2. After reading this, it’s hard not to see the EU as feeble dream inspired by the half-remembered unity of the 15th century. Feeble, because that primitive unity was won by the sword against foes external and internal, forged in fire and loved with passion. The EU, attempting to rise from the ashes of twice-burned Protestant Europe, is built more on fear than fire, and is as feeble as fear in the face of fire. A Europe which held Islam at bay for a thousand years and more with the sword has now convinced itself that no slaughter of the innocents is too great an offering to make for ‘peace’, which only means to the weakened European mind the avoidance of war at any cost.

Reaching Out to the West

This video is amazing.  It seems the natives in the isolated mountains of Papua New Guinea have learned to build airstrips, so that people with airplanes will land there. Such contacts with the West bring wealth unimaginable to the people there, after the manner that created the Cargo Cults in the Pacific.

Trouble is, it’s the mountains, and so these airstrips are INSANE – well, watch the video. Little patches of cleared and very roughly flattened land on mountain ridges, with pronounced slopes and a cliff at one end and a mountain wall at the other. Pilots have got to have serious nerve to even try to land.

It took the natives 14 years to build the strip. That’s how important contact with the west is to them. I love how the pilot is embarrassed by the gift of chickens, which are worth a lot to the locals, but takes them anyway so as not to insult them.

Sure hope he comes back with lots of goodies. Imagine he or somebody else will – otherwise, what is the point? Other than proving you’re a manly-man Chuck Norris-level pilot.

Logistics

Today, was reminded of a saying brought to my attention by Hrodgar in a comment to a post from a few months back: 

Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.

Google reveals claims this is something said by General Omar Bradley, who I’ve long irrationally liked based on his portrayal by Karl Malden in Patton. Sounds a lot like Sun Tsu, who hammers home that an army should not outrange its supplies.

Infogalactic has the following to say:

The historical leaders Hannibal, Alexander the Great, and the Duke of Wellington are considered to have been logistical geniuses: Alexander’s expedition, the longest military campaign ever undertaken, benefited considerably from his meticulous attention to the provisioning of his army,[11] Hannibal is credited to have “taught logistics” to the Romans during the Punic Wars [12] and the success of the Anglo-Portuguese army in the Peninsula War was the due to the effectiveness of Wellington’s supply system, despite the numerical disadvantage.[13] The defeat of the British in the American War of Independence and the defeat of the Axis in the African theater of World War II are attributed by some scholars to logistical failures.[14]

I *hate* the overuse of the idea of war – war on drugs, war on poverty – when all the name is meant to do is excuse in advance the excesses of our political maneuverings: we’re at WAR, man! This is no time to quibble over the rights of the people who are wrong anyway, let alone a few hundred billion dollars! That sort of thing. I prefer using the term war for actual armed conflicts.

Nonetheless, this once, let’s go there, as history dolefully reminds us of how bad things can go: if there is a culture war, what are the logistical considerations? Are our supply lines secure?

Those in favor of protecting and passing on Western Civilization – you know, Christendom – have long been thinking tactics. The acolytes of Gramsci and Alinsky and the Fabians in their sheep’s clothing (1) have been thinking logistics for over a century.

Thus, in the name of Western Civilization, we get exemplary and admirable tactics like the foundings of St. John’s Great Books Programs and Thomas Aquinas College and other related programs, who, all together, graduate maybe 1,000 students a year. At Thomas Aquinas, they are even told that it’s their sacred duty to defend Western Civilization!

Meanwhile, those who wish to destroy Western Civilization control the logistics. They do not generally found colleges with the express purpose of creating good little socialist tools and useful idiots. Instead, they seek to control the hiring and firing of the staff at existing institutions.  For a long time now, in virtually all public and private colleges and universities, they have been in a position of being able to force out anyone who displeases them. Anthony Esolen was forced out of Providence, a putatively Catholic school, for holding orthodox Catholic positions; they can force the president of Harvard to resign.

The enemies of Western Civilization now control what can be taught or even said in almost every college in America. They train people on staff who might be their opponents to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Those who won’t don’t get the job in the first place.

Thus, apart from those 1,000 or so graduates who are taught to defend Western Civilization, the other 1.9 million graduates from the other 4,140 US colleges and universities are systematically taught to revile the culture that produced the colleges they attend and despise those who defend it, all the while believing they are members of the most moral and enlightened generation History has ever produced. They have almost certainly never heard their teacher’s ideas challenged, let alone been forced to deal with opposing ideas seriously on a level playing field. In my experience, graduates of modern colleges not only have not heard the arguments, they have no idea what an argument even *is*.  Yet, they are certain they are the most broad-minded, reasonable people ever, even as they shout down and revile anyone who disagrees with the dogmas they have been taught.

To make matters worse, with very few exceptions, one cannot teach in a grade school without having passed through the filter of a college education department. There, future teachers are taught all sorts of interesting things – but anything that challenges the educational status quo is not among them. So, now, your 6 year old gets taught the undesirability of independent thought by the success-through-obeying-orders model, and your 13 year old gets taught gender theory as if it were simple fact – which, given the filters through which his teacher has passed, that teacher most likely believes is absolutely true.

Changing things is not a simple matter of convincing people things ought to change. The very people whose minds we’d need to touch have received 12 or more years of training in how not to think, how to dismiss those who disagree with them via name-calling. For this, they will be patted on the head and told how brave they are. The mechanisms – the supply chain of ideas – are completely under the control of the enemies of civilization.

Tactics versus logistics. The situation is only freed from despair by the knowledge that lies do eventually out, that truth will win given even a crack of an opening.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s grim out there.

  1. You know, these guys: 

    Image result for fabian logo
    Fabian Society Coat of Arms. 

The Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principles of Communism via gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow. [ed. – because violent revolution is unpopular, not because they have anything against it in principle.]

The Fabian Society was named—at the suggestion of Frank Podmore—in honour of the Roman general Fabius Maximus (nicknamed “Cunctator”, meaning the “Delayer”). His Fabian strategy sought gradual victory against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal through persistence, harassment, and wearing the enemy down by attrition rather than head-on battles.

An explanatory note appearing on the title page of the group’s first pamphlet declared:

“For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless.[6]

All Cases Make Bad Law

(Half-formed thoughts, subject to revision. More than usual, I mean.)

Two anecdotes:

As a  young man, worked briefly in the insurance industry, for a while as a personal lines (auto, home, that sort of thing) underwriting analyst. The particular company I worked for had a marketing strategy by which they would approach certain groups – the California Teacher’s Union being the biggest – and offer them some special deals if they’d agree that we were their official insurance company and let us market directly to their members that way. A very interesting business model, and how I came to have a small bit of personal contact with the uppity-ups in the Teacher’s Union. One part of the typical deal was an appeals board that included some actual union members, that people insured could make appeals to if they didn’t like how the insurance company treated them. (1)

One task we with the Underwriting Analyst job title would do is look over the more crazy, out there claims and issues, including stuff that had been appealed to these boards. One time, we were discussing a case where a dreaded Young Male Driver was appealing non-renewal (when the insurance company says ‘no thanks’ to another year of coverage). Over the previous year or so, he had multiple moving violations to the point where his licence was near being revoked, and had made a couple of claims (those things do go together). He was shocked and claimed it was totally unfair of us to not renew his policy – that his driving record was no worse than anybody else he knew. For all I know, he was completely sincere.

Now, an underwriting analyst has access to much accumulated insurance wisdom. Using this wisdom, I know I am a fairly typical driver: in 40 years of driving, I’ve had 2 at fault accidents (both in the first year of driving, when I was a dreaded Young Male Driver myself) and 1 moving violation. That averages out to 0.05 accidents and 0.025 tickets per year. Having more than one ticket in a year is very unusual, and raises a lot of red flags, because getting tickets and costing the insurance company a lot money do go together. This kid was a phenomenal outlier and probably a menace. But he was sure he was typical, and no amount of information could convince him otherwise.

Second anecdote:

Almost the last time I listened to NPR was years ago, a Terry Gross interview of some legal scholar. They were addressing the issue of how real life changes faster than laws can get written, so that judges are faced with cases laws never anticipated and for which there are not any really valid precedents. Their conclusion: of course judges must make the law! With a strongly implied ‘how could anybody seem so stupid as to imagine otherwise?’

Instead of discussing the need for balance – the need for the written law to be respected and weighed against the occasional need to rule on a situation that lies outside the written law – we just chuck the written law! What could be simpler?

A common thread in the above is how a a thing, a ‘this’ in Aristotle’s way of talking, presents itself for consideration. In insurance, a thing might be a claim; in law, it might be a case. As a claims adjuster or a judge, the units of interest to you arrive to your awareness prepackaged, as it were, by rules and laws, assumptions and theories – as facts, as things made, in a traditional configuration. Yet what’s missing, what is critical to making wise decisions, is the knowledge of the wide cultural and moral context within which the claim or case is made.

Such a moral and cultural context is not strictly objective, in the sense that it’s not something to be learned merely by looking at how things are at some time and place. It includes, at least in the West, recognition of imperfectly realized ideals. Without this cultural context taken in the widest possible sense, a sense that includes Jewish reverence for the law of God, Greek logic, and Christendom’s ancient sense of salvation history, not just hard cases, but all cases make bad law.

This is where case law gets tricky. If we look to precedent, what we are doing should not be just sussing out how other judges judged and seeing if their judgement applies to the facts in this case. We should also try to to understand that constellation of moral and cultural beliefs that made that judgement seem just to that judge.

Image result for oliver wendell holmes supreme court
Righteous mustache, I must admit. 

I’m not a lawyer, and have felt only the slightest attraction to that profession(2). But I love philosophy. I’ve read just enough (very little) of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr to be dangerous.  OWH Jr assures us that law is, in its essence, philosophy (3). Well, then! Here we go.

If I understand justice to be essentially something eternal and unchanging, along the lines of a Platonic form, more or less, I will look at case law as perhaps revealing something true about justice. At least potentially, all those decisions will reflect all the judges’ best cogitations on the same truth. Like science, it would be acknowledged up front that all such attempt are provisional, that something that comes along later might require reexamination of assumptions. But the basic shape of the process is also like science – it assumes the existence of an objective reality to which our best efforts are an approximation. Over time, we should hope that the approximation gets better. In the meantime, we get useful gadgets and useful rulings.

Hegel, whose influence, fell and dread, was strong on OWH Jr, teaches that the methods of science is not suitable for true philosophers. By this, he does not mean the (real and true) limitation of modern science to things that can be measured. Rather, he refers to the logical processes that underlie not only science but all prior philosophy. Science works by ‘propositional logic’, moving step by careful step from premises stated and restated to be as clear as possible, using logic as beloved by Aristotle and Thomas to reach valid conclusions. Hegel dismissed such efforts as something engaged in by the little people – not by true philosophers like himself.

True philosophers use speculative reason, a phrase redefined away from its traditional meaning by Hegel to mean insights gained by whatever it is that Hegel does to get insights.

The most fundamental of all realities to Hegel are not immutable truths, but Progress. The Spirit reveals and comes to know itself through an endless series of revelations. Reason that relies on logic as an immutable foundation is thus never going to get it right – people wedded to logic, to the notion that true things need to make sense on some level, will reject the latest revelation on the grounds that it is irrational – that it is self-contradictory. To Hegel, this is both of the nature of revelation – it wouldn’t be a revelation if it made sense – and the reason to reject *logic*, at least in philosophic discourse.

Human beings struggle to come to grips with these revelations, struggle to shed the previous rigid thinking we’d settled into after we’d incorporated the last revelation into our consciousness. Those who cannot incorporate the new revelation – those unable to suspend the contradiction within a dialectic synthesis – are left behind, are on the wrong side of history, or, worse yet, are trying to turn the clock back.

Hegel has never been accused of being clear.

We see a meeting of soul-mates. This is not a coincidence. Hegel was a conventional Lutheran. For 300 years, Lutherans and Calvinists and Protestants in general had asserted the rational superiority of their beliefs to Catholicism. Yet both Calvin and Luther famously denigrated reason – ‘that whore’, as Luther called it. I suppose that’s one of those contradictions subsumed in a synthesis, a contradiction in creative tension.

If you define ‘rational’ as ‘falling under the purview of the methods of Aristotle and Thomas’ the teachings of Calvin and Luther will lose that argument (4). That’s why Philosophy since 1630 or so has been exclusively devoted to dismissing or ignoring Aristotle and Thomas. Just as Holmes’ inherited convictions from his Harvard crowd about how the good and holy Puritans Unitarians secularist progressives should be in charge survived his rejection of the God upon the understanding of Whom such claims of superiority were initially based, the efforts to find some other way – any other way! – to think about reality than using Aristotelian logic survived the Academy’s rejection of all things theological. The lust for power survives any particular justification for it.

To be continued.

  1. Aside: you’ll sometimes hear an insurance company tout its 97% customer satisfaction rate with its claims services. Duh. About 97% of the time, the claim is obvious and any half-way respectable insurance company will promptly pay it – reasonable people are pretty satisfied with that. The other 3% includes the very rare hard case,  where it’s not clear at all that the insurance company should pay, a few fraud cases, but mostly, I’d guess about 3% of the population simply does not want to be satisfied no matter what. I suspect we all know people like that, and thus suspect anything over a 97% satisfaction rate doesn’t include a representative sample of humanity.
  2. Taking my father’s oft-stated belief that education was for getting a better job, I couldn’t see law as anything but a job that claimed to be a vocation that has no justification outside of working for justice. In other words, a lawyer making money is a sell-out by definition. Of course, a couple of my college roommates became a judge and a worker’s rights lawyer, which kinda works…
  3. And, in the course of assuring us of this, dismisses the vast bulk of lawyers as just journeymen of a craft, with no real understanding. This goes back, I would think, to his bedrock Harvard/Boston/essentially Puritan roots, institutions founded on the belief that people like him – the smart, good people – should be in charge of the less smart, less good people. Even losing his faith in God didn’t damage his faith in his own Brahmin class’s meritocracy and fitness to rule.
  4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, whose side in this dispute should be obvious,  says of Robert Bellarmine: “In 1576 …the lectures thus delivered grew into the work “De Controversiis” which, amidst so much else of excellence, forms the chief title to his greatness. This monumental work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the blow it dealt to Protestantism being so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.” Thus began Catholic attempts to make sense of the mish-mash of Protestant claims and arguments. That there are so many conflicting claims and arguments has always testified against them – Does human will count for anything? Does a plowboy need any help understanding Scripture? Do we need baptism or not? Once, or more than once? What, if anything, does the Eucharist represent? And on and on and on. It is obvious that, if these claims represent superior rationality, that rationality cannot be based on the belief that the Truth is One. Thus, Aristotle and Thomas must be rejected.