More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:
Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.
I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.
We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!
25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.
A. AI is fundamentally a model of how humans think. It has to be, because the only example of ‘intelligence’ with which we are familiar is human intelligence. (The same can be said of the concept of ‘artificial.’) As a model, AI is going to tell us what we tell it to tell us. It simply can’t do otherwise. People who understand how models really work understand this limitation – it is obvious.
Concern over AI getting too intelligent and deciding it doesn’t need us puny humans any more is misdirected. The idea that an independent meta-human intelligence will arise, Athena-like, as an emergent property from anything we can build is fantasy. Our idea of meta-intelligence is as limited as our idea of Superman: just as Superman is, fundamentally, a man, just stronger, faster, and incorporating better versions of human tech (laser eyeballs, flight), an AI is – must be! – imagined to be fundamentally human intelligence, only more so – faster, able to process more data at a pop, able to draw connections and conclusions farther and faster. And even this remains fantasy – we have no idea how all this works, but since it does in humans, it must work in our model! The dogma that the human mind simply is a machine demands it.
Putting these two ideas together and acknowledging the limitation inherent in them: What AI may eventually produce is a very fast, very large process that will – must! – be a model of intelligence and the world as the model builders imagine those things to be. AI will produce what its builders tell it to produce.
What we need to be concerned with, then, is not some imagined mysterious, emergent power of AI that no one can control or predict; what we need to be concerned with is what the builders of AI believe and want. That’s what AI will give us. It will give us nothing else. The surprise will be for the builders, as AI demonstrates what they, the builders, truly believe and want.
B. In traditional, by which I mean, obsolete, warfare, an aircraft carrier is the bee’s knees: one modern carrier projects force like nobody’s business. Trouble is, those suckers are expensive: the USS Gerald R. Ford ran a sweet $13 billion to build. And, to make matters worse, a single cruise missile can sink one – Tomahawk cruise missiles, for example, only cost $1.9 million each. You could determine that you needed to launch 1,000 cruise missiles at the Gerald R. Ford to make sure one got through to sink it – and have spent only a bit over 10% of the cost of the carrier to eliminate it. And there are other ways of taking out carriers, such as submarine attack, which are similarly cheaper than building one in the first place.
Knowing this, no carriers go galivanting about unaccompanied. Carriers travel in carrier groups, which include destroyers, frigates, a guided missile cruiser, sometimes submarines – which, all in, will run you $20-$30 billion per group to build, and billions more per year to operate. The main goal of the carrier group is to keep the carrier from getting sunk. So, now, you’ve invested $20-$30 billion, plus billions more per year in operating costs, just to be able to project force along the world’s coasts.
If you wanted to sink a carrier, and had 1,000 cruise missiles at you disposal, and the carrier group was an astounding 99.9% effective in stopping those cruise missiles – you win. But it’s way worse than that:
“The exercise was called Millennium Challenge 2002,” Blake Stilwell wrote for We Are the Mighty.
It was designed by the Joint Forces Command over the course of two years. It had 13,500 participants, numerous live and simulated training sites, and was supposed to pit an Iran-like Middle Eastern country against the U.S. military, which would be fielding advanced technology it didn’t plan to implement until five years later.
The war game would begin with a forced-entry exercise that included the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Division. When the blue forces issued a surrender ultimatum, Van Riper, commanding the red forces, turned them down. Since the Bush Doctrine of the period included preemptive strikes against perceived enemies, Van Riper knew the blue forces would be coming for him. And they did.
But the three-star general didn’t spend 41 years in the Marine Corps by being timid. As soon as the Navy was beyond the point of no return, he hit them and hit them hard. Missiles from land-based units, civilian boats, and low-flying planes tore through the fleet as explosive-ladened speedboats decimated the Navy using suicide tactics. His code to initiate the attack was a coded message sent from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer.
In less than 10 minutes, the whole thing was over and Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper was victorious.
Micah Zenko provided some context in a piece for War on the Rocks. “The impact of the [opposing force’s] ability to render a U.S. carrier battle group — the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy — militarily worthless stunned most of the MC ’02 participants.”
So, in a war game, a Marine general was given the resources of an Iran-equivalent power and told to take on the combined might of a large chunk of the US Navy – and, using the few missiles at his disposal, plus suicide speedboats and civilian boats and aircraft, took them out in 10 minutes.
Lt. Gen Paul Van Riper. For real. Damn. My only issue with this: nowhere I can find listed among General Van Riper’s assets ‘armored battle goats’. Because – well, because. As hard as it is to imagine, he somehow won without them.
Um, oops. As Sun Tzu so aptly put it: to know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
No reason I’m thinking about this. What could possibly go wrong? I’m sure our current president, what with his razor sharp intellect and surrounded as he is by Top Men Humanoids, has this sort of thing completely under control, no matter who the enemy might turn out to be in this best of all possible worlds.
C. Been under the weather due to circumstances well within my control that I, nevertheless, failed to control. Something about making sure prescriptions got filled before health plans flipped. Dolly Parton once quipped: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Does it take a lot of brains to be this stupid? No, I think I just have a talent for it.
But much better now! Will get back to the writing soon. No, really! Haven’t totally neglected it, but not going gangbusters, either.
D. Looking like we might have an epic fruit season out in the front yard micro-orchard. This past winter, I was better about clean-up, trimming, fertilizing, and spraying copper fungicide. Also watering a bit more, as we only had 40% of average rainfall this season:
Cherry tree has several times as many cherries as last year
Pomegranate just starting to bloom, looking beautiful
Our latest additions, two blueberry bushes, seem to be doing well – one is covered in fruit and blossoms, the other has less but is growing vigorously
4-in-1 pear tree, devastated last season by that loathsome leaf curl fungus, is now looking pretty good, with way, way too much fruit setting – I’m going to need to thin by about 80%!
My two little peach trees are doing well. Last year, one caught the leaf curl from the pear tree next to it, and lost all its fruit and leaves, but recovered enough to put out enough leaves to survive – it actually looks good, and has a fair amount of fruit on it. The other peach, a dwarf variety, is insane:
Apricots are doing very well, too
The nicest thing: the Minneola tree our late son Andrew grew from a seed as a child is, for the first time, covered in blossoms:
This tree is over 15 years old. Last year was the best ever – about a dozen fruit. Now, if even 10% of the blossoms set fruit, we’re looking at many dozens. The fruit is good, nice and sweet.
Andrew wrote a poem about it (it was presumed to be an orange tree at the time):
My Orange Tree by the Wall by Andrew Moore
My orange tree by the wall For many a spring and fall Has grown and grown and grown And done nothing much else at all
But then in spring one day I shout ‘hip hip hooray!’ For blossoms it shows me And oranges it grows me For many a long summer day
The unexamined acceptance of the inevitability of Progress as an obvious unassailable fact is under discussion at Rotten Chestnuts. Starting with the Enlightenment, the notion that Change, in the form of Progress, is, so to speak, the only constant, took over polite society. So understood, Progress is not, in any rational sense, a conclusion. Progress can only be a framing devise, a filter, a way to pre-process information.
It might seem odd that an age that produced wave after wave of increasingly insane skepticism about just about everything would accept and vigorously promote as obvious the notion that Progress is a positive force governing Human Development through History. Descartes claims to doubt everything except his own existence; Hume claims to doubt cause and effect; Kant throws out the entire idea anyone can know anything about objective reality (although he says he doesn’t – he says a lot of contradictory things); Fichte simply states that all reality is subjective; Hegel denies the law of non-contradiction and all logic while claiming to be ‘scientific’.
John C. Wright speaks of how unserious philosophy became starting with the Enlightenment. A Socrates might die for his philosophy; a St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it is in fact necessary to be willing to die for a correct philosophy. Hume famously decides to go shoot some billiards when it all becomes too much. How would anyone from Descartes on know that dying for one’s philosophy is a good thing? Severian has a page dedicated to the worst argument in the world, of which there are many variation sharing the same skeleton. This argument boils down to: we cannot know anything about things in themselves.
Yet we are to assume universal Progress, except insofar as reactionaries of one flavor or another have temporarily turned back the clock on the wrong side of History.
Here’s the thing: the only area where it can be confidently asserted that humanity has steadily progressed over the last, say, 1,000 years, is technology. Technology is undoubtedly better today than it was 10 years ago; it was better 10 years ago than it was 20 years ago; and so on, back to maybe 900 AD in the West.
Everything else? People can and have made arguments in favor of these following examples, but – clear? Beyond dispute?
Government “progressed” from a peak of some semblance of liberal democracy to – Pol Pot? Stalin? Mao? That’s progress?
Art “progressed” from Rafael to Pollock? Let alone a crucifix in a jar of urine?
Architecture “progressed” from Gothic to Brutalism?
And so on. Sure, there are reasonable people who will argue that Van Gogh is an improvement on Bouguereau, but they’re basically arguing on taste alone. On every technical and aesthetic basis, Bouguereau is the superior artist (and I love Van Gogh!). There are people- damaged, sad people, for the most part – who will and have argued that Brutalist architecture is superior to Gothic. There is no aesthetic of technical basis for such a claim. Rather, it seems that Progress, acting as filter, simply demands that the products of modern minds is definitionally better than the products of less progressive minds.
So, one might imagine the great Enlightenment philosophies start with technology as the basis for their claims. There is quite a bit of that early on, as where Francis Bacon says:
I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave. … [S]o may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.
Bacon wants to put science -materialist science as he understood it – in the driver’s seat for pretty much all human activities. The distinction we sometimes make between science and technology seems less clear here. Nature was something to be conquered and put to use by man. In this sense, science – the study of nature in order to understand it – and technology – using that scientific knowledge to conquer and control nature – are separate only in concept: for Bacon, it would be pointless to talk of one independent of the other.
So: Bacon saw himself and other natural philosophers (scientists) as clearly progressing from his (weird caricature?) of Aristotle to the starting line of modern science. Bacon saw his efforts as the beginning of the true program of science – understanding nature so as to control it – with nothing but Progress from there on out indefinitely.
And progress was made – eventually. Bacon lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. Life expectancy in England was around 35 (high infant and young people mortality) in 1600. As a result of the Bacon-lead scientific and technological revolution, life expectancy shot all the way up to around 40 – after a mere 200 years. (The population in England in 1600 is estimated to have been about 85% of what it had been during the high middle ages 250 years earlier, before plague, famine, and increasing political unrest cut in by around 60%. It nearly doubled from 1600 to 1800, to about 50% larger than it had been in 1290.)
Maybe this conquest of Nature thing and all the improvements to human life that would follow upon it wasn’t so obvious to the little people? Who seemed to be dying as readily as before, up until the late 1700s, at any rate? But it was very striking to the better off, who could not get over it. Still can’t. Of course, technological progress kicked in like crazy once the 19th century got going, and life expectancies began to rise, to around 50 by 1900 to around 80 by 2000. That’s progress anyone who prefers not to be dead can readily see.
Our self-appointed betters seemed to have extrapolated from technological improvements, and made the categorical error of thinking that the obvious progress in technology proved that other fields, such as politics and philosophy, must also have made similar progress. Hegel, who lived from 1770 to 1831, in what was at the time the most technologically advanced culture on earth, went to far as to write a book telling us that logic, as that term was understood by everyone else, had failed to progress and was therefore clearly insufficient. Logic had remained essentially unchanged since Aristotle, unlike all other fields (besides basic arithmetic and geometry, ethics, and writing – he doesn’t mention those, IIRC) and therefore, by that fact alone, was no longer valid.
Savor this: classic Aristotelian logic, the application of which was at the core of all the scientific and technological progress made since Bacon, needed to be rejected – OK, suspended in a dialectical synthesis, which, practically, means rejected – because, and solely because, it had not changed in 2500 years. The only unalloyed and inescapable support for the notion of Progress – technology – is to be rejected – in the name of Progress.
Hegel was aware that all technology and science depended on exactly the logic he had just discarded. He graciously allows that old-timey logic might be important and useful to the little people – mathematicians, scientists, technologists – but was certainly nothing a *real * philosopher need concern himself with. Law of non-contradiction? Out! Logical arguments? Beneath a real philosopher’s dignity. Only the calculated incoherence of Hegel and those wise and enlightened souls who, naturally, agreed with Hegel, need be considered.
From this it falls, naturally, that 2+2 can indeed equal 5, if such is required by *real* philosophers like Hegel. Motte and Baily. Progress is obvious to everyone! You doubt our latest developments in Critical Theory mark the inexorable march of Progress? What? You want to go back to living in the Dark Ages, you moron?
Thus, a priori, any information that might cast a shadow on the notion that we all live right now in the Best of All Possible Worlds, until dawn tomorrow reveals and even better best, is right out. Only a reactionary Luddite would dare mention how all this Progress has some downsides, how it might even lead to something undesirable. Even worse are those (me, I hope) who reject and mock the very idea that Progress stands athwart the modern world, no feet of clay anywhere to be seen!
Woke up this morning with history on my mind. Not capital ‘H’ History, the totally-not-God-because-that-would-be-stupid Agent upon whose wrong side no right thinking person would want to be – Vengeance is mine, sayeth History – but the more modest small ‘h’ history that is the stories we tell each other to try understand ourselves.
(This, I suppose, needs to be distinguished further from the serious study of What Actually Happened, which, I hear, used to be what professional historians did, before they boarded the Woke Train for Paradise.)
When they got to the New World, the Puritans believed they were founding the New Jerusalem. Because they *finally* understood this God-thing correctly and were getting to run everything, their earthly efforts would no doubt result in simply the bestest civilization and culture ever. (1)
Harvard was a state run and supported school created to train up proper Calvinist preachers and leaders – a seminary, in the modern sense. We might anachronistically assume the Pilgrims, fleeing from government oppression, would be careful to maintain a distinction between church and state. We would be wrong. This assumption ignores John Calvin, who, as a fundamental aspect of his religious program, took over political and police power in Geneva, up to and including having people executed.
Calvin was a smart and very well educated man, who had opponents burned at the stake. So was Cotton Mather, a Harvard man who fomented and supported witch hunts. So were many of the key people who became Marxist, National Socialists, and other Fascists. If they were around today, these are the people we would find shopping at Whole Foods, which seem to be preferentially located in college towns. Whole Foods sells, essentially, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. Never mind that there’s not an iota of scientific evidence supporting most of the claims. Never mind that what organic, natural, non-GMO foods inescapably represent is the belief poor people ought to starve. Go to the location in Berkeley (I’ve been inside once), and admire all the students and professors dutifully picking up their probiotics and gluten-free oatmeal. These are our betters.
Intelligence and education do not make people any less gullible. Rather, intelligence and education might change those things about which we are gullible, while inoculating against ever learning anything ever again. The modern well-educated person possesses a complete framework within which all experience is placed and through which all experience is filtered. Part of this framework is the never-to-be-challenged certainty that all *other* intelligent and educated people agree with them in every important detail. Once the framework is in place, what, exactly, would one learn?
It cannot be overstated how certain these folks are that they KNOW what’s going on. The air of exhaustion that greets any mere intellectual challenges, the long-suffering sighs which any disagreement with their framework/filter draws forth- these are the autoimmune response of the inoculation mentioned above. Push, and the macrophages are released: anger, accusations of stupidity, dishonesty, EVIL. Mental quarantine is enforced.
Next chance I get, I’m going to ask one of my less rabid relatives to do the following thought experiment: Imagine someone you consider intelligent, well-educated, and open-minded. Can you name three fundamental issues upon which you could disagree with him without dismissing him?
I doubt my relatives would understand the question.
Menand is a loathsome Commie apologist, but he did make the best quip about the Harvard herd’s sense of superiority: Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. “…saw no reason to challenge the premises of a social dispensation that had, over the course of two centuries, contrived to produce a man as genial and accomplished as himself.” That Holmes had rejected Calvinism and embraced rationalism is my point: professed dogmas were superficial and could change and did change, but the sense of superiority and, indeed, destiny, were much more fundamental. This conviction of knowing how things stood and what ought to be done carried through while the veneer was successfully remodeled: from Puritanism to Unitarianism to Hegelianism/Darwinism on through Marxism to our present sneering Nihilism. Our betters KNOW they are right with a desperate conviction foreign and nearly incomprehensible to us little people.
Although I receive constant reminders of my profound ignorance of almost everything from this little thing we like to call ‘reality’, nonetheless I’m having a bit of a ‘doh!’ moment. My head keeps spinning with frustration over the level of scientific and historical illiteracy evident everywhere, the level of functional innumeracy, when, obviously, those are mere symptoms. People have been screaming the name of the real problem from the rooftops for centuries. I have even heard it, and acknowledged it. Repeatedly.
Few Americans have have any understanding of science or history, no grasp of what a set of numbers might mean, because few Americans have any grasp of reality. Not merely no grasp on the particulars any one of us receives moment by moment through our senses – although even that is clearly lacking – but no grasp of the general principle that there even is an objective reality that doesn’t care how you feel about it.
Somehow, I keep forgetting this grim fact, and waste my time gathering evidence and shaping arguments, as if evidence and arguments will convince anybody except the tiny fraction of people willing to be convinced – OF ANYTHING.
Memento Mori – not just a good idea. It used to be that death, a very real thing that a) happens to everyone, and b) clearly doesn’t care how you feel about it, put some sort of cap or lid on our fantasies. At the very least, even those convinced of their own immortality would (eventually, gratifyingly) die. Reality got the last word, and, more important here, everybody knew reality got the last word.
Now? Death, where is thy sting? Hiding out in nursing homes, hospices, homeless encampments, third world countries – places YOU don’t have to see it or worry about it. This partly explains the freak-out over the d*mn virus: people refuse to consider exactly WHO is dying of this thing. An easily identifiable population sharing one critical trait: they are already dying of something else. That’s why they’re in nursing homes in the first place. But we are not allowed to consider this factor, instead, on the off chance anybody notices the age distribution, it’s sweet, welcoming grandmas who we are killing if we go maskless, or get together with friends, or open a restaurant, or support the wrong political candidate. Which grandma would that be? The comparatively vigorous grandma out gardening in the yard every day? Or, perhaps, the grandma who been stuck in a nursing home, where she will be lying in bed with soaps on the flat screen, drifting in and out of coherence, unable to take care of even her most basic needs, for the last few months of her life?
Have any of these people ever been to a nursing home?
Without any real experience of death in their lives, except as a horrible wrong thing that we need the government to protect us from, the last real tether to reality has been broken.
As I written before (perhaps ad nauseum), I learned a lot from getting to know a large variety of families from very different backgrounds through the school and church. My own families, while closer and experienced in more detail, don’t work as well, in the fish-describing-water sense. One thing that I noticed many times: the family story. Two examples:
I was once having dinner with this ‘blended’ family. The sisters of the mother to two out of the three children were also there. They were discussing an incident from their childhood where one of them got hurt on a trampoline. At one point, they all became, again, little girls: one of them explained that no one was to blame for the accident, and the other two nodded and spoke in agreement. It was clearly a critical part of the story that they all agree on the explanation of where the blame lay, and that this was not the first time this issue had arisen.
This seems, no doubt, utterly trivial, but you had to be there. These three professional women’s whole demeaners and even voices changed, for the brief moment it took to make sure they all agreed to the story. It was clearly very important to them that they agreed, and had been since the time of the incident. This made me wonder what had actually happened. There’s lots more to this picture, mostly centering around how this family also shared a story about how the damage to the children of divorce could be mitigated if not eliminated if all the adults behaved properly. Reality suggested otherwise, in this case.
Next, a tragically more common experience: there was a family with two mutually exclusive stories, one in which divorce was no big deal, and that the one parent acting as if he’d been betrayed was just being a big baby, and that the kids needed to get over it. The other story was, obviously, that this husband had been blindsided and betrayed by an act of wanton, petty selfishness, an act that damaged his and their children’s lives.
Because the stories were incompatible, the kids were forced by the mother to pick one. If they even acknowledged any validity at all of dad’s story, they were cut out of mom’s life. So siblings start by losing their family, then move on to losing each other as they are forced to pick. The price of acceptance was never contradicting the story.
And on and on – once you see this, you can’t unsee it. This buy-the-story-as-the-price-of-membership shibboleth is EVERYWHERE in human lives. At a very base emotional level, we stupid, crazy, damaged humans need our stories, and even more, need our tribes. To belong to the family, and, by extension, the tribe, there are tales we must accept. Comparing those tales to objective reality is suicide in most cases. So we simply don’t – some abstract notion of truth simply can’t prevail over the immediate, visceral need to belong.
The incessant ad hominem attacks on dissenters is exactly this: if you disagree with the story, you are not a part of the tribe or family – and that is problem! No vitriol or imaginative effort is spared in describing the evil that lurks in the hearts of – take your pick: climate change deniers, Trump voters, people who don’t ‘believe’ (note the word choice) that lockdowns are absolutely necessary and are saving millions of lives. Truth? What is that? We just need to know: are you of our tribe, or not?
At least the Yanomami are upfront about it: if you don’t speak our language, you are not human. But we’re certainly gaining ground on this front. Ah, progress!
When an aggressive psy-op is being conducted against you, you’ve got to protect yourself. Take measures. I’ve seen people turn into a cowering mess. It’s very sad.
Rule #1: curate your sources of information extremely carefully. Look at the lengths we go to in order to protect our bodies from a virus. We need to do the same to protect our minds.
Rule #2: the philosophy of “I’m such a special cookie” will be your downfall. It’s precisely the people who believe they are too smart to be manipulated who succumb the most easily. I have developed a narrative of “I’m extremely sensitive and impressionable, so I’m high-risk.” It helps you still feel very special yet protect yourself from the onslaught.
Rule #3: dedicate 2-3 days a week to a complete news and media blackout.
I succumbed to the corona-panic back in March, folks. I’m a hypochondriac and an OCD neurotic with a history of late-term pregnancy loss. It could have ended badly. But I used these strategies, blacked out the media, avoided FB, and saved my sanity.
Currently, the second part of this psy-op is being unleashed. So please, stay vigilant, and curate, curate, curate.
On a spiritual level, these are also good first steps. We don’t need to let ourselves get hammered over the head with the glee and flexes of our self-appointed betters. Living well is not just the best revenge, but is also the first steps to recovery. Don’t feed the black dog.
I’m reminded of two passages from C.S. Lewis, another college professor who was immersed in but not of his academic tribe. In That Hideous Strength, Jane, Lewis’s stand in for the relatively harmless modern enlightened and therefore clueless people, visits Dr. and Mrs. Dimble, old friends from her student days. Their home is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Cottage of Lost Play or even the Last Homely House – except the magic is wholesome normalcy:
Cecil Dimble, a Fellow of Northumberland, had been Jane’s tutor for her last year as a student and Mrs. Dimble (one tended to call her Mother Dimble) had been a kind of unofficial aunt to all the girls of her year. A liking for the female pupils of one’s husband is not, perhaps, so common as might be wished among dons’ wives; but Mrs. Dimble appeared to like all Dr. Dimble’s pupils of both sexes and the Dimbles’ house, away on the far side of the river, was a kind of noisy salon all the term. She had been particularly fond of Jane with that kind of affection which a humorous, easy natured and childless woman sometimes feels for a girl whom she thinks pretty and rather absurd. For the last year or so Jane had been somewhat losing sight of the Dimbles and felt rather guilty about it. She accepted the invitation to lunch.
The Dimbles, childless but with a house full of ‘children’ as it were, have a garden famous among those children; the N.I.C.E. is planning to bulldoze it along with their house. An echo of Adam and Eve in Eden, certainly, but with the added New Testament touch of having no natural offspring, but plenty of adopted children, as it were. (I could write a long essay just about this scene – better stop now.)
Normal, happy people and their stuff must get bulldozed by the progressive people – they offend and terrify them. For good reason. For our parts, we should try to be those normal, happy people. And plant spectacular gardens according to our skills and gifts. If it get bulldozed, plant another.
And fromPerelandra, the Lady has been listening to the Un-Man as Ransom watches helplessly:
But the Lady did not appear to be listening to him. She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment — these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great Soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy’s true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.
Our play has likewise already been written, and from the same source. Sadly, we are not unfallen Adams and Eves, but rather fatally crippled souls in need of salvation. So, when we are tempted to see ourselves as noble, heroic, great souls, we grab is with no hesitation. I’m not going to look it up – curate! – but we all remember that speech delivered to SS people, explaining how only truly far-sighted and heroic people could bring themselves to kill all Jews, even the nice ones they had been friends with. Men can make themselves do unspeakable evil when the story they tell themselves is how tragically heroic they are.
And everybody today is repeating the same story.
I suppose I’m required to end with one more Lewis quotation:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.” ― Cervantes, Don Quixote
First, those front row kids? This is their finest hour. This is their payoff. All those years, sitting right up front, hanging on the teacher’s every word, doing exactly as told, regurgitating everything right on cue, never having been troubled by a single independent thought they didn’t promptly hunt down and kill, they are now sure that they, the most intelligent, most enlightened, most *moral* generation the onward march of Progress has ever produced, are helping put those evil, stupid back row kids in their places!
There’s another participation trophy in it for them, after all. Those people whose sense of self are formed by family, faith, community, who appreciate a pat on the back, but don’t need anyone to tell them they’ve done something worthwhile, who live in no fear of the disapproval of the authorities who approval they never wanted – they are sure getting theirs, oh boy! How dare we highlight their empty lives by, you know, acting like grownups and getting on with it. How dare we!
On a more generous note, these poor souls, abandoned by the parents, churches, and communities that should have helped give them an appropriate sense of worth, deprived of any chance to own either their own success or their own failure, getting their only sense of achievement, only sense of belonging, hell, only sense of family they ever got at school, desperately toeing the line, doing as told, fitting in – or else! face a yawning abyss where those of us who have roots and a sense of independent yet interdependent self have a soul. They despise those who reject and mock their world. This is their moment. Their sorry, pathetic moment. May God have mercy on us all.
Aristotle anticipated the whole history-doomed to repeat it thing in the simple statement: Anything that has happened is possible. All sorts of stuff might happen. Some predictable, some not so much; some good, some bad, some neutral; some the true nature of which is not evident for some time, and not evident to all people. Some unknowns out of left field, things that might makes things turn out in, let us say, unanticipated ways. So let’s indulge in wild speculation. More than usual, I mean.
China falls. Way overdue. While a whole boatload of the leadership and their lackies deserve just about anything they might get, I wouldn’t wish a front-row seat to this on anyone. The act refuses to stay on stage. (I indulged in some fiction on this, just to blow off some stream)
With the chaos that would result, a whole lot of fine American patriots (*cough*) would find their loyalties and funding up in the air. Uncertainty of this kind tends to result in some mix of over caution and insane overreaction.
The infighting and purges get out of control before the pacification is sufficiently complete. Our new reptilian overlords then get too busy whacking each other to properly monitor the rest of us, and stuff happens.
This one cracks me up: our new politburo screw up so bad that even the rabbits can’t swallow it. Never mind – ain’t happening. See: When Prophecy Fails (point #4) Holding onto ‘disconfirmed’ beliefs is hard on one’s own, but get a support group together, and – Bam! – people will believe anything, as long as all their buddies believe it.
Some else happens. My money, if I had to be, would be on this.
Technology is different. In Don Quixote, Cervantes laments the introduction of firearms into warfare has made it so any coward can kill a brave man. This, from a man wounded at the Battle of Lepanto. We can hardly imagine how ugly was the close in fighting, even hand to hand, that the battle devolved into as the ships rammed each other and got entangled. Cervantes was a manly man to show up for that fight.
His disgust with those who can kill without themselves facing death would have been off the charts today. It’s only gotten worse since, in the sense that anyone who can work a joystick is now more deadly than Atilla.
The H-Man’s thugs had to at least round up and shoot his enemies and competitors. We’ve moved beyond such primitive lack of intermediation. Our Lightbringer was able to watch people die from the comfort of his home. Our front row kids, who are, need I remind you, the most *moral* people ever, are unencumbered by primitive notions such as honor. Ends, means, whatever – that stuff is hard! Just tell us what to do!
Machiavelli assures his readers that, when the time comes to do dirty deeds, a prince will never lack for men willing to do them. Severian questions whether any have the necessary competence to build and run complex machines for very long. I wish I could agree, but even the Soviets got rocket science right. The Germans were the best of the best on the engineering front. So – I don’t know.
First off, SF&F has a long and often even noble tradition of describing dystopian futures. Here’s Zachary Denman, a British guy making short sci-fi videos – that’s what they say they are – on the 2nd Person Tube. Wild speculations that, were they said seriously about right now, instead of a distant made-up future, might get one into trouble. Nonetheless, like all made-up fictional type stuff, they might provide some small insight into how people are thinking and feeling now. For example.
Second, a bit of conventional wisdom, I’ve heard, is that one should fight to the death, if necessary, when first being kidnapped. While in some traditional circumstances, your kidnappers will need you alive, and so you might bet on getting ransomed or released eventually, in other, more pathologically or politically motivated grabs, chances are poor you’ll ever get out alive once you’ve been stuffed in the back of the black SUV. Besides, “The initial phase of a kidnapping provides the best opportunities to escape.”
Third, for some reason this thought from Solzhenitsyn springs to mind:
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
You’re checking in to see what Sarah Hoyt and William Briggs are on about these days, right? John C. Wright happened to be taking a little walk with some friends on the 6th when some possibly interesting stuff happened.
Funny how unimportant the virus seems at the moment. In and of itself, I mean.
One last thought: although I have not slept well since March, one thought, a feeling, really, I can’t shake: this will all turn out better than we have any right to hope. Watching the Hindenburg go down in slow motion for going on 10 months now, seeing predictions of political, financial, and social doom come true, watching – most depressing of all – a large percentage, probably a majority, of people just go along and get angry with you if you don’t – well, it’s been interesting. But as I mentioned before, I had this vivid dream (I am a Joseph after all) where something utterly unexpected occurs just as all hope is lost. Weird. And, when I can focus enough to really pray, calm settles in. So, make of that what you will. Maybe it’s days, maybe it’s years, but everything is alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.
A. What a great word. Buried in the idea of things that hinder your journey is the idea of stuff you need for that journey, maybe, even, things essential for the purpose of the journey in the first place. Dictionaries consistently give the example of the baggage an army carries. But wouldn’t weapons, say, constitute a large part of that baggage? Weapons both hinder your travels AND allow you to do what you’re traveling to do: wage war. The examples I came across were in Manalive, where Innocent Smith carries a large bag full of items essential to his being Innocent Smith, and in The Metal Monster, where Dr. Goodwin’s scientific equipment are so described.
I seem to have accumulated a lot of impedimenta over the years. I hope it’s of the essential kind. Speaking of which –
Two years ago, several of you were kind enough to do a little beta reading on a couple of my stories, which I do deeply appreciate. For a number of reasons, I set aside almost all fiction writing then. Now, I’m jonesing to get back to it.
In another context, someone (Severian?) was describing the nature of personal change, where one is doomed to failure if one simply tries to muscle through a particular activity – dieting, say, or writing books. Instead, to succeed in loosing weight or writing books, one must, cognitive-therapy style, become the sort of person who weighs an appropriate amount and writes books.
Easier said than done, of course, but at least it’s possible. In the great Catholic tradition of both/and, I will remind myself, as I diet and write, that I’m exactly the sort of guy to weigh around 210 and publish stuff. Do and believe.
And ignore that Bullwinkle never did pull a rabbit out of that hat of his, IIRC.
B. On the Covidiocy front, we’ve reached the point where we are plumbing the depths of the psychological damage done to our rootless, abandoned, manipulated population, children of all ages deprived of all normal human relationships, ‘raised’ by equally damaged parents, taught to worship the abstracted individual and, above all, that their personal worth derives from doing as they are told and saying what they are told to say. The family, village, and church being destroyed or abandoned, and the idea that purpose and satisfaction derive from duties we mostly don’t get to choose having been reduced to incomprehensibility, school becomes an oasis of order – do as you are told, and get a gold star! Get a degree, a job, a life! Get the only affirmation, the only sense of belonging, you may ever get. Woe to any who kick at this goad!
I wonder: is there anything at all that would convince the rabbits they’ve been had? What would it take for your typical Front Row Kid to admit: wow, I’ve been royally played. What can be stricken from the list, at least insofar as they are considered individually:
Evidence. It’s no so much that the rabbits don’t care about evidence, it’s that years of training have both 1) rendered them incapable of looking at or even knowing what evidence, as opposed to hearsay and bald unsupported statements, is, and 2) convinced them that parroting whatever the approved authority figure says IS considering the evidence. They don’t know what they don’t know, but are convinced they do.
The examples of our betters. Brix, it appears, is travelling to one her vacation homes and Christmassing with 3 generations of her family. So much for lockdowns, social distancing, etc. – for her, Pelosi, Newsom, and many others. Not that the rabbits have heard of this contempt, because the hairdos with journalism degrees are unlikely to mention it.
Their own lying eyes. How many rabbits personally know even 1 otherwise healthy person who died of COVID? Of course, this would require acknowledgement that the people, if any, they know whose deaths, in CDC terminology, *involved* COVID were well on their way to assuming their places in the Choir Invisible with or without the help of a respiratory virus. Which is a thought not allowed to enter their minds.
Basic logic. E.g., if masks work, then they are trapping billions of live, dangerous viruses. If so, handling used masks without a hazmat suit, gloves, a hazardous waste disposal containers, incineration, etc. would be SUICIDE! OH MY GOD!!! Yet, they are treated with less care and caution than a used Kleenex. Stuffed into and dragged out of pockets, fiddled with, thrown any old place, used for hours, days, weeks at a time. I find them on the street whenever I go walking. Same logical problems with social distancing: if 6 feet is good, why is there still a pandemic? If we’re not safe to meet indoors, why are stores still open? why are there lockdowns, when it’s safer outside? And so on.
These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Nothing so trivial as loss of liberty and sanity will cause the properly educated Front Row Kids to reevaluate their self-image as the smartest, best educated, most moral people in history. Such wunderkind couldn’t possibly be clueless rubes, ignorant of even the most basic principles of science and logic, mindless parrots of whatever they hear, easily-frightened, historically illiterate rabbits about as likely to think or act independently as the gears in a pocket watch. What would you rather be, the smart kid with membership in the circle of smart kids, or the kid suddenly alone, cut adrift from the only society he’s every really known?
Good thing I believe in miracles. Otherwise, I’d have to start throwing punches, and I’m too old for that.
C. Still have hardly decorated for Christmas. Stuff came up, and the available slots for family-time activity sort of vanished. Decorating by one’s self seems kinda sad. But we will get it done.
We have passed the point of her family/my family scrambling over holidays. Except for my MIL, who lives with us, parents are dead; brothers and sisters are far away or cowering rabbits or both. So no plans at that level of family. BUT: now we have a married daughter! Her in-laws, to their credit and with our approval, want to be friends. This daughter and her husband just bought a house, appropriately about 1 hr 15 min from each set of in-laws – just far enough for a little separation, but close enough for regular visitations and family activities.
So now we get to coordinate among our children’s families (well, 1 so far, but I’d bet 2 or even 3 extended family branches within the next few years). I’m digging it.
On the home-home front, failing to get commitment on what people want for Christmas dinner(s). The fam is not big on turkey – fine by me, a lot of work for something not really all that popular. Tried to ask after lamb – ambivalence. Then, partly in jest, suggested: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy – probably the most popular thing I make around here (1) (I do make d*mn fine fried chicken). I got the ‘not special enough’ response.
Seriously considering getting some ribeye steaks. That’s what I’d like to do. Maybe for Epiphany, when Middle Son and his girl will be in town. Or maybe a slab of salmon?
Merry Christmas to all!
I love to cook. Things I regularly make for dinner, in order of family popularity: fried chicken; hamburgers; Napa cabbage tacos (fish, chicken, beef, or pork, using cabbage leaves instead of tortillas – makes for a much lighter meal), pork chops, various curries and rice. Make a lot of other things, too, but these are staples.
Can’t say I understand hope. It seems to be a blend of faith and love: if you believe that, in the end, we win, or rather, we ride the coattails of the Victor, then you have hope. This faith that everything turns out well in the end is inextricable from love, it seems to me, as a love of this vision, of justice and goodness, is needed, else the faith soon dies.
This is not what is meant by hope? It is a separate virtue? Or only separable in the abstract? Is hope the actualization of faith & love? Or something else entirely? I don’t know.
Yet, I feel the hope I don’t understand. On every level of life, from getting up in the morning to do what needs to be done that day, to persevering in the sight of mindless rampage, of cynical manipulation, of the appearances of the victory of evil – even in the valley of the shadow of death, a ray of hope breaks through.
And to me, it really is breaking through, from the outside. Half a lifetime ago, faced with despair, I put myself at the mercies of the psychological profession for a season. Crazy, right? What I found out: by the measures that profession uses, I was seriously depressed, as in, there are people institutionalized (so I was told) that aren’t as depressed as I was. The nice therapist lady was, I think, trying to get me take it seriously. She also said that my frustrations over a lifetime of massive underachievement did not take into account how much of my energy was required to hold it together, to maintain a facade of functionality.
Well. This was supposed to be helpful, I suppose. Maybe it even was. Hard to tell.
That was a long time ago, 30 years of marriage and 5 children ago. One odd thing: while I was certainly willing to run the ‘can I eat myself to death?’ protocol, that was it. I have no idea why drugs and alcohol have no appeal to me – seems like they should. Neither does suicide. There are definitely times I wish I weren’t alive, but I’d never actively do anything to make that come about. Somehow, I’ve muddled through. Somehow, we all have.
But – the paradox: I remain one of the happiest people I know. I have 4 living children who love me, and, perhaps more important, love each other. One dead son any man would be proud of. And a loving wife who has put up with all this for 35+ years. I live in a land of plenty in a time of peace. And God loves me.
That last part isn’t a theoretical conclusion nor an act of faith. Things have happened to me. I have been cared for in inexplicable ways. I could no sooner deny that God loves me than I can reject the evidence of my eyes. One can come up with theories, just as one can convince one’s self that we live in the Matrix. Possible – but unconvincing. And, ultimately and by definition, insane.
In the same way, not all the time, but often, I see or rather feel rays of hope. Something from outside me lets me know it will be OK.
Blind Pollyanna? Nope, I’m about as gimlet-eyed in my view of the world as anybody. As Machiavelli said, you have to govern as if all men are animals, for they will sooner or later act like it. But – hope. We can be better. I can be better.
So maybe, today, I work on some short stories or novels or compositions that my fear of failure (and, possibly, an even greater fear of success) have moved me to set aside, often for years and decades. Perhaps I do something good, to shake a fist at the towering tidal wave of angry stupidity that looks like it’s about to break on top of us all.
Something makes me feel that wave will break short of the shore, kick up a mountain of foam, get everybody damp – and that’s it.