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Star Trek Beyond: Sigh

I saw Star Trek Beyond today. I really like the cast, and I can see that Simon Peg's story reigned in the JJ Abrams airheadedness considerably, but as I sat through all the incoherent action sequences waiting for the crumbs of character-driven dialog, I just couldn't help coming back around to the seemingly obvious contempt in which the studio execs hold the audience.

Let me make this super-clear. I really appreciate this new cast. I have nothing but appreciation for the actors who have made such efforts to treat these characters with respect, but please, don't make any more of these movies.

I'm a life-long Trekkie, but I'm not paying for any more movie tickets in this franchise. Please, just stop.

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Pesky Liberty

Both segments on today's episode of Vermont Edition dealt with proposals to restrict everyone's freedom of action to prevent human fuck-ups from doing what comes naturally. First was a discussion about raising the age to buy cigarettes in Vermont from 18 to 21 with an exception for people in active military service. The second story was about how poor people in NYC are killing each other with guns purchased in Vermont, where gun restrictions are few and shootings are fewer. In response to the first segment, I posted the following:




If you care about consequences and not individual autonomy, there are all manner of possible courses of action that would likely yield desirable results. If CPS takes a child away from his or her parent(s), then the parent(s) could be involuntarily sterilized. No point in letting them make another piece of human debris to be swept up by the criminal justice system at tax-payer expense. Of course some would see sterilization as unnecessary coddling of failed human lives. There are other ways to drag down the competent, productive members of society other than having children you are incapable of raising properly, so how about the death penalty for poor people who are unsuitable for forced labor? How about involuntary cosmetic surgery for ugly people? Or mandatory fasting for faties? If violating people's rights is not a concern, then raising the smoking age to 21 seems like a pusillanimous half-measure.



Yes, I know. It sounds petulent. Even to me.

The piont is, though, that the United States has encoded a basic level of individual human autonomy into the foundational documents and principles that govern this society. Not all countries do. China doesn't. Japan doesn't. England doesn't. How are they doing? Better than us? In some ways, maybe.

Do you want to live in Singapore? The streets are clean. The infrastructure is top notch. Violent crime is rare. People get cained for petty infractions and executed for drug crimes. If it's an orderly, prosperous society you crave then respecting people's freedom of choice is a fool's game. Unless, that is, you value freedom of choice for its own sake. Then you have to ask yourself HOW MUCH you value it. How much failure and unnessary expense are you likely to put up with as a result of free people making poor choices. Choices like smoking.

If you only value freedom of choice when it yeilds good results, then you only value liberty as a means to an end. If you're not willing to put up with a bit of disfunction, unsightlyness, and unecessary expense, then freedom of choice may not be for you.

You need only point to the fact that many of the authors of those foundational documents, which pay such eloquent lip service to "inalienable rights," owned slaves to dispell the notion that chipping away at individual autonomy is dragging us out of Liberty's paradise and into a consequentialist, nanny state, dystopia. Those supposed values have always been aspirational at best. Maybe it's time we rid ourselves of some maladaptive ideological baggage and ditch the conceipt of individual autonomy all together. Really, who'd miss it? I mean, other than a bunch of clueless, working class yokels who can't see through  a smokescreen of talk radio conspiracy theories to identify the real causes of their own deteriorating station in life. If they're the most empassioned champions of liberty, then how good could liberty possibly be? NASCAR good? Smokeless tabacco good? Rush Limbaugh good?

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Getting Over Collapse: Part 2 of 4

Read Part 1 here


Losing My Collapse Religion
The collapse meme is hard to resist when it offers a systemic explanation and exculpation for your personal circumstances, but full-on collapse obsession is a difficult worldview to inhabit perpetually. It's doable, but if you take an interest in developments outside of your personal echo chamber, your collapse mania is likely to lose steam.
The Catabolic Collapse theory describes the trajectory of industrial civilization over the coming century as a repeating cycle of mini collapses and partial recoveries. This is as true on the individual scale as it is from a big picture perspective. We all have a date with our personal, ultimate collapse, but for now, most falls are followed by a recovery of some sort. During our personal periods of recovery, it's tempting to believe that happy days are here again. If we clung to collapse to excuse our fall, it quickly loses its appeal when we're on the rise. We're a plunky, optimistic variety of ape because optimistic apes outbred their sullen brethren in our evolutionary past. We realize that pessimists are downers that most normal folk avoid when possible, and so during our personal upswings, the collapse narrative takes on all the appeal of a used band-aid.


It's also hard to stay fixated on the coming collapse when, year after remarkable year, it fails to materialize. During your last collapse phase, you sought out the most credible sounding voices who explained how the rigged monetary system was built on the beach out of balsa wood and tissue paper with the tide coming in. Other credible voices described, in excruciating detail, all of the ways in which the architecture of daily life depended on cheap and plentiful fossil fuels, the production of which peaked in 2005.

And yet a decade later, the rickety, just-in-time delivery system is still keeping the shelves at the super-market stocked with a variety of food from around the globe. The soil-destroying style of industrial agriculture has yet to deplete the Earth's ability to fuel the growth of the burgeoning human hoard. The oceans haven't risen all that much. The internet and cell phone network still work. That collapse which seemed nigh in 2008 has stubbornly refused to show its face and justify our conviction that every aspect of the world built on high-energy technology is soon to go to shit.


Some people manage to hold firm in their conviction that this is the year that it will all fall to pieces, year after disappointing year, but for most of us, our faith will waiver. At some point, we'll compare our narrative against some of its competitors and ask which one best fits the evidence of our senses.


Another challenge to our faith in collapse is the fact that some trends which seem not to jibe with total collapse continue to develop and move in interesting directions. Apple introduced the iPhone in 2006, the year after global production of conventional petroleum peaked. If you'd asked a gathering of Peak Oil enthusiasts in 2006 how they thought mobile computing, GPS and "big data" would change the way people relate to one another, their employers, their government and to their society you probably would have been met with scowls and a scolding "reality check."
After all, the fragile, energy-hungry technosphere was on its last legs. Why waste your time with techno-utopian fantasies? And yet here we are living lives that have been re-organized by those trends that only techno-onanists and corporate PR flaks cared about a decade ago. The world keeps moving, and curious minds want to follow it's movements even when they stray beyond the boundaries of a cherished worldview.
The Appeal of the Impending Collapse

When our best efforts leave us no better off than the people making no effort, and particularly when our best efforts are filed with the non-efforts of the useless eaters, we enter into a perilous mindset where we start to yearn for the collapse of everything that once seemed legitimate and now seems corrupt and putrid. In this moment, one becomes a ready vessel to be filled with visions of collapse and fantasies of doom. Why? Because when you have collapsed on an individual level, and your self-congratulatory betters blame you for your own fate, it's tempting to fantasize about a tsunami that will capsize all boats.  Your boat is already swamped, and since the asshat who sneers down at you from the deck of his multi-million dollar yacht won't throw you a line, you dream of seeing him treading water right next to you. Collapse promises to be the great equalizer, to bring the arrogant and the undeserving down to the level of the defeated and humiliated.

Or so goes the fantasy. The reality would be quite different.

In reality, the collapse is likely to proceed in the stair-step fashion that John Michael Greer describes as "catabolic collapse." According to Greer's vision, the collapse of industrial civilization will take the better part of a century and will consist of a series of collapses and partial recoveries. During the partial recoveries, voices of authority will insist that the crisis has passed and that industrial civilization has resumed it's endless upward climb.

During the mini-collapses that make up the larger landscape of total collapse, the rich will do better than the poor, and the fruits of the partial recovery will go disproportionately to those least in need. By way of illustration, consider the supposed recovery that followed the recession triggered by the housing market crash of 2008.

According to the statistics that the investment class takes seriously, the economy has enjoyed a robust recovery. The stock market and corporate profits have climbed to new highs, but the jobs destroyed in 2008 and 2009 were replaced largely by service sector jobs with low wages, no benefits and little potential for advancement. The people who do these jobs do not have the same pride of purpose or sense of solidarity with the rest of the society that people working middle class jobs enjoy.

The unemployment rate is low because someone who lost a good job and took a shit job out of necessity counts as being just as "employed" as the worker who holds a respectable job with good pay, medical benefits and considerations for retirement. The people who lost jobs and never found new ones and who now scratch out an existence in the informal economy are don't count as workers. They aren't receiving unemployment benefits, so they are not counted as being unemployed. They used to be employed workers, then they were unemployed workers, and now that they have permanently left the workforce, what they do to feed and house themselves is of no concern to those who maintain the official measures of employment. They have become former workers, and their lack of formal employment is not reflected in the official unemployment rate.

Story Cubes exercise 15 - Waiting


Who knows exactly how long ago humans noticed that we don't fit into our world we as neatly as many organisms occupy their places in the grand tapestry of life? Certainly, since the middle ages, the cultural conversation has focused on what makes humans different from animals. It's only recently that we can say, "from OTHER animals." While we are clearly made from the same stuff as other life on Earth, we also seem distinctly different. According to the Christian worldview, the things that set us appart from animals are the hallmarks of our superiority. We are made in God's image, endowed with souls and free will, and given dominion over the Earth. These self-flattering assumptions have blinded us to the potential consequences of our "split from nature," and we will need to set them aside if we are to respond in a truly intelligent and adaptive way to the suite of challenges that beset us in the 21st Century.

The things that set  us apart from other animals are our ability to co-ordinate our actions, create complex abstract representations of our world, ourselves, and the processes which affect our well-being. We can then communicate our abstractions to our fellow humans and thereby make reference to our shared abstractions, modify them collaboratively, and use them as guides for action. We can also record them outside of our genes and outside of living memory. Chimps and Orcas may have culture and learn things from one another, but no chimp has access to a 200 year-old annotated and illustrated manual for havesting termites. No Orca can compare his own understanding of the state of his environment with a record layed down by an Orca a thousand years ago. Because the patterns that allow our adaptive and massively coordinated behavior change much more quickly than most organisms adapt to their environments, we have gone from living in caves and simple shelters to building castles and onion-domed towers, to constructing buildings from steel and glass which provide electric light, running water and flush toilets a thousand feet or more above the ground. In the time that our buildings have changed so dramatically our genes and bodies have seemingly changed very little.

But those same capacities for abstraction, communication and coordination have allowed us to lose ourselves in worlds of fantasy and self-deception. Today, even poor people have access to rich catalogs of music, art, drama and forms of entertainment that no king or emperor of ages past. We have remade the world to prioritize our abstractions over the tangible and to surround ourselves with a mesh of constantly chattering, battling, complixifying culture. Because we treat abstractions as being as real as rocks and water, we subject ourselves to contrived systems of authority. Differential selection guarantees that organizations which prioritize their own continued existence and growth over serving whatever purpose they were originally conceived to servie will proliferate in the environment. We allow these systems, which care nothing for our happiness or our values, to sacrifice our freedoms, health, and options to them.

Merely recognizing the source of our challenges does not necessarily provide a guide for effective action. Sometimes we can only wait, observe, anticipate and gather our stregnth in order to respond with wisdom and agility for when the moment of transition is at hand.



Young Bernard possessed so much placid self-assurance that it bordered on being a superpower. Repeatedly the solid foundations of his life dropped out from under him, but he always retained his composure and some form of parachute always manifested to protect him from what looked like an inescapable fall. His family had once been quite wealthy, but after the death of his father, Young Bernard's mother sustained them in their accustomed lifestyle by slowly selling off the family treasures.

The private prep school he attended with the sons and daughters of genuinely wealthy families left him better educated than most graduates of four year universities, and the mannerisms his education instilled in him and his solid foundation in the classics allowed him to feel at ease and move freely among the upper classes even when he was overdue for a haircut or his socks had holes in them.

By the time he reached college age, the family fortune was completely gone, but he made the happy discovery that because he had no vocational ambitions nor any desire to attain an actual degree he could attend college for free and take whatever classes appealed to him for however long they held his attention. His residential status was fluid. He co-habituated with a variety of lovers, both on and off campus, and while he could not afford to pay tuition, his ability to act as a confident liaison between the sons and daughters of privilege and the denizens of the wrong side of town granted him an easy income. One semester his name even appeared on a lease for an off campus house.

Of course, he had repeated encounters with the police, but his calm, patient and inoffensively cheerful demeanor saw him through all such encounters without bodily injury. Debate and music appreciation classes from his prep schools days proved invaluable to him. In debate, he had had to argue both sides of whatever proposition was assigned to him. That meant he had to develop a perspective that would allow him make a strong case for things he didn't actually believe. What's more, since victory, rather than truth, was his objective, he felt no reservations about winning on technicalities. This put him in a very good position to stand firm in the face of intimidation by the police who meant to spook him into self-incrimination. He could, without visible agitation or self-consciousness, repeat again and again some variation on, "I'm very sorry officer, but my father has given me explicit instructions that I am never to answer questions from the police without the family attorney present. I understand that you are doing your job, and I respect your dedication to it, but unless I'm actually under arrest just now, I do have a very important affair to attend. Am I under arrest? In that case, I do need to get going. I am free to go, aren't I?"

On those occasions when the police could not be mollified by his calm insistence on the niceties of strict legal protocol, his music appreciation instruction helped lubricate the moment. He could lose himself in all manner of music that he could bring to mind note for note and measure for measure. So powerful was his ability to conjure enveloping music that it sometimes amused him to discover that he was actually face down on the pavement with a policeman's knee on the back of his neck rather than at a philharmonic performance.

He did learn vicariously through an associate's misstep that whistling aloud to demonstrate one's comfort in police custody could turn an otherwise disinterested police officer into a rampaging demon. For this reason, he gave no sign of his retreat into music other than a nearly undetectable swaying of his head, a tapping of his foot or a humming so soft as to be barely more than an inaudible vibration in his throat, sinus cavities and chest.

In his years at and around the university, he made enough contacts to find himself on the inside of several seemingly promising enterprises, but in each case critical funding did not materialize, or a rival venture was the first to some critical milestone, but time and again Young Bernard displayed his unerring ability to manifest some sort of parachute when the balloon that was drawing him aloft burst without warning.

Not being on a path to graduation, he didn't pay much attention to how long he stayed in the orbit of the university, but he did notice that there were fewer and fewer courses that captured his interest, and that some of the ones that did appeal to him he had completed more than once, sometimes with multiple instructors.

One day he looked in the mirror and realized that he was noticeably older than most of his college playmates. The time had come for him to move into another sphere. Key to making this move would be transforming his ability to manifest a parachute into the capacity to sprout wings. That way he he could depart from each collapse and find a new perch without losing altitude. He locked eyes with his reflection and composed an oath that would keep him focused on this new trajectory, for he knew well that he was a creature of habit and could easily lapse into familiar routines. Once he had composed his oath he spoke it aloud, and as the music swelled and bouyed him aloft, he understood that if he never again came to rest he would never need to deploy a parachute when the ground fell out from beneath his feet.

The Sage and the Seeker



The seeker asked the sage, "In order to feel at home in the universe, is it necessary to believe in justice?"

"Do you want to feel at home in the universe," asked the sage?

"I do, venerable master. My spirit is in turmoil."

"You have grappled with this question for some time," said the sage.

"Yes," replied the seeker.

"Tell of me of your struggles," invited the sage. And the seeker responded:

"Justice seems to me like a serpent. It writhes and twists and is difficult to catch. And when I try to grasp it firmly, it bites and I lose it completely.

"The courts, those institutions which claim to dispense justice, often seem like theater. There is as much tragedy and comedy in their verdicts as there is impartiality or even-handedness.

"The learned scholars who give the most rigorous accounts of justice seem just as petty and prone to moral folly as the illiterate. In practice, their justice often amounts to nothing but a shell of justifications for their station in life.

"The shamans I've questioned spoke of transcending their individual points of view and seeing the universe as a stage upon which the roles of both victim and victimizer are played by willing actors who don costumes of temporary ignorance so as to learn from the experience." Read more...Collapse )

"And have you tried the shamans' medicine yourself?"

"No, o sage."

"Why not?"

"Because the shamans seem no more just in their dealings than normal folk. Less so in many cases."

"But if the appearance of justice and injustice is merely an illusion..." began the sage, but the seeker interrupted before he could finish.

"I'm not interested in cosmic justice that does not show itself in human affairs!"

"I see," said the sage. "And what question is it again that you want me to answer?"

The seeker, who had grown visibly agitated over the course of this dialogue, barked, "Do I have to believe in justice to feel at home in the universe?"

The sage poured more tea into his cup. The seeker had not yet touched his cup. It was full of tepid liquid. After a silent moment, the sage asked, "If I were to answer that it IS necessary to believe in justice in order to feel at home in the universe, I expect you would produce a counterexample."

"Yes," replied the seeker. "Beasts and men of low intelligence who care nothing for abstract notions of justice often seem settled and comfortable in their skins."

"Does that not then answer your question?" asked the sage.

"Not to my satisfaction!"

"And if I told you," the Sage continued, "that the devils, demons and fiends of the lower realms, who delight in tormenting the souls of the damned, felt comfortable in their skins, would that convince you that a belief in justice is not necessary to feel at home in the universe?"

"How could it?" The seeker's face had grown livid and his eyes wide with the arousal of his indignation. "The wrathful entities are likely to be tormented souls themselves, only inflicting pain upon their victims in response to the cruelties they themselves have suffered in the past. Those monsters that do feel right and comfortable with their task delight in meeting out torment because the damned have earned their punishment. Such fiends are satisfied to inflict suffering because they know that it is just!"

"I think I follow your reasoning," said the sage. "Demons either perpetuate injustice and are miserable because of it, or they effect justice and so derive satisfaction from their work."

"Yes."

"But the justice that makes the demon pleased with his function is justice on a scale that humans cannot observe in their daily affairs. The scales they balance are celestial or infernal, and beyond the perception of any mortal..." This time the sage trailed off without the seeker interrupting.

"So," said the sage, "An answer of yes is unacceptable to you."

"That is correct, o sage."

"And an answer of no..."

"Equally unacceptable," snapped the seeker.

"I see." The sage took another sip from his cup, set it down and then folded his hands upon his lap. "What sort of answer do you seek from me?"

"I want you to tell me that my question is untenable!"

"I think you can see that it is that," the sage assured him.

"I want you to tell me that my precepts are flawed."

"They don't seem to allow you any peace," agreed the sage.

"I want you to make me meditate in the winter wind while you pour cold water over me."

"It is the wrong season for that sort of discipline," observed the sage.

"I want you to hit me with a stick!"

"I don't have a stick to hit you with," said the sage.

"I've brought one with me." At this the seeker gestured to the stout walking stick that he'd leaned against the door frame when he entered the sage's modest dwelling. "It's sturdy and long, but not too heavy for you to wield, I think."

"There are many spiritual teachers who are known for using such harsh techniques. Why not seek them out?" The sage gestured off into the distance.

"I've been to ALL of them!" By this time the seeker was no longer looking at the sage. So great was his agitation that he could see only red, and his eyes could not focus. The seeker rattled off a litany of inadequacies. "Some teachers struck too hard, so that I feared I would die before I found the answer to my question. Others held back so that their blows were but token gestures incapable of sparking even trivial insights. Some clearly enjoyed it, and I won't take wisdom from a sadist. Others beat me by rote. So uninspired were their mechanistic lashes that I couldn't credit them with any sort of penetrating insight."

"Some hit you too hard," the sage paraphrased. "Others not hard enough. Some with too much gleeful intent, others without conviction."

"Yes. Yes. You understand my predicament."

"I understand that you are ill at ease. Many live and die and never escape that condition. You say you wish to feel at home in the universe, and you say that beasts and men of low intellect sometimes seem content."

The seeker's breathing slowed, and the flush faded from his cheeks. The sage realized that declarative statements calmed the seeker, while questions provoked him. With this understanding, the sage continued. "You believe that contentment is possible for some, though you may not be constituted to achieve it in the manner that beasts and prosaic men do. A better question for you to ask then would be 'How can I, a thinking man, feel at home in the universe?' Tying the question to an understanding of justice complicates matters and keeps you from your goal. As you say, justice is a difficult concept even for the learned and for those with the authority to make pronouncements on what is just and what is unjust."

As he spoke, the sage unrolled a scroll and took a brush from a modest case. He added water to an ink well and dabbed the brush in the ink and rolled it in the ink to shape the tip. He barely seemed to look at the paper as his hand, in a series of fluid strokes, created a delicate design on the paper. "Do you know this animal?"

"It is an elephant," replied the seeker. "A mythical animal, as big as ten horses, said to have lived in a bygone age."

"It is true that elephants, while native to a country that neighbors our own, have all died out in this part of the world, but they were once real. The royal temple in the capital, where I studied and served as a government administrator when I was a young man, housed the skull of an elephant. It was as big as you say. It is said that living specimens exist even to this day in the menagerie of an emperor on the far side of the world ocean. The elephant was a beast, but one with a deeper intellect than most men. I have seen paintings that were executed by elephants."

"Elephants had no hands," objected the seeker. "How could they hold a brush."

"It is said that the elephant's nose, which was as long as you are tall and tipped with a pair of grasping lips, was supple and dexterous enough to hold a brush and produce the most delicate calligraphy. You are right to doubt this extraordinary claim, but the documents that tell of elephant paintings tell of other unbelievable phenomena which the royal alchemists and engineers have confirmed to be factual."

The seeker furrowed his brow slightly, but he made no further protest. The sage continued.

"It is said that in ancient times humans were so numerous that their villages and towns grew larger and larger until there was no land left that was not under cultivation or given over to human habitat. Even then the elephants found a place in the human world along with dogs, monkeys, cats and chickens. It was an unhappy place for them, but a lucky few found some modest satisfaction in the work to which men put them. Then the rains came at the wrong time or not at all, and there was a great hunger across the land, and men could spare no food for any but their own. The monkeys and dogs stole enough to survive the lean times, but the elephants required too much fodder and were too big to escape and live in the neglected spaces of the world of men. And so they perished.

"Here is my challenge to you, seeker. Take this scroll, this brush and this ink. Continue your searching, and every night and every morning, meditate on this image of the elephant. Eventually you will encounter an elephant, most likely in a dream. When you come face to face with this enormous beast, you must quell your natural panic and offer the animal this brush or your walking stick. Ask him to draw the mandala of contented abiding for you or to bludgeon you with your walking stick. And whichever choice you make, ask the elephant about justice."

The sage packed the calligraphy set for travel and handed it to the seeker, but the seeker refused to take it.

"I expected better from the great sage who left his wealth and royal appointment for the life of a mountain hermit. This is just a ploy to send me on my way, and not a very clever one at that. Keep your brush and scrap of paper."

The sage did not bow, as would have been customary if he thought his guest was leaving, nor did the seeker make any move toward the door. Finally the seeker broke the silence.

"Well, don't you have any other wise-sounding non-sense to try to send me on my way?"

The sage replied, "You are not that old, so if you have sought spiritual relief with as many teachers as you say, you must not have stayed with any one of them for very long. I have no fear that you will grow roots under my roof. Even so, you are welcome to stay here for as long as you wish, just so long as you meditate on the image of the elephant at dawn and before sleeping. The people of the nearby village supply all of my needs, and they bring me more food than I can eat, in spite of my request that they bring less. I will share that food with you, and you can build your hermitage next to mine, and we can pass what days remain to me together. I will speak no more of contentment or justice, but I am in no hurry to be rid of you."

The seeker did not believe the sage, and so he stayed. Each day he expected the sage to convince him that the answers he sought could be found elsewhere, but the sage was true to his word. The food the villagers brought was unremarkable, but there was plenty of it. After a few weeks time the seeker's agitated nature drove him to his habitual exodus, and when he left, he did take the scroll and the brush and the ink.

He took his walking stick as well, but he knew that if he ever met the elephant, and if he could master his fear, he would offer the elephant the brush and not the stick.

Not long after the seeker left, the sage died. The villagers notified the monks at the nearby monastery who came to provide funeral rites for the sage. They washed his body, drew the sacred symbols upon his face and hands, and dismembered his corpse and left the pieces on the mountainside for the carrion birds.
I learned of the book Social Justice Warriors Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day from an LJ post by johncwright. Just after I read it, James Howard Kunstler published a blog post about his experiences with SJWs at Boston College. I wrote to Jim and suggested that he read Day's book, which he did. That was back in November of 2015. Just last week, I recorded a Skype conversation with Jim. The first part of that conversation is available for free in C-Real Podcast episode 498: Everything's A Racket. Read more...Collapse )

I included the second part of that conversation in that weekend's episode of the C-Realm Vault Podcast, which is only available to paying subscribers. (C-Realm Vault episode 180) In the Vault portion of the conversation Jim and I discussed Day's book and Jim's experiences at Boston College.

In response to the Vault portion of the conversation, a C-Realm Vault subscriber and long-time Friend of the C-Realm posted the following to his blog:

There's a new meme on the interwebs, and I literally only ran into it yesterday. It's the "Social Justice Warrior", or SJW for short. Google trends indicates that it's of strictly US origin and has been around since 2013 with approximately linearly increasing citations.

The SJW is an archetype of someone who is campaigning for justice of various kinds, but who is also stupid, uniformed, making rash decisions and somewhat offensive or inconsiderate in their advocacy.

I came across this meme while listening to the C-Realm Vault podcast number 180 in which KMO interviews James Howard Kunstler. Towards the end KMO goes off on a absurd tirade against the archetype even to the extent that at times I got the impression that he was beginning to lapse into a sort of casual racism. There is some obvious deconstruction which can be applied and KMO didn't even attempt it, but maybe he will in later podcasts. My deconstruction of the SJW meme would be:

Firstly, it's just an archetype used as a straw man for a particular political purpose. You set it up and then you attack it. If there are enough credulous folks around maybe your political enclave increases its cohesiveness.

There was an obvious dichotomy between disliking the offensive nature of the archetype and yet also advocating the right to offend people with unpopular opinions. This dichotomy was never really explored in the podcast.

SJW is clearly a meme coming from the political far right and used to demonize people who are trying to change the status quo by being intolerant of injustice. In any intellectual discussion this should be acknowledged.

Cherry picking YouTube videos for examples of the archetype was perhaps not the best way to explain it, particularly in an audio only format.

Allowing a multitude of viewpoints to be expressed is ok. However, for this to be effective it needs to be accompanied by appropriate analysis and context which may include counter-narratives. Without that, you just have a situation which appears to be blatantly promoting racism/sexism/classism.

The real critique of the archetype should be one of what constitutes effective versus ineffective activism (which alienates potential supporters).

Other than being vaguely irritated I wouldn't have paid any more attention to this meme had it not also cropped up in a blog post about the Linux Foundation, in which Karen Sandler is accused of being an SJW. In my opinion that blog post is utter garbage, but as mentioned in the C-Realm podcast it is a good idea to be aware of the range of viewpoints even if you personally don't agree with them.

As an outsider who has only occasionally dabbled in Linux kernel development I think the kernel community has its own set of social problems. Some of these originate from the "benevolent dictatorship" maintenance model. Dictatorship is never actually benevolent, even though all dictators believe themselves to be so. Other problems are coming from proprietary attempts to colonize what is a commons based peer production process - such as by trying to exclude GPL supporters like Karen Sandler and also to prevent ordinary members from voting on who should represent them.

The Justice Question

I've seen a lot of injustice in my life, both vicariously via the media and also anecdotally from personal experience. Particularly as there is ongoing austerity and increasing levels of starvation, injustice is gaining the upper hand.

There needs to be more justice in the world, not less. Justice isn't always the same as law. All manner of very unjust things can be vigorously claimed to be "legal". Sometimes being the nice, quiet and polite people who have some concerns and a petition to sign is not enough. Sometimes you need to be noisier and to gather a critical mass of supporters to get things changed. Just being an atomised consumer expressing your fetishised individualism - as suggested in the podcast - isn't sufficient and self-absorption will only lead to perpetuation of the injustice. With solidarity and enough tenacity, divide and rule methods can be overturned.

So I'm more in favour of confronting things like sexism or classism and trying to do something about it (even though I'm not very confrontational myself) than complacently assuming that it's all ok. There is always a chance that activism can be ineffective or over-the-top, but those are tactical errors and in any broad attempt to transform the society into something more humane there are going to be mistakes.


He then brought his blog post to my attention by posting a link to it in the Friends of the C-Realm group on Facebook where I posted the following replies:

Bob, I would recommend that you listen to C-Realm Vault podcasts 170 and 173 for additional context.

I'm not sure how I feel about having you post a public comment on the content of a C-Realm Vault episode. Sure, it's advertising of a sort, and you did spell my name right, so according to the famous dictum about good and bad publicity, I should be pleased.

On the other hand, most folks who encounter the name KMO in your post will not push past the pay wall or investigate further, and so all they will know about me or the podcast is what they read in your blog post. The portrait you paint there is, I would think by your own admission, not consistent with the mental image of me or the C-Realm that you've developed over the course of how ever many episodes you've listened to.

As you admitted in the first paragraph in your post, you only encountered the SJW meme the day before you posted your opinion about it and the people who discuss it. I hope your opinion isn't carved in stone so that any and all future research into the topic will be in the service of reinforcing your initial impression.

I would recommend reading the book So, You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. I realize that a book is a big time commitment, so the next best thing would probably be this episode of his radio show:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0112g4w

The most important thing to know about the SJW mode of attack is their method of target selection. They don't attack people who openly advocate racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic positions. They target fellow liberals who either say something innocuous which can be mis-characterized (for example, Tim Hunt) or who are speaking in the lexicon of progressivism that is a few years behind the vanguard (like Derrick Jensen and Lierre Kieth.) SJWs focus their attacks on people or parties who are likely to seek to appease their attackers and for whom being labeled racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic can have devastating impacts on their career or social standing.

Finally, I hope you can see that you've propagated the pernicious notion that only people who oppose social justice would object to the tactics of those who attack others in the name of social justice. That's akin to saying that the only reason to oppose the USA Patriot Act is because you hate America. Just because the word 'patriot' or 'social justice' is in the title doesn't mean that the person who attacks others using that banner for cover has any monopoly on patriotism or social justice.


And

The addition of the comic strip doesn't bode well for your keeping an open mind on the topic, which, by your own admission, you've only just discovered.

Someone wanting to talk "about the problems that women and minorities face" is not necessarily a Social Justice Warrior. SJW refers to a set of dishonest tactics that people who claim to champion the rights of oppressed minorities use to defame unsuspecting and well-meaning liberals and, when possible, get them fired.

Again, SJW refers to a set of tactics and a preference for slander over rational discussion. Not everyone who wants justice is an SJW. Opposing SJW tactics and illiberal attitudes does not equal opposing justice.


I posted a link to the discussion to Twitter. One Twitter user who doesn't use Facebook asked for a summary someplace other than Facebook, so I gathered things together here on LiveJournal for easy reference and for the benefit of the Facebook-averse.

My Twitter handle is @Kayemmo.

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Up From the Depths



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A C-Realm listener wrote the following in response to C-Realm Vault episode 166:

On your conversations with James Hughes re techno-unemployment, I’d like to hear you test these “machines replace humans” scenarios against a prominent theme in the writing of JM Greer that the economic advantages of employing machines to replace human labor hinge critically on the continued abundant supply of cheap concentrated energy, as we have had with fossil fuels. Greer discusses this at length in his book “The Wealth of Nature,” arguing that the decline in abundant cheap energy will make machine labor more expensive, looking at the whole life cycle from extracting the materials to build the machines, to implementing them and maintaining and operating them, thereby shifting the economic preference back to human labor. This may play out especially at the community level, where initiatives to enhance local economic and societal resilience create a new emphasis on social rather than monetized economic exchange. Seems to me if you explore this perspective it opens up some much more appealing potential scenarios.


It's interesting that the listener should single out John Michael Greer from the pack of peak oil and limits to growth thinkers. Right now, JMG is publishing a series of Retrotopia blog posts which explore a fictional North American continent in the latter half of the 21st Century in which the USA has broken up into a number of smaller states. In the narrative, a government official from the Atlantic Republic is visiting the Lakeland Republic, which is in the upper mid-west around the Great Lakes. The Atlantic Republic represents today's business as usual projected forward another half century. Their business practices and political orientation are high-finance, high-energy and high-tech. The economic inequality familiar to the present has continued to divide the population of the Atlantic Republic into a shrinking caste of wealthy elites and the growing ranks of the desperate.

In the Lakeland Republic, there is no internet. There are very few private automobiles, and farming is small-scale and mixed rather than the fence-post to fence-post style of corporate monocropping still practiced in the east. By choosing a model that is more labor-intensive and less dependent on energy inputs and automation, unemployment is not a problem in the Lakeland Republic.

In the seventh installment, Retrotopia: A Question of Subsidies, the narrator visits a streetcar factory in the Lakeland Republic. The lack of robots and automation strikes him as terribly inefficient, and he asks his guide, Elaine Chu, about that after the tour.

We went back into the business office, shed helmets and coveralls, and proceeded to her office. “I’m sure you have plenty of questions,” she said.

“One in particular,” I replied. “The lack of automation. Nearly everything you do with human labor gets done in other industrial countries by machines. I’m curious as to how that works—economically as well as practically—and whether it’s a matter of government mandates or of something else.”

I gathered from her expression that she was used to the question. “Do you have a background in business, Mr. Carr?”

I nodded, and she went on. “In the Atlantic Republic, if I understand correctly—and please let me know if I’m wrong—when a company spends money to buy machines, those count as assets; that’s how they appear on the books, and there are tax benefits from depreciation and so on. When a company spends the same money to do the same task by hiring employees, they don’t count as assets, and you don’t get any of the same benefits. Is that correct?”

I nodded again.

“On the other hand, if a company hires employees, it has to spend much more than the cost of wages or salaries. It has to pay into the public social security system, public health care, unemployment, and so on and so forth, for each person it hires. If the company buys machines instead, it doesn’t have to pay any of those things for each machine. Nor is there any kind of tax to cover the cost to society of replacing the jobs that went away because of automation, or to pay for any increased generating capacity the electrical grid might need to power the machines, or what have you. Is that also correct?”

“Essentially, yes,” I said.

“So, in other words, the tax codes subsidize automation and penalize employment. You probably were taught in business school that automation is more economical than hiring people. Did anyone mention all the ways that public policy contributes to making one more economical than the other?”


The narrator's answer, of course, is, "No." An effect of public policy is held up by those who benefit from that policy as a fundamental economic reality. Industrial monoculture is simply more efficient than organic, mixed-crop and animal farming. Industrial robots are more efficient than human workers. Efficient at what? Not feeding people or providing stable employment. These practices are more efficient at concentrating wealth.

John Michael Greer differs from the less rigorous and more sensational figures in the Doom-o-sphere in that he doesn't pick some future date and say that that's when all these unsustainable trends will all come to a sudden and catastrophic halt. Baby Boomer Doomers who aren't likely to live past 2030 don't seem to have much interest in future narratives in which the political, economic, and technological trends which bedevil us today are still creating turmoil into the second half of the current century and beyond.

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor did it crumble in a day. Officially, the Western Roman Empire ended in 476 when Odoacer deposed the boy-Emperor Romulus Augustulus, but Odoacer used the imperial bureaucracy to manage his new kingdom. His armies moved over Roman roads, former Roman subjects whose taxes once supported the Empire continued to pay taxes to the new King, and Eastern half of the empire, the political entity which historians call The Byzantine Empire but which they themselves called The Roman Empire, lasted for another thousand years. Over fifteen hundred years later, the actual City of Rome, still a functioning metropolis with 2.8 million inhabitants, stands as an inconvenient artifact for collapse fetishists.

Doomers peddling simplistic narratives either can't conceive of processes which don't culminate before their own personal expiration dates, or they realize that the potential audience for such narratives isn't as large, as passionate or as gullible as the audience for tightly contained prophesies of doom.

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