The Problem With Outrage Quoting

I’m fairly careful to limit my intake of social media to people who say reasonable things. This is in part a survival strategy for Staying Sane on Social Media. However, this still leaves a fairly large vector for things which unbalance my mood and make me less effective at the main stuff I’m supposed to be doing: outrage quoting.

This is where a person who is themselves reasonable sees a very unreasonable thing, then quotes it to express their outrage at it. There’s also a variation on this where the person quotes it to make fun of it. The latter isn’t quite as bad as the former, but both do have the following problem: one is still being exposed to the crazy stuff one was trying to avoid.

Actually, it’s a bit worse than that—the people one follows are specifically filtering through the stuff from the unreasonable people to find the craziest stuff that they say. This can be extremely unbalancing to one’s state of mind. As I talked about in Social Media is Doomed, human beings aren’t designed to deal with a large number of strangers. We deal with people by acclimating to them, but it takes time and is harder the more different sorts of people we need to acclimate to. Even when we are careful to keep our reading to a set group of people to whom we’ve acclimated—there’s no requirement that these people agree with each other or with us, only that we’ve acclimated to them—outrage quoting constantly introduces new people to our notice who are saying crazy things that we haven’t acclimated to. This is extremely stressful to human beings.

Also, please note that I’m not talking about being exposed to new ideas as being stressful. There are some circumstances in which that can be stressful, but usually it’s quite manageable. I’m talking about running into expressions of ideas we’re not used to. Perhaps we know somebody who will say #KillAllMen and we’ve gotten used to this eccentricity. There is no new argument to be found in a person saying, instead, #CastrateAllMen (I made that up; who knows, perhaps I will have actually come up with an absurd example that the universe didn’t beat me to for once). But if we’re used to the former and not the latter, the latter will be far more stressful to run into. There’s a new person here, and people are complex. They’re also dangerous. A stress reaction to having to deal with a new person is actually entirely appropriate. Best case scenario is a big drain on your emotional energy is incoming.

Except that this being a one-off quote means that actually, a big drain on one’s emotional energy isn’t incoming because you don’t actually need to get used to this new person. You’re almost certainly never going to see them again. And therein lies one strategy to help mitigate the stress from encountering outrage quoting: focus on how this is a person you’ll never see again and how they don’t really matter.

I don’t have any other good suggestions, other than be careful about people who do a lot of outrage quoting. But certainly I think the golden rule applies, here: be very careful when quoting to make sure that one isn’t outrage quoting. For example, when I wrote a humorous blog post about that CNN article on cuckolding (CNN’s Love of Cuckolding), I started it off with explaining why it doesn’t matter and isn’t worth stressing over. And I’ve stopped myself from quoting outrageous things often enough that it’s now becoming a habit to not quote outrageous things. Still, it’s something I always keep in mind—if I’m quoting something, what effect will seeing that have on the people who read what I write?

Science Fiction as Limited Fantasy

Readers of my blog will remember that I have been wrestling with the question of what is science fiction, and whether science fiction is just bad fantasy (see What If The Future Has Past?). Not, mind you, because I dislike science fiction, but because I like it. I’m working on a sci-fi story and have hit something of a block because I have yet to come to grips with what Science Fiction is, at its core.

If it’s going to be fantasy, well, I’m very fond of high fantasy. I love swords and sorcery. Why why stuff that could reasonably have swords and sorcery without the swords or the sorcery?

A possible solution recently occurred to me. High Fantasy exists on a continuum of how common magic is. It ranges from very common to quite uncommon. The solution is this: what if Science Fiction is fantasy with uncommon magic and modern technology? The burying of magic inside of devices (“warp/wormhole/etc drive”, “shield generator”, etc) is a way of forcing it to be uncommon. If you need a big expensive device to house your magic amulet, this serves as a limiting function to keep the magic rare.

I’m not committed to this idea at all. It’s basically just thinking out loud. It at least gives a framework to think about science fiction which makes more sense than as various degrees of cheating at an unattainable goal (interstellar speculative fiction).

And as a disclaimer, please don’t take this as criticism of science fiction or of fans of science fiction. This is me trying to work through a way to understand science fiction stories so as to be able to write them. Because there’s an obvious reason Why Science Fiction Will Never Die.

We Live In Cycles

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (if you haven’t read them, see the note at the bottom for context), he observed that human beings live according to cycles. It’s in the beginning Letter 8:

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) AS spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of trough and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth, periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going on are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

Our lives are lived according to many cycles, some independent, some interrelated. What Lewis refers to as troughs and peaks are actually the lining up of many troughs at the same time, or many peaks at the same time. What are these cycles?

There are some obvious cycles, like the diurnal cycle we live in every day (day/night). There are longer cycles, like weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles, too. Work weeks, weekends, pay days, construction seasons, busy season, and all sorts of other cycles affect us. But probably least well appreciated are feedback cycles.

It’s not uncommon when feeling well rested to make the mistake of staying up too late. If we do this a little bit we get progressively more exhausted during the days until we simply can’t do it and start getting enough sleep. Once we’ve gotten enough sleep, we’re ready to start getting too little sleep again.

Another common feedback cycle is the stress cycle. When we’ve got plenty of emotional energy, we tend to be more tolerant of people taking up our time and placing demands on us which consume a lot of emotional energy.  More things on our to-do list, more leniency for people being annoying, more patience with people being rude or unappreciative. Lots of things can consume emotional energy which we can deter or allow to consume more. The better we’re feeling the more generous we tend to be. But as that continues, our surplus gets used up. Depending on what we tolerated, this might have resulted in increased demands past the rate at which we replenish emotional energy. This continues until we’re emotionally exhausted and start being defensive of our energy. This might result in simply turning things down, or it might result in bad temper. (Like all cycles, one deals with it best when one is realistic about it; letting oneself get pushed to complete exhaustion is a terrible idea because it makes us most likely to explode at small irritations.)

There are other feedback cycles in life, like entertainment versus unpaid work or spending time with friends versus solitude. They’re all around us, if we look for them. There’s value to identifying them, but life is complex enough that we also need to be able to recognize when there are cycles we don’t know about at work. Some days we just feel awful and if it’s the result of cycle troughs lining up, it may just be time to go to bed early and soon things will be better. Some days are great because of peaks lining up and it can be a good idea to take advantage of them rather than expect them to be the new normal. It’s also helpful to try to recognize the feedback loops and smooth them out—especially the troughs—by anticipating them and adjusting before things get too extreme.

We live tossed around in the waves. It’s a good idea to learn to surf instead of being tossed around, gasping for breath.

About The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters are written as a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his “newphew”, the demon Wormwood. Wormwood is the demonic parody of a guardian angel assigned to a human being to try to corrupt him and trick him into damning himself. Only Screwtape’s letters offer advice to his “nephew” on how to do his evil work. All of Screwtape’s letters are good advice on how to damn a soul; as such they are really advice on how to live well (in the sense of being upright or good) presented in what you might call photographic negative. What is good, Screwtape calls evil; what is evil, Screwtape calls good. But that’s true in all cases, so one very easily learns the habit of just flipping everything around.

Reading the book—which is excellent, and I highly recommend—is an interesting experience. Probably the closest analogy I can come to is honestly examining one’s conscience for faults with the intention of improving.

MST3K’s Complaints About the 80s

I was just watching one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, Space Mutiny. During the end credits, Mike and the bots are complaining about the 1980s. Actually, I’ll just quote it since the people at the MST3K wikia kindly typed it up:

Crow: You and your ’80s!
Servo: Your precious ’80s!
Crow: You know it would’ve continued to be the ’70s if not for you!
Servo: Yeah!
Mike: All right, all right, that’s it, that tears it!
[Mike attacks Crow and the three begin fighting on the floor]
Crow: You want a piece of me! It’s go time, ’80s man!
Servo: Come on cool-breeze! Ow owie ow don’t!
[After a while Mike sits up]
Mike: Wait, wait you guys, wait, this isn’t us man.
[Pause of a second]
Servo: Yes it is, you hair-feathering freak! Get him!
Crow: No, no, Servo, he’s right, he’s right. This movie has us turning on each other! It won’t end! These credits just won’t end! [sobbing]
Servo: [sobbing] It’s just like the stupid ’80s, they never ended either!
Mike: No no, actually they did end Tom, there there, it’s okay. See, see there’s the copyright, that means it’s over.
Servo: [sobbing] I’m sorry, Mike!
Crow: [sobbing] Sorry, Mike!
Mike: It’s all over, you guys. I’m sorry too.

I’ve never blinked at that, but here I am watching this in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2018, where the 1980s are a distant memory of my childhood. And of course tons of material from the time like movies and songs and such. But MST3K has been off the air for quite some time, and it occurred to me to wonder when this episode was first aired. It turns out that it was aired in 1998. That’s just 8 years after the 80s came to a close. The 1990s weren’t the same as the 1980s, to be sure, but my recollection is that they weren’t nearly as different as the 1980s were from the 1970s.

Granted the above interaction was exaggerated for comedic effect, but it’s curious to see a perspective on the 1980s from relatively close to it.

Incidentally, my recollection of the 2000s is that, culturally, they weren’t all that different from the 1990s and that the 2010s are even less different from the 2000s. Certainly things changed, of course. People do dress somewhat differently, though among the mainstream (rather that people who live and breathe fashion) not *that* differently. And of course streaming is a huge thing these days. But at the same time I wonder if the prevalence of recorded media, both VHS/DVDs/Blu-Ray and streaming, will act to be something of a break on cultural change. There’s money to be made in back-catalogs, and new stuff tends to be more expensive. Plus most new stuff is garbage—in comparison to the best stuff of the last 50 years. (And atheists can’t tell decent stories.) This may partially be why so much of what’s made these days is remakes. This isn’t a well developed thought, just something that occurred to me.

CNN’s Love of Cuckolding

Sometimes things come along where you just have to have some fun with them. CNN’s article titled, “Cuckolding can be positive for some couples, study says” is one of those things (it’s here, if you must go read it.). But before I get into it, I want to make clear that I’m pretty sure that there’s no need for concern. Our society may be degenerating rapidly, but I don’t think that this article is contributing in any way. I think it’s just click-bait. On the internet, as brands like CNN devalue to worthlessness, one way of capturing money before the proverbial ship sinks is to post outrageous stuff so that people click in a huff. Energy for outrage is a limited quantity for human beings, so it’s best to spend it on things that matter. Insincere clickbait should just be laughed it. It’s healthier and leaves you with the energy to be angry about more important things. And this article didn’t even try to be plausible. So let’s take a look:

In our current political climate, the term “cuck” — short for “cuckservative” — has become an insult of the so-called alt-right, aimed at men they view as spineless and emasculated. The slur has its roots in the concept of cuckolding, or having an adulterous partner.

So it starts off with a political dig, if a somewhat mild one. But it sets up a group as the people who think negatively of cuckolding, so that there is political division. This is a good way to try to generate outrage in order to bring the clicks in. Also, the term’s roots are not in having an adulterous partner, but in a man whose wife is adulterous. And further the roots come from the cuckoo, who lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and whose babies are raised by those other birds at those other birds’ expense. Obviously there wasn’t much effort put into this article. Actually, I’m really curious how the author of the article knew so little. If he had gone to Merriam-Webster, Wiktionary, or even Urban Dictionary he’d have known it wasn’t a gender-neutral term. (And Wiktionary mentions the Cuckoo bird.)

But according to a recent study by David Ley, Justin Lehmiller and the writer Dan Savage, acting on cuckolding fantasies can be a largely positive experience for many couples, and hardly a sign of weakness.

Yeah, right. So on the pro-infidelity side, we have a recent study by two people, and a sex advice columnist. Noted.

References to cuckolding appear in literature as early as the 13th century, usually in the form of male characters who fear that their child has been sired by another man during an act of infidelity. Today, however, cuckolding has become fetishized into a powerful sexual fantasy for some men, who get aroused by the idea of their romantic partner engaging in sexual activity with someone else.

What is a “powerful sexual fantasy”? How is this distinguished from a “weak sexual fantasy”? Can one harness the power in a powerful sexual fantasy to produce electricity? Now, I do get that the term is meant to refer to a fantasy which captures the imagination of the person doing the fantasizing. I’m not objecting that this is meaningless, I’m only objecting to the grandiose language meant to make it sound like more than it is. Somebody obsessing over a fantasy is not power, it’s obsession. Properly speaking, it’s weakness. Fantasizing, though harmless when indulged in occasionally, is weaker than dealing with reality. Also, “some men” can be properly said of “2 men”. It’s worth bearing in mind.

Women also share this fantasy, but less so than men.

Noted. Also, I’m not sure this even counts as a sexual fantasy given that the person doing the fantasizing isn’t involved. Could a man be described as having a “boxing fantasy” if he wants to watch to other men box? What about boblsed fantasies if he intends to watch the winter olympics?

“This fantasy has been around as long as marriage and sexuality,” said Ley, whose book “Insatiable Wives” addresses cuckolding in heterosexual couples. “But we’re hearing more and more about it these days, and more people are rejecting the social stigma against this fantasy.”

I understand that sometimes it’s inconvenient to use hard numbers, but at the same time, this would be true if 1 man rejected the social stigma in 1437, and two men have rejected it in 2016 and three men have rejected it in 2018. Though I’m really curious what evidence he has that the fantasy of being cuckolded has been around in the earliest days of history. I wasn’t aware of cuneiform tablets and hieroglyphics detailing people’s sexual fantasies.

Indeed, the numbers suggest that cuckolding, or at least thinking about it, is more common than you might imagine.

Since it’s possible that I imagine that literally no one fantasies about this, it would be impossible for it to be less common than I might image. That’s actually how many people I imagine fantasize about this, by the way.

For his forthcoming book, “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help Improve Your Sex Life,” Lehmiller surveyed thousands of Americans and found that 58% of men and about a third of women had fantasized about cuckolding.

The way this sentence is constructed, it’s saying that 58% of men had fantasized about cuckolding someone else. Being cuckolded is what the article is about, however. I doubt that this ambiguity is an accident.

Though, at the same time, I should note that this sounds vaguely like the Kinsey Reports. There are two relevant things to note with the Kinsey Reports:

  1. They were rife with methodological errors. For example, it seems likely that people who were molested as a child by a same-sex molester would count as having homosexual experience. (Not that they were intentionally counted as such, but that they wouldn’t have been filtered out.)
  2. Kinsey was a sexual pervert who desperately wanted to normalize his deviance. By the end of his life he would do things like tie a string tightly around his testicles and jam a toothbrush up his urethra, bristle side first, in order to obtain sexual gratification.

That similarity does not mean that either #1 or #2 apply to the people behind the current study. On the other hand, I think that the presumption should be against people who are trying to claim that sexual deviance is normal.

“Men are more likely to fantasize about cuckolding, and they do it more often — but there are a number of women who have these fantasies as well, which points to the need for more research focused on women’s cuckolding desires,” Lehmiller said.

I wonder if there are studies which don’t say that there is a need for further research? Scientists do have to eat, after all. Skipping a bit:

Part of what makes cuckolding arousing for heterosexual men is that they tend to view it as a taboo act.

I will backtrack slightly and say that I’m sure that there are some people who get a bit of excitement out of doing something that they know that others would disapprove of. It’s a feeling of power—that they’re able to get away with it. To do it without suffering the disapproval because their actions are secret. They’re veritable masters of the universe! But that’s not really a fantasy about cuckolding, that’s a fantasy about sticking it to the people whose approval they want. It will take any form that’s legal and disapproved of. Today cuckolding, tomorrow using inapplicable racial slurs, the day after telling the woman that she shouldn’t be able to vote, and the day after that pretending that the woman is a minor under the legal age of consent. This is still not going to be a large number of people, but there’s absolutely nothing specific about cuckolding in this.

“In a society or culture that idealizes monogamy, the cuckold fantasy is a current narrative that is available to people to conceptualize their sexual fantasies,” said Ley.

That sentence says nothing behind “cuckolding as a fantasy can exist”. I mean, think about it. “the cuckold fantasy is a current narrative that is available to people” just means that cuckolding as a fantasy can be a fantasy people can have. “to conceptualize their sexual fantasies” is just saying the same thing over again. It’s not like the first part of the sentence left it open whether “the cuckolding fantasy is a current narrative that is available to people” to compute the square root of irrational numbers. The first part is actually wrong, or at the very least overly narrow. Cuckolding would be taboo in any society which has a concept of sexual fidelity, including polygamous ones. Which is to say, it is taboo in literally all human societies which have ever existed on earth. So, in sum, “cuckolding is a fantasy which it is possible to have”. It is logically possible, it must be admitted.

Skipping a bit that says about as much as the above:

And the emotions surrounding seeing your partner with someone else can add to the turn-on, explained Savage. “It’s not cuckolding if there isn’t an element of humiliation, degradation or denial,” he said.

Don’t worry. The humiliation and degradation are guaranteed.

“Our erotic imaginations have the ability to turn shame lemons into delicious kink lemonade.”

People strangle themselves for fun, too. So what?

As a sex therapist, one of the more intriguing findings from this study involves the impact of cuckolding on relationships.

OK, we’re getting to the good part.

“Overall, our research found that for the most part, cuckolding tends to be a positive fantasy and behavior,” said Ley. “It doesn’t appear to be evidence of disturbance, of an unhealthy relationship, or of disregard for one’s partner.”

Hahahahahahahaha. Of course, what’s really meant is “according to some metric we’re using”. You know, like “number of screaming matches per month”. The same technique would allow you to show that murdering your partner doesn’t have an adverse affect on your relationship (as measured by, say, instances of putting itching powder in their underwear drawer) and in fact may have a positive impact (as measured by a reduction in the number of fights reported).

 But there’s an important caveat, added Lehmiller. “We found several personality factors that predict more positive experiences acting on cuckolding fantasies. For those who have a lot of relationship anxiety or abandonment issues, who lack intimacy and communication, and who aren’t careful, detail-oriented planners, acting on a consensual non-monogamy fantasy could very well be a negative experience,” he said.

One of those things is not like the other. Cuckolding is, according to their metrics, only for detail-oriented planners. heck, forget how that’s very different than  having “relationship anxiety” and “abandonment issues”. There just aren’t that many detail-oriented planners in the world. So cuckolding turns out to only be for secure people who aren’t worried about their relationships but are also fussy and obsessed with control about the future. Does anyone fit that description?

“In other words, not everyone who has a cuckolding fantasy should think about acting on it.”

No kidding.

There’s a paragraph which reads like the fine print on a sales pitch, then we get to this:

“For men and couples considering the issue of cuckolding, it’s important there be honesty, integrity, communication, mutuality and shared values,” advised Ley.

And all of these things have to be between two detail-oriented planners who are fine being alone and don’t worry about the relationship breaking up. I suppose that if his advice results in no one qualifying, he can’t be blamed when it doesn’t work.

“I’ve seen men who try to trick their wives into cuckolding them, and this never, ever ends up well.”

I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you. I can just imagine how this goes. “OK, Debbie, I’m going to turn off the lights and do my best impression of my friend Dan. I’m really good at it, but it’s definitely me, I promise. Why am I doing an impression of him? Oh. Well. Um. Just for fun. I mean, it’s totally normal to convincingly pretend to be someone else. And it’s definitely not a trick, so just let me turn the lights off and enjoy my impression of Dan while we make love. Look, honey. It’s just that I think he has an amazing voice. Oh, and if you happen to touch my face I’m going to be wearing a fake beard just to help me get in character. But it will definitely be me, I promise.”

How could that possibly not work out well?

History Is Safe Because It’s Over

Some thoughts on historical fiction and our perspective on history. In particular, how knowing the outcome of history makes it hard to relate to the things historical people worried about, and how this colors our view of them and their actions. You can also watch this on YouTube:

Movie Magic

When I was a kid, there was a TV show on the discovery channel called Movie Magic. It was about special effects, I believe. I never watched it that I can recall. But its title has stuck with me all these years later. It strikes me that its title captures something fundamental about movies: movies are magic. Even bad movies. I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve been watching Hobgoblins.

hobgoblins

It was Rick Sloane’s third movie and had a budget of $15,000. According to an inflation calculator I tried, that’s the equivalent of $31,337 today. And they didn’t have digital photography or editing back then. It’s not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but the acting, camera work, editing, and so on were… competent. Not compared to big budget movies, but compared to other tiny-budget movies. There were characters who were written and played consistently from start to finish. And the result was that this movie—bad as it was—had that movie magic.

Movie Magic is, specifically, the creation of a world. Not merely a temporary world, but a world which lasts in the imagination of those who watched it. As cheesey as the scenes between Macready and his boss were, in some sense they happened. In some sense this was a movie studio boss’s office:

hobgoblins-boss

It doesn’t make much intuitive sense, and yet it’s true.

And I think that it’s the people who have that sense of movie magic who are the primary fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000. We’re fans of it because it’s an opportunity to laugh at ourselves. Because every one of us would jump at the chance to be part of movie magic. Every one of us would make the compromises which are unavoidable when you have a budget of $31,338. But for all those tradeoffs, the movie would still be a movie. It would still be a bit of reality with places and people we made out of thin air. Maybe we’d write better dialog, but even if we didn’t it sure would be something to be part of making a movie. And I think that we all know that on some level that’s ridiculous, which is why we enjoy laughing at ourselves so much.

Hobgoblins Arrived

I recently got the 20th anniversary DVD of the movie Hobgoblins. Not the MST3K of it, mind you. Look as hard as you want, you won’t see Mike and the bots:

hobgoblins

Granted, that’s not the best screenshot to show it. How about this:

hobgoblins-boss

What’s that, you say? You don’t recognize that from the MST3K episode? Indeed you don’t, and neither do I. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I’ll be interested to see what it’s like as it was meant to be seen. In my previous experience watching the original movies (MST3K: Werewolf is the only one I wrote up so far), they didn’t cheat by editing the movie to make it more laughable, so I don’t expect that to here, either. But while I’ve only watched up to the title so far, the tone is quite different from the MST3K episode. The impression I got from the episode was that the movie was goofy; watching the original it feels more like mostly-incompetent horror. Certainly the beginning sequence is played entirely straight, even though the tension was so not-tense that you couldn’t cut it with a laser-chainsaw.

Once I watch the entire movie I’ll write up a review of it. I find this sort of dive into movie history to be very interesting.

Articles About The Poor Should Define Their Terms

I don’t have a particular article in mind here, I’m talking about many articles I’ve seen over the years, but there’s almost a genre of article using the poor as a club with which to beat Christians. This originates from the fact that Christians have a very important and undeniable duty to the poor. Christ himself said, in a parable, “inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me”. There’s a lot to say about about the poor, but it seems to me that much of it is never said.

The most obvious thing to say about the poor being, who is the poor. There are lots of definitions which are used in practice, but at the same time the sort of article I’m thinking of almost goes to trouble to avoid defining the poor. The most popular definition implicitly used seems to be “people whose annual income is below 20% of the GDP”. Of course, the moment an author admitted that he was using this definition he’d have very little to say. For several reasons, not the least of which is that someone earning 19% of the GDP and someone earning 1%  of the GDP have very different incomes. In writing the sort of article I’m thinking of, the author always treats everyone in the group as if they’re in the 1% group. But almost worse than this is that what really matters to quality of life (except as modified by envy) is not relative income, but buying power. If it is reasonably possible to feed yourself, clothe yourself, keep your thirst slaked, etc. on 5% of GDP, then this is not the poor Jesus was talking about when he said “I was naked and you clothed me”. There are legitimate things to say about the poor when defined this way, but they’re not the same things one can say about a naked, hungry man who hasn’t had a drink of clean water in a day and a half.

Then there are the attempts to define poverty in terms of access to almost infinitely expensive things like unlimited medical care or financial security. Under those definitions, probably 99% of the population is the poor, so this sort of thing borders on silly. Not silly, but still problematic, is the attempt to define poverty in terms of things like “access to basic medical care”. And indeed one’s heart does go out to people who can’t afford even inexpensive medicines. But here are two big problems with this. The first and most obvious is that no one in Jesus’ day had access to what we now consider basic medical care, and it’s likely that no one alive today has access to what will be considered basic medical care in 200 years. And it would make many things Jesus said absurd if everyone he was talking to was poor because they didn’t have access to penicillin or hydrocodone. The other problem is that much of what we consider basic medical care is worthless or actively harmful. Using antibiotics for a viral infection, for example, leaves you worse off. Powerful opioids which leave you addicted were harmful. Gastric bypass surgery is most likely a terrible idea. And so forth. It doesn’t make sense to be the poor because you can’t harm yourself in the way rich people often do. This is not in any sense to say that it is not a tragedy when people suffer or die from diseases which are easily preventable with a few dollars’ worth of medicine, or that we as Christians shouldn’t endeavor to get those people that medicine. But that also doesn’t mean that people aren’t often glib about what “life saving medicine” actually is or how much it costs.

Then of course there are also simply outlandish things said about the poor. I’ve come across statements like “our entire economic system is built around exploiting the poor”. This is obvious balderdash under any reasonable interpretation. The poor—if you’re not defining them as anyone below the upper middle class—have fairly low economic output. This is not, of course, to blame them, but it remains that the poor don’t manufacture goods, or drive trucks, or provide professional services, etc. Poor people—in the sense of people who, say, can’t afford to eat every day—might possibly wait tables at cheaper restaurants, but this is  not a significant part of the modern economy. It’s a minor luxury which places from McDonalds to Panera show most people are quite willing to do without. The homeless man begging by the subway station obviously has no economic output at all. It’s quite defensible that Christians should be doing more for these people, but it’s utterly untenable that these people are the basis of the modern economy.

(I should note that it’s possible that people are referring to Chinese and other foreigner workers in countries with lower wages than that of the US when they say this sort of thing. If so, there are several problems here which are being ignored. First, that these people are working class, not poor, in their own lands. Perhaps they would be poor if they lived in America, but they’d also be rich if they lived in some parts of Africa. But they live in neither, they live in their own land. Second, this ignores all the goods which are actually made in America, which is—despite propaganda—actually quite large. American manufacturing is far more mechanized than it was 100 years ago or is today in many other countries, so it may be harder to notice this, but the US economy is not based on China. I looked up recent numbers and US imports from China were less than $500 Billion in a year, while the US economy was around $20 Trillion. That is, trade with China made up one fortieth of the US economy. Are there lots of things with “Made In China” on them? Yes. Would our economy crumble if we had to make 100% of our own stuff? Hardly. Even worse for the case at hand, this trade imbalance is a strategic decision on the part of China’s government which has worked to subsidize the export of goods in order to jump-start their manufacturing economy. This means that some of the costs that make Chinese labor cheap are born by the government as a form of investment. N.B. none of this is commentary on working conditions in China, which as I understand are improving but also related to Chinese cultural norms as Chinese factories are largely run by Chinese people. Working conditions should improve in China, but are not related to the present discussion except in the fantasies of people who have no idea how factories are run who imagine that safety standards are extremely expensive when in fact mostly they just require discipline, training, and awareness of how to manufacture goods safely. But—as should be a shock to no one—heat-stroked, exhausted workers aren’t very productive. About the only thing which does cost money is reducing environmental pollution, but pollution affects rich Chinese as well as poor Chinese, since everyone breathes the same air. Again, though, since all of Chinese trade is a small fraction of the US economy, a small increase in cost to goods through the Chinese improving their environmental regulations would have a very negligible impact on the US economy.)

And then there’s the problem with considering the rich in America because we have a fiat currency. That is, our money is not a physical thing of which there is a determinate amount. Our money is created by fiat by our government. (More properly, by a semi-autonomous organization created by the government for the purpose.) The fabulous wealth of the most wealthy citizens is, therefore, highly suspect. Don’t get me wrong, Jeff Bezos and Marc Zuckerberg are both very wealthy men, but even though Zuckerberg should be about to buy something like 42 aircraft carriers with his fortune, he certainly couldn’t. The further fact that much of our economy is debt-based rather than wealth based—while pretty obviously not a good idea—means that figuring out how wealthy or poor someone is is even more complicated. People of very modest incomes have way more buying power than you would expect on paper.

Since this is the internet, I will emphasize that I am not saying that there is no such thing as poverty, or that poverty isn’t a problem. What I am saying is that poverty is a complicated thing, with the word “poor” meaning many very different things. The poor, however one is defining them, should always be an object of love since they are God’s creatures, and not a club with which to beat people. Since everything seems to require a name these days, I suggest the preferential option for clarity.

Fraternizing with the Frank Friar

I had the great pleasure of talking for over an hour with The Frank Friar. Father Nicholas is a Carmelite friar who ministers in New York City. We talked about how he became a friar and a priest, and plenty of other things along the way. If you don’t subscribe to him on YouTube, I recommend doing so. He makes some really great videos reflecting on spirituality which I’ve gotten a lot from. You can of course also watch the conversation on YouTube:

The Irrationality of Lack of Belief Atheism

I’ve written about lack of belief atheism before, and no doubt will again. (Enough that I can’t pick out a particular post to link to.) To give a one-sentence history: it was a failed attempt to get out of having to argue for atheism by then-atheist Antony Flew in a 1973 essay titled, “The Presumption of Atheism“. It really should be a hint as to what the purpose of this move was when the title is saying that he would really rather win by default than have to support his position.

Stupid as such a request is, laziness is certainly an understandable temptation. What I find curious is the depths to which ordinary atheists who seized on it have sunk. Most, if pushed, will claim that their position is a sub-rational one in which their head is as empty as a rock, and therefore absolutely no rational thoughts can be expected to come from them. Though in a sense as a point in their favor, they turn this tragedy in farce by then saying that it is Christians who are irrational. I’ll give one example. It’s been in my thoughts recently because I’m working on a script for a video about it.

Lack of Belief Atheists (who I will refer to from here on out as LoBsters) love to say that “atheism is just a lack of belief, that’s it, nothing else” but do not consider that the alternatives to God not existing entail more than just the proposition that God exists. For simplicity, I’m going to restrict this to Christianity (it only gets worse for the LoBster when you include other religions). The easiest of which are moral proposition. If Christianity is true, then:

  • Forgiveness is good
  • Mercy is good
  • Love (willing the good of someone for their own sake) is good
  • Knowledge is worthwhile for its own sake
  • The truth is worth dying for
  • Fornication is wrong
  • Adultery is wrong
  • Masturbation is wrong
  • Murder is wrong

The complete list would be much longer, but that’s plenty for now. If someone disagrees with any of these things, they are, by logical necessity, holding Christianity to be false. It’s a simple Modus Ponens.

Modus Ponenes:
P → Q
~Q
∴ ~P

Please bear in mind that affirming Q tells you nothing about P. (Trying to draw positive conclusions about P from Q being true is called the fallacy of affirming the consequent.) Modus Ponens in one of the elementary logical syllogisms which everyone who studies formal logic for even a few days learns. So the only way that a LoBster can legitimately claim to lack a belief in whether Christianity is true is by holding that Christianity is entirely correct in all of the morality which it teaches. Well, that’s not quite true. All that they have to hold is that it might be true in all the morality it teaches. But that itself has implications for how one lives, because if an act might be fine and the upside is that it’s fun, or it might be terribly evil, the better bet is to avoid it. So by and large, such a LoBster would have to live almost as if Christianity is true since he holds that it might be.

They don’t do that, of course, but their only way out is to disclaim all rational thought on the subject, and basically on all subjects. (Except Mathematics, of course, but LoBsters seem to have studied almost no math.) It’s really quite sad. Pray for them.

 

Mills

I was recently looking up mills, and came across this fascinating picture of a Roman flour mill:

Urn_holder_of_Publius_Nonius_Zethus_01_-_Vatican_museum

(Photo Credit: By Chris 73 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m so extremely used to the wheel type of mill that this almost shocked me. Just to be clear, I mean this kind of mill:

Hacienda_La_Laguna-Museo_del_Olivar_Y_del_Aceite-Molino_antiguo-20110918-09618

(Photo Credit: By Daniel Villafruela. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Interestingly, the wikipedia page called it an edge mill, and the wikipedia page for edge mills claims that edge mills were invented in China in the third century. Which, if true, means that the sort of mill stone I normally think of as a mill stone wouldn’t have existed at the time of Christ. Perhaps even more interesting, the sort of mill which quite possibly did exist then (the roman one in the first picture) looks to me far more complicated and advanced than the sort of flour mill which apparently superseded it. Very interesting.

The thing which led me to discover this was looking up Friedrich von Logau’s poem about the mills of God. The original poem is:

Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam, mahlen aber trefflich klein,
ob aus Langmut er sich säumet, bringt mit Schärf ‘er alles ein.

Which was translated into English (according to Wikipedia, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) as:

Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.

Snow is Peaceful

There’s something very peaceful about snow. Snow causes all sorts of problems, of course, but it is in fact these problems from which the peacefulness of snow arises. Snow is peaceful precisely because it causes most creatures to go home. But it does more; since it takes footprints so readily, snow also proves when it has kept men away from a place:

20180113_0018

Isolation is not the best kind of peace, of course. Peace, most properly considered, is the ordering of creation according to God’s will. Among human beings, peace refers to harmony, not merely to the cessation of fighting. But in a fallen world one must often accept second-bests, and snow gives us a respite from many of the troubles which burden us in a fallen world.

It is interesting to consider that rain also drives men indoors and away from causing mischief, but rain is not peaceful. It seems to me that this different comes from three differences between rain and snow. The first is that rain is loud. Snow is not only quiet but even muffles sound, a bit. Snow gives one quiet in which to think.

The second difference is that human beings, in our natural state, are rain-proof but are not snow-proof. Except in very cold weather—which is not our predominant experience of rain—going out in the rain will make one wet but do one no harm. This is actually most inconvenient when one is wearing clothes (which is, admittedly, almost all the time). Snow will kill a naked man. Rain is only really a problem because we wear clothing, and then it’s really on uncomfortable. Our retreat from snow is, therefore, more dignified.

The third reason is that snow is less dangerous to us when we have shelter. Rain is just an inconvenience until one gets too much of it, in which case it causes floods which are extremely destructive and deadly even when we have shelter. And while these are unusual circumstances, they’re not unheard of. In the places where people have floods, floods happen every few years, if not more often. In the places that get snow, enough snow to collapse buildings is very rare. Water moves and combines its power but snow mostly falls where it lands. That’s not true of mountains where avalanches happen, of course, but I imagine that snow isn’t nearly as peaceful there.

But in more ordinary places, snow only keeps men indoors where they give each other little trouble, and so it’s deep snowfall is very peaceful.

20180113_0007

Judging The Last Jedi By Its Title

You should never judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you should judge a movie by its title. In this episode I talk about why I judged The Last Jedi as not being worth seeing. This is somewhat a followup on my post Star Wars Movie Titles. You can also watch the video on YouTube:

The Internet Needs Distributed Recomendations

It is widely recognized that centralization, such as one sees in most social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has strengths which bring concomitant dangers. Possibly the biggest danger, and certainly the most pressing on people’s minds, is censorship.

Distributed media, such as blogs, make censorship much harder. However, this has (so far) been at the cost of making discovery much more difficult. Finding new blogs is a very haphazard things, to a great degree relying on cross-promotion in blogs. By contrast YouTube is able to leverage its centralized information to provide a list of recommended videos to the user after each video. Given the massive data available to them of what people watched and how long they watched it for, this enables them to make recomendations for videos which are often good. Almost every YouTube channel I’m subscribed to I found through recommended videos.

It probably goes without saying, but unfortunately recomendation engines are extraordinarily succeptible to manipulation by hosts with an agenda. Moreover, it would be virtually impossible to discover such manipulation as it’s only relevant to people who are not aware of particular video makers anyway.

In order to make distributed media truly competitive with centralized media, what we really need is a system for making distributed recomendations. It’s not immediately obvious that this is doable, unfortunately. A system of distributed recomendations would be a spammer’s dream ifi they could figure out how to manipulate it. In fact, most parties would be deeply desirous of manipulating this system. This guarantees that a lot of effort would be put into trying to figure out how to game the system. Worse, the system would almost certainly need to be anonymous, so as not to track people’s reading habits, which makes fake recomendations all the harder to defend against.

The most obvious approach to avoiding spam would be to attach micro-payments to the recomendation system. That brings with it its own problems, but it also has benefits. There are probably other options, too. Especially if one were to somehow include negative reviews as well as positive reviews, the correlations required to spam people might need to be far too complex to allow for useful spamming.

Anyway, if you know anyone who likes to develop algorithms, try planting the seed of a distributed recomendations network. It may not be doable, but the internet would benefit tremendously from it if it is.

Generational Warfare

Over at Amatopia, Alex wrote a post titled On Boomer Hate. It’s a good post which I recommend reading. Here’s a sample:

t’s trendy to hate Boomers. Literally, everyone is doing it. I did as well. But when something is trendy, it’s usually garbage. But a funny thing happened on the way to critical thinking: I’ve changed my opinion.

The more I thought about generational struggles, the more I realized that generational warfare hurts us all: What I’m getting at is that I think generational warfare is stupid and counterproductive. And I’m not just talking about the young. Us older folks do it too and we should to stop it.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that the righteous Gen X indignation against Boomers is pretty hypocritical, especially since many of us express the same sentiments towards Millennials.

As they say, read the whole thing. What I find interesting about this is the way my mother—who is towards the end of the baby boom, but still solidly inside it—spoke about the demonization of her generation and the lionization of her parents generation. She objected to both.

The “greatest generation” were the people who endured the great depression then fought in World War II. It is certainly true that they went through a lot. However, they didn’t do it voluntarily. It was not an ascetic practice, nor (in the main) a job they volunteered for. It happened and there was nothing to do about it and they put up with it as best they could. The great depression, which overlapped Prohibition, was filled with crime, both organized and disorganized. If you look at divorce statistics they had been trending up since the 1860s and showed a dip during World War II followed by a much larger spike afterward:

marriage_and_divorce_over_time 1867-2011 new _with-trend

That spike in divorces afterwards is somewhat typical of how much mother characterized the generation before her: finally done with deprivation, they finally wanted to get theirs. By the way, I added that trend line, and it brings us to another thing blamed on the boomers. People complain about the introduction of no-fault divorce, but if you look at the data, it really seems that no-fault divorce led to a spate of divorces on stocked-up divorces which then let off once the backlog had been processed. Granted, marriage is down and so one would expect divorce to be as well, but it’s very far from obvious that the boomers had any real causal relationship to the boom of divorces which happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Especially when you look up the history of no-fault divorce and find out it was done because people were lying about having cause for divorce so often that people feared that respect for the truth was going to disappear.

And so it goes with many of the problems of the boomers. To quote a famous boomer/songwriter, they didn’t start the fire. And they were handed quite a lot to deal with in the form of a deeply racist society, too.

Did the boomers do a lot wrong? Of course they did. Every generation does a lot wrong. We live in a fallen world. Which brings me to where it brought Alex: inter-generational warfare is stupid. There’s no way to judge the raw materials that any given generation was given to work with, and in any event it’s deeply ungrateful. The previous generation gave us life. Imperfect life, to be sure, but life that’s quite a lot better than nothing.

And thinking about it as a parent, it’s painfully obvious to me how imperfectly I’m raising my own children. I suspect something like this applied to every generation. Our children always suffer for our mistakes. It does no good to blame our parents. What we really should do is ask God to have mercy on us all.