Thoughts From an Aging Sex Symbol

One of my better videos, now two years old, is Satanic Banality:

In it, I mention that celebrities can only sell the image of the bad life turning out well for a while, and when they wise up they lose their relevance. Which reminded me of this article by Raquel Welch, back in 2010. As the kids would say, here’s the nut graf:

Seriously, folks, if an aging sex symbol like me starts waving the red flag of caution over how low moral standards have plummeted, you know it’s gotta be pretty bad. In fact, it’s precisely because of the sexy image I’ve had that it’s important for me to speak up and say: Come on girls! Time to pull up our socks! We’re capable of so much better.

But in 2010, so far as I can tell, Raquel Welch no longer had any influence, so it didn’t matter. That’s the resilience of an engine which feeds on ignorance and spits out wiser people as spent fuel. When they were ignorant, the machine gave them their power. Once spit out, their knowledge is powerless.

(Except in individual cases; saving souls tends to be a personal business, not done over television screens.)

The First Mary Sue

The first Mary Sue was a character in a parody of Star Trek fan fiction, published in the fanzine Menagerie in 1973. (Fanzines were magazines, often distributed by photocopying them and handing out the results but always made cheaply and without advertiser sponsorship, typically given away for free or a nominal charge to cover the cost of printing.) The parody was called A Trekkie’s Tale. It’s only a few paragraphs long, so I’ll quote it in full:

“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.” Captain Kirk came up to her.

“Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?” “Captain! I am not that kind of girl!” “You’re right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us.” Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. “What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?” “The Captain told me to.” “Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind.”

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.

But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies, Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday of the Enterprise.

The story was originally attributed to “Anonymous” but is known to be the word of the editor, Paula Smith. The basic story was a common submission; as such it’s a collection of common features, exaggerated. It’s very interesting to look at those features.

  1. Main character is a teenage girl.
  2. She’s beautiful and wonderful.
  3. Everyone loves her.
  4. She dies and everyone laments her death.

The standard meaning of “Mary Sue,” used as a criticism of a character in a work of fiction, is to impute that a character is an authorial stand-in for the purpose of wish fulfillment. And while the original Mary Sue is an author stand-in, the story is actually more of a Greek tragedy. Mary Sue is initially blessed by the gods, but when she tries to climb Mount Olympus she is cast down and destroyed.

Among the criticisms heaped on the Mary Sue character is that her excellence is always unearned. She appears out of nowhere in fully formed perfection and everyone loves her just for being her. This is generally derided as being horribly unrealistic.

And it is.

For men.

It should not be glossed over that Mary Sue stories are written by teenage girls about themselves. If Mary Sue is realistic to teenage girls, it would be utterly unsurprising that she would be unrealistic to adult men. So, is she realistic to teenage girls?

And here I think that the answer is: yes, actually.

The onset of puberty in a girl does come from nowhere, and transforms her into something beautiful and wonderful, that is, an adult woman capable of bearing children. And everyone loves her, at least if by “everyone”, you mean males, and by “love,” you mean “is interested in”.

A newly adult female is bursting with potential and, as such, everyone is (suddenly) very interested in her and what she does with this potential. It’s not always as benign and comfortable as in the Mary Sue story, of course, but life rarely is as comfortable as fiction.

And if we look further at the inspiration for Mary Sue, we also see why she had to die. Potential cannot last forever in this world. If Mary Sue does not choose a mate, she will eventually hit menopause and cease to have any potential (in the relevant sense; she might still have potential in a thousand other ways, of course, but an allegory only ever describes one aspect of life). If she does choose a mate, she will have children and her potential will be reduced by turning into actuality. But actuality is, in a fallen world, never as interesting as potential; Mary Sue with children does not excite the universal interest which Mary Sue without children did. (In a healthy society she excites respect, instead, but that’s a topic for another day.)

And so it must be that, not long after Mary Sue is blessed by the gods, she is cast down by them, too; Mary Sue cannot remain universally loved for long.

The story of Mary Sue leaves off at the most important part, since after all it was a parody, but it is worth mentioning the fact. That the first flower of youth cannot last is something all people must come to terms with. For some, they will foreswear actuality for some other actuality, as in the case of nuns, who cover themselves to hide their potential so people may forget it. For others, they will give up their potential by trading it for actuality; an actuality which is flawed because we live in a flawed world, but still a real actuality that’s better than the nothingness of pure potentiality.

They both require faith, but all good things require faith. Trying to remain in potentiality is trying to eat one’s cake and still have it afterwards. It promises happiness that it will never deliver.

I think it’s well to remember that the story of Mary Sue is only a bad story if it’s the story of a man, or an adult woman. Though that remains true even if a young woman is cast in the part.

Why Consequentialists See Only Shades of Grey

There’s an infuriating thing which consequentialists do where they say that life is never black and white, it’s all shades of grey. For a long time I thought that this was just because they wanted to be evil without being caught, and were trying to disguise it. This may still be the case, but I realized that this is actually inherent in their position.

Consequentialism means judging an action as good or evil not by principles—i.e. not by what the action is—but only by the consequences of the action. To a consequentialist it doesn’t mean anything to say “it is impermissible to do evil that good may result” since, according to their moral theory, if good results, it wasn’t evil that you did. So rape, treason, murder, etc. are all to be judged on the basis of whatever good or evil comes out of them, not on whether they are intrinsically evil.

There is a problem with consequentialism, which is that one cannot foresee all the consequences to an action. In fact, one cannot foresee most of the consequences to an action. In fact, people often have trouble foreseeing even the very immediate consequences to their actions. This makes consequentialism impossible for a human being to actually evaluate, rendering it completely useless as a moral theory.

(As a side-note, consequentialism and principalism are identical in God, since he both knows all of the effects of all actions and created the world such that the consequences of principled actions are good. Consequentialism is completely un-evaluatable for anyone who is not God, however.)

But, while this is completely useless as a moral theory for making decisions, it can be applied somewhat better historically. Not actually well, of course, but at least better. And this is where the consequentialist sees everything as shades of grey. Every action has both good and bad consequences. This is intrinsic, because every action opens up some possibilities and forecloses others. To marry one woman is to not marry all of the others. To save a man’s life in the hospital is to take money from the undertaker. To save the life of a worm who crawled onto the pavement is to deprive the ants of food who would have ate its corpse. Every action disappoints someone. And this much, the consequentialist can see in hindsight.

And since, to a consequentialist, (naturally) good consequences are identical to an action being (morally) good, and (naturally) evil consequences are identical to an action being (morally) evil, an action having both naturally good and naturally evil consequences makes the action both morally good and morally evil. Since all actions, intrinsically, have both naturally good and naturally evil consequences, all actions must, to the consequentialist, be a mixture of moral good and moral evil.

This disguising the consequentialist’s own evil is just a side-benefit.

Star Wars IX Doesn’t Matter

I wrote a rather lengthy blog post about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and how astonishingly badly written it is. And with regard to the title of Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, I’ve reminded people that the force didn’t awaken in Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’ll make fun of the Star Wars sequels, but I think it’s worth remembering that they don’t matter.

It’s tempting to worry about the Star Wars sequels, since the original Star Wars movies form, for many of us, anyway, a cultural reference point. All cultures have these; they allow people to concisely describe complex ideas to each other by referencing where these complex ideas appeared in stories that both the speaker and the listener know. And it’s tempting to worry that the sequels will somehow replace the originals, shattering the continuity that permits of this shared cultural reference across generations. But they won’t.

You can see this in the prequel movies. I saw all three, and actually have a video in which I defend the way Lucas wrote the fall of Anakin Skywalker. But, in my experience, no one actively remembers these movies. There are a few references made to them, but not as references to ideas in real life but to bad decisions in movies—Jar Jar Binks and the pod races. Occasionally to Anakin blowing up the trade federation’s main ship by accident. The hero should never win by sheer accident. But apart from those, the movies are mostly forgotten. Here’s me trying to list the titles:

  • The Phantom Menace
  • The Second One
  • The Third One. Something about the Sith, I think. Return of the Sith or Revenge of the Sith. Something like that.

The new movies are going to be like that. The only way I can foresee my children (ages 3, 6, and 9, at the time of writing) ever seeing any of the Star Wars sequels is if Mike Nelson’s children get shot into space by Mary Jo Pehl’s children and are forced to watch bad movies as part of an evil plan to rule the world.

It’s a pity, because the new Star Wars movies didn’t have to suck. But that’s life. Most things with promise don’t deliver on it. It’s a fallen world. You just have to move on and be grateful for the things which did turn out well.

Real Lawyer Reacts to My Cousin Vinny—And Likes It!

I ran across a really curious video on YouTube where a (putatively real) lawyer examined the movie My Cousin Vinny and talked about how accurate it was. To my great surprise he said that—allowing for parts that were obviously just comedic—it was actually very well done and parts of it could be used for teaching lawyers!

If you’ve never seen it, by the way, I highly recommend the movie My Cousin Vinny. It’s a ton of fun and has a lot of quotable lines.

Some Questions About Meaning

A friend, acting out of morbid curiosity, watched a video by Bionic Dance that responded to my video, Life Doesn’t Have the Meaning You Give it, and alerted to me to it having some questions in it which might be interesting to answer. So I watched the video myself, wrote down the interesting questions, and answered them in this video.

I didn’t make a response video to her because—as I said in my video on why I’m not going to respond to her again—she contradicts herself so often that no response is needed; one only needs watch the entirety of her video (and remember what she said in the earlier parts) to see her refute herself. However, I will answer questions which I think can be generally useful regardless of where they came from, and these happened to be fairly well phrased for general use.

You can also watch it on YouTube:

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

The common phrase, that something is like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” is often taken to mean “putting one’s effort where it won’t do good”, but it has another, slightly more subtle meaning: futility. (I’m writing this post because a friend was so used to the first meaning he hadn’t thought about the second, and what one man has done, another might do.)

Once the Titanic has been hit by the iceberg, there are two reasons why it doesn’t matter how the deck chairs are arranged:

  1. No one is going to sit on them while the boat is sinking.
  2. Once the boat sicks, their arrangement will be destroyed by the water washing the deck chairs away from the deck.

Rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic, therefore, suggests an activity is not only secondary to one’s primary concern but moreover one doomed to have no effect whatever.

You can see this by contrasting the Titanic, which sank, to a ship lost at sea where the rations have run out and the crew is starving. Rearranging the deck chairs will not give them food, but they might still take comfort sitting on them in a better arrangement, and whoever eventually finds the empty ship could take advantage of a particularly well thought out arrangement of the deck chairs which has remained after its first crew can no longer use them. (In theory, though admittedly not likely in practice.)

Christ Figures in Fiction

Relating to my recent post about Christ Figures & Heresies, I thought it worth pointing out what I meant by a Christ Figure, since the term is often used narrowly and in suspicious circumstances (English classes where people are trying to seem clever).

Christ figures in literature are—when done well—about characters who relate to the rest of the story as Christ related to the world. At the extremes they are basically a re-presentation of Christ with some of the details changed. Probably the best example of this is Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Far more common, though, is a limited Christ figure.

The salient features of Christ that a limited Christ figure can partake in are:

  1. Saves the world from the effects of the mis-use of free will.
  2. Has a dual-nature where one of these natures is what allows #1.
  3. Bridges the gap, in his person, between the two natures.
  4. Sacrifices himself willingly for the sake of the world
  5. In sacrificing himself, takes the problems of the world into him and conquers them, thus saving the world from them.
  6. Comes back from the sacrifice because of his other nature.

A favorite example of a limited Christ figure is a detective in a mystery story. In a mystery story, the right-ordering of the world is destroyed through the misuse of reason (the crime) and the detective, who is an outsider, comes into the damaged nature in order to, through the right use of reason, restore the right ordering of the world. The detective does not die and come back, but he does take the confusing of the world into himself and then, through his superior reasoning and impartiality from not being immediately impacted, restores it first in himself, and then from him the restored order flows out to others.

As you can see, this isn’t about being a clever ass to notices a few external similarities, in the manner of a desperate English teacher saying, “He offered someone wine then later went on a three day vacation and came back! He’s a Christ figure!”

Good Christ figures are about the nature of the character, the nature of the world, and their relationship to each other.

Another feature of good Christ figures is that you don’t need to identify them as Christ figures in order for the stories they’re in to be good stories. Identifying a character as a Christ figure should deepen one’s understanding of the story and of the real world. If the story is garbage without your secret decoder ring, it’s garbage with it, too.

Nerf Gun as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Here’s an interesting post about some creative cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s not that long but out of courtesy I don’t want to quote the whole thing. Here’s the key setup:

i say, are you gonna shoot me with a nerf gun in this professional setting.
he happily informs me that that’s really up to me, isn’t it. and sits back down. and gestures, like, go ahead, what were you saying?
and i squint suspiciously and start back up about how i’m having too much anxiety to leave the house to run errands, like it was a miracle to even get here, like i’ve forgone getting groceries for the past week and that’s so stupid, what a stupid issue, i’m an idiot, how could i–
a foam dart hits me in the leg.


There’s a curious issue brought up in the specifics of the example linked. Self-criticism is a very important ability. People who can’t diagnose their own faults can’t improve, and worse tend to blame everyone but themselves which as a strong alienating effect. Yet, in the example in the link (and partially quoted above), what’s being done is not really self-criticism. It looks like it because the language is negative, but it’s, to use modern cant, disempowering. That is, it makes the one being criticized helpless.

It does this by attributing the failing, not to the will, but to the intellect. That is, it places the defect in the origin, not in the execution. By placing the defect in the origin, nothing can be done about it. A bad tree can’t produce good fruit, or perhaps more aptly, you can’t get blood from a stone.

The problem, in short, is that every time the person complains about himself, he’s giving up. He’s saying, not how he can do better, but that he can’t do better. And this is, indeed, the exact opposite of doing better. What he rephrases his complaints to illustrates the point nicely:

i say, slowly, it’s– not a stupid issue, i’m not stupid, but it’s frustrating me and i don’t want it to be a problem i’m having.

This has reframed it from despair to frustrating, i.e. from having given up to facing one’s problems. Giving up may look like facing problems, but in reality it’s the exact opposite. It’s burying one’s head in the ground so that one doesn’t have to face one’s problems. It is the false hope that one can fix problems without facing them, pretending to be facing them.

You see this a lot with problems; non-solutions love to pretend that they’re actually solutions.

This is related to why my favorite of the baptismal vows is, “Do you reject Satan? And all his empty promises?”

Honest Detectives

One of the curious subjects that comes up in detective stories is the honesty of the detective. Specifically, that they’re often not honest. Their dishonesty is typically curtailed to what is in service of the investigation, of course, but this forms a very curious problem with the theory that the detective is a Christ figure who uses reason to undo the evil caused through the misuse of reason. Christ did not sin.

It should be noted that I’m taking the requirement for honesty for granted, and it is generally accepted that there are exceptions to the general rule of “let your yes mean yes, your no mean no, any more than this comes from the evil one”. The overview of the exceptions is that there are times and places where a man will misunderstand the truth but understand a lie such that he will end up being more correct about the world if he’s lied to than if he’s told the truth. In such a case the lie is to the benefit of the one being lied to, and acts somewhat like the lenses in a pair of corrective glasses—by falsifying the image to the eye in an exactly counter way to how the eye itself falsifies the image to the brain, the image presented to the brain is accurate to the real world. In like way, telling the gestapo agent that the Jew he is seeking is far away when he’s actually hiding in the cupboard is communicating to him the truth that there is no one he should kill nearby. And one can draw analogies here to detectives, but such a thing is a very slippery slope. It’s extraordinarily easy to convince oneself that helping one is in the other person’s best interests and thus mis-informing them to that end is justified. The ease of mis-using this principle should caution against its frequent use.

Probably the most extreme example I can think of is Poirot, who in the book Five Little Pigs was described as preferring to get the truth by a lie even if he could get it honestly. But even when not that extreme, it’s quite common for detectives to lie about why they’re present, why they’re asking their questions, what use the information they’re given will be put to, and so on. (The only two exceptions which come to mind are Cadfael and Scooby Doo.)

I’m not sure what to make of this trend. Some possible explanations are:

  1. An attempt at realism—people don’t give out information to just anyone who asks
  2. Making the detective’s life harder—as the protagonist, the detective must face obstacles
  3. Showing the detective off as clever—it takes greater art to lie convincingly than it does to tell simple truth
  4. Making the detective more special—the detective must be someone special and not merely an everyman; being a good actor is more special
  5. To create excitement—the detective might get caught!

I think that all of these can be described as taking the easy way out. They’re analogous—though not as bad—as making the story mysterious by having the detective not share clues with the reader (see commandment #8).

That said, I think that some detectives do this merely out of tradition—it has been done so often that some people take deception to be one of the integral skills of the detective, like how getting beaten up and not needing to go to the hospital is one of the skills of the hard boiled detective. (I didn’t put this on the list above because the in-story reason is one of the above; this is a meta-reason.)

I think that this is a very unfortunate tradition. I prefer detectives who are also heroes. They will have their faults, but I prefer when they don’t simply approve of doing what they know that they shouldn’t.

Christ Figures & Heresies

An interesting thought occurred to me after talking about how a particular sort of bad writing in a detective story is analogous to the Gnostic and Aryan heresies: in any fiction in which there is a Christ figure, all of the historical Christian heresies will be available as bad ways to write the story.

Or, to put it another way, in fiction which has a Christ figure, the things you shouldn’t do in that story will be analogous to one or more of the historical Christian heresies.