Friday, July 31, 2015

The Meaning of The Last of Us

2013's video game The Last of Us, is perfect apocalypta. Like all Terran apocalypta, it concentrates human dilemmas into a form more simply perceptible than the minor nuances offered by war, social challenge, or kidnap dramas: the "pending death of the race/world" backdrop imminentifies any immanent human poignancy; when done well, melding thought experiment with plausibility. In this case, the story was exceptionally well done, and gives us an opportunity to consider some meaningful moral issues.

If you don't care for video games, the format isn't important; this particular narrative, for purposes of our discussion, can be likened to cinema or literature. If you do care for video games, buy a PS4 with the remastered version of The Last of Us, and don't come back here for the spoilers until you've finished it. All the plot can be witnessed on easy mode, with auto-aim, if 3PSs are difficult for you.

Plot Summary

The Last of Us starts like many other zombie plagues, though it's finely-written enough that it doesn't quite slide into banality, even despite the mountains of seemingly-comparable dross out there. Sarah, the little girl, wakes up one night and sees on the news that the fungal infection has been causing people to lose their minds and get violent--here, the zombies aren't really undead; in accordance with popular trends in current science, they're the "infected," but they exhibit all the behavior one would expect from modern book/comic/movie/game zombies. They mindlessly attack humans, biting or scratching so as to spread the infection; they live for years without seeming need for sustenance; some of them are blind, some superpowered, some possessing other quirky mutant abilities; they don't attack each other; they have no fear of death; and, they're easily susceptible to simple traps, but prone to congregating in large numbers and overrunning barriers.

Sarah escapes her home one night with her father Joel and her uncle Tommy. They head for a military quarantine zone meant to protect uninfected people from the worldwide spread. On their way, maddened crowds are rushing around, confused and scared, and they get in a car accident that hurts Sarah's legs. Joel carries her after Tommy overland toward the quarantine zone. They lose Tommy in the dark foliage. When Joel and Sarah reach one of the military zones, a frightened lone soldier orders them away. The soldier receives an order from his officer to shoot them; the soldier hesitates, advises his officer that there's a little girl present, but is ordered to shoot anyway. He shoots Sarah, knocking her down on top of Joel, who was carrying her. Tommy hears the gunshot and comes to shoot the soldier before the soldier can shoot again. Sarah dies. Prequel ends.

Twenty years later, Joel is in a quarantine zone. The world has ended, in the sense that the remaining scraps of civilization are crammed into various quarantine zones, under martial law, subject to curfews and food rationing. Joel has occasionally been a smuggler, bringing contraband into the quarantine zones. Tommy had previously joined the "Fireflies," a paramilitary resistance group that wants to end military control, cure the plague, and restore civilization. Joel is friends with benefits with a woman named Tess, who is also a part-time smuggler.

The plague, which is called the Cordyceps Brain Infection, spreads by the airborne transmission of spores, as well as (of course) the bites of the already-infected. It centers, as the name suggests, on the brain, though it eventually spreads everywhere else. Because it is so communicable and because there is neither vaccine nor cure, the quarantine zones are heavily guarded. Gas masks, or the equivalent, have to be worn in order to travel through an infested area without catching the infection. Within a couple days after infection, the infected person becomes violent, irrational, and begins biting and attacking; thereafter, worse stages of the disease produce a hardier, more dangerous zombie.

Joel and Tess open their main storyline in the middle of a smuggling problem: a local criminal named Robert has betrayed them by selling some guns that belonged to them, and to cover up his theft, sends two thugs to kill Tess. She reports the attack to Joel, and they conclude that they need to get Robert before he gets them. They battle some thugs, get to Robert, and kill him, then discover that his business partner was a woman named Marlene: a leader among the Fireflies (the aforementioned rebels) who bought the weapons from Robert the criminal smuggler for use in her rebellion.

With me? Okay, so Robert is dead, but he sold Joel and Tess' weapons to Marlene. Joel, who knows Marlene from when his brother Tommy was a member of her organization, asks for their return. Marlene refuses to return them for free, because she paid Robert for them, and didn't know about the theft. She agrees to return them if Joel and Tess do a job for her. It's an important job, so she pleads a little extra with Joel for it, saying it was something she meant to do herself, but couldn't handle.

Joel and Tess agree to do the job, and Marlene produces a young girl--Ellie--whom she says needs to be delivered to other Fireflies outside of the quarantine zone. Marlene reports that she knew Ellie's mother, and promised her (before said mother's death) to take care of her little girl. Joel and Tess want to inspect the weapons to be sure that Marlene really has them to offer, so they split up--Joel starts leading Ellie out of the quarantine zone, while Tess goes with Marlene to look at the weapons, promising to catch up. Tess catches up and reports that the weapons are there, all of them, and that they'll get a big payoff if they can deliver the girl.

So, on they go: Joel and Tess leading Ellie out of the military quarantine to deliver her to the Fireflies. The military is on alert from a recent Firefly attack, and they try to kill the party as the party tries to escape. Joel and Tess kill a few soldiers. While the party is climbing through an old drainage ditch, they are ambushed by soldiers and scanned as prisoners. Ellie has a hidden knife, stabs a soldier in the leg, and the party is able to escape. The soldiers' scanning device, however, reveals that Ellie is infected with the plague.

Angry and betrayed, Joel and Tess worry that Marlene sent them away with Ellie in hopes of getting them infected and gotten-rid-of. Ellie, though, shows them the scar where she was bitten by an infected a long time ago--well past the time when she should have shown any symptoms. Joel and Tess realize that Ellie is immune to the plague--the first person ever known to be so--and that Marlene is delivering her to the Fireflies in order to develop a vaccine that could save humanity, end military control of the few miserable quarantine zones left, and bring about a brighter world.

On goes the party. They fight their way past some infected, following their secret smuggling route out of the city, toward the building where they were supposed to meet the Firefly representatives who will take the girl from them. They discover that the Fireflies have been killed, and that soldiers must've tracked the Fireflies here. There they hide, in the abandoned municipal building, wondering what to do. Tess tells the others to go ahead so she can buy them some time. Joel protests, but Tess reveals that she was bitten only minutes ago by one of the zombies during their escape. She tells him not to make her sacrifice too difficult, and leverages their past relationship to tell him how important it is to her that he deliver Ellie to the Fireflies so that the world can be saved. She insists that he "complete the job" by bringing Ellie to other Fireflies.

Joel and Ellie run to the building's second level and search for cover while Tess has a final showdown with the hunting soldiers. The remaining soldiers continue to pursue, and Joel kills a few and finds a way out of the building in the direction of un-quarantined lands. They escape the soldiers and get away.

Still with me? Okay, that was the beginning. Plot-wise, things then progress much more easily. Joel and Ellie are out of the quarantine zone, so they travel through the infected countryside, trying to survive against the assaults of both the infected, and against small bands of "hunters," e.g., the barbarian hordes seeking food and supplies in order to live outside of military control. They pass through many tragic empty wild and urban environments, witnessing the twenty-years-decayed ruins of civilization. They visit a small town covered in traps where an old acquaintance of Joel has holed up. The acquaintance is homosexual, has recently lost his partner to the zombies, and is going mad from isolation. He owes Joel a favor, so they fight some zombies and Joel and Ellie get a working truck, satisfying the favor.

Joel and Ellie travel on, encountering a city controlled by a mob of brutal hunters that uses roadblocks to rob and murder travelers. With much difficulty, they fight their way through the city. On their way, they meet a pair of black brothers who are hiding from the hunters in the city; they enlist their help in the escaping, and join them in fighting through a small town held by more hunters, but when they have achieved victory, it is revealed that the younger of the brothers has been bitten. The next morning, he wakes up a zombie and his older brother kills him, then commits suicide.

Down to two members in the party, Ellie and Joel travel across some infected wildlands, heading for Tommy's hideout. Tommy, if you'll remember, is Joel's brother, and a former Firefly, so Joel thinks Tommy might know where the Fireflies are located. They endure difficulty, meet Tommy, and find that Tommy is living with a small community in a hydroelectric power plant, which they have managed to get running. Joel and Tommy argue about the past a little, and Joel finds out Tommy is married to a new woman. Joel tries to get Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies, and Ellie, upset at the thought that yet another person would abandon her, runs away. She is captured by hunters, and Joel and Tommy rescue her. Joel decides he will stick through to the end and tells Tommy goodbye; Tommy offers Joel and Ellie a place in his new community, but Joel says he has to save the world by bringing Ellie to the Fireflies and curing the plague.

Tommy directs them to the University of Eastern Colorado, where the Fireflies had a lab and were studying the plague. Joel and Ellie have more adventures, get there, and discover that the Fireflies are gone--the military drove them out months ago. Joel reviews some of their scientists' logs, talking about how impossible it is to cure the plague, and how they're going to give up. They discover materials leading them to believe the Fireflies will be located further west. They are attacked by hunters and survive, then continue west to search out the Fireflies.

Joel is badly wounded in the fight, so Ellie drags him to an abandoned town and patches him up and tries to care for him over the winter. She is attacked by a group of cannibal hunters led by David, an insane cannibal leader just like you'd expect in such a situation. She barters for antibiotics, escapes, gets them to Joel, then fights the hunters more, until she defeats David. The antibiotics wake Joel up and he and Ellie reunite and continue their journey.

Still with me? Okay, we're about at the end. Joel and Ellie discover the Fireflies. The Fireflies capture them, like a military, and Joel wakes up in detention. Marlene is there, and she thanks him for completing the job. She tells him he can leave. He asks where Ellie is, and she says that Ellie is being prepped for surgery--her doctors tell her that they can only begin investigating a cure by removing her brain. Her immunity to the Cordyceps Brain Infection must've begun there, says Marlene. Joel is upset that Ellie will be killed, but Marlene says that it is harder on her than on him to do this, because she was the one who promised Ellie's mother to look after Ellie. She reminds him that humankind is dying off, has been dying for twenty years, and that the only hope for things is to cure the infection. She tells one of her soldiers to take him out of the facility.

Joel escapes from his captor, kills his way through the Firefly lab, and breaks into the operating room, killing the doctors and saving Ellie from the mortal surgery just in time. She is under sedation, so he rushes her to the parking garage. There, Marlene confronts them. She and Joel have another disagreement about the future of humanity. Marlene insists that Ellie would want to sacrifice herself to save humanity. Joel overpowers her. She begs to survive. Joel tells her that, if she is left alive, she will continue hunting Ellie and trying to kill her for a cure. Joel sets the unconscious Ellie in the backseat of a car and drives away, escaping the Fireflies.

On the road back to Tommy's community, Ellie wakes up. She asks if they found the Fireflies after all. Joel says yes, but he says that there turned out to already be a lot of people who were immune to the plague, so there was nothing special about Ellie. Ellie can tell something is wrong--she asks him if what he said was really true, and he says it was. Together, they leave the car and head into the hills to join Tommy's community. The end.

What did The Last of Us Mean?

The moral parables expressed in the narrative are far more complex, and far more beautiful, than the "gotta survive in a tough world" perceived by most of the game's fans, and the "was it right for Joel to lie to Ellie?" conundrum raised by most of the game's reviewers. Let's go through them.

Was it right for the Fireflies to sacrifice Ellie in pursuit of a vaccine/cure to the Cordyceps Brain Infection?

Firstly, we consider the question, Would cutting out Ellie's brain have allowed the Fireflies to successfully produce a cure? At the University of Eastern Colorado's laboratory, the Fireflies' notes said that they were giving up after years of 100%-effort study. Not only the Fireflies, but the U.S. military, and (presumably) militaries and governments across the entire world had already tried and failed to find a vaccine or cure, for over twenty years. Only one person out of more than six billion got noticed as being immune, ever?

The Fireflies had access to Ellie's blood, samples of brain lung or tissue, and many other things without killing her. The attempt to remove 100% of her brain to study the infection seems like a wasted, pointless endeavor--or at least, sloppy. And what about the practicality of her being immune? Her offspring, or her eggs, or her blood-generating marrow, might be vital factors in a sustainable cure for the planet. Killing her as soon as she shows up was completely wrong and ridiculous. The Fireflies never even got to realize the full moral dilemma of "sacrifice the one to save the many," because they were so eager to whip out the total surgery. Their hasty desperation could have spoiled an enduring future for humanity. Ellie might've been the "Eve" who could give birth to a dozen immune children, and lead to a new, immune race. Killing her would've been the last desperate act of the outdated humans destroying the future.

Secondly, we must also consider, Was Ellie really immune? Maybe not: at the very end, after Joel lies to Ellie, and turns to walk down the hill toward Tommy's community, Ellie pulls back her sleeve and studies her arm, scratching at a spot where a fungal growth has just begun to appear. That could mean a number of interesting things: (1) She wasn't really immune; the disease just had a longer dormancy period in her. So, there was no cure, and killing her would be vile if she would have been able to live several more years before losing her mind--or if it would have resulted in the development of a partial cure that allowed others to withstand the infection as long as she had.

Thirdly, maybe Ellie herself wasn't the source of the (partial?) immunity, but rather, the infected that bit her. Perhaps some infected carry something that, when applied via bite, causes a partial immune reaction to future bites. Maybe Ellie was scientifically worthless, and the type of infected that bit her is the one carrying the cure. Sacrificing her life has no value there, again. In fact, it distracts from the quest to study the actively-infected, rather than the dormantly-infected.

But then again, was Ellie really seeing the disease expand at the end because of her original bite? Maybe the interference by the Firefly surgeons was what caused her dormant infection to become active. Maybe, by attempting to operate on her, the Fireflies destroyed the one true immune person, dooming not only Ellie, but humanity's future. For now, suddenly showing signs of CBI just after the operation-attempt (after months/years of nothing), suggests that the Fireflies may have really been the ones to finish her off after all.

Was it right for Joel to lie to Ellie at the end about there having been other immune people available for study? To consider that, we first have to ask ourselves, did Ellie really believe Joel's lie? Ellie was intelligent throughout the story, and she knew how important it was that they get to the Fireflies. She knew Joel well, and when she woke up in the car, she had no conscious memory of the Firefly experience. And yet, she never asked Joel why he didn't wake her up, or why Marlene wasn't there to meet her, or how long she'd been asleep, etc. She accepted his version of things because she wanted to.

Ellie asked Joel again because she knew he had lied. She wanted him to lie. There's a crucial masculine distinction there that the fans and reviewers are missing: when Ellie asked Joel if there "really were" other immune people out there, what she was truly asking him was, "Are you sure you will bear the moral burden of me not having to be killed right now to maybe make a cure?" And Joel, by giving her a flat look and promising that he was telling the truth, was accepting that burden. Ellie wasn't stupid; she knew the essentials of what was going on. Even without the fungal growth on her arm--and even before she'd noticed that growth--she knew Joel was lying. The voice actors and animators did a good job of conveying blankness, intelligence, or suspicion on Ellie's face--not relief, or acceptance. Ellie didn't get excited and ask about the status of the vaccine/cure from the other supposedly-immune people. She didn't ask Joel how the world would change, now. She just relaxed, glad that he had taken that burden.

The Narrative's Deeper Moral Principles

Now we'll move beyond the parables as they apply only wholly within the game, and look at larger ones. The "was it right to lie to Ellie" quandary is a difficult one to accept for many, because it goes to the natures of being a caregiver. The perspective here is traditionally "man/woman," or "parent/child," but the nature of being someone's caregiver goes beyond that. For Joel to do what he did, or for anyone else to offer a similar service to a person, is a kind of spiritual connection, love, and giving orders of magnitude higher than merely holding open a door or saving a life: it is to bear the conscious, ongoing, emotional responsibility for all the importance appurtenant to such an act, e.g., to be the one willing to bear the cost in jealousy, so that someone else doesn't have to.

Terran counterparts to this type of action are of the "pure charity" kind. If you give someone needy a hundred dollars, then you don't only give them the hundred dollars--you give them the knowledge that another person has condescended to them. You give them the obligation--which they may never be able to satisfy--of having been provided for; of having been patronized, sheltered, and looked after. Even the best-natured, sweetest, most honest person feels that.

If you crumple up the Benjamin and slip it into the bottom of her purse when she's not looking, though, it's chance. It's "maybe I dropped that there last year and just forgot it." It's one of those little niceties, like feeding an infant, that transfers affection and responsibility on a much deeper level. To some degree, the person knows they didn't randomly lose a hundred dollars (or whatever) and then just find it. But the plausible deniability you have given them--the uncertainty; the maybe of it all--frees them from having to fully acknowledge that they were the recipient of charity; of unearned goodies. Obviously, Joel saving Ellie's life is a greater form of that. It's hard to come up with examples on selfish Terra, but the possibility of benefiting someone so thoroughly that they don't know you did it is a massive act. In a literary sense, it's the birth of God, the Genesis light, the echo of creation; in the Father Zosima way, it's the unprovable certitude of a greater love. In a scientific sense, it's the increasing manifestation of conscious presence and meaning, wherein the selfishness necessary to recognize the reality of existence begins to perceptibly network.

In today's west, it's quite difficult to accept the foundational basis for such charity, even if the blatantly charitable examples (like sneaking money into someone's wallet) can be easily referred to. For example, if your parent(s) and/or guardian(s) didn't smother you in frustration, you're the beneficiary of a million acts of neverknown kindness and sacrifice, from the burdens you necessarily transferred away. You can never know how difficult it was. You can guess, if you begin trying to take those burdens from another, and realize how heavy they are, but everyone is different, and you can never know the weight of what you passed off, no matter how many bad things you may have been given in return. There's a masculine (not necessarily "male," though percentage-wise perhaps appropriately shortened as such) element there, also, where the burdens that some humans bear to keep others whole weigh heavily, and necessarily, when transferred, and where no currency exists as payment. Joel's sheltering of Ellie, in this way, is a colossal act--one that would have been easily understood in different places and times, but which goes almost wholly unnoticed today, in a Terra filled with people who only want to be the recipients of such gifts, rather than the bearers of such massive burdens. Ellie's demonstrable intelligence and strength makes the act more profound, for if she were weak or stupid, and would have genuinely (with wishful, willfully-dimwitted ignorance) believed Joel's lie, then she wouldn't have had the capacity to truly sacrifice herself. Ergo, she wouldn't have been able to be saved from the choice. Joel demonstrated what it means to be a man, and he did it in a part of the narrative where there were no punches, guns, or wounds.

How different were the Fireflies? As westerners continue to move away from the era of authoritarian reverence, it becomes easy to conclude that "the rebels" must be the good ones. Since the U.S. military in the quarantine zones of The Last of Us were evil tyrants, the Fireflies seemed like a light in the darkness--and yet, it turned out that they were just another military. Like mobs knocking out random bystanders, raping the daughters of the bourgeois, or beating up some poor old Korean and destroying his convenience store: it's easy to think in George W. Bush terms of black and white, e.g., "The MICC and police state are so bad, the rebels must be good." But in actuality, Dubya is wrong, and it's not fair to treat people like that. That's how militaries get created, anyway. If the Fireflies had won, their child-sacrificing policies would've stuck with them into the next regime, just as the (currently) official military's policies still bear the same foul stains of those body trenches in the Philippines.

If it had actually produced a cure, and been known to produce a cure ahead of time, would it have been right to sacrifice Ellie to save the billions and save the world? No. Not anyway. The parable of Sarah's death at the beginning of The Last of Us comes back, here, again: not merely as "Joel's motivation to be protective toward Ellie," but because the soldier who murdered Sarah at the beginning was acting just like the Fireflies. He murdered the little girl--and his officer ordered him to do so, and the military commanders made the decision to establish such policies, guaranteeing such murders--to protect the sanctity of the nation through quarantine. And even so, civilization collapsed. The Fireflies weren't rebelling for moral reasons; by being willing to sacrifice Ellie to (maybe) save others, they proved themselves equally vile and dictatorial. When you sacrifice even one person, the immortality is complete.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Drone Futures

Civilian-licensed drones, corporate drones, and perhaps even smaller police department drones will be required to bear markings that can't be easily removed, and users will incur heavy penalties if found operating without a "license," or insurance, or any of the other crap that will be required--which will drive a big industry of financial middlemen, new courses of university study, new fields of law and technology, all of which will be majority-owned by TWMNBN. Influential middlemen will write books, make movies, and make academic and foundation careers studying about and reporting on drones in a "serious" way. Private drones will have artificially limited speed, and like sawed-off shotguns or silencers, certain technologies will be forever barred to real people. Device may not generate interference and must accept all interference received. Stupid redneck characters in movies will start being shown fixing old drones in the lawn chairs outside their permanently-ensconced trailer homes.

Drones owned by the secret police will be unmarked and untraceable. Whenever anything goes wrong with them, evidence will be damaged or disappear, and the resulting mayhem will be blamed on the use of illegal drones by [then-unpopular subgroup], or blamed on a foreign country to justify a new war. The press will never seriously consider any suggestions that the CIA/Mossad had anything to do with the latest drone tragedy, which could only have been the work of clumsy hobbyists, or more likely, of a single white madman with a history of mental problems. Extensive drone licensing will accompany the proliferation of increasingly deadly stealth drones at unmarked military bases rumored to blanket the country. Some naive yahoo will break out of a warehouse with a military drone, confess all the horrible things he was made to do, and be pilloried and forgotten. The cloned head of Jon Stewart, built from the stem cells of ten aborted brown fetuses, will praise the whistleblower's courage, express grave concerns over the drone security state, act like this changes everything, and then move on to other topics without missing a beat.

A Republican presidential candidate will accidentally crash a drone during a family vacation, injuring a poor minority child who was on his first camping trip out of the inner city. The candidate will plummet in the polls as many cartoons are drawn showing him carelessly piloting the drone. Arianna Huffington's neverborn lackeys will simultaneously worry that the Democratic field doesn't include enough drone pilots to identify with younger voters. Pixar will release a movie about a cute talking drone that worries about the things its mustachioed evil master (the bad apple in a faceless company that builds prefabricated minimalls) makes it do. Bob Woodward will write the critically acclaimed bestseller Drone Diplomacy, filled with summaries of two-year-old articles from the Associated Press, insubstantial interviews with highly-placed officials, and occasional use of the F word or new drone slang from the Marines. Pictures of Princess Kate shaving her thigh-cellulite will be posted on the internet by paparazzi who managed to sneak a miniature drone into Buckingham's ventilation system. Shiftless teenagers will begin lurking in Walmart parking lots to practice tricks with their cheap secondhand drones, and Walmart will deploy the controversial robohawk drone to destroy loitering drones. A robohawk model will malfunction and sink its talons into an elderly pensioner's sundress while she hurries to her car in fright, and Oprah will nod seriously at the pensioner as she describes how, in her day, it only took a few bicycle cops to tell skateboarders to move along, and if Walmart had just offered to pay for her medical bills to begin with she wouldn't have needed to sue for $6 million. Walmart will settle with her heirs when she dies before the trial date, and robohawk 2.0 will be sold to daycares across the world to ensure licensed employee face recognition and toddler safety in the event of a...

Lost Tribes

A list for every time they tell us something is true because an undiscovered and/or isolated tribe does it:

1) How well do we know their language, including diction, implication, historical metaphor, body language, sarcasm, et cetera? How many languages and dialects do they have, and how many are they willing to use in front of us?

2) How much can we trust any given person who is acting in front of researchers eager to hand out chocolate, liquor, and tools in exchange for pleasing information to use in a PhD dissertation or to obtain a U.N. grant?

3) Despite (apparent) geographical isolation, how well do we know what groups of people may have traveled to that area in the past, and been killed or assimilated? What knowledge might those people have brought or caused to be lost?

4) Even if these tribes haven't come into contact with "first world civilization," how unlikely is it that they never noticed that other tribes in the area completely vanished over the past century or so? Did they ever speculate about why that might be?

5) Do these tribes have the abstract reasoning capability and/or the language skills to be able to accurately portray their situations to researchers, even if they are as completely honest and completely innocent as the researchers want to believe?

6) When these tribes hear aircraft passing overhead, see contrails, or see the glint of jet engines through a break in the foliage, how does that affect their worldviews? If they've been observing similar phenomenon (propellers etc.) for the past hundred years--since well before modern anthropological quarantining was established--how have those observations colored the societies that we see now?

7) In that instant of first contact, when the tribes first experience the presence of outsiders, how pristine and untouched does their worldview remain before information is exchanged?

8) Imagine a flying saucer touching down next to a dwelling in rural Arkansas, and questioning the dwelling's occupants about the history of that society's culture and science. How accurate would the answers be?

9) Have two people, from the same general ethnic background, and who have attended the same small town church ever since grade school, ever had fierce disagreements about the nature of the world, or the history and functions of the small town in which they live? Have groups of such people ever had such disagreements? What, then, makes the opinions of any individual(s) selected for study from such a tribe reliable as to the homogeneity of tribal belief?

10) If you're at work trying to get something done, and some patronizing researcher shows up and wants to ask people questions about their feelings about the company's mission statement and the employee's role within the company, who is more likely to be eager to spend time with the researcher to provide information: the more knowledgeable, capable people, or the less knowledgeable, less capable people?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

False Dichotomies Again: the Obvious Surprise

It's boringly predictable, as well as interestingly shocking, how both of the stupid-ass philosophical extremes of individualism and collectivism come from the same material source: e.g., Marxism and Objectivism. The large-scale social engineering produced by those movements was designed expressly to make respect for single-human individualism and respect for all-human collectivism seem to be contradictory, when in fact, the greatest respect for both individualism and collectivism comes simultaneously. Neither through Marx nor Rand can a commune, or a heroic individual, thrive, or even survive. The contradictions involved in either stealing one person's work product for a collective, or stealing a lot of people's work products for an individual, are too ridiculous to be believed as philosophies, let alone competing ones...and yet, there they are. There they are, staring you in the face like Jeb and Hillary, as though we're supposed to believe that they're fierce enemies to the end, and not just a pair of marionettes drawing bribes from Goldman Sachs Disease.

What a cunning plan indeed, spanning centuries, to make people think that human individuals are pitted against human groups! What groundwork laid! What foresight possessed! How truly villainous; how dastardly to the highest degree! Think of the subtlety involved in publishing Marx and Engels across the entire world; think of the narrative support structure necessary to turn the words of that hideously sallow, peevish little faux-Russian into a movement for designated archenemy capitalism, inspirer of so many battles against OSHA and USSR. Think of the camps and the genocides, the overlapping bureaucracies, and the weapons sales and the central banks and the endless invasions and re-invasions of North Africa and South Asia. It's like chess with a billion lives, and they're good at it even when the chess pieces are themselves possessed of agency. Now, that is manipulation. That's skill.

Of course, the race realism that arises now, as massively wealth-transferred racial groups burn down western cities, has the same irony built into it: now, the foulest of racists are beginning to embrace the openly segregated state for expressly racial purposes. Ergo Israel has come full circle yet again, becoming not only the financial beneficiary of Civil Rights, but also of Anti Civil Rights! In 1965, liberal, anti-racist Americans pray for Israel to commit genocide against Arabs, and to steal money from American taxpayers, because it is the progressive, non-bigoted thing to, since Jews are oppressed underdog minorities. In 2015, conservative, openly-racist Americans pray for Israel to commit genocide against Arabs, and to steal money from American taxpayers, because it is the traditional, bigoted thing to do, since Jews are heroic high-achieving organizers.

Rotting bodies, people. Rotting bodies beneath a blanket of concrete dust.

Importing slaves, then fighting a war to free them; storming the Bastille, then fighting off the Emperor who foolishly invades Russia to storm other similar prisons...Christ, how many times are they going to use the "fails while attempting to invade Russia despite the obvious insanity of such a plan" angle? Future Emperors, will you please avoid falling into that one again? Oh, wait; that was your plan from the beginning. What's that they say, here? Oh yeah. *sigh*. That's it.

While we're here, there is/was nothing extremely new about Objectivism or Marxism. The ideas of "care for self" and "care for others" had always been there. What Rand and Marx did so well is to patent versions of those ideas based around selfish power, rather than decency and the meeting of human needs. They adapted philosophies, like so many homogeneously-Japanese manga copied into "innovative" Hollywood masterpieces; into crude, dismembered versions of themselves. "Everyone gets food and shelter" gets perverted into "Workers seize power," and "Individual privacy, labor, and reward is respected and protected by society" gets mangled into "Fuck all y'all."

Dig beneath the Jenomic fables you've embraced or rejected, and find your cultural inheritance in something that came before. Look for the good parts of Jesus in the Essene Gospel; look for the squeamish parts in a savage desert tribe of racist murderers; and then, claim your right to the hidden older story that better suits you, rather than the one that a collection of inbred Nazi scholars threw together for you. Find the representative choice of pleasure or pain in Zoroaster, rather than in Milton or Constantine. If you want economic justice and a lack of wealthy landlords and managers, don't look to a connected rentier who wanted to establish even bigger bureaucracies in order to prohibit private social arrangements. And lastly, it should go without saying, but if you want to reduce the death rate of Semitic strains, don't pay one variety of them to massacre another.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Accelerated Erosion and Sunken Lighthouses

We previously discussed how the self-referencing nature of language--and of all communication, including mitosis and meiosis--requires reference points. Like supercluster sectors, solar perimeter buoys, lighthouses, or land surveys, these points of fixed, shared understanding, are hypocritical and arbitrary just as much as they're the predestined purity of truth. Like light or gods, they're unprovable; it takes an act of faith, to some degree, to accept/hope/believe that all those other hominids around you are acting in coordination, with a sense of self-awareness, rather than that you're the sole conscious entity on the planet, surrounded by bouncing molecules that, through sheer coincidence, appear to be like you, and appear to (sometimes) be speaking in a language you can understand. It takes faith to accept effects as a result of causes, and to accept that time might/will continue beyond any given instant, based on your extremely limited perception of what "time" has been heretofore.

Whenever we talk to each other, in any way, we use pattern-recognition behaviors to assume--completely without proof (with "supporting observations," but never conclusive proof)--that we're connecting on some level; that we're talking about the things we think we're talking about. Say that you're a homo sapiens, and you're pushed out of someone's vulva and you are fed by people who make noise at you. You eventually figure out that, when they curl their lips upward and say, "Good job!" you have done something well.

But why? Maybe when they say, "Good job!" that really means, "You really blew it this time," and they're smiling because that's their symbol for hatred. Maybe when they say, "You little asshole!" and frown, what they really mean is, "You did such a good job!" and they're frowning because that's how they express love and happiness. You can try to differentiate the "good" words from the "bad" ones by the results they lead to for you and others, but if everyone else experiences sensations differently than you do--if you're the aberration--then your reactions are as solipsistic as the rationale by which you developed your current understanding of language and world history.

I know that's a really stupid example, since everyone just knows that it's not the case. It's obvious; it's as obvious as the heavens above the firmament. We have complete faith that being beaten or starved is bad, while being fed or hugged is good. We're so self-centered and unimaginative that we're absolutely certain that everyone else experiences the same kind of hunger and pain that we do, and that they draw pleasure from the same things that we do (being beaten and starved, v. being fed and hugged, respectively). Our entire perception of the meaning of language, and of human interaction, is based on a cascading series of rationalizations that we used to justify our own mental sensations with others' behavior. When we see a pattern, and when that pattern seems to match with what we feel is "pain" or "pleasure," we conclude that we've figured it out, and that now we know the definition of a word, or the meaning of a gesture.

From where do we draw that infallible faith, though? It's not material observation alone. It's entirely possible--it's rational and logically consistent--that others believe that life is suffering, and that death is escape, and that they tolerate us (through feeding and hugs) only to perpetuate our suffering in order to get revenge on those who perpetuated their suffering. How do you know that you're not the first person ever born who enjoys hugs and food?

We don't know. It's as un-provable as Yahweh. You probably have a lot of supporting evidence to back up those conclusions, and you're probably utterly convinced that you have it all right, but if your processing capability is sufficiently abstract, you can imagine countless scenarios where good really does mean bad, and where all other adjectives have their meanings switched around based on your own flawed perception of "pain" v. "pleasure." If you're not that abstract, then just think about some variation on Plato's Cave, and ask yourself how you know you're not living inside a Matrix that was built inside a Matrix that was built inside the Thirteenth Floor of a different Matrix' Thirteenth Floor.

It is the strength of our faith that gives us such certitude in our opinions about the world. We know what some things mean, not because of materialistic observation--although that certainly helps--but because, before we were taught not to, we were able to communicate in more ways than by the five machine-verifiable senses. Maybe it's enteric (maybe you never learned about the second brain in the gut?), maybe it's psionic, and maybe it's merely your neural networks manifesting an electromagnetic rapprochement with those of others during communication (Maybe it's all of those things, and maybe on more advanced planets, the latter trio of terms are essentially synonymous).

Whatever it is, though, you've done it. You've developed a command of a sizable quantity of words, gestures, and intonations, and you've learned to employ them so as to predict others' behavior, and how that behavior will correlate with whatever they're saying and doing, and how they're saying and doing it, at the time--probably with a great degree of accuracy. You may even be clever enough to get a gut feeling, or an intangible disturbance, when certain people are speaking or acting; when you sense that, no matter how good an actor they are with language and expression and gesticulation, there's something wrong about the process.

Even if you don't care at all about the nonsense I just typed above, you've learned many, many more ways in which to use language to "cheat." You might tell a dog, "Good dog," and later that day, tell someone they did a "Good job" saving that million-dollar deal. You might find a $5 rebate check in the mail and say, "Oh, good," and you might eat an okay dinner and say it was "Good."

What's the deal, you hypocrite; you liar? How dare you use that exact same word to refer to such wildly different things? Context--duh, right? And what a transubstantiative act that was of you: to (1) use identical words to mean completely different things, (2) be well understood by those around you as you do so, and (3) believe that language is about words and gestures that affect the material world such that others are able to, through material interaction, comprehend that language.

When faced with the massive contradictions created by the combination of the irreconcilable (1) (2) & (3), you have a religious ritual that helps you explain things down to materialism: "context." This magical word; this non-Bright concept; this atrocious spiritual leap from before even the pagans befouled the memespace with their superstitious idiocy; this paleolithic enchantment of "context" is meant to reconcile physical language with metaphysical understanding.

Realistically, comprehensively, language is a lighthouse. It evolves, just like the shoreline sometimes moves, but it retains meaning throughout when the billions of lighthouses maintain enough of their imaginary, people-supported structure that enough marker buoys are around to make it comprehensible. Lacking that transcendent meaning--that transcendent sharing of the minds, whereby we agree that "red" will mean "red" and not "blue," lest we should no longer be able to as closely love and know one another--language becomes selfish jabber, like a herd of horses of different colors: always going somewhere so vigorously that it is, in fact, never going anywhere.

Words like, "run," "jump," "cat," "dog," "house," "boy," "girl," are, like all words, hypocritical, in that they materialistically presuppose the metamaterial understanding that allows them to gain consistent meaning to people. Changing the location of the lighthouse's flame--one of them or many of them--is a way to crash ships, but more importantly, a way to destroy the whole network itself, and prevent anyone else from being able to talk. That's one of the oft-attacked, but poorly-explained (and, frequently, childishly or vilely rationalized) criticisms of postmodernity's relativistic destruction of language.

(The sky isn't falling, because evil won't succeed in this; what we're studying here is the process that drives it.)

The picture of the 6.5 trap above is an example related to "exploiting the buoys." (If you need/want to see a little more detail, click here to see more of Minus Three. NSFW; soft X, but certainly not XXX. Even if you're fairly experienced with amateur porn, consider yourself male-chastity-images warned.) By "exploiting the buoys," this one means playing upon the tautological nature of language to achieve a result based on the technicalities of language itself, rather than growing and strengthening language by using new concepts to build better communication and love.

Minus Three wears a little pink maid's dress to evoke what? Feminine sexuality. Is the softness of the dress, the arrangement of bows and lace, the cute heels, and the skirted suggestion, based on nature or nurture? It's based on nurture, because we culturally associate "pink" with female, and so too bows and laces and all that other stuff. But it's also based on nature, because soft pink stuff looks like female arousal, and white looks like sexy low-T pale genes.

Our language helps us define all that. We can talk about male and female, masculine and feminine, top and bottom, tough guy and sissy boy, and all those terms work out just fine. Sometimes with positive connotations, sometimes with negative--but regardless, they're explicable. And that helps out Minus Three--the cultural groundwork for skirts, pink clothing, high heels, elaborate makeup (here blurred out), and hair styles, exist only because of the groundwork that female established, culturally speaking. And that only exists because of the groundwork that "female" established, biologically speaking. Without that groundwork, there is no more Minus Three, or any other good traps, because the concepts from which they were drawing their meaning failed. When transsexual advocates change the meaning of, say, "woman," there will be no more foundation upon which to build a term that means "heavily and deliberately feminine but not 100% there." Once "sissy" ceases being an affectionate buoy-exploit for those who know what they're talking about--e.g., "I like you because you're making a play on culture and nature"--and becomes strictly a literal term referring to "slang for biological or adoptive female sibling," there can be no more sissies in the buoy-exploit way.

The eerie traditionalism of the popular new media sex trends are so eerily traditional for this reason. They claim words like "man," "woman," and "marriage," not in order to increase inclusiveness, but to increase ex-clusiveness: to make it more difficult for anyone to have any identity. Yes, one of the intended results of all that will be that it destroys the meaning and value of the things to which those concepts once referred. More importantly to the celebrants of the new media sex trends, though, is that this same destruction of the original buoys that people relied upon, will leave all the newly-redefined people equally lost at sea.

Yes, "man" is hypocritical, because of hermaphrodites and drugs and surgery and chromosomes--but it never meant just those things in the first place. And it's as hypocritical as all other words, in a material-only sense--maybe almost as hypocritical as most of the popular new LGBTQPZ terms.

Language, though, isn't like that. It's all false, materially speaking. The sharing, understanding, and connecting that make our grunts and contortions into a language are not 100% material. It is on those grounds--the metaphysical ones--that there is a difference between a hermaphrodite, a man, a woman, an amazon, a sissy, and a place for our lexicon to further develop dozens of wonderful new terms to help us know each other, rather than regressing into a smaller system of arbitrary grunts that change meaning depending on political power. Christians shouldn't be arguing about the genetics of defining "marriage," because the material route is an eventual loss just as trans advocates shouldn't be arguing about the infantile, selfish-individual mindset of defining one's own "sex," because it, too, is a guaranteed failure. XYXs and Hollywood frivorces have stymied conservatives just as surely as poly-zoos and transspecies conventions will eventually turn the sexual radicals into bitter establishment types who have to close their bars when they can't afford to build centaur-accessible restroom stalls and farriering stations.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Sex Place: the Holocaust of Understanding

The heights, the place, the nexus, the shoppes; the definitive, that funny guy, that hair chick, the pavilions...

(One of many "places")

Modern corporate marketing has graced us with the idea that the most banal of nouns--and then, progressively, even pronouns--become witty, intelligently ironic tools of common-sensical insight, when they're used in place of proper names. Like adolescents who think we've invented sex and despondency, we satirize the idea of language, of meaning, and of the concepts of human understanding and communication themselves, by trumpeting our pithy cleverness as if it were an abbreviated stairway to heaven.

Everyone knows that, when you're trying to find the restaurant, it may be referred to as, "That one Italian place," or, "The deli with the hanging green things," rather than by the more specific name with which its proud owner christened it. Presumably, sometime after the advent of spoken language, when the concept of the pronoun had been developed to aid in mutual understanding, there existed a clever human being who figured out that it was a sort of double entendre to turn the pronouns themselves (or other less-specific nouns) into proper nouns, good for a half second's worth of mild chuckling. What a novel comic, that person! In a small way, of course: the very concept of the pronoun, and of language itself--a tautological insiders-only system of associating concepts with representative sights and sounds--presupposes the double entendre, and makes it not all that seriously funny. Indeed, good for a laugh or two, but by God, don't base half your routine on it.

The spread of destruction of proper names continues unabated across all aspects of western culture, it seems. Who were the first culprits? The patriarchal cheaters, probably--how many more children do we need to be named "after" long-ago saints and prophets, anyway? The audiovisual pangs of the Muslim world, where forms of Muhammad and Abdul proliferate to painful extremes, are no less creative than the Christian, where everyone who wrote a Gospel is repeated millions of times over. The new universalists and atheists, even more funnily, follow similar, though newer trends, christening their supposedly sexually-liberated daughters after the hard-right slaveholding Founding Fathers and their ilk, such that Ashley and Darcy, Madison and Lindsay, Sandy and Beverly, have transsexualized themselves, becoming nearly as popular for naming young glass-breakers-in-training as rotted prophets and toilet/phallus slang remain among the rape culture set. If names are only something that we select out of a grab bag for pinning to each new infant, why not treat pronouns the same way, and eventually, do away with proper nouns entirely?

Lack of imagination on the part of media-plyed parents is understandable--as is the intense fear of social consequences for failure to audiovisually conform. To the marketers, though, these concepts are not their fears, but their tools. In naming their venues and their products after raw, untreated nouns, they intensify the destruction of the fungibility of language. As we've noted here before, once all movies are satire, it will no longer be possible to satirize. Once all movies are sequel, it will no longer be possible to franchise. The diminishing returns of spinoff can be retained among a dumber and dumber audience, until at some point, even the bums stop coming for the watered-down ale, and we're forced to confront a reality so diluted that it no longer exists except as spirals of ugly color.

If "watered-down ale" is permitted to mean "ale," then it is a short step to the point where "ale" and "water" mean the same thing--the distinction will have been lost, and with it, the ability to differentiate between ale and water...which then means that neither ale nor water are respected for their own characteristics. They become, instead, identifiable only as "drink," along with juice and soda, and eventually, just "liquid," along with gasoline and urine. The finer points of discrimination among their various component parts--down to such improper levels as their molecular structure, for example--are lost, along with the thousands of years of communication, understanding, and empathy made possible through the development of a complex language that has words diverse enough to identify them as different things. OJ, pear juice, margarita, pinot noir, water, seawater, fresh water, fetid water, drinking water, recirculated water...all very important distinctions; all valuable triumphs of identification and human sharing, to be able to tell one another what these things are without hooting, chest-thumping, or drawing a picture of an ocean wave and pointing emphatically at it, just to indicate where the stuff in the cup came from.

Ergo the barkeep who tries to destroy hyphenation by insisting that his watered-down ale really is just "ale" isn't just making a buck; he's also destroying the nature of "water" and "ale." Wherever his self-interested ideas spread, he makes it more difficult, or impossible, for other people to meaningfully discuss what it means to drink water, or to drink ale. Or (need it be said), once war means the same thing as peace, or freedom slavery, future proles will find it impossible to conceive of what those terms actually mean. Destroying those "buoy markers" of definition makes it confusing, then inconceivable, to describe a state of violent conflict between nations, or one of an absence of such conflict, because the lack of distinction between war and peace means that either state is simply "the way things are." The dangers or virtues of the respective terms are lost when the terms cease to actually mean anything specific--a sort of paradise for tyrants and corporate marketing departments, where relativity permits capital, and the bandwagons it buys, to define the terms, and results, of any debate.

By the same token, once all proper nouns are generalized nouns and verbs, and then merely pronouns (or, shudder, adverbs), not only will the proper nouns lose their meaning, but the pronouns themselves, too. Generalized placeholder nouns, and pronouns, only derive their meaning from the tautological nature of language, relying on the shared understanding (the unwritable, unprovable understanding) that more specific proper nouns are out there somewhere, existing, and that there is in fact a way to differentiate one restaurant from another based on such vulgar characteristics as its physical properties and spatial location. Pronouns--and verbs, and other descriptive tools--are useful, wonderful things, utterly dependent upon, and made possibly only because of, the actual qualities of the things or concepts to which they refer. Over time, as "Luigi's on Fourth" evolves into "Pizza on Fourth," and then to "Eat on Fourth," and then to "Eat" (which happens to be on Fourth), it will be at first quirky and hip for customers, and then rather bland, for every other "Eat" on Fourth will have an equally vapid "description."

Some people want to not "be a number," while others view it as cute and comforting. What will happen when no one is alive any longer who remembers when Luigi's on Fourth used to be named after Luigi? When it's just another "Eat," one of millions; just another of millions of children being named after toilets?

Our habit of replacing proper nouns with pronouns is darkly echoed in our sex. For thousands of years, we've enjoyed butches, eunuchs, catamites, fembois, courtesans, sapphos, and newhalfs: why, now, do all these concepts have to be murdered, so that everyone can be forced to be either a "John" or a "Mary"? Whenceforth comes the power and appeal of this troglodytic retro-liberalism that seeks to crush and conservatize such intermediate concepts of sex, identity, and communication itself? The bridges of empathy, like those of understanding, are fired to ash when we destroy identity variations by pigeonholing them into a classificatory subset. It is, in fact, by having the two reproductive sexes as anchors that any given person is able to have a meeting of the mind with another. Even if you think it's unfair to use chromosomes as marker buoys, you must come to understand that some kind of marker buoy is needed, else there will be no understood meaning that can allow anyone to define itself.

When pronouns become proper nouns (or, where appropriate, any other non-specific term degrades in specificity), proper nouns are diluted into uselessness, and pronouns lose all meaning, no longer having anything to which to refer. A hundred thousand restaurants and apartment developments known as "the place" sound hip right now, but like the brilliant satire of a film you've never heard of--a film set in a culture about which you know nothing, created by a species you've never seen--you will miss all the jokes, and come away muddled and unfulfilled. Something has to mean something in order for anything to mean something--an obvious tautology, like language and existence.

It is no surprise that Terra's greatest original strike against any form of "alternative" sexuality--the Torah and the Abramic trend, which, for centuries, shamed and mutilated and raped and murdered sexual "deviants"--is now one of the primary, if not the primary, driving force behind the idea that "trans" sexuals should cease being themselves, and instead subsume their identity inside the anchor concepts that created those, and everyone else's, identities. The skeins of our human selves, thusly seasoned, will burn all the more fiercely when the grindery begins turning the other way, as it inevitably will when Jenome cyclically reverses course. And then, how ironic will seem that rainbow, for a rainbow is only a rainbow when it is possible to discriminate between the colors in that rainbow. When it becomes offensive to distinguish between amaranth and vermilion, raspberry and scarlet, maroon and crimson, all those variations will vanish from our languages, and then from most of our minds.

Among the many great ironies of rainbowing flyovers into submission--like conquering Visigoths under the banner of the cross--is that it represents not only the destruction and betrayal of the flyovers, but of the rainbow itself.

Changing the world into grayscale will do far, far greater harm to those who do not wish to be defined chromosomentrically, than to those who do. That is exactly the plan, of course. Did you really think that they spent thousands of years making money by shaming and murdering fags in order that they could suddenly become pure-hearted and exalt them for the rest of time? Sure, the screws will get turned on the "normal" people for a little while, but as they say, a dick for a dick leaves the world impotent. They will come for you again, and those few generations of being designated as non-oppressed will not make the inverse any more pleasant to bear. These are people who like to throw stones; who have built millennia of a genetic and cultural legacy around the throwing of stones.

Oh, pity on you, foolish Terrans! Have you not yet figured out how this cruel game is played? Do not fight nonsensical wrongs with nonsensical wrongs, no matter how good the feeling of triumph at each peak or nadir!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Failure of Medium

Alzheimer's et. al. frighten us not just because of the obvious loss of capacity and its embarrassing tangible outcomes, but because they suggest that our minds, and our selves, are wholly dependent upon our matter--in this case, our gray matter. If the fading of who we are, capabilities and memories and personality, is directly correlated to trackable deterioration, then maybe we're all just fluoroscopic by-products. How chilling.

And yet, we're far more upset by dementia than we are by network lag or blue screens of death. How philosophically conclusive is the failure of any given medium? Not very.