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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, March 28, 2016

THE NEW COMMISSARS

"Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

As some of you already know, I'm an avid gamer - the real kind, with paper and dice and figures, role playing - and write gaming supplements as well as fiction.  I've noticed a shift in attitudes very recently in gaming, though and its indicative of culture as well as my hobby.
In the exceptional Champions supplement Strike Force, Aaron Allston included various types of gamers that a GM should be aware of and work with in their campaign.  One of those types is the "rules rapist" who abuses every system and violates every intent of the game's rules to get an advantage.
Well, welcome to 2016, where using this term caused someone to be banned on popular gaming forum RPG.net.  Someone posted this:
Frankly, exploiting and abusing rules loopholes is a d*ck move and a player issue. To use the Strike Force category, those folks are Rules Rapists. Mind you, that doesn't absolve a system's designers from working as hard as they can to close loopholes, but when you have the nearly infinite complexity that (for example) HERO has, loopholes are essentially inevitable and HERO is pretty up front about the fact that it's everyone's responsibility to play nicely with each other.
and got a ban notice saying this:
Don't compare people who play differently from you to rapists. That's a group attack, and in very poor taste. I'm suspending you for three days. Plese [sic] don't post in this thread when you return. 
Now, its obvious to any objective, sane reader that this person was not A) calling people rapists or B) claiming that anyone wanted to violently force sexual activity on an unwilling person.  Yet there we have it: instant ban for saying an unword.
Yet some are defending the ban, saying things like "If you don't get what's so awful about that phrase even after people here have tried to explain it to you, then there's nothing more I can say that'll likely convince you."
It seems to me, this is yet another example of the loss of freedom in our society, based on a worldview that tries to be all-inclusive and controlling.  It seems to me that its one thing to, on a case-by-case basis and out of compassion and politeness, to adjust your language around people if they are offended or hurt by what you are saying.  That's a personal reaction and choice.  It is another thing entirely to punish people for saying what might upset or offend other people.
This is just a gaming forum, but its happening around us all the time.  The most recent example is a professor at Marquette University who noted that refusing to even allow any debate or dissent on a topic is not exactly good for learning or freedom (the topic is homosexual behavior).  He was suspended without pay and is being told he must admit his guilt and apologize for the blog post, or be fired.
Or take the Student Senator at USC who is being punished for "violating Principles of Community" by daring to invite homosexual conservative Milo Yiannapolis to the campus to give a talk.
There's a big difference between reasonable expectation of politeness, disapproval of rudeness, and simply enforcing one's personal code of behavior one everyone else.  The truth is, just because you don't like something is not grounds for stopping other people from doing it.
This is something the left has long rightly condemned Christians for doing in culture (by outlawing homosexual activity, for example, or banning work on Sundays) but now engages in regularly and without the slightest hint of shame.
Again, this is the result of a competing religious worldview taking over and crushing all dissent or criticism of its tenets.  The new blasphemy is being enforced, under the guise of being kind or caring.  Just as someone would condemn saying the Lord's name in vain out of concern for their eternal soul, some words and phrases may not be uttered any longer out of concern for peoples' feelings.
Today, people don't say "hey, could you not do that" they run to a parent, a school authority, a moderator, a commissar, and demand that the person doing it be punished for doing so - or, worse, set up devices by which they won't have to run to someone else (witness what's happening with Twitter lately).
RELATED
That reference to the ban came up in a discussion of the health of Hero Games and how well it is doing as a company.  There are some people who are upset, even angry, that the company isn't spending enough time and money to advertise and make its self more popular.
I and some others have tried to point out that a hobby like gaming doesn't spread through advertising and corporate marketing, but through enthusiastic, passionate advocates.  People who love to play chess get converts and spread the joy through their love, not through Milton Bradley doing a multi-million dollar ad campaign during the Superbowl.  And gaming companies aren't a corporation with an office and lots of employees, they are usually one or two guys hiring lots of freelancers out of their home.
But the divide here is more significant than it seems.  Because its a split between those who demand that someone else give them what they want, and those who ask "what can I do to get what I want?"  One expects the company to solve their concerns, the other is trying to find ways to find solutions on their own.
And that's a pretty stark divide in our culture that goes far beyond gaming.  Those who want and take vs those who build and make. Now, obviously this can be overstated, but I thought that was pretty noteworthy when I considered it last night.
THE FUTURE OF CREATIVITY
Gaming as it now exists is pretty free and open.  Game companies create rules and design products that let a group do whatever they want, without restrictions or concern - how you use their product is none of their business.  People create characters with whatever personality, motivations, and behavior they want, and run about in an imaginary world with other players creating situations and interacting.
This kind of attitude toward gaming - demanding other people give me stuff without me having to do anything for it and protect me from anything that makes me uncomfortable - is incredibly corrosive to the creativity and freedom of the game. 
I can easily foresee a time in which people require all involved to sign waivers and statements of declaration about what will and will not be permitted.  You cannot have these situations, these words, these types of characters. Sign this and then se can begin.
And its not just in role playing games.  Books, art, movies, any creative endeavor, anything creative period will suffer from this crushing totalitarianism in the guise of being nice.  If you're not free to express yourself, you cannot truly be creative.  And in the end, all you get is the kind of propagandistic art that tyrannies of the past have puked up: stirring in one sense, but without a soul or creative spark.
I'll finish with what C.S. Lewis said about oppression:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Friday, March 18, 2016

WHY DONALD TRUMP?

"What is wrong with you people??"

I have some friends overseas and they are pretty aghast that Donald Trump is doing so well in American politics.  The idea that he might be the next president seems incredible, even horrible to them.  They can't really articulate why this seems so bad, other than a sort of presumed list of evils that the man must be guilty of.
This reaction is not just limited to the United States.  Some even in the Republican Party are horrified by the man's success and think him a monster.  Some are turned off by someone saying that the country needs to wall off immigration for a while until we get things sorted out.  Others are shocked by the idea that he wants to prevent people from immigrating to the United States based on religion (Islam).  But most just seem to have this visceral reaction of shock and negativity.
At their worst, some people in the US fear he might become some sort of authoritarian dictator, the next (whispering) Hitler.  This is probably tied to the realization that President Obama has essentially turned the presidency into an unquestioned absolute authority that ignores the constitution whenever it gets in his way, uses political agencies to target and destroy political foes, and is never, ever seriously questioned by congress.
So what is Donald Trump's appeal?  I'm asked this and I see people bring up this question online quite often.  Why would anyone vote for him or support this buffoon? they ask.
Well here's what I think and you can take it for what its worth.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
In Trump's case I don't think its so much people being fooled as it is people being finished with politics as usual. And by that I don't mean 'burn it down.' 
What I mean is that everyone knows politicians lie, from start to finish. None of them keep their promises, even the well-meaning ones can't. A political promise is practically synonymous with bovine feces. 
So Trump is just spouting trash, whatever comes to mind, regardless of consistency, and his supporters don't even care, because he's not about the specifics or the promises, he's about a brand: The Trump.
What is that brand?  America was great, and has been diminished, it can be great again.  We should protect our borders and control the flow of immigration, which is obviously out of control.  I'm tired of political correctness, social justice warriors, and everyone worrying about being offended.  You don't like that?  F**k you, next question. He doesn't have his list of things he's pushing. He's doing a more stream of consciousness association campaign: come in with me and be a part of this.
Its a bold, in-your-face declaration of rejection of what has happened to the nation over the last nearly 8 years, especially the last few, and of the constant attitude of offense and cringing, whining and screaming babies who demand people be punished for making them feel bad about themselves.  It is opposition to a new breed of people who not only "think they have all the answers—everything is settled, and people who dissent are not merely wrong, but actually guilty of something approaching a crime," as robby Soave puts it.  Or, actually a crime as some would make it.
COMPARING STYLES
President Obama did the same thing, but in a manner that was pleasing to academics and folks both hoity and toity. Trump is more crass and street level. The end result is the same: he's not selling specifics, he's selling a feeling and associations, he's selling a brand of personality and approach that people are deciding doesn't sound so bad in office. 
Obama's droning baritone voice was filled with impressive-sounding lines that dazzled listeners and made them feel as if they were part of something intelligent and new, but actually were empty when analyzed for content and meaning.  His campaign was the first of this new kind, selling a brand rather than convincing voters.
Compare that to Hillary's more traditional "I'll feed you a line of outrageous BS and you pretend to believe it" politics. Her style is old fashioned and I question how effective it is in a modern race.
THE CREDULOUS?
This doesn't mean Trump voters are stupid or emotionally manipulated saps, not any more than Obama voters.  It just means that Trump's appeal isn't his impressive resumee or his sterling lifestyle or his fantastic hair.  It means his appeal is to represent a large portion of the country that is horrified and enraged with the direction of the nation, what's happened to their home, and the betrayal of both political parties.
Will that be a winning approach?  We'll see.  While its true he's up against one of the most spectacularly awful, corrupt, and physically unpleasant candidates in modern history - perhaps ever - he's also up against a determined and almost desperate legacy media, a massive money engine, and the Democratic Party political machine.  I expect Hillary Clinton to win.
Either way, I'm voting for Vermin Supreme.  Its not like my vote matters in Oregon anyway.
*UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has written a great article about the origins of Donald Trump; basically he says the people rejected what the GOP was doing several times (Tea Party, voting several elections) and finally have given up on the party entirely.  And its all at the foot of the elite, establishment Republican Party, its their fault.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

VERY LOW FLYING


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

THE SETTLERS

"You really overthink this stuff"

So DirecTV has an ad campaign out now trying to get people to swap over to their product.  The idea behind this is that people who don't get DirecTV are settling for less - that their product is so superior to cable that anyone who doesn't take it "settles."
So, they have this family who are "settlers" that have cable.  And the ad company has them dressed and living like pioneers in some old frontier land, wearing home spun clothes, etc.  Now, putting aside the bizarre incongruity of someone having electricity and technology only for their television, because ha, ha, its for comedic effect, this ad is very interesting to me, because it is a statement on modern culture.
Let me explain.  The "Settlers" only settle on their television choice, not any other aspect of their life.  In one ad, a neighbor brings their son home from visiting, and says that he sure loves their superior DirecTV (a claim I dispute) over cable.
Except, look at how the family is.  They "only" have cable TV, but have fresh milk from a cow, can make their own clothing, and have their own meat they salted away for storage instead of from a store.  In another ad, it features a woman who killed a grizzly bear on her own and made slippers out of the thing.  Another ad mentions the son churning butter, and he's not just able, he's willing and polite about it.
There's only one ad that makes their life seem poorer, and that's the one that has the children happy with and enjoying very simple toys (a doll, a hoop and a stick).
Interestingly, the comparison is between a self-sufficient, happy, capable, strong family... and one with wireless TV.  The one with a purportedly superior entertainment option is considered and portrayed as the better family.
This ad campaign is winning awards and getting lots of Youtube accolades, although I doubt may people are being convinced to get DirecTV.  But it doesn't really say what they're trying to say.  If you're 15 and hate having to go mow the lawn when you'd rather watch TV, it probably hits you right in the feels but for people who actually own homes and will be paying for this?  I'm not sure its very potent.
But perhaps it is.  This is where we are as a culture: what gives you superior entertainment and satisfaction or pleasure is considered the superior choice.  By all objective standards the "settlers" are far better off and capable than the family next door.  But my modern standards the winner is the one who works less, enjoys more, has greater pleasure, comfort, and personal ease than the neighbor.
So you have a cultural statement here: accomplishment vs ease, ability vs comfort, skill vs pleasure.  The "settlers" are seen as the poorer and worse in this comparison because they have inferior entertainment.  And someone thought this was so universal and so plainly shared by the culture that it would not just succeed in selling products, but be appreciated and enjoyed by all.
Another way of putting this is that the settlers are the makers.  They create, craft, and build.  Their home, their clothes, their food, their entertainment, all made by themselves from what they can manage to capture, gather, find, and buy.
The other neighbor is a taker: all he does is consume the entertainment delivered to him.  He's baffled and dismayed by the settlers and their creativity.  He takes what is done by others, and is portrayed as superior for it.
Am I taking this too far?  Well the creators of the ad didn't mean to say any of this, that wasn't their goal.  They just thought it would be funny to go to an EXTREME!!!! with the idea of someone who settles for cable instead of taking advantage of the purportedly superior dish.  I'm just taking the portrayal and its unexamined assumptions and noting something about society.
Not all that long ago, people would have viewed the settlers as objectively more laudable and respectable for their skills, abilities, and attitude.  Now they're a running joke.  And I think that says something significant about our culture.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

THE NEW ILLITERACY

This is a repost from a few years back about what is happening to reading and comprehension
"Wow, it's a really different conversation when you're talking with someone and listening to them"
-Students at Hofstra University

Every time some new technology comes out, people bemoan its dangers and problems, warning how it can be misused and complaining about how it causes some degradation in virtue and tradition.  This has always been true, and will always be true until kingdom come.
When the buggy came out, people complained about a disconnect from nature, about the noise, about the sloth involved in sitting while a horse did all the work, and so on.  Now roads were being built which blighted the natural landscape, now horses are mistreated because of their harnesses and whips, on and on.  It doesn't matter what technology is developed, someone always sees a problem.
Yet there's some truth in these complaints as well.  Most good science fiction is cautionary; it warns of the dangers and implications of any new technology.  Robotics seem like a great idea that will save us labor and enhance life, yet how many books have warned how this could go horribly wrong?
All technology is good and bad, as this world tends to be.  The fall of man brought a taint of bad to all things, even good things.  Nuclear power can bring light and heat, but also weapons and radiation burns.  Chemistry brings us cures to polio and drug addictions.  Dynamite was invented to save lives and help with construction, yet it also brought bombs and destruction.  The problems come not from the technology its self, but from our misuse or violent use of them.
The internet is not exactly novel, but is still relatively new and the full implications of its existence have yet to be understood.  And with it has come a great deal of good, from communication, to education, to information, entertainment, employment, and beyond.  The internet means I can talk to friends around the world, write on this blog to hundreds of people a day, and keep in touch with relatives I haven't seen for decades.
At the same time, there are problems as many have pointed out over and over.  Surprisingly, one of the more subtle, less-understood problems of the internet is that of of literacy.  One would presume that a medium of interaction that is primarily driven by reading and writing would increase literacy and reading habits.  After all, if you have to read and type answers  -- and people do practically all day -- you would think most people would thereby increase their reading and writing ability, broadening their vocabulary and concentration levels.
ILLITERACY OF TEXT
On the contrary, however,  the internet has actually had the opposite effect, primarily through smart phones.  Instead of increasing reading, the internet has tended to decrease it.  And in the end, the result has been a sort of loss of literacy, even while more people are reading than ever.  To understand this, you have to look more closely at a few effects of the ubiquity of the cell phone.
On average, teenage boys send 30 texts a day, and girls 80, although the average total is around 3000 a month, which means some are really ripping out the messages.  Teenagers rarely use their cell phone to actually talk on, preferring texting for communication.  This puzzles me, although it is more private than speaking into the phone and probably has a more coded, secret feel to it like passing notes in class rather than whispering.
Read more »

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

WHY ITS OVER

"A republic, if you can keep it."

I've written and said in several places and times that our Republic is dead.  This sounds pretty radical to people and I get looks of sad contempt and dismissal like old Christopher that opinionated jerk has gone too far, the poor dear.  Its the kind of response you give old people when they say something terribly unfashionable and out of date, a sort of kindly dismissal and mockery.
So I thought I'd make my case here and let people decide.
The quote at the top is what Benjamin Franklin gave when he was asked what the revolution and constitutional convention has given the people of America.  Franklin, like all of the founding fathers, knew that this experiment was fragile and prone to destruction.  They knew that without constant vigilance, virtue, and vitalization, the republic was doomed.
We've left all that behind.  When, exactly, is a matter of some debate, but for me the last desperate, slim glimmer of a hope was November 2012 when President Obama was reelected.  When doesn't really matter so much as how and why.
A VIRTUOUS PEOPLE
Over and over, the founders warned future generations and their people that unless the nation clung to certain specific principles, it would lose liberty and everything they'd fought for.  Chief among these was virtue.
"We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."
-John Adams


"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
-Patrick Henry


“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the deigns of ambition.”
-Thomas Jefferson


"A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.... While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.... If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security."
-Samuel Adams


Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.
-George Washington
In short, a nation which is not guided by strong ethical principles based upon an objective, absolute standard, will be blown about like a rudderless, anchorless ship in a storm.  And a people who have no virtue will not consider the future or greater rewards and concepts, but only their immediate personal gain.

"We have forgotten that he who will not answer to the rudder will answer to the rocks"
-Mortimer Adler
SHOW ME THE MONEY
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
-Thomas Jefferson
Such a people will, as the founders warned, stop voting for what is right and good, but for what is handy and valuable to them personally and directly.  As Sir Alex Fraser Tytle noted:
A democracy... can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.
To put it simply, people will start voting themselves goodies at the expense of liberty, the future, economics, and personal well being.  As soon as a republic crosses that line, it ends.  And we've crossed that line.
The problem too many people develop is a sort of blindness.  They know at some level it isn't true, but begin to convince themselves that if only the right sort of people get into office, they can fix everything, or at least slow the disaster.  But the United States is a democratic republic, so that means we elect representatives by popular vote to govern in our place.
And in that kind of system, we get the people who reflect and represent the culture and people of the nation at large.  Once a nation loses its virtue and direction, it votes for people just like that.  We get venal, corrupt, selfish leaders without integrity, honor, or virtue because we have become a nation of people with these characteristics.  They represent us in more than simply policy decisions; they represent us as people as well.
VOTE FOR ME!
Even if, by some chance or act of God, some leader is elected who differs from this pattern, they are powerless and shunned.  The politician now who is constitutionally responsible, has integrity, honor, and seeks liberty and future benefit for the nation over immediate comfort and gain is the outcast who will not play by the rules.  They are the trouble maker, the rebel, the crazy guy who won't shut up.
Imagine, if you will, some miraculous scenario where all three branches of government were somehow filled with your perfect ideal of a conservative servant of the people and the constitution.  That sounds wonderful, right?
Now imagine what happens once they are sworn into office.  That very second, the news media, popular culture, academia, and out-of-power Democrats begin to bombard every conceivable outlet from social media to film, TV, radio, newspaper, books, personal conversation, and more with the same message.
Monsters.  Tyrants.  Horrific.  Racist.  Sexist. Homophobic.  Islamophobic.  Theocrats.  Extremist.  Draconian.  They hate the elderly, children, handicapped, transexuals, minorities, women, on and on.  They support rape.  They support slavery.  They're trying to put you back in chains.  They burn crosses.  They'll drag you in chains behind their pickup truck.
Every single policy position, every single vote, every single action would be met with carefully orchestrated, filmed, and broadcast rallies and protests.  The pre-printed signs would be handed out, the paper-machet giant heads would be constructed, the streets closed off so that the "people" hired by groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. can "spontaneously" take to the streets.
Every news broadcast would be filled with sad little faces and woeful stories of how horrific this bill is that hasn't even taken effect and how its causing their puppy to starve.  Every hit song would be about how horrible things are on the streets filled with starvation, misery, and death.  Simply returning to how things were ten years ago would be depicted as Jim Crow times ten, packed with uninsured people dying on the streets.
And the people of the United States, bombarded with this in overwhelming fashion, would vote these people out in the next possible election, replacing them with radicals who would not only reverse what the Conservative Majority did, but go even further in the name of social justice and righting past wrongs.  They'd use this chance and the momentum to go even further than ever before.
Who wins what office makes no difference.  Until the nation undergoes a tremendous shift at the basic, cultural level, elections will only pour more of the same on this country and every new election makes matters worse.  And that cultural shift takes time, not elections.

BUT THE COURTS!
"Through the Mercy of Fools all Justice is lost."
-Rabbi Nachmanides
We're at a point in this nation where the Supreme Court has been stuffed with a near-majority of members for whom the constitution is simply a set of words they can use to lever in anything the latest progressive positions hold.  When a court has even a few judges who are utterly disinterested in constitution, wisdom, reason, justice, or sanity, that court ceases to have any validity whatseover.  It has been corrupted to the point of being useless.
Arguments we have to get the right sort of politician in this position or that for The Judges ignores the utter destruction of the constitution and nation that has already been wrought by a supposed judicially sensible majority.  After the utter abortion that was the Kelo vs New London decision, the court followed up with several horrendously decided trash cases which demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with power no matter who they are or what they claim about law.
Will a supreme court justice picked by a corrupt, horrible hag like Hillary Clinton be much worse than even a lying bozo like Donald Trump?  Yes.  But the bad is not a question of ruining the nation, its a question of how fast and in what direction.  Its going that way anyway, its just a matter of how swiftly.
REMNANTS
Technically, the USA is still around, of course.  We have the framework, sagging and rotted as it is, of what the country means still in place.  There are the habits of a Republic still here.  Technically we still vote.  In name at least we have representatives in office.  All of it still looks more or less the same.  Its just been gutted, like the shell of an insect that has been burrowed out from within by parasites.
The only direction this nation goes from here on out is away from liberty, away from the founders, away from the great experiment, and toward inevitable failure and tyranny.  There's only one vector, even if it staggers a bit once in a while.
LET IT BURN
There's a phrase some use to describe this attitude: "let it burn."  Some misunderstand this as a call to destroy the nation.  But its not.  Its a call to step back and give up the fight because its going down either way.  For years now I've been telling everyone to focus locally, on family, neighbors, local politics.  Your home, your area, your town.  Because the federal government is a write-off.  There is no fixing it through any elections.
That's what Let It Burn means; not "revolution!!!" but rather "its already burning and the firefighters know it won't be saved."  Let it Burn recognizes that its already on fire.  We're past the point of preventing it.  We cannot save this Republic, until we get past the hard times ahead and begin the slow, painful process of rebuilding.
I'm sorry.  I don't like it either.  but that doesn't make it any less true.  And recognizing this doesn't make me a crazy old man.  Just a sad one.
"Posterity--you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it."
-John Quincy Adams
Sorry, John.  We didn't.  We gave it a pretty good run for a while, but its over.