Saturday, March 11, 2017

Random Thoughts II

On Jews

I have spoken with a few Alt-Right people about the "Jewish Question." I don't buy into the conspiracy theories but I think there is something we can observe about tribalism.

As Thomas Sowell pointed out there are many kinds of “Jews” throughout history. What we are talking about is really just the phenomena of a small minority enjoying disproportionate success and influence within a country. It matters not whether they are an immigrant minority, an ethnic minority, a religious minority, or any other type. In all cases they outperform the majority population, winning influence in the professions, the legal system, the schools, the media, etc.

Is this OK? Is this fair? Is this to be stopped? My immediate thought is that it is a problem of degree. When you have this small minority having slightly more success, it isn't a big deal. After all, the Jewish guy with the corner store making money is only successful because people willingly trade with him. It becomes a problem when they start openly screwing over the natives – start manipulating the government in their favor and controlling entertainment and news media. Some argue this is happening in America today. The fear is that you end up with a situation where a minority becomes able to tyrannize a majority.

What is preferable? Tyranny by a majority or tyranny by a minority? Ideally you get neither, but if I had to pick I would say tyranny by a majority is preferable. Fewer victims.

Cheating at Video games

I shake my head when I read about hackers ruining online multiplayer in FPS games, or editing config files to get unlimited secret keys in an RPG. I feel like these people are missing the point of video games. A video game is not a problem that you try to solve; it's recreation. The fact that you have to earn those secret keys - that you have to practice to be able to aim well - these are parts of the game. I understand the hacker mentality of trying to find exploits as it is relevant to my work. The discovery can be very satisfying. But then proceeding to play the hacked game with zero challenge knowing that it signifies nothing about your own skill? I don’t get it. It’s like playing solitaire but arranging the cards in order before you start to ensure victory. What is the point?

An Interesting Plot for Wonder Woman

I'm a big comic fan and I love Wonder Woman. Someone challenged me to come up with an interesting plot for her since she doesn't have as many classic stories as Superman and Batman. Here goes:

Diana (Wonder Woman) and the Amazons have lived for thousands of years. They have seen mankind evolve technologically. In the near future they become worried about the latest inventions - human augmentation and A.I. Diana learns from the Moirai that humanity is approaching its Great Filter. Without divine intervention, humanity is destined to destroy itself in the next decade or so. Diana and the Amazons are told they must leave Earth and find a new home. However Diana does not want to abandon humanity and her friends in the Justice League. She considers the qualification in the prophecy ("without divine intervention") and realizes that humanity can be saved if she can convince the Olympian gods to rule humanity as benevolent overlords. All of this would be revealed very gradually with the other Justice League heroes eventually opposing her. I like the dilemma though; slavery vs. death. Which is worse? I wouldn't have a cop out third way either. Probably I'd write both endings.

Japanese Cultural Chauvinism

I saw a funny program on TV the other day. It featured various masters of Japanese culture – an expert sushi chef, a renowned Taiko drummer, etc. They are each sent to different parts of the world where non-Japanese people are practicing the same craft. In every case, the non-Japanese are ‘doing it wrong’. To twist the knife, they force the Japanese master to pretend to be an amateur and get instruction from these people. For example we saw the Taiko drum master forced to practice with a particularly incompetent all women group in the American mid-west. It ended nicely though when he revealed himself and taught the women how to properly play Japanese drums.

What struck me about it though was the inherent chauvinism. Americans in particular likely do not care about recreating elements of foreign cultures correctly. Americans have such a mongrel culture that they would probably dispute the notion of ‘correctness’ and insist that traditions are meant to constantly evolve (effectively meaning that there are no traditions). But obviously the Japanese do not see things this way. To them there absolutely is a right way to make sushi, a right way to perform Taiko, etc.

Jason Bourne

I saw the most recent movie and was not at all impressed. What irks me about the franchise is that they never dig into the most interesting aspect of Bourne's character: David Webb. David Webb, the man who became Jason Bourne before losing his memory, was actually a brave and compelling individual. He volunteered for the Treadstone program. He was an educated and talented man willing to make difficult moral choices. He was a patriot who, as Tommy Lee Jones says, saved lives with the choices he made. “Jason Bourne” is just a guy with Amnesia. As a result, he experiences his own history out of context and ends up standing in judgment of the programs that trained him, ultimately choosing to expose and destroy them.

David Webb would not have wanted this. Jason Bourne adopted a far more conventional moral position. “The government was doing bad stuff. It doesn't matter if that bad stuff was for a good reason. It was bad. Therefore I have to stop them.” Because of the consequences of Bourne's actions, I completely sympathize with the assassin who goes after him in this most recent movie. Bourne is a naive traitor. Webb is actually an interesting character. It strikes me that if Bourne now "remembers everything," would he not experience remorse for betraying his country and fellow operatives? We should have at least seen him wrestle with that more throughout the series.

Collective Identity

I read Ayn Rand when I was in high school. I used to be a hardcore libertarian. Individualism appealed to me. I still recommend people read her stuff because she's thought-provoking. It's just now that I have traveled a lot and learned more about human evolution I realize the flaws in her ideology. Tribalism is the foil of Individualism. Individualism only works if everyone practices it. In a multi-ethnic society, the groups that do not act as a tribe are disadvantaged in relation to those who do. This leads to the somewhat paradoxical conclusion that ethnically homogeneous societies have a greater opportunity for individualism (though even there individualism could ultimately disrupt and undermine the society).

I am wary of all forms of collectivism. I agree with much of Rand's essay on racism. It is indeed often a refuge for mediocrities, and the very idea of taking pride in something one did not choose seems silly. Being proud of being black / white is much like being proud of having curly hair. It is absurd. Perhaps maybe the issue is just the specific word pride. I have friends who are proud to be Japanese. However I think their pride is more focused on their culture and not their ethnicity. Pride in culture is not necessarily absurd, since culture is something in which one actively participates. Yet race is a fundamental part of Japanese identity. So maybe there is an appreciation for the Japanese race and a pride in cultural achievements.

I'm tying myself in knots...This needs its own essay.

An Obvious Double Standard - Futurama Amazons

One of the funniest episodes of Futurama involves a group of Amazons who capture the team. There are a number of gender-based jokes in that episode, but perhaps the most memorable is the "death by snu-snu," bit. Here the Amazons intend to kill their male prisoners by endlessly having sex with them. It isn't just threatened either; we see them actually begin carrying this out in the show as different women go in and out of the rooms. We are literally watching men being raped to death. And it's hilarious. Now try switching the genders. And just like that, you can see why gender equality is such a hard thing to actually believe let alone achieve.

Only God Forgives

Saw this movie a few nights ago. It was...interesting. I understand why it was divisive. It is not easy to make sense of it right away. On its face it is a simple story of revenge and loyalty. It is just directed in such an odd way. Lots of explicit atmosphere building – long shots with characters framed deliberately by light in specific ways. Lots of spooky music and random interludes with a character singing karaoke.

Overall I enjoyed it. I dig the vibe and I loved the character of Chang, the all powerful cop. One thing I enjoyed was the scene where Change fought Julian, Ryan Gosling’s character. It was nice seeing Julian get his ass handed to him. It was a great change of pace from what we usually see with foreigners in Asia in the movies. Whether it is Karate Kid or Tokyo Drift, there are a thousand movies with Americans going to Asia and mastering some ancient local skill in a single training montage. It was nice to see the Thai cop just completely wipe the floor with the dude.

On Revenge

There are four levels.

1. Direct and Immediate: You walk up to the target, punch him in the face, and scream at him for what he did. He knows what he did wrong.

2. Direct and Patient: You wait a long time before getting back at them in some creative way. The target knows you did it and knows why.

3. Indirect and Patient: You wait a long time and arrange for some bad thing to happen to the target. The target does not know you are involved. The target does not even know that they are being punished. From their perspective they are just having bad luck. You smile to yourself in secret.

4. Invisible: The target does not even experience anything bad. You just secretly arrange things so that they miss out on some great opportunity. The target’s life is worse off than they will ever know. You can smile at them easily now.

Beauty and the Beast Gay Controversy

Had a conversation with a Japanese guy about this online. I told him that I did not really see the big deal about Beauty and the Beast having a gay character. He said that a kids' movie in Japan would not do that. Playing Devil's Advocate a bit I asked him, "Well why is it OK to show heterosexual couples but not homosexual ones? If the issue is sexuality shouldn't we avoid letting children see either?" He responded simply, "Sure, but heterosexuality is the norm." This was actually somewhat convincing to me. I think you could argue that children don't need to be exposed to every type of sexual minority. The argument that "gay people are out there in the real world, so kids have to know about it!" Doesn't really work for me. Dendrophiliacs and serial killers are real too. Doesn't mean kids need to be exposed to them. Childhood is supposed to be innocent. (and no, I'm not equating gays with serial killers; just pointing out the flaw in the argument)

The idea of a cultural norm is interesting to me. I think we often don't realize that there is a cost when we change norms. It isn't always an obvious objective good. Whenever we normalize something, be it miscegenation, homosexuality, single motherhood, or transgenderism - there are inevitably unintended consequences. Unlimited tolerance isn't free. Society pays for it in all sorts of ways. For that reason I respect Russia's decision to bar children from seeing the new Beauty and the Beast, even if I don't personally agree with it. They are choosing their own norms.

My real problem with making a character gay actually pertains to something I wrote in my last "Random Thoughts" post: I don't like when adaptations make these sort of changes to classic stories. I prefer more faithful adaptations. I want to experience the history and unique culture of classical literature; I don't want it to just try to cater to modern sensibilities. It reminds me of this quote from Thoreau:

"Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the new."