Politics, Violence, Centrism, and Guillotines

I wrote a thing the other day on my Facebook that ended up causing some consternation:

2050 comment

It should be first noted that this was little more than a casual, random thought, a variation on a theme I’ve shared before. Take this lazy meme-a-thingie I posted long long ago on November 22, 2016:

15095079_10153836865105448_2101743218434843111_n

I should think the basic sentiment is obvious: politics is the continuation of violence by other means, to echo von Clausewitz. In the universe which we inhabit, force is the only method by which things may happen. They must be caused, not willed, and the best way to do this has often been to randomize the mass in critical areas of other people’s bodies and acquire their stuff. Through a massive (and comical) amount of trial and error, we’ve slowly discovered violence isn’t a particularly efficient form of getting things done and ought to be used more sparingly. As an alternative, we’ve turned to Politics *dramatic music*, creating a new battlefield out of whole cloth that has at least as much consequence as the old, but is fought on with ballets instead of bullets.

I am a very clever writer.

The problem is that people forget this basic history and seem to want to think that violence is a dirty relic of a ancient era of barbarism, a cadaver of Voldemort we mustn’t ever name again. I will remind them that we in the First World killed, like, 100 million people in our last major war less than a century ago. We’re not so far from violence as we like to believe. The clean, polite, gentlemanly political systems we’ve worked so hard to build over the centuries are, like everything else we’ve ever built, very fragile things. They rest upon an abstract sense of “legitimacy,” a scholastic word that means “buying into nice-sounding bullshit.” None of this “democracy” stuff is objectively real. Ballots are just pieces of paper. Their power, influence, and authority exist entirely in our minds. Ergo, it’s very important to ensure our political systems remain something people can continue to buy into without feeling like chumps or suckers. If we’re going to continue playing this artificial game of politics in order to not play a slightly less artificial game of killing each other, enough people need to think the game is fair and has sensible rules. Otherwise that relic might seem appealing to them again.

Which brings us to that Theoretical Republican Senator of 2050-something I mentioned. Let’s call him, uh, Don Eagle, because freedom or something. Don Eagle is part of the Republican Party, which is currently really keen on putting a fifth judge on the Supreme Court of the United States so that they’ll have a majority out of nine judges, which they can then use to force their ideological vision of America onto a huge majority of Americans. The more popular topic of discussion of the moment is Roe v. Wade, but given that Americans support that ruling by a solid 2-1 margin, I’m a little skeptical as to whether their potential cabal might actually pull that lever instead of bunting the question to the states. What worries me about this cabal is more, you know, global warming, that thing we have maybe ten years to really do anything about before we enter completely uncharted territory, dealing with climate parameters no human has ever dealt with before. Can you guess what a hardline conservative majority on SCOTUS would say to, I dunno, magical bipartisan legislation in 2024 (which will definitely happen) that might move the dial a bit away from utter disaster?

giphy

Again, a decade.  Meanwhile in the decade, SCOTUS conservatives strike down every attempt to reduce the effects of climate change at any level: federal, state, local, and it’s pretty obvious as to why: it’s not because they sincerely believe in keeping Big Bad Brother from butting into your very private affair of spewing carbon into the atmosphere that everyone and everything else depends on, so obviously nobody has any legitimate reason to be interested in it ever, certainly not the GOVERNMENT, but because they’re ideological hacks who couldn’t care less if that’s a reasonable position to hold on such a vital issue. Couch it in whatever legal gobbledygook you like, but eventually people will catch on. This would turn SCOTUS into nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party for a lot of people, i.e., not an independent watchdog of the law. Guess where that goes after enough mistakes.

So when I say that, yeah if you remove yourself 30-odd years into the future, where global warming is likely to be much more Serious Business with increasingly longer, more brutal summers, Miami under water, and China finding out the hard way that aging is a thing that happens, you can imagine the people of that era being sick and tired of our crap. I’m gonna be sixty in 2048. I wouldn’t be surprised if my great nephews or whoever might be a little pissed when they ask me why we didn’t do anything to stop this and all I have for them is this lame “Well, you see, rules were rules at the time.” If we screw it up so badly, they might decide to kill us all, especially Don Eagle crowing haughtily lifetime appointments for their guys in fancy robes who keep hindering every attempt to address the problem that’s making everyone miserable and/or dead. Should ballots stop working, they’ll go back to bullets. And why wouldn’t they? What rational person would persist with something ineffectual that no longer serves even its ostensible purpose? Returning to violence as a tool for resolving social disputes wouldn’t be a good thing, but it would make perfect sense to the people doing it, and none of the arguments from our time would mean anything to them. What good is politeness or civility if this is where it got them?

So, can we not bring back guillotines? Can we not let things get so awful to the point where that seems like the sane alternative? By the way, that doesn’t mean being more nice to people. It means getting off your cozy fence and putting your feet down on some uncomfortable ground. There’s a growing consensus around many important issues that’s going to leave a lot of people out in the cold: climate change is real and we need to act; women and minorities still aren’t getting a fair chance; the rich don’t pay what they should; big companies have too much power. There are a myriad of ways to go about fixing these problems, but the problem isn’t that we’re too mean to each other when discussing that myriad. The problem is that too many people don’t agree these are problems in the first place. They think they’re lies or hoaxes. What do you say to that? Like, what’s the compromise? Seriously, what is it?

Remember how I said politics is a battlefield? Well, what’s happening in our country right now isn’t a new era of incivility we ought to lament, but the culmination of a protracted war between two opposing sides whose views are incompatible. This isn’t the first time this has happened: we used bullets once instead. We’ve only gotten to this point because all attempts to find common ground have failed. None of this would be happening if there were any left. Too many people in too many important positions think global warming is a Chinese gimmick or something, and they can’t be reasoned with. They have to be defeated first and driven from the battlefield. Once that camp isn’t a viable political force, then we can hash out how much of the free market and government we want to use to stop the world from burning.

Until then, being too fixated on the mere ugliness of politics just brings us one step closer to Don Eagle’s unfortunate date with a giant French bread-slicer.

giphy1

This is one of Giphy’s search results for “guillotine” and now nothing makes less sense.

Dark Souls: The Final Verdict

The Dark Souls trilogy is utter nonsense, a polished turd in From Software’s Great Crown of Fraud. I have hated every From Software game I have ever tried. This time I got roped into Dark Souls 3 by a friend, who assured me that the game’s design has improved and been sufficiently streamlined to be tolerable. I am afraid this was a mistaken evaluation. The game is only slightly better than the last FS game I experienced, Dark Souls 1, which I played for ten hours until I realized what manipulative little shits these developers were, wasting my time, intellect, and effort with a soul-draining pallid color schema, an obnoxious, gluttonous fetish for grotesque necromantic aesthetics and monstrous parodies of European castles, and a game paradigm so Frankensteinian in its precise manipulation of human psychology. Abuse, punishment, reward denial, and an indoctrinated community of adorers who slurp every splash of urine that spews from this putrid fountain. I hate it with every fiber of my smoldering soul.

Oh look, it’s a swamp filled with poisonous enemies that have been mutilated by some mystical disfiguring contagion. Oh look, they all went to the same fencing school, all possessed of the same bizarre, awkward, unconvincing, insulting timing, as if they’d tested their swings hundreds of thousands of times against a particular humanoid with the exact same movement parameters. Oh look, that lumbering skeleton whose face twitches with indescribable torment and strains with its atrophied muscles just to lift its comical ax above its head also has the presence of mind to pause mid-swing for 0.3 seconds to catch a dodging enemy off guard. Oh look, I’m fighting a knight with slightly different armor. Oh look, no matter how good my gear is or how experienced I’ve become, they can all still two- or three-shot me. Oh look, there’s a quadruped monster who screams a bunch. Oh look, there’s a biped monster who screams a lot. Oh look, I’ve done all of this shit before. Why am I still doing this?

I have spent 120+ hours playing Dark Souls 3 over the past few weeks. It’s still hard to explain that previous sentence to myself. The best parts have been cooping with my friend, simply because coop puts the game on a more even playing field where every mistake is not punished to absurdity and the mere presence of another target disrupts the entire fragile paradigm, giving a poor player time to, dare I say it, recover from the normal vagaries of reality and the intended vagaries of this nightmarish holodeck. The worst parts have been the dull chore of finding out whatever arbitrary bullshit UNDEAD SKELETON #2187 has been programmed to do, learning how to vary your timing against its awkward timing over the course of an hour, maybe, and then repeating a sufficiently balanced sequence of button presses until the thing’s HP bar reaches zero. Lather, rinse, repeat until you want to break your controller.

The few bright spots in solo mode have been stumbling across bosses that minimize the bullshit and test your ability to fence and dance and time your shit in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. The Abyss Watchers, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Pontiff Sulyahn, the Lothric Princes, to name some. They’ve all been quite wonderful to fight, and they’re all connected by a common thread: there’s some lore behind their characters you can feel and experience as you duel them one-on-one on open field with no other mobs, adds, or ridiculous filler features to waste your time. Everything and everyone else sucks. Vordt is a barking frostdog. Treeballs is a test to see how well you can handle the game’s awful camera. High Lord Wolnir, a imposing behemoth of a skeleton trying to crawl his way out of the Abyss and whose single hand could crush you with ease, is just a check to see if you’ve ever played a video game ever. Hit the shiny things on his body a few times. Watch him die.

But no, what broke the straw’s camel back for me wasn’t even the gimmicky boss fights. No, it was the trash, as in the trash mobs between the bosses. Specifically one sequence in the last DLC, the Ringed City, in which I had to face off 20-30 mobs of the following types:

  • Frail undead peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.
  • Shielded undead knights with glowing red eyes who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Hulking giant undead knights who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Frail undead caster peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.

Wow, nice creativity, From Software. Working for you must be easier than EA’s Madden division. What skulking undead aberration should we put here in this next hallway? Eh, take this model of Undead Slave #2187, tint their clothes a little purpler, change their move-set a bit, and spam-populate the place. Done. Next. It’s amazing we’re not on Dark Souls XV by now, that From Software isn’t a giant assembly line with bored artists pumping these games out every four months. Why? What’s the obstacle? What’s the excuse? Everyone loves these games for some inexplicable reason. They make insane amounts of money. What’s the problem, From Software? Is that too shameless?

But what made me finally flip solo mode off for good was one of those caster mobs put on a secluded ledge behind the staircase of a descending spiral chamber, a ledge that served no purpose whatsoever and no one would ever build, a ledge that can only be accessed by jumping down onto a chandelier from a precarious rafter, then jumping onto the purposeless ledge, but since this is From Software’s majestic engine of wonder that won’t let you fall off any ledge until you’re either ten meters or ten millimeters from it, there’s a high probability that you’ll just miss the chandelier ledge and fall to your death. Oh, and you can’t ignore this caster mob because he can somehow see/hear you from fifty feet away and can cast through walls. I tested this. I tried ignoring him and found him casting on me through a dozen meters of pure stone while I’m fighting Mob Type #3 from the above list. HOW CHALLENGING.

Then I look up a guide and find out the next bonfire is still at least five minutes away. Oh, these developers are still manipulative little shits and I’m wasting my time. Bye, Lothric. Link your own damn fire, you hack frauds.

C2AeDSUWEAAUpy_

Loving Me

As a coda for my trip to Spain to do part of the Camino de Santiago, I watched and read Love, Simon.  There were feels. Many feels.

Let’s talk about those feels.

The most constant were “wow, what a cloying, rose-colored depiction of a disgustingly affluent white family and the minor problems of its protagonist in the tempestuous social hell that is high school” and “this is fine because that’s the framework of the story.” I raised my eyebrow a few times while letting things proceed.

Others feels included some crying, sadness, heartbreak, sympathy, and a most deep, simmering envy. I kinda wish I’d gone through all of this: a different past, a different life, something “more normal,” a halcyon alternate universe where I had an accepting home that would let me crush on boys and work out my emotions and sexuality in relative peace.

For those of you who don’t know, I was “homeschooled.” HOWEVER, because it is my Doom to be a Weirdo among Weirdos, this was not your stereotypical horror story of precipitous isolation and abuse. It was some strange hybrid of traditional-ish albeit private-ish schooling, Abeka text and video curricula (also Saxon, which was great, fun an instructive and f— you, fight me), and starting college courses at age 11 or 12-ish. Long story short…it was pretty okay! I mean, I missed out on a lot of peer-to-peer social interaction, a gap that troubles me to this day, but it was a decent upbringing that gave me enough socialization to not weird off every single human being I ever talk to, like Martin, who should have been hanged at the neck until dead. There’s enough evidence to suggest that, given how many friends I’ve made after going off on my own, that I’m doing all right. Well, even.

Alas, nostalgia, narrative, and hagiography are how we reckon with time and its pitiless march. Stores are the mental language we crave and depend on, morsels with a bow on top. The complex, chaotic, mundane reality of navigating the weather of our lives is boring. We have to tie things together in hindsight, which demands manipulation and distortion of some kind, malignant or benign. Things that seem obvious in the rear-view mirror escape our notice in the moment–and vice-versa. We forget it was like to be there and live that life because…we’re not there anymore. That life and person, in a very real way, are long dead.

Yet not forgotten. For whatever reason, I remember my formative years closer to that mundane reality: a mixed bag of good and bad, triumph and trauma, moments great, awful, and okay. I remember what a strange little kid I was and still am, both brittle and surprisingly resilient, like all of us. With that in mind, I come back to this question of “what if?” Could I not have had this, this cloying little love story? A part of me wishes with fury to say “yes, of course.”

The rest of me knows better: no, no, I couldn’t have.

My upbringing had flaws. My parents had (and have, thankfully) their flaws. Huge ones of great consequence. But the dirty little secret about parenting is that it’s mostly luck and fundamentals, which is what they got right. When push came to shove, I had a loving, stable home that was not so dysfunctional that I would dash my face against rocks to my irreparable harm. Emphasis on that first part.  This was not so much the result of their conscious choices–good or bad–as just the means and abilities available to them. it’s kinda hard to knock two educated nurses off their feet. This is the crux of privilege: the ground upon which you stand, the constraints that determine your location regardless of how badly you screw up. We were in a good place, although my sister, brother, and I endured a lot of pointless, absurd BS that’s just baffling today. Ripe black comedy material, there.

That applies to me as well. I was and am a quirky, odd, fragile geek who would’ve gotten stuffed into a locker, abused, bullied, and mistreated had I lived this desired other life. The simulations result in ten million disastrous outcomes and a handful of good ones. There’s only so much wishing and tweaking the factors to be done before they’re so unreflective of reality as to be useless. Things were as they were. I was who I was. Reaching this desired scenario requires stretching that truth to tatters.

The truth is, I lucked out. I had just the right foundation, just the right family dynamic, just the right personality, just the right outlets, methods, and opportunities to develop in a safe and healthy way, and just the right support networks to come in and save me when everything started to fall apart. I was able to keep the darker sides of this process contained until I was on my own feet and in control of things. I had other s— to worry about, more important stuff, than having a picturesque high-school romance story arc and coming-out experience. When I did come out, it was very casual and unremarkable to me, like flipping a switch installed a while before. There are worse alternatives. Much worse. In this stage of my life, I can work these feels out on soft, solid ground. I’ve already made some mistakes that, in other circumstances, could have ruined my life. Here, they dissipate harmlessly. That’s something to be grateful for, to appreciate, to not take lightly in light of the wisp of a wish.

I guess I can say that, even if I had the power to change things, to rewrite history, I wouldn’t. At least, not much. Maybe fewer stupid fights about household chores, a little more conversation and understanding between all of us in my family, but the overall sketch, well, I’m happy with it.

Sorry, Simon. I enjoyed the ride, but you’re just a fantasy, some popcorn for my spirit and soul, something to play with and put back on my shelf filled with postcards and memories from all the beautiful places I’ve been and the people I’ve shared this path with. The pleasure of any fantasy is that it’s not real. It’s not supposed to come true, because then you have to live with it, with unintended, unglamorous reality. Simon and Bram probably break up in their freshmen year at college, you know.

Or maybe they don’t. The book was better.

Love, Matt

The China Problem

Argument: China is already undergoing a demographic shift unparalleled in both speed and scale, transitioning from a young country to an elderly one within a single generation. Its vaunted “rise” is fraught and likely doomed, but this is not something to rejoice over. The many terrible crises China will soon face will be the story of this century. Our story.

Continue reading

Watching God’s Children

Christianity is so sad.

The psychology of it is on full display in this video. Behold how stupid these people are. They have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re completely oblivious to the reality of what the Bible is, where it came from, and the innumerable interpretations of it. There’s nothing resembling a consensus on Christian eschatology, and it’s pretty clear why if you actually read the material cited. Ezekiel? Zachariah? Hezekiah? Revelation? It’s all a bunch of rambling nonsense. Many clutch at very specific verses as examples of fulfilled prophecy (ergo, credibility), glossing over the 99% of the text that’s chock-full of incomprehensible references and predictions that never came true. The Bible is fantastic literature, but the idea that anyone would take it as some sort of concrete roadmap is beyond me.

I’m lying. Of course I understand, since I was Christian until the beginning of my third decade, but I also get why the uninitiated might be baffled. Of particular interest might be why Evangelicals are so obsessed with the Apocalypse. Well, they’re not. Obsession isn’t the right word. Yearning is. Once the Apocalypse comes, the grave tribulation they’re suffering–banal economic turbulence, liberals gaining more and more power and influence, young people falling away from the Church, gays everywhere, brown people finding a voice, other brown people blowing up white people on rare occasions–will disappear. All will be right with the world. Never mind how many people will die or suffer in the process by their own admission. Two thirds of Israel will die, but they’re heretics or whatever. Logically, it’s vital that they try to accelerate the timeline of prophecy (don’t think about it) as much as possible. Why would you want to sit around waiting for all this chaos to work itself out? If you donate $5 and vote for Republicans who “love” Israel, you’ll get you brownie points with God and make your salvation extra secure.

People wonder why I have such venom toward the religion that I came from. To be honest, I can’t understand why anyone who lived through it wouldn’t be a tad bitter toward this corrupt, broken institution, infested from top-to-bottom by charlatans, zealots, and bigots exploiting even greater bigots below them. Once you realize it’s all comforting lies for privileged special snowflakes whose fragile worldview can’t handle the slightest bit of nuance or discomfort, it all makes perfect, painful sense. These people are so insecure and frightened by anything and everything different or inconvenient that they’ll channel untold amounts of money into aiding and abetting a brutal policy of occupation against innocent people. It’s disgusting. There are two emotional conclusions you can draw from the modern state of Christianity in America: disgust or pity. Put any respect, admiration, or even empathy out of your mind. What you see in this video is an evil that needs to be defeated and buried. It’s scared people abusing the world because they can’t handle their own inner fretting, nothing more. Going to Israel and taking some tours of dusty rocks and hills is merely a highly elaborate ritual of masturbation. It’s a way to blow off steam and keep silencing those nagging thoughts.

I speak from experience. I spent much of my teens pouring over Christianity’s essence, studying apologetics, studying the Word, studying various outlooks and analyses of it, but the cold truth was I just wanted some certainty in my troubled life, for everything to make sense, for the constant gnawing doubt in my head to just go away and leave me alone. I couldn’t turn my brain off, so I took the only logical path available: finding satisfying answers. The only problem, as I realized far earlier than my conscious mind knew, was that Christianity didn’t have them. I hung onto the trappings of it for a while, but in my heart I’d given up a long time ago. I would force myself to go to Sunday-night church before raiding in WoW as a stiff ritual, hating every bored minute of it, tired of trying to socialize with other teens that I didn’t understand. That was the last ember of it all, somewhere when I was 18-19. The whole thing fell apart very quickly the moment the social and emotional impetuses ran their course. I can remember a quiet period of a few months in 2009-2010 where I my deconversion rapidly completed itself. The whole thing clicked. The door shut behind me.

Again, try to understand this through the frame of emotion. Intellect has naught to do with it. Unlike me, the people you see here can turn their brains off, can run headlong into comforting scammery, can embrace the most immoral and reprehensible behavior imaginable so long as you say the right words, make the right gestures, and use the right imagery. They’ll jerk off in front of Palestinians whose land has been paved and planted with suburbs. They’ll hoot and holler and cheer for a slimy scam artist like Trump. Anything. Anything to keep the thoughts away.