Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 18:33 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Damn those thetans are holding me back. I seem to find even 50 hours exhausting. Well, when I have money...
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at 18:25 on 11-11-2013, Arthur B
Nonsense, clearly it pummels the reactive mind into submission! If you find slave labour doesn't pump you up the tone scale you're doing it wrong and need to report the downstat, audit your overts and withholds, accept and follow your ethics condition and get back in-ethics and on lines.
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at 18:03 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
I would imagine slaving away 130 hours a week on a ship without pay dampens the creative spirit a bit.
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at 17:58 on 11-11-2013, Arthur B
A related question: why aren't there more Scientologists writing SF? L. Ron did set up a writing contest after all (whilst on the run from the law, no less!) so he presumably approved of people making their own, inferior contributions to the medium (provided they didn't include Xenu because ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL).
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at 17:34 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Since 2/3 of medieval literature consists of elaborate fart jokes, I'm not sure the author of the article would consider it "serious."


A not insignificant part of Joyce seems to dwell on masturbation, so one should hope fart jokes are not out of the literary realm. If all else fails, keep repeating: Bakhtin, Rabelais, Aristophanes and carnivalization.
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at 17:29 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Hmm... it seems Mani did get his own religion going, while still being a self-admitted adherent of Jesus. Interesting guy, trying to tie together several different things. But synergy and assimilation is usually a virtue in the religious marketplace.

there *are* a number of assumptions that wind up being carried over from broadly Judeo-Christian cultural contexts into all sorts of things, fiction included.

Hard to disagree with that. But perhaps seeing the thing more subtly, rather than seeing judeo-christian influence as a whole as some sort of war between good and evil only, is more interesting. The anthropomorphization of evil makes for a better action oriented story, but is hardly the only thing or even the most pervading thing in our culture that comes from that particular source.
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at 17:27 on 11-11-2013, Michal
I think you could make an argument that being part of an organisation which could wreck your family and social life...if you say the wrong thing can restrict your creativity in such a way that making decent artistic work much more difficult.

I suppose it's possible to make a comparison to the flourishing of science fiction in communist Poland because that was a genre the censors completely dismissed. It doesn't really work when you think about it, beyond approaching it in a vague "this is the only place where you can explore issues kept silent in the church without getting kicked out for it, and even then you have to be careful" kind of way.

On the other hand, if that were true, where does that leave more or less all the literature of medieval Europe?

Since 2/3 of medieval literature consists of elaborate fart jokes, I'm not sure the author of the article would consider it "serious."
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at 16:55 on 11-11-2013, Dan H
Not to mention that mainline Christianity expressly denounces Manicheanism.


I suspect that "Manichean" here is being used in roughly the same way that "fascist" is used to describe anything vaguely authoritarian/right-wing/aggressive - that is, not literally associated with the Manichean religion but displaying qualities that are loosely associated with it. Christianity might explicitly denounce Manicheanism, but it is still arguably a "Manichean" religion in the loose, non-technical (and borderline useless) sense of "believes in the concepts of good and evil."

And I agree that it isn't exactly helpful to treat "Christian" like it's a monolith (and it's a bit off to treat the LDS as not being part of Christianity) but at the same time there *are* a number of assumptions that wind up being carried over from broadly Judeo-Christian cultural contexts into all sorts of things, fiction included.
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at 16:52 on 11-11-2013, Arthur B
Manichaeanism is complicated but so far as I can tell Mani popped up in the 3rd Century AD and was all like "Yo, don't mind me, I'm a follower of Jesus just like the rest of you" and the Christians took one look at his wacky cosmology and said "Er, actually you seem to be just kind of weird, kindly cease taking our boss's name in vain kthx".
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at 16:13 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Wasn't Manicheanism one of those other similar religions from roughly the same area as Christianity that just didn't succeed to the same degree? But yeah, apparently the author assumes that because superficially religious(meaning Christian) films and media often have satan as a character, it must mean that that is pretty much the main thing about Christianity and since Tolkien is catholic + Sauron(or Morgoth for experts), this holds true of genre literature as well. And Star Wars of course.
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at 16:01 on 11-11-2013, Arthur B
I'm not a terribly religious person, but the writer seems to depend on some heavy generalizations here regarding both theology and genre fiction.

Not to mention that mainline Christianity expressly denounces Manicheanism. The Manicheans were, like, some of the first dudes to get kicked out of the club back in the day.

Next up: "Why do Zoroastrians write so much glam rock?", an article based on the author not being aware of any Zoroastrian musicians aside from Freddie Mercury.
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at 15:54 on 11-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
From the article:

Christianity and genre fiction both depend on Manichaean, good-versus-evil plots, and the savior motif, in which an anointed one saves the kingdom or the world, is important to sci-fi and fantasy and central to the Christian Gospel.

These sorts of blanket statements are very annoying as well. Not only because it is easy to come up with counter-examples from speculative fiction, it also claims that there is some sort of one Christian Gospel that is just so simple and reductive. I'm not a terribly religious person, but the writer seems to depend on some heavy generalizations here regarding both theology and genre fiction. But think how insignificant this article would be if one removed all the weird stuff. Like why bring up Shakespeare or Milton? Why make so many blanket statements? Then it would be just: mormon writers make popular young adult and genre fiction, which might or might not have something to do with the religion; we do not really know, but we will make assumptions.

Robinson:
All those are symptoms, but I would argue the problems go much deeper. It's analogous to asking how, say, patriarchy or racism are perpetuated within a "democratic" system - does that make sense?

I think so. But perhaps a defense might be that the system of government will always be work in progress and while the situation is dire, it's still an improvement on the way things were 100 hundred years ago. Although that might just be moderate hand-waving. It is just that in my mind, an utopic society would not come about by sudden upheaval, but by baby steps. Of course a few revolutions might be needed on the way... Parecon seems interesting. I've read some Kropotkin and Bakunin, but if you have any other reading suggestions, I would be grateful.

On the subject of anarchic communities, I know it's not the same, but the sort of christian communitarian communities which sprang up in connection with the reformation, the mennonites, the amish or the hutterites seem an interesting example of a stable and long living community. Of course they arefar from perfect and at least the amish practice on exiling non-conforming members. Which is probably the most ancient form of social punishment imaginable, in addition to social moral judgement, which would probably be present in any community. Of course they depend on people leaving them be as well as protecting them(quite like the capitalist extremes of Monaco, or Dubai or tax havens in general depend on protection to exist). But in general, if a society shares a story or an ideal of how things should be, it can achieve longevity and progress. Pretty much how Nordic welfare states depended on co-operation between moderate left and right to build a relatively inclusive society to block radical wings from succeeding. The stories which seem to be gaining in popularity nowadays seem so lacking in many respects.
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at 00:10 on 10-11-2013, Arthur B
But "why is there no Mormon Shakespeare" is a much more loaded question, and the whole article does essentially wind up coming across as dismissive of both Mormonism *and* genre fiction (these people have a *silly* religion so they write *silly* books).

Yeah, the article pretty much boils down to "why do these people whose worldviews and ethics are incompatible with mine write stuff which I don't especially like?"

To be fair to the article, it does raise a glancingly useful point in that the official Latter Day Saints church is an organisation which does make particular demands of its members and will kick your ass out if you're openly breaking from the hierarchy. On the other hand, there's a distinction between "being a Mormon" and "being a member of the official LDS" - there are people outside the LDS who practice Mormonism both as splinter sects and on their ownsome. I think you could make an argument that being part of an organisation which could wreck your family and social life (by kicking you out and asking people to shun you) and, if you actually believe in its doctrine, consign you to hell if you say the wrong thing can restrict your creativity in such a way that making decent artistic work much more difficult. On the other hand, if that were true, where does that leave more or less all the literature of medieval Europe?
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at 23:59 on 09-11-2013, Arthur B
Or perhaps to put it another way, unsuccessful attempts to resist the Nazis were not as uniformly nonviolent as they are presented as being.

It's also worth noting that small concessions and local victories don't necessarily change the large-scale picture. Yes, some German mothers were able to get the Gestapo to release their sons arrested for subversive activities through non-violent protest. Yes, large amount of Jews escaped in a range of non-violent actions like the evacuation from Denmark. That doesn't change the fact that the Jews who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising weren't exactly going to have a happy ending had they refrained from violent resistance (granted, the uprising precipitated the total liquidation of the ghetto, but that was kind of on the agenda anyway), or that there's a big difference between "obstructing someone's planned violence" and stopping them from pursuing a violent course of action in the first place. If someone is determined to kick you in the teeth no amount of persuasion is actually going to stop them making the attempt.
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at 23:52 on 09-11-2013, Dan H
The New York Times tells us why Mormons can't write serious fiction.

Because there wasn't any possible way this would come across as facile or offensive. And I say this as someone who despises Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson's work.


It's tricky, because it's *almost* an interesting piece, and if it was phrased as a question of why Mormons might be more inclined to write genre fiction (which, as somebody who likes genre fiction, I don't see as being a bad thing) it would have been quite interesting. But "why is there no Mormon Shakespeare" is a much more loaded question, and the whole article does essentially wind up coming across as dismissive of both Mormonism *and* genre fiction (these people have a *silly* religion so they write *silly* books).
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at 23:39 on 09-11-2013, Dan H
@Arthur: Fair enough. I've seen plenty of arguments that no, civil disobedience/nonviolent resistance doesn't actually require your opponents to empathize with you, and no, the Nazis weren't nearly as immune to nonviolent resistance as commonly portrayed.


Or perhaps to put it another way, unsuccessful attempts to resist the Nazis were not as uniformly nonviolent as they are presented as being.

I remember a while ago somebody (Alisdair?) mentioned a book called Selling the Holocaust and I was sufficiently interested to read large chunks of it on Google books. One of the things that jumped out at me was the way that armed resistance against he Nazis by Jews is consistently downplayed in European and American accounts of the war, because we're more interested in a narrative in which we swooped in and saved everybody with our spitfires and flying fortresses, while it's apparently strongly played up in Israeli accounts.

I think in general there's a tendency for most conflicts of this sort to get labelled as either violent or non-violent depending on who we are supposed to think the good guys are, and what we are supposed to think is good about them. So for example we ignore acts of violence committed in opposition to British rule in India, or Apartheid in South Africa, because we want a narrative about dignity in suffering. We strongly emphasise acts of violence committed in opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland because we either want to present (as many Americans do) a narrative of heroic struggle or (as many Brits do) a narrative of vicious terrorism. We sometimes even treat violent and non-violent forms of protest as equivalent, if the protesters are people we really don't like - a Muslim cleric who preaches against the West is seen by many people as no different to a terrorist who bombs a police station.
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at 23:19 on 09-11-2013, Michal
The New York Times tells us why Mormons can't write serious fiction.

Because there wasn't any possible way this would come across as facile or offensive. And I say this as someone who despises Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson's work.
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at 18:30 on 09-11-2013, Robinson L
Arthur: even if nobody actually turns to banditry, how do you guarantee that at least a subset of the population won't turn around and organise themselves into a state because they genuinely believe it would yield better results?

Good question. Another issue I have with Parecon, actually, is that it's pretty homogenous, and I can't see a free/non-coercive society working without massive heterogeneity which might (or might not) include communities where people genuinely want to live by decidedly non-anarchic principles. I tend to assume that if humanity has the creativity to get itself that far, it'll have the creativity to accommodate people who want to live within a state structure while preventing them from exercising coercive force over anyone who doesn't want to (without the need for Dick's anarchist police, though that still sounds like an interesting story).

Good points about Madagascar, both.
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at 18:20 on 09-11-2013, Arthur B
It's also worth noting that there's a distinction between "the recognised government of this particular state doesn't actually exert much authority in this region" and "nobody exerts any authority in this region". Coercive power as a concept doesn't go away just because the tax man doesn't visit.
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at 18:13 on 09-11-2013, Shim
Anthropologist David Graeber has also written about present-day Madagascar, where in many parts of the country the state maintains only a token presence.

I don't pretend to be any kind of authority on Madagascar, but my brother did live in remote areas there for several years. I can say that Madagascar has its own set of problems that you probably can't divorce from state/nonstate issues, not least that subsistence farming is still widespread (which means low tax revenues for anything) and basic infrastructure is often appalling. When (I hope) these things improve, it will probably also mean a closer relationship to the state with things like taxes and infrastructure maintenance coming into the picture. As I understand it there are also tribal issues which may (or may not) become more prominent as travel and trade increase.
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at 16:03 on 09-11-2013, Arthur B
The goal of any utopian movement, as I understand it, is to find a way that those values/needs are met for every person, not just some people, and then find a way to organize enough people around it to make the change happen.

And the big stumbling block is typically "what happens to the people who do not want to live in your utopian/anarchist society?"

There's the other issue with anarchism - even if nobody actually turns to banditry, how do you guarantee that at least a subset of the population won't turn around and organise themselves into a state because they genuinely believe it would yield better results? Dick's Last of the Masters scenario where you have an organised nominally "anarchist" police force that try to coercively stop people from forming governments ("It's for your own good!") seems suboptimal.
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at 15:30 on 09-11-2013, Robinson L
@Arthur: Fair enough. I've seen plenty of arguments that no, civil disobedience/nonviolent resistance doesn't actually require your opponents to empathize with you, and no, the Nazis weren't nearly as immune to nonviolent resistance as commonly portrayed. I find many of these arguments convincing, but again, not going to try to convince anyone here. (And even if I were so inclined, I think the conversation would quickly grow excruciatingly dull for anyone not mad-keen on the topic to begin with.)

Re: non-voting as protest/voting as protest
See my previous comments about "no good answer to the 'how would not voting actually help anything?' question." I still feel like it ought to (and not because of how the political candidates feel about it), but I don't have a rational answer I can articulate to myself, much less anyone else, which is why I keep voting.

Janne: that I think is wrong with the dichotomy of ordinary people and everyone else, or in for example ordinary people vs. militias and warlords.

Oh, you're completely right, that's a massively over-simplified construction.

In any society, there will always be differing view points and some of them will be diametrically opposed and everything between, when it comes to values.

Yes, this is completely true. On the other hand, there are some values which pretty much everybody can sign onto (wellbeing of self and loved ones, for instance); perhaps "needs" would be a better term. The goal of any utopian movement, as I understand it, is to find a way that those values/needs are met for every person, not just some people, and then find a way to organize enough people around it to make the change happen. How to do that is a question which activists and proto-activists have been working on probably since the invention of coercive governance circa 10,000 years ago, I don't think we'll get a neatly satisfactory answer anytime soon. (In the meantime, we have what Gandhi referred to as "experiments with truth.")

In what way is the democratic system corrupt? I mean, is it the gerry-mandering, the way seats are filled in the legislative branch? Can it be changed? The way voting is organized or registered for?

If it were anything that simple, it could be changed within the system. All those are symptoms, but I would argue the problems go much deeper. It's analogous to asking how, say, patriarchy or racism are perpetuated within a "democratic" system - does that make sense?

an anarchis like society might be workable, but it would be nice to know more. It's a shame that Makhno's Ukraine went the way it did.

And the Paris Commune, the Spanish Revolution, etc.

The most comprehensive picture of a speculative anarchic society I've ever seen is Michael Albert's Parecon. It's pretty good as a thought experiment, but I wouldn't put much store by it as a blueprint for how we should expect an ideal society to function (which is how Albert regards it). It's a bit too rigid and bureaucratic and conformist for me, and so obsessed with insuring that absolutely no one can game the system I think most people would find it stifling. It also doesn't take into account how changes in technology (or any other field, for that matter) lead to changes in how society is organized, it's a rather static vision.

Anthropologist David Graeber has also written about present-day Madagascar, where in many parts of the country the state maintains only a token presence. The picture he paints is not even faintly romantic (and a far cry from what I would consider ideal), but useful for thinking about how people and communities can work absent a state structure. (I don't think that case provides a good answer to Arthur's question of what happens if heavily armed brownshirts roll into town and try to take over, though. The communities Graeber describes are fortunate in that so far, no one appears to have tried such a thing.)
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at 13:28 on 09-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Also, I'm very much of two minds about the "lesser of two evils" notion.

I only know of the US system from an outside perspective, but as powerful as the president is, he(at the moment he) is not all powerful, so a lot of the disillusion with any president is no doubt a result of the system being built in a way that changes slowly so that any change has to go through all the branches of the government to have effect. I suppose the option to the two party system, where the parties begin to resemble each other too much, is the multi-party system, but that can result in political gridlocks and conformism too. Hereabouts, we did see the status quo of three big parties upset in the last parliamentary elections, but it was the xenophobic reactionary nationalist party who got a huge victory.

And while I don't want to really get into the matter too deeply anymore than anyone else, that I think is wrong with the dichotomy of ordinary people and everyone else, or in for example ordinary people vs. militias and warlords. There might be an elite and we might be able to make statistical distinctions between people, but I think it is wrong to assume that there is a mass called ordinary people who all share values and would be motivated behind a common goal automatically. In any society, there will always be differing view points and some of them will be diametrically opposed and everything between, when it comes to values. And as there is no automatic way to know before hand what values are the right ones, it will be a matter of politics to see which value(s) gets the most support. Democracy in its varied ways is not ideal, but how can move from the current system to something else, if the change itself does not have legitimacy through democracy? I guess if the non-voting part of the population gets big enough and as a result the ones in power make laws that are increasingly unfair, this might lead to a situation where the matter has to be forced. But for this change to result in a stable situation, one would have to assume, that the non-voting populace or the population as a whole actually has the same values and goals, which is not an assumption that can be made. Historically, this sort of situation, where there is wide spread disagreement and a lack of institutions to control it, has resulted in bad results.

I hope there are options, but it would be a good idea to have a credible platform and a simple enough option to agitate people to the side of the change, before the issue becomes so serious that it has to be forced. And if someone can rally enough support, they would be able to get through democratically too, before it can be forced.

Although I might be a bit too meta. In what way is the democratic systewm corrupt? I mean, is it the gerry-mandering, the way seats are filled in the legislative branch? Can it be changed? The way voting is organized or registered for? I don't know, an anarchis like society might be workable, but it would be nice to know more. It's a shame that Makhno's Ukraine went the way it did.
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at 13:21 on 09-11-2013, Arthur B
Assuming, of course, that there's no way for ordinary people to defeat militias and warlords without mobilizing their own militias and military officers in response. Which I don't. We've had this argument before, and I think it comes down to incompatible worldviews - which we're neither of us going to convince the other out of over the internet, so I won't try, but I did want to throw this out here.

We've had it out before on this point but I may as well reiterate my stance on the subject: most forms of peaceful protest only really work if the warlords and militias in question a) give a fuck about the opinions of others, and an anarchist utopia whose peace is guaranteed only by threats of violent outside intervention if people start being beastly to each other isn't much of an anarchist utopia, or b) have qualms about exterminating large numbers of people, and if you're already a warlord you probably don't.

At the risk of Godwinning: the Nazis would have laughed in the face of peaceful resistance, not least because they didn't respect anything except force on an ideological level. And to use a later example, Communism wouldn't have fallen in Eastern Europe as quickly and easily as it did had the Soviets not made an executive decision to stop sending the tanks in whenever it looked like a Warsaw Pact government was having a bad day.

RE: not voting as protest/voting as endorsement - that literally only works if the political class see it that way. As it is, they only see voting as endorsement if you vote for their guy - David Cameron's little heart does not glow when a first-time voter votes Labour - and tend to interpret non-voting as apathy, not protest. If you want to use your vote to protest against the present system, vote for a comedy candidate (or, in the US, go for a write-in if available).

Or you know, just vote how you want and then loudly claim you spoiled your ballot. Then you get to influence the present system at the same time as you're protesting it.
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