Showing posts with label academic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label academic. Show all posts

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Unexpected Theology of Vivienne Medrano's Hazbin Hotel

 

There’s occasions where I watch something and it moves me enough to think about it in excess. Hazbin Hotel is one such show.

 


The general conceit of the show is one of a deep desire to be redeemed out of habitual sin. It begins following the aftermath of a yearly purge (a la The Purge film franchise) wherein the angelic host of heaven descends into a Dantean like Hell to cull the population of demons that have begun to overcrowd the region. (Fantasy notwithstanding, I was already interested with the idea from a theological perspective, wondering if this was some form of delayed annihilationism.) Charlie Morningstar, the daughter Lucifer Morningstar (Aka Satan), having witnessed this for the umpteenth time, is moved to action and decides to establish a halfway house for sinners desiring salvation. And, of course, there’s lots of singing.  

What I found really remarkable about the show, developed by Vivienne Medrano, was the honesty and authenticity of the characters. In the same vein as her previous YouTube series, Helluva Boss—despite what I, a white, Christian male may think about the character’s choices or actions—there is something inherently magnetic about Charlie’s altruism, Vaggie’s cynicism, Angel Dust’s deviance, and Husk’s standoffishness. They are real and relatable, which, honestly, is the true objective of any kind of creative writing, and the result is fantastic. And while the overtly crass language is unrealistic and distracts from what can be transpiring in the episodes, the overall substance underneath I found compelling.

 

Theologically speaking, the writers of the show ask very thoughtful questions about the nature of life, or justice, of forgiveness. For instance, in episode 2, when Sir Pentious (essentially cobra commander anthropomorphized as a full sized cobra in steampunk attire) is caught in the act of trying to sabotage the hotel, Charlie encourages him to ask forgiveness. In the musical number that ensues she says “… it starts with ‘sorry.’ That’s your foot in the door. One simple ‘sorry’… The path to forgiveness is a twisting trail of hearts, but ‘sorry’ is where it starts.” Even when Vaggie (Charlie’s girlfriend) and Angel Dust, indicate that they would rather succumb to their desire to just kill Sir Pentious, Charlie insists, “but who hasn’t been in his shoes?” It’s easy to dismiss the show as “satanic” and “depraved” as conservative critics are undoubtedly saying, but as we are all made in the image and likeness of God, our deep inner propensity to want forgiveness and salvation is startlingly on display throughout the show.

 

In a subsequent episode, “Masquerade,” Angel Dust’s sexual abuse is discussed, where it’s implied that, despite being proud of his overtly erotic disposition, the life that he has been sold into is demeaning and exploitative. Like many of the unknown actresses and actors that work in the adult film industry, His only recourse is to forget his trauma through heavy substance abuse. Although the musical exposition between himself and Husk seems to undercut the same need to reform that Sir Pentious expresses earlier, their conclusion is still something remarkable: that they are damaged and exploited people that need each other to get by in a brutal and desperate world.

 

My favorite episode, “Welcome to Heaven” was by far the most theologically developed. Charlie and Vaggie are allowed passage in to Heaven to argue their case in an angelic court as to whether a soul can be redeemed out of Hell. When asked what the criterion is for salvation, Adam (of Genesis 3 fame) rather ineptly suggests that it’s to, “act selfless, don’t steal, [and] stick it to the man.” When Angel Dust demonstrates these moral acts mere moments after, it begs the question: what actually earns a soul a trip to heaven? The assumption that it is by some formula of good deeds and virtuous living that allows a soul to migrate to Heaven after death is nothing new. We seem to naturally justify—or wish to justify—that what we do matters. I think that this is because our mortality compels us to make a mark on this world so that our memory outlives us. I myself want to write books, to be incorporated into the cannon of Western Literature. But we are taught by both the Bible and recorded history that this aspiration is the height of folly. The list of famous and well to do figures, forgotten by the passage of time must be staggeringly large, just as 99.9% of all the species that have gone before us are now extinct. That Hazbin Hotel seizes on this ambiguity regarding the requirements to go to heaven, is remarkable, if only because it encourages discussion around the worthiness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and why something like it would distinguish itself so much from the competing ideologies around justification. It just makes me happy that people who may, or may not, know God have come so far and has expressed a desire to try something different.

Of course, this isn’t a show about Jesus, or why we should be compelled to accept his grace and forgiveness. The cosmology of Heaven and Hell is all wrong. The motivation behind why someone may take part in heaven, or willingly chose hell, isn’t accurately described. The hierarchy of demons, sourced from the Lesser Key of Solomon (based on the Testament of Solomon), is not sourced from the canonical books of the bible, but from dubious extra biblical sources that cannot be reliably dated. And yet, those who wrote the show and brought it to life, are people with dignity and respect, being made in the image and likeness of God. Even though I may not agree with the conclusions, the questions asked are valid and demand a response.

I think it behooves us as Christians and non-Christians to dialogue about these kinds of things more frequently, and it encourages me that someone like Medrano could voice them so creatively and compellingly. I would highly recommend a watch. Be advised however, and understand, that this is certainly not Veggie Tales, but a show about very real people who are closer to the Kingdom of God than they realize.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

More Thoughts on Warren Ellis

 Back in 2020 I found out that Warren Ellis had committed acts of sexual coercion, according to the testimony of several women he had known in his past. Much to his credit, he did come to terms with the women he had had relationships with, mostly facilitated through this website which was launched in 2020. Through a truth-and-reconciliation styled open dialogue, it appears that Ellis was able to sort it all out, although for many I imagine it's hard to forgive and move on.

Since then, I continued to purchase used hardcovers and trades of Ellis' work, secretly hoping for his eventual absolution. (Thankfully, that seems to have happened, generally, in the court of public opinion.) And what I've found is a consistent narrative trend in his work that elevates characters of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds. While the counter-cultures of LGBTQAI+, Anarchists, Marxists, Punk (Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Raypunk, et al), and others have existed in some niche form or another, I am confident that Ellis involved himself in those circles long before "it was cool" to do so. Of course, I realize that this is suspiciously the equivalent of the "I'm-not-racist-because-I-have-a-black-friend" argument, but credit where credit's due. 

I think I enjoy Ellis' style mostly for it's playfulness. 

There are other writers out there that are very good at this, like Tom King and Patrick Rothfuss. Even Umberto Eco, on occasion, would have some really funny repartee going on between characters in the midst of a long debate about medieval philosophy. Levity in conversation is its own reward, but when the discussion is high and elevated, the shift in tone is a good reminder that, at the end of the day, we are just reading a story somewhere while the real heroes are out saving lives and making sure our transit systems don't derail (figuratively and literally). Ellis exceeds all expectation when he is doing this. For example, Ignition City features this exchange: 


And most of his books feature numerous instances of this. 


In general, he strikes me as someone who has "done the reading," so to speak, when it comes to various topics. For example, in FreakAngels, Ellis frequently discusses aspects of engineering and technology at work in a flooded post-apocalyptic London, such as renewable power generation and rooftop greenhouse farming. While I'm mostly certain that he is not a trained scientist and engineer, the ideas he leverages are based on real ideas and theories. It never seems like technobabble, that is. 


My only gripe with Ellis is his audacity to start a very good story and ultimately never finish it. Ignition City, Trees, and Injection are both such examples. He also has a tendency to abruptly end stories, which can be traumatizing (in the most hyperbolic sense). However, to his credit, he was able to finish Castlevania, which ended rather wholesomely, despite the breadth of material covered in the show. His novel, Gun Machine also had a rather satisfying ending. 

On a whole, despite his past, my appreciation for his unique brand of storytelling has increased. He's consistent and delivers on a regular basis: the dream of all writers and readers. 




Monday, December 20, 2021

An Object of Scorn


Affixed to the altar before the apse was the cross. It’s edges were frayed, roughly hewn from quarter sawn timber long ago. The reclaimed piece was swollen and pocked with burls. Striations of discoloration, wrapping around the trunk, intimated the shape of a hobbled man, or a rot in the wood. Well-lit by the clerestory above the chancel, the cross was positioned prominently, as if basking. The carpenter had placed the cross there, shunting it into a notch in the ground, embroidered with mosaic tile. He cursed the splinters collected by his hands. 

Over time, the basilica changed many hands, each flock with their own vice and preference. For a century or so, the cross absorbed bitterness and contention. In-fighting broke out across the aisles, until a meeting was convened to determine the spirit of their creed and what they said about their Lord. Most were satisfied by the outcome. At the end of it, the rich young ruler who ordered the meeting stepped forward and placed a thoughtful hand upon the hardened exterior, sensing great things ahead. 

Not soon after, it was stained with blood. Buckets of coagulated sanguine absorbed into the sword-gouged trunk, bright red, before fading to purple and blue. Suffering abounded in the lands choked with smoke and ash, until a pragmatic flock emerged, resourceful enough to stifle the sickness of violence that seemed to infect the sullen, stagnant air. The cross was crowned with temporal power by the rich young ruler, but the gilded crown bore the likeness of a bad forgery.  

New edicts were established regarding what the cross could and could not be. It took the aspect of many things. The cross was showered with wealth and abundance. Even the soft gold coins withered the cross’ face, bruising and softening the wood. Two attendants fought over the cross, for a time, until they conceded, finally, to a stalemate. Each mutually regarded one another with hate, their flocks diverging. They sat apart from one another, on either end of the cross. It stood between the camps, buffeted by anger and distain. After a time, the flocks relented, weary of the conflict, abandoning the refuse of entrails and sinew they had draped over the arms of the cross. The dawning light, emerging through the open portal in the narthex, exposed the rot. And members of both flocks returned to clean it as best they could.  

The cross still stands there now, black as charcoal and steeped with dried blood. Some still approach, as if recognizing an old friend. Those that stay, marvel for a time and consider the carpenter that left it so many years ago. Those that depart, do so quickly, though not before dressing it in fashionable clothing, berating it, and covering it with semen and feces. The weight of shackles, handcuffs, bandoliers, braids of Ethernet cable, fascist flags dipped in gasoline, drape around its neck like a noose. There, on the altar, it stands: objectified by filth, defeated. 

Yet, despite all this, the flock heaps their burdens upon it willingly.  And they depart, each one, with a spring in their step.  


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Talking with My Dad about Fact-Checking


My dad and my brother at a BBQ back in 2013.

The other day I was emailing my dad an article that The New York Times put out which fact checked the final presidential debate from this past week. My dad's response, was more or less what I expected:

The NY Times is long known to be a left of center publication.  Hence their reporting reflects their acknowledged philosophic points of view.  The Times “fact checkers" are only preaching to the choir. The “fact checkers” are hired by the Times.  Would these folks opine contrary to the Times editorial board and expect to remain employed?  Do you actually believe the Times would publish opinions that are not congruent with the established editorial opinions of the paper?  It would be the similar if I sent you an article from the “Federalist” or from Fox News.  Both data sources have an ax to grind.  

My dad is very conservative, having been a devotee of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. James Dobson for most of his adult life, although the above was much softer than his usual assessment of the current political climate. What I found interesting was his position: the relationship between a paper's policy bias and its inherent "truthfulness" changes depending on the observer's own political alignment. Someone who is "liberal" would praise the Times for its desire to "uncover the truth;" whereas, someone who is "conservative" would cynically claim that the fact checkers were hired in bad faith. (I mention these in quotes to emphasize the relative absurdity each designation has attracted over the past few decades.) Of course, the reality is somewhere in the middling grayness. For instance, I would opine that most of what Fox News puts out on their network are news stories with an original spirit of truth, but filtered through a lens that confirms the biases of their viewership. The original story may actually be factual, but the interpretation detracts from the "truthfulness" of the presented story, to such a degree that the final result is no longer true. I think this goes the same for other news outlets on the left side of the isle, though to a lesser degree. In this instance, the final story still retains the original "truthfulness," but now is veneered with a layer of interpretation that deviates from the original meaning of the story. 

To illustrate the ways this can happen, I have prepared an example meant to be an objective description (hypothetical of course) of events. (Remember though, true objectivity is impossible, regardless of viewpoint.)

Statement A) 

Today, at 5pm, a protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Smith, Professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were detained and suffered injuries. After 2 hours, a fight broke out between protestors and counter-protestors. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 counter-protestors. 

Typically, journalism reports the above and adds subsequent commentary to interpret the event. So a Fox News newscaster may include additional commentary on top of Statement A to create an entirely new Statement B:

Statement B) 

Today, at 5pm, a student protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Smith, Professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were detained after resisting arrest and suffered injuries. After 2 hours of what local business owners described as complete chaos, a fight broke out between protestors and counter-protestors wearing MAGA campaign clothing. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 injured counter-protestors. 

The above adds additional descriptive information that, while technically true, distorts the original meaning of the information. The addition of "student" will delegitimize the protestors as being politically immature. The addition of "after resisting arrest" justifies the injuries sustained to the detained men. The addition of color commentary from eyewitnesses charges the event with subjective emotional energy. The addition of "wearing MAGA campaign clothing" assumes that the protestors were agents of anarchy, whereas the counter-protestors were supporting a return to order by the current Executive administration. The final addition of "injured" insinuates that the protestors were violent and the counter protestors were not. 

The same kind of additions can be added for a left leaning message:

Statement C:

Today, at 5pm, a protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles at Bunker Hill. Joe Smith, Pulitzer Prize winning professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were unlawfully detained and suffered injuries. After 2 hours of peaceful demonstrations, a fight broke out between protestors and armed counter-protestors. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 counter-protestors charged with intimidation and brandishing a deadly weapon. 

The additional details highlight the location of the protests taking place in a cultural center of downtown Los Angeles. The organizer, Joe Smith, is given credibility with his past achievements. Adding that the suspects were "unlawfully" detained suggests systemic injustice in some form contributed to the circumstances surrounding the arrest. The quality of the demonstrations as "peaceful," gives sympathy to the protestors, who are threatened with violence by "armed" counter-protestors. The final detail of the 2 counter-protestors being "charged with intimidation and brandishing a deadly weapon" further indemnifies the actions of the original protestors.

So, yeah, subjective statements are fucked up.

Given the above, we have only looked at statements, and how objective data can be modified with commentary to create a subjective message. But this kind of influencing can go to additional lengths to influence the subconscious of the subscriber. The curating of related and unrelated stories in a segmentation of news media can add an additional "metastory" on top of everything that then further tints the overall interpretation of all events in the given time frame. Depending on the publication's perceived audience, the metastory will adhere to a particular philosophy, the objective to confirm the bias of the readership. Late author and semioticist, Umberto Eco describes this in his satirical novel Numero Zero, which analyzes the underlying methodology of tabloid media (which in this case, concerns the various regional conflicts and cultural eccentricities of Italy in the early nineties):

"I know it's commonly said that if a labourer attacks a fellow worker, then the newspapers say where he comes from if he's a southerner but not if he comes from the north. Alright, that's racism. But imagine a page on which a laborer from Cuneo, etc. etc., a pensioner from Mestre kills his wife, a newsagent from Bologna commits suicide, a builder from Genoa signs a bogus cheque. What interest is that to readers in the areas where these people were born? Whereas if we are talking about a laborer from Calabria, A pensioners from Matera, a newsagent from Foggia and a builder from Palermo, then it creates concern about criminals coming up from the south, and this makes news..." pg. 46-47

So the idea Eco summarizes (from the point of view of Simei, the Editor-in-Chief of the fictional magazine, Domani) is that, if a newspaper advocates for a specific philosophy, there are ways to use objective data to make a subjective meta-statement that will guide the reader to a specific conclusion. For instance, Fox News might report three of the following (hypothetical) stories in a 24 hour news cycle:

  1. "Obama congratulates Hillary Clinton on her new book in a Facebook post."
  2. "Clinton Foundation fired an employee for [unspecified] misconduct."
  3. "Wikileaks obtains emails involving a large investment made by Hillary Clinton in a German technology firm."
The fictional stories above, when viewed separately, are entirely unrelated. Their objective descriptions are, also, fairly innocuous (other than #2). The curation of the stories is, by no means, an accident however. Even when read separately, a Fox News subscriber can draw a number of conclusions from each story: 
  1. [Indicates a close association (professional and personal) between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.]
  2. [The Clinton Foundation is corrupt.]
  3. [Hillary Clinton is beholden to foreign interests.]
 And from these conclusions, the subscriber infers a larger metastory, with greater implications to the news conscious population as a whole: "Hillary Clinton is a corrupt politician, trying to cover up a scandal that involves foreign companies, and Barak Obama endorses/is aware of/is complicit in/benefits from it." And, so, the final story is a work of fiction, synthesized from objectively factual data. Therefore, even innocuous stories can contribute to misinformation. Eco describes a similar effect in an essay that was delivered to the Associazione Italiana di Semiotica in 2009, titled Censorship and Silence. Specifically he states that the OVERsaturation of meaningless information can crowd larger conversations, or direct attention away from other potential scandals. Boris Johnson appeared to be doing this in June of 2019 when he shared some interesting personal hobbies, which some speculated to be attempts at disrupting Google search results.

I highly recommend looking at Abbie's research into conspiracy theories and how they develop

But, getting back to original matter though, concerning my dad and his statement about fact-checkers and confirmation bias. All I can say is that, despite the addition of color commentary, the original event or detail depicted in a news story still must remain objective. "Obama was the 44th president of the United States," is an objective fact. "Christmas Day will be Friday, December 25th in the year 2020," is an objective fact. To say that fact-checkers are biased is a difficult proposition. This is because we live in an ecosystem of independent bodies that can verify the truth independent of a "fact-checker" by referring to a primary source (poll, dataset, audio/written/photographic testimony, etc.).  Therefore, if a single fact-checker reports something incorrect, there are another ninety-nine available to dispute the claim. This is how peer-reviewed academic journals function. And the process by which they operate have given us countless advances in modern science and medicine. To reject objective, independently verified data is a problem because the validity of data is independent of subjectivity. If the data hurts the observers' feelings, then that is not a weakness of data, that is a weakness of the observer. In the end, it's fundamentally an act of weakness and cowardice that not only endangers the individual, but endangers the safety of those within the individual's sphere of influence. 

So I will just say that, yes, it is true that bias exists within the news continuity. That is unavoidable. However, rather than dismiss bias, it is better (actually) to accommodate for it. When it is accepted that bias exists in the wild, and that it can be dissected and explained, there is greater benefit for everyone. Seeking the historical and cultural origin of various flavors bias helps explain why someone in a population might think a certain way. The faith one puts in bias helps us be aware of how information could be corrupted in transmission via wishful thinking. Most important, accepting the risk of bias forces observers and listeners to be held accountable for the dissemination of false information. 

If we can't accept that responsibility, then we might as well just embrace the middling death of democracy and spirited debate. 



Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why It's Better To Share, Instead of Borrow

Late last year I was scrolling through my Hulu queue and saw the below:


Holy shit! Is it my birthday? I thought. Guy Pearce is my jam! So of course I embarked on a binge of this very short miniseries. (3 episodes, 3 hours)

I was impressed. Before I tell you why, consider the following.

Every so-and-so has done the Christmas Carol story before. Despite the story being of English origin and set in the very specific context of industrialized England, somehow Americans has also been hooked. This is likely due to the biblical overtones of the story. The three ghosts can loosely represent Christocentric ideas like the Trinity or the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion. The story of redemption, of forcing a man to repent for his sins and receive salvation. The lessons taught about generosity, grace, and the worship of material wealth. Even Scrooge's first name, "Ebenezer," is derived from the Hebrew word "ebhen hā-ʽezer" (literally "stone of help"), to symbolize the divine assistance Scrooge receives from the spirits, as well as the heart of stone Scrooge possess until his redemption. It's all there and easily received by a population that is loosely familiar with biblical verbiage.

The story is so ubiquitous (over here, "across the pond") that I grew up on several iterations of Dicken's work including, but not limited to, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol, featuring George C. Scott (1984). (While jogging my memory, I discovered a version with Patrick Stewart!? What have I been doing with my life?) And, even if some of these versions are unfamiliar, it's likely that at least one of these has made it into your life at some point.

I actually liked Scrooged the best growing up, seeing it as some kind of Ghostbusters spin-off.

So, yes, I was very impressed with the recent version put on my FX. The expanded format allowed for a greater level of narrative depth in areas previously unexplored, such as the politics of the afterlife and the hellish bells that toll there. There is also motivation on Marley to move Scrooge to repentance. For, if Marley fails, he will be cast into an unrelenting purgatory. The #metoo movement is invoked when Scrooge forces Mrs. Cratchit to undress in front of him so that she can take out a loan for live-saving surgery for her son Tim. The spendthrift policies of industrialized Britain and the deadly cost of unbridled capitalism are as relevant today as it was then (corporate loopholes, poor working conditions, the wage gap, the working poor, unaccountable executive, etc.). There is even a scene depicting the rationing of coal, where Cratchit is, absurdly, charged for having additional coals provided to his stove in Scrooge's office. Each of these details cement the viewer in the time period and add layers of complexity to the story that has too often been sanitized by an over-emphasis on joyful climax. (Yes, Scrooge is redeemed. But that doesn't negate the pain and neglect he caused, or the inevitable restitution implied by his change of heart.)

But why write about this in the summer? Why is this important?

I actually was hooked by a line read by Pearce in the show, and I knew that I would want to write about it eventually, but never had the time to do so. Specifically, Pearce states the following:
"A gift is but a debt, unwritten but implied."
This idea got my attention, as I languished on my mom's couch last Christmas. Specifically, I had bought my brother a 3D printer, which I wanted to give as both a celebration of his personal industry and the accommodations he made for me while we visited our father in Hawaii. It was quite an expense, something only made possible by money recently bequeathed to me from my late grandmother, but it was worth it. The above quote seemed to explain something behind the materialistic motivations inherent in gift giving. Though my brother was none-the-wiser, there was some part of me that that sought recompense.

Guy Pearce as Scrooge.
(This is all the shit that goes through my head when I write about something. After all these paragraphs, now I begin the actual article.)

I've always been fascinated by the interaction of words, specifically when people use different terms interchangeably. The language behind share and borrow is markedly different, despite their everyday use as equivalents. Both terms invoke the collaborative ownership of something (wealth, property, resources, etc). Both are primarily positive in connotation. Where the terms part ways involved the object of the sharing or borrowing, In the latter case, borrowing implies that resources gained are returned. Sharing implies extended or perpetual ownership. I would not be the first person to write about the implications behind gift giving. But what I seem to get stuck on is the liquidity of the terms.

Sharing reminds me of the early Christian Church. In the Book of Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The only reason I bring the bible in to this, is because Americans typically leverage biblical language, the language of A Christmas Carol, while championing the acquisition of wealth, equating divine favor and moral excellence to those who were most adept. But, clearly, in the bible we see a different idea taking place: the sharing of resources for the betterment of the collective. This is essentially a prototype of communism, where members of the community own the "means of production."

Oldie, but a goodie.

Scrooge's statement, where a gift demands reciprocity in some form, brings an argument against charity, that in giving there is an implicit motive to justify one's self. Or, we simply give to feel congratulated and compensate for a moral failing that looms over our consciousness. The moral of A Christmas Carol promotes the idea of selfless giving, specifically grace.

Borrowing, as a concept at least, implies temporary ownership. It is active on the part of the supplicant, passive on the part of the provider. One goes to an institution and asks for a resource and is given that resource, with the understanding that this resource will be repaid in some capacity over time. Obviously this practice is monetized to favor the institution. Some form of additional reciprocity is sought to justify the initial lending. This is typically done with charging interest, where a percent of the total money left to be repaid is charged in addition to the principal. I'm laboring on the minutiae of this to prove a point: of the two terms, only borrowing is inherently predatory.

When we share our resources, we are committing to mutual prosperity and strength. A community, even on the fringe, will survive indefinitely when operating under the concept of sharing resources. Likewise, when someone buys "shares" in a company, they are participating in a group effort to see something come into being. Sharing, in my mind, aligns with the concept of grace; that is, unmerited favor. Grace is a gift. There is no implied debt or language hinting at future reimbursement. It flies in the very face of modern theories like laissez-faire capitalism, where economies are advanced on the basis of self-interest and competition over limited resources. This is incompatible with the Gospel and the concept of sharing. But, even Christians seem consigned to rationalize the use of free market capitalism as a means to an end, or a necessary evil that we must all endure for the sake of general order. Verily, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the poor, that is, unless they deserve to be poor because they collect food stamps, make bad decisions, and are addicted to meth." Sharing involves two active participants, and, rather than the supplicant approaching the provider, it is the provider that approaches the supplicant.

There are several iterations of this comic that have popped up on the internet in the past few years. But all seem to point out the incongruity between the worship of market freedom over the livelihood of average workers.

At the end of the day, the nuance of this argument can be obfuscated by quick tempers and personal narratives. Objectivity flies out of the window and we typically keep to our camps, where the firelight is warm, comforting, and calming. Rarely are we forced to venture beyond the borders and confront the wilderness. That would require bravery, after all. I know that my philosophy is influenced by the teachings of Jesus, which some may find hostile for tertiary reasons. If you, reader, are not a fan of the whole Christianity thing, then consider something like the Utopian future of Star Trek, embodied by the fictional organization known as the United Federation of Planets. In this speculative timeline, resources are shared within the federation. Though there is money exchanged between the Federation and other species (ie, the Ferengi, who covet "gold plated Latinum"), the act of doing so is implicitly denigrating to both parties. And, though it seems absurd to live life based on fictional principals, just because it's not real doesn't mean it can't have an impact on how experience the world and interact with it. (In my case, I believe Jesus is reality, which I would call a "win" in my book.)

Anyways, that's what's been on my mind the past few weeks.

In other news, I finished my 3rd book this weekend. I am beyond excited to share the details with you as the book enters the design process!

#TheWorkingAuthor

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Imagine a Hat...

I have heard, with no certainty, that the difference between classical acting and method acting is either acting inwardly or outwardly. Method acting involves entering the mind of the character being played. Classical, on the other hand, takes something attributed to the character and then learning how that character interacts with it. This could be a hat, or a cane, or a trinket, and from that the character is extracted.

Keep in mind, this could be all completely wrong. But it makes sense to me.



Maybe this comes from what I've seen in film and stage plays. Hamlet holding a skull, contemplating death. Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass, snooping around. The T-800 wearing black leather and a pair of menacing sunglasses at all hours of the night. All this makes sense to me, especially when writing a character that is outgoing, socially adept, or professional. These kinds of characters smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey, dance on poles (light, stripper, or otherwise), wear white gloves or black hats, and hold on to things while they walk. Visually, these brief descriptions invoke certain archetypes in literature and film. You can imagine the symbol of a cowboy being made up of the sum of his/her parts: wearing a white/brown/black hat, smoking Marlboro, and drinking coarsely ground coffee that's been watered down to make it last longer. But even the associations between cowboy and cigarette conjure, in my mind at least, a rogue desperado walking up a steep incline toward a crest that overlooks a parched desert valley.

Internal characters, developed vis a vis a method actor perspective, are much harder to write. In my case, characters written in first person-limited essentially demand that I get inside their heads, which is challenging. It's so easy to influence the decisions made by the characters first of all. The author is biased in different and fundamental ways. If the character is a drug addict, the authenticity lent by the author is, at best, representative and not autobiographical. (That is, unless, the author is Hunter S. Thompson.) To get inside the head of a drug addict requires extensive research and interviews with those involved in that kind of lifestyle. The creative act therefore is not solely rooted in literary devices and diction, but in how pieces of evidence are knit together into a cohesive collage that, over time, becomes a homunculus made of pixels or bleached wood pulp (depending on the preferred medium of the reader). So, in essence, the method-actor-author is like a serial killer, flaying his/her victims and stitching together the pieces into ghoulish abominations. (I'm pretty sure that's what happens in True Crime novels at least.)

At this point... I'm stuck somewhere in between the two, which is amusing because of how black-and-white I often think about things. My characters typically drink whiskey, or throw rocks across ponds, or shave in the mirror, but I also read Godel Escher Bach and I am a Strange Loop to better understand the mathematical philosophy behind artificial intelligence and how that can be used to theorize how neurons relay information through our brains. I guess there is merit for each perspective.

As Alyssa works through draft two of my second novel, it's good to consider these things so that I have some better angles on the third and final draft.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Philosophy and Shit


I had a thought while driving back to the office today after lunch. (My wife and I share one car, so we trade on our lunches.) Philosophers were people, just like you and I. Why are they such a fucking big deal?



“20% of what Philosophers say is true, the other 80% is bullshit,” is what my friend Desmond says, and it’s not a bad maxim to live by, considering the branding that certain philosophers (or authors) exude over the course of their tenure—Grant Morrison is convinced that he was abducted by aliens from the 4th dimension in Kathmandu, an experience which has begotten the best cosmology and world building to date within the DC Universe.

And this really isn’t about philosophers specifically. It’s more of a credibility kind of thing. The words we speak, how they impact people, whether they endure beyond our close circle of friends or disseminate into the ether of pop-culture and beyond. I imagine that, throughout life, the layman and learned alike are told that philosophers and other influencers of culture are these larger than life figures. I’m often guilty of this. See below:



I admit I was angry at first. I mean take the fucking compliment, guy. But on further reflection, this appears to be the case, regardless of the critical distance that is maintained to allow some appreciation of accomplishment. Behind the storyboards, folios, and canvases are just normal, flesh-and-blood people. We know those we love (artistically) aren’t gods because Jack Kirby and Ronnie James Dio are dead. (Though their influences are legion in their respective industries.)

Many work to make a living. Very few get to make art, without feeling like they are “working.” Dante for example was one of the few authors in human history to experience the joy and legacy of his work within his own lifetime. For everyone else that enjoys, possible, posthumous fame, I think this is the case because of nostalgia.

Consider, for a moment, that in Hellenist Greece ideas were weighed with greater contemporary influence than they are in the modern era. There were forums back then specifically for debate and intellectual pursuits, because it was what their culture valued. Today (the "modern" world, which could span from the Renaissance to now) this isn’t the case, and philosophy has been relegated to a niche occupied by idealists, shutins, and professors. Philosophy is valued because of the nostalgia for the era in which those ideas were conceived. This can be the only explanation for why many philosophers never enjoyed their due in life.

After all, death amplifies of appreciation. The sense of loss and catharsis brought on by death naturally magnifies the value of someone’s life work as we, the bereaved, try to come to terms with what has happened. So the issue of critical distance makes sense in this case. We can’t, personally speaking, appreciate what we are offering because of the limit imposed by our own vantage point. When we try to do this, the only foreseeable outcome is looking like a giant piece of shit (a la Kanye West).

So, at least for now, fame shouldn’t get to our heads. Not until there are worms in them, at least.   

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Enraged, curious, stimulated by what you just read?! Comment below! Let's talk about it!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Process (Of Writing a Book)



For the first time in a long while I have nothing to do this weekend. My wife is currently looking at my second draft, while I am on child duty until she completes. While it would be nice to catch up on my personal reading, I’m not sure if that will happen or not. I seem to have less and less time for that these days, unless I’m on vacation. I mean, there’s certainly time to do all these things, but binge watching Star Trek: Enterprise has monopolized our evenings. Everyone likes to shit on that series, but it’s great. When I imagine a speculative fiction of the first years following warp space flight, Enterprise embodies what I would expect to occur: cultural tensions between alien races that are trying to be helpful, humanity’s own immaturity, and the collective mustering of human potential for the better of tomorrow. Ideally, a Star Trek property should encourage us to be explorers, to be understanding, to be open to learning new things, and more than any other, Enterprise exceeds that vision.
                So maybe when that is over I can start reading in the evenings again, especially while my kid is still content on going to bed at 7pm every night. She’s like her dad. She sleeps like a rock and we are very grateful.
                While I’ve written about this before, most of my older posts were archived permanently post-rebranding. I wanted to revisit and share again the process by which I write books. It’s probably my personality—well, definitely—but I never have issues getting ideas on paper. Many times I’ll read something that self-referentially talks about the writing process as this creative struggle. Personally, I don’t get what the big fucking deal is. But it only recently occurred to me that maybe my “system” has a lot to do with the way I lay out everything and then fill in the gaps
                Usually I’ll get an idea, a two sentence extract, and start with that. It’s concise and purposefully focuses on conceptual details rather than specific characters or settings. That’s “part one-and-a-half” of the recipe. The second part of this is really the expansion of the extract, which I call a “concept bible.” Any ideas relating to the story are put in this document, almost as if it was a wiki entry all spread out. See below for screen shots from the Concept bible for my third book:

Usually my wife writes a few notes on the first chapter so that I know I am going in the right direction. This is followed by a plot extract, detailing the full overview of the plot from start to finish.

Usually if my book has a central philosophical point that I want to explore or rediscover I have a section dedicated to this. My next book explores  the different facets of artificial intelligence, hence the above.
I like exploring different languages so usually I will create a fictional language and explain their rules so I can remember
them later. Also, main characters get a large paragraph with a full explanation of their visual appearance and motivations.

Any characters that appear in the book, even minor characters, I write bios for. This is helpful because, it helps me keep track of details like their visual descriptions and any characters I might forget about and never feature again. 

Every book will have minor subplots that affect the main plot. Sub-plots can get lost in the writing process and become non-sequitur, off-hand references, so I write them down to keep track of them. Some notes don't fit with other categories. World building details like population size, laws, cultural values, go here. As you can see above, I wanted to invent different types of drugs at one point. 
The above are only screenshots of a large document. By the time the book is finished, this document balloons in size. But I can’t even say how many times this document has saved my ass and helped Alyssa track all of my thoughts.

                What I started doing for this book—and I think I will continue doing so—is that I created a character mythology. Every main character follows a journey (ie. Heroes’ Journey) that demonstrates how they grow and change over the course of the narrative. Immaturity to maturity. Child to adult. Unknown to known. I wanted to start keeping track of these details because I felt like my books didn’t demonstrate enough internal character development. Similarly, I create artificial rules for the narrative before I begin writing, which I just call “Book Rules.” Whereas a character mythology is written after I receive feedback for the first draft, book rules serve to, from start to finish, ensure that certain technical practices are consistent throughout the story. For instance, if I create an artificial language for my story, I write down the proper syntax in this document so that both Alyssa and I adhere to these rules throughout the entire book.
                The first draft feedback, like my first novel Spirit of Orn, was provided by my best friend Desmond White. This document I rely on is invaluable. Good feedback is critical in tone, which helps in two ways. First, good feedback is humbling. I laughed so hard when I read the feedback for Spirit of Orn, that I was crying. Desmond lays into my books and points out all the inconsistencies where my ideas are pompous or overcooked. The second thing that’s valuable about feedback is the substantive additions that come from the reviewer. Desmond, for instance, suggested that I read Brave New World and Notes From Underground to supplement and further some of the compelling ideas I was exploring in Spirit of Orn.
                The last document that I keep around is the “cut” document. Most of draft one is rewritten for draft two, and sections that are conceptually valuable, but no longer suitable for the story, I cut and paste to a separate document. Draft two of my upcoming book has the same word count of my previous draft, but my cut document is 21 pages long. I’m never sure what I’ll need or return to, so this document is a backup of old (and mostly bad) ideas.
                The process that I use works for me. I like the structure. I’ve always been very good at visualizing the grand narrative, but the minutiae is so hard for me to keep track of. I’m always encouraged by hearing from others about their way of doing things, so I hope that this is just good perspective.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Funny Thing About Names


Today's blog be all like...


I will share a story that illuminates not one of my finest moments.

My wife was sharing with me one of her short stories she wrote in high school (as a part of a project or fun, I can’t quite remember). She told me that she picked out the names of the characters very purposefully throughout the creative process, cross-referencing names with meanings and origins that illuminated aspects of the plot. Truth be told, I did the same thing in high school, writing a many-part story called “Heavy Metal Dawn,” for which I labored months without any consideration for what I would do with the story at its conclusion. I think it is for this reason that I ultimately gave up on it. Anyways, I did the same thing as my wife. Taking Japanese words and appropriating them as “names” (ie. “Guita Watarimono,” or “Guitar Wanderer”), I achieved nigh epic heights of weeaboory (IPA - wiːəburē). And I think it is for this reason, now that I’m older, that I remember that moment, cringing. Names don’t mean anything. They are just things that we call ourselves, because our parents made the choice for us.

This is a postmodern idea, that meaning is fluid and ever changing. It is why gender, politics, race, and religion are all relative and mean nothing anymore. Naturally, then, I would scoff now at an idea like a name and a meaning behind it somehow appending certain virtues and traits. For instance, my name is “Stuart.” Stuart derives from an Old English portmanteau of stig ("house") and weard ("guard"). The later British equivalent is “Steward” and the Anglicized version is “Stuart.” My surname, “Warren,” is eponymous of (what according to Google Dictionary is) “an enclosed piece of land set aside for breeding game, especially rabbits.”

Right from the get-go I am at odds with this. Though I am trustworthy, capable of taking tasks and endeavor to please those I meet, I am not a leader. In fact, growing up I was an outcast. My name, for the most part, has hung around my neck as an albatross since my birth as a sign of my failure to live up to my name’s meaning and import. And while “Warren” maintains some regal quality to it, I hardly imagine myself to be equivalent to a labyrinthine network of burrows, or a hunting ground for rabbits in the middle ages. Patronyms also create names by just combining the name of your father and your sex (Angason for boy or Agnadóttir for girl, in Icelandic). But what if your father was an asshole? Your name is now anathema to any prospects going forward. In any case, I must hate first names because I’m salty as a motherfucker, I guess…

While a first name like “Agni” may confer the legacy of a legendary Swedish king or a Hindu fire deity, the surname was typically an embellishment of the first name. In English traditions, last names were conferred based on the profession of your father, like Smith (From Wikipedia: refers to a smith, originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning one who works in metal related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike.) or Cooper (from Ancestry.com: “a repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats, from Middle English couper, cowper.”). But does one want to be their father? Or take their father’s profession? That is more of a problem for today. Back then, there was no choice in the matter. A trade brought in money that paid feudal dues.

When it comes to writing, in light of the above, I take a different approach. Names aren’t as important to me as the experiential quality. Living with a character throughout a story, a name like “Roberto” will imbue whatever quality you desire. In Umberto Eco’s book The Island of the Day Before, Roberto’s character evolves over the course of the story, so any preconceptions about the name “Roberto” quickly fade away. Because of this experience I have with reading, I spend no time consulting with reference materials to find “appropriate” names for my characters. Instead, I choose names arbitrarily (most of the time). Because that is what life is like: random and chaotic. I know someone named “Tabitha,” which is a traditional name. But she exudes an eclectic style that seems in conflict with her name. Likewise, I have heard stories of POWs and veterans naming their children after their fallen brothers, as a way of immortalizing their memory, though their children will live their own lives, without the experiential import of their naming. So the use of naming, to me at least, isn’t very important.

Despite all that I’ve said, we did name our daughter “Eowyn,” which is a fictional name invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, invoking the Old English naming methodologies. Tolkien applied this name to a character in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, who stands down a demon king, fulfilling an ancient prophesy to smite evil. Do I necessarily want my daughter to challenge a demon to mortal combat? Not really. But we chose the name for her because it embodies what we wish her to be: strong, confident, and assertive. So, at the end of all this, I’m just a hypocrite. But who isn’t? The defining difference here is that the meaning of names in writing can be more effectively determined due to the innate determinism that defines writing, as opposed to real life, where meaning is in constant flux. And to reject that determinism, in my opinion, makes the work more true to life. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Memes of Racism


I was talking to my wife the other day about memes, which, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 or so years, are captioned pictures of viral content that have taken on almost organic consciousness on the internet. Typically they are funny, or they comment on current events specifically. I mostly know them as pictures of “puppers” and “doggos” eating “chimkin nuggets.”

In human history we have recognized symbols either tangibly or abstractly. For instance Moses from the Old Testament is a symbol of Christ (of Type) as a mediator between God and Man. A cross represents, and points to, the specific time in history when Christ was crucified. The invisible hand imagines an intangible force based on the movement of wealth in a free economy, as put forth by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations. Or, the statue of the Shinto god Hachiman could represent either war, or the essence of the god himself when present in a shrine. Personally, I believe that memes today are the avatars of pessimism and cynicism, products of the mutable post-modern age. And at the risk of misusing “post-modern,” because even the word means nothing now, post-modern typically is a junk drawer term for any deconstructed position that critiques reigning epistemological authorities or traditions of thought / belief.
One of the original instances of Pepe.

What got me thinking about memes yesterday was the hijacking of one such meme, “Pepe the frog” and its use by neo-Nazis and white nationalists (AKA the Alt-Right). 

Iterations of the Swastica used in Eastern cultures.


A famous example of a neutral symbol being commandeered for hate is the Swastika, which originated in a host of Eurasian religious traditions. In Hinduism, the symbol was associated with luck and general wellbeing. While the origins of why the Nazis took this symbol escape me, I want to say that it had something to do with the belief that India was once known as a seat of a powerfully advanced race of Caucasians, but don’t quote me on that. Anyways, regardless of the origin of the Nazi belief, the symbol was taken and used as a hate symbol. Also, the image of the cross of Christ’s crucifixion has also been co-opted by White supremacists and the KKK by using it to intimidate African Americans by burning them on their lawns, or public places. I think it’s interesting then that people have taken Pepe, something so ephemeral in the grand scheme of things, and created a hate symbol out of him.

A cross burning, carried out by the KKK.

 
While the swastika was a symbol of fascism, memes are self-assigned their meaning. People view them and ascribe meaning to them. In marketing language, viewing an ad (image or otherwise) is called an impression. So when we view memes they are impressions that we encounter. Fascist symbols are ubiquitous and are widespread. They are typically put in public places, or on medals of service, but they are not however inside a person’s living area, unless the symbol was put there. In that respect the symbol can be avoided. I think what makes viral media so impactful is that you can’t avoid it now that the internet is integrated with nearly every aspect of our lives. Not only that, memes already are an expression of the cynical and apathetic zeitgeist we currently find ourselves in. That a meme places the viewer at a disadvantage by making opposition to the image seem petty or disproportionate in use context, the power of hate symbols spreading on the internet as memes are amplified. Furthermore, the impressions are personal, inside the four walls of home. They have penetrated the inner space of our lives, and we cannot escape.

As a creator of content, the reality that someone can insert meaning into something I’ve created is extremely compelling. My heart goes out to Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, because his symbol has been effectively stolen from him. His resulting anguish is depicted in his response to the hijacking of his creation:




Monday, June 25, 2018

Inventing Enemies

I realize that a writer’s blog should be memes and personable stuff, which I suck at. I really am a nice person. Promise! I’m just difficult to wrangle and coax out in person, let alone through the impersonal channels of the internet.
                But hey, I’m good at “being interesting.” This is what I’ve been told. So I’ve come up with a regurgitation of one of my recent reads that has really gotten be immersed in thinking.
                There’s an essay called “Inventing the Enemy” by Umberto Eco, a recent author in my collection that is occupying more and more of my time. Even now, in light of what is going on around the world, I thought the essay shows how anyone can create an “enemy.” An enemy doesn’t have to be someone were are at odds with in this scenario, just someone that we consider alien to us, or not of our kind, nationality, race, social standing, or otherwise. I wanted to give a birds eye view of Eco’s argument below. The essay is still  available in print and I highly recommend reading it, even if the language is stilted and archaic. (It was originally written in Italian and translated pieces can seem stale on the outside.)
  •         Eco states that enemies are first geographically different than us. They come from the outside. He cites the barbarians invading Rome at the peak and decline of the Roman Empire as chief examples. In today’s terms someone can be an “enemy” of ours if they reside in another country. We may never have met these people, or have had any long distance contact (i.e. wireless communication, internet chatting, etc), but they are someone removed from us. And their distance makes them the easiest target for creating an enemy for us to fight/oppose.
  •          Likewise, another degree of separation occurs with language. Eco cites the same example of the “barbarian” languages that invaded Rome, weakening the national identity of Rome. The word barbarian suggests a corruption of language (bar-bar-ian, like a stutter in speech). Those that we can’t understand, which requires us to have contact with them either personally or via audio message, we would reject as people we are against.
  •        After language comes those that live inside the city walls. Those that are strange to us are most likely to be immigrants. The United States has a long history of targeting immigrants, either 1st or 2nd generation, that have come from foreign lands to be with us and are at the beginning, or in process, of assimilation into the parent culture. These are people that are ESL (English as a Second Language) or they work less desirable jobs or they are having trouble finding a footing in a strange and new environment. They are easy to pick out in a crowd, maybe because their clothing is different, or because they live in ghettos where other fellow immigrants reside. We often make enemies of these people because they are easy to blame for things that are seemingly outside of our control. Crime, population density, government spending, and education burdens can all be easily blamed on the “immigrant” by the interior culture.
  •      Eco suggests, after his studying of Medieval history and philosophy, that those suffering from deformities would be the deepest layer where we could make our enemies. Assuming that the person on the outside has come in, learned our language, adopted our culture, and has demonstrably become essential to the community, those that are missing limbs, blind, mentally impaired, or suffering from congenital defects are seen as enemies because they lack on a fundamental level core abilities of other humans. This may not be as much an issue today as it was a thousand years ago, but an equivalent can be found in the homeless, who are dehumanized for their inability to care for themselves. They are seen as feral, unstable, and incomplete, therefore becoming an adequate enemy. Eco seems to have the most sympathy on this level of inhumanity simply because individuals of this strata are the easiest to blame and have few advocates.
I find the above really fascinating, and my synthesis of the arguments is limited by the amount of detail Eco lends to his argument. What is more sobering is his subsequent treatment, and potential explanation for the origins of antisemitism, not only because it is still fresh in our minds from the Holocaust but because of Arabs taking their place in the 21st century due to the events of 9/11. Despite dominating fields of medicine, law, finance, science, physics, mathematics, and humanities, Arabs encounter daily opposition for their skin color and religion simply because they are externally different or foreign within the parent culture of the United States.
                All these ideas are potent for discussion, but I’ve discovered personally that even with lengthy discourse there is still a degree of separation between theory and practice. We can talk about something in depth, but we can never see that we too make our own enemies on a daily basis, even subconsciously, and not even care about it.
                They key point Eco makes, the final conclusion he makes in his essay that is chilling to say the least, is that having an enemy, or maintaining a diet of enemies to consume and present, creates positive growth. I will leave you with these. I hope they make you think about the weightiness of his conclusions.




Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Enemy is Us


Here’s a thought:

Any view is defined from the opposing end of that view’s spectrum. The idea came to me, while I was entertaining guests at a birthday party for my daughter. I was able to “geek out” with a couple of guests, and in the pursuit of doing so I heard someone tell me that “most comics are left of center.” The context for the statement was that there was a particular group that was advocating “right-of-center” comics, but that they were met with fierce opposition from within the community. (I wasn’t aware of this, but I assume that all hell broke loose because of it.) I found the idea odd, that we need comics written “right-of-center.” No comic book writer/film critic/author writes content that establishes a worldview based on their enemy’s characterization of them—that is, I wouldn’t specifically write a book that was “liberal” because a critic of mine suggested that I was “liberal.” I would assume that they would write a story that reflected their own beliefs. I write stories that discuss things that interest me. I am not out to incite arguments. But I write what I write because I find that content interesting to me.
I find, that when someone (person B) characterizes your views (person A) as their opposite, what is happening behind the scenes is an instilling of existential competition, to validate beliefs of the original critic (person B) as valid, or more valid. I see this a lot in religion because I am a Christian and people are often insecure about their faith (myself included). I see instances where a layman witnesses same-sex marriage become validated by popular culture or reads about a scientific finding that sheds doubt on aspects of Christian orthodoxy, and their initial reaction is to characterize the supporters of those positions as being in opposition to his/her own. It’s therapeutic, ultimately, to be validated by creating an enemy. The stakes are higher now. And because enemies ultimately “lose,” we are invigorated when we read or hear something that sheds doubt on our opponent’s position.
The unintended effect is that we create our enemies as a toxic pursuit to escape our fears, rather than confront them and try to make sense of them.
What should we do, then, to avoid this?
Sorry, I have no idea. But I have thoughts.
See, going back to my opening point. If I write something that inadvertently challenges the worldview of another person, the onus is on that offended party to confront me and ask me in an understanding way why I have that position. Because I am not intentionally trying to offend someone. I’m, in most cases, just writing a story, or creating art, that resonates with me. The specter that we create of our enemies is a strawman that we sling mud upon rather than making an attempt to bridge the gap and attempt to understand any view different from our own.
Another interesting example: there was a time when I thought I was going to be a pastor of a Christian church. The unfortunate thing about this, was that I was very involved with the viewpoint of a certain pastor and I had purchased all his books and followed all his sermons. When I would confront a viewpoint that was different or, worst, in opposition to this pastor, I would write it off as poor scholarship on the opponent’s part. Then I was told an interesting anecdote as I was venting my frustrations our on my sponsoring mentor. If you read one author (his works in total), then you are a clone. If you read two authors, you’re confused. If you read three authors, you begin to develop an ecumenical understanding of knowledge pertinent to that topic.
This applies to everything: cooking, knitting, philosophy, politics, video games, religion, film, etc. What I don’t want you (reader) to take away from this is that your viewpoint is invalidated, or diminished, once you’ve reached this point of ecumenical understanding of your topic. What I desire you to take away is that people believe certain things because it’s personal to them, and there is a story behind that belief. When enough people are like-minded, they coalesce into a larger entity that takes core values (but not all of them) and synthesizes a new position that lacks the multifaceted explanations of certain beliefs.
In light of social media, I am convinced more and more that Facebook and other platforms are a cancer to our ecumenical understandings because they have condensed conversations and familiarity into statements and surface level understanding.
Chew on that for a bit.