Reading Peterson So You Don’t Have To – Part 1

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12,…

I had largely ignored Jordan Peterson over the past few months as he oddly became a favourite of the alt-right. From my cursory glance, it seemed little more than an academic spruiking a book with a bit of outrage marketing built around a cliched anti-‘PC’/anti-college leftism. Complain about the kids-these-days or act as if student politics was some new phenomenon and it seems somebody somewhere will give you a platform. Say something snotty about pronouns and people even further to the right will declare you are a hero.

It was only more recently that the guy caught my interest (as I already mentioned here)  when I learnt that the book he was selling was a self-help book. Now I don’t have a good hypothesis about self-help books and I particularly don’t have well-formed ideas about specifically ‘positive thinking’ but I have a sense of a shape of a thing. I have a metaphorical wall of notes and photographs joined by red twine at which I point both vaguely and manically and say ‘You see? Huh? You see?’

It all fits together into a thing.

What’s on this metaphorical wall:

  • Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900)
  • Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) author of The Power of Positive Thinking
  • Richard Nixon (a friend of Peale)
  • Donald Trump (who attended Peale’s church)…
  • …The Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan
  • Dilbert
  • Scott Adams and Scott Adams’s earlier business related Dilbert themed self-help books
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Alt-right arse Mike Cernovich
  • Ayn Rand
  • L Ron Hubbard
  • Scientology
  • And Jordan Peterson

And the thing the wall is trying to illustrate is a manifold set of ideas that vary from the useful and positive to the overtly fascist – a mix of people genuinely trying to help other people with well-meaning advice through to the modern resurgence of far-right ideologues in current politics.

I don’t have a well-formed critique here. Indeed, I’m going to be making some half-baked assertions and comparisons. What I haven’t been able to do previously is to find a way to start.

Then I got a copy of Jordan Peterson’s recent book and a way in became clear.

I don’t know how many posts this will take but fair warning – it might be many or they may just fizzle out.

Peterson’s book ’12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos’ is not a good book and it genuinely is not worth reading – it is barely worth hate reading. It rambles, it wanders off topic but not in an entertaining or funny way. Some of it is just a cranky guy sounding older than his years complaining about noisy children in fancy restaurants. Some of it is half-baked cultural criticism and some of it is bad Jungian/Freudian stuff.

There is no point talking about Peterson’s “views” as if there is a coherent ideology there. To some extent that is by design, as the whole book has an anti-ideology theme. Pick a revealing sentence and somewhere else there is a sentence that says the opposite. Pick a generalisation he makes and elsewhere he will demand nuance or shades on the same topic.

You can pick your way through Peterson’s 12 rules and ignore particular things and find the book to be largely liberal and maybe even useful. Alternatively, you can pick on the more problematic elements and see something quite nasty. But my aim is not to make a claim about what Jordan Peterson *really* means – as far as I can tell he means all of the books just as sincerely all the way through. It is a set of unfiltered ideas. If Peterson remains in the public eye and carries on with the punditry, some of those ideas will become more prevalent and others will fade but there’s no knowing which will be which.

I will be looking for certain ideas though – ideas that fit into the general shape of the ‘thing’ I describe above. The purpose is not to discredit Peterson’s book or even Peterson but to identify what that far-right finds appealing in the book and how it fits into this weird manifold of ideas that appears to be a precursor to 21st-century American-style fascism.

 

Kurt Russell – Space Dad

That should be a title for a film. I hadn’t really noticed before until rewatching Soldier the other day, but Kurt Russell being a space dad is a trope in itself.

Obviously it reached its apotheosis in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 in which Russell is Ego the Living Planet and dad to Starlord.

null

But he also gets to be a surrogate dad at the end of Soldier, after Sean Pertwee gets his leg blown off by Jason Issacs’s supersoldiers on a training mission.

He’s also a superhero dad in Sky High:

35-russell-skyhigh

And involuntarily adopts a set of urchins in Stargate:

stargate_dc_069

So that’s at least four examples and I think three is enough for something to be a thing*.

*[He’s not a space dad in The Thing though]

Another Forgotten Space Junkyard: Solider (1998)

In a search for forgotten space junkyard, I’d forgotten the Kurt Russell film Soldier. It’s not a great film but it is a curiosity. The cast is surprisingly good for a film that feels like the long tail of 1980s SF action movies that somehow reached into the late 1990s. You can see a young Connie Neilsen, Jason Issac and Sean Pertwee, as well as an underused Jason Scott Lee.

The film is connected to Blad Runner by the writer David Webb Peoples who conceived the plot as a kind of shared-universe story with Ridley Scott’s film which he co-wrote. The style and depth of the film are not comparable to Blade Runner but there are multiple Easter egg connections including references to locations like the Tannhauser Gate and apparently the wreckage of a Blade Runner vehicle in one of the junk piles. Thematically the connection is via Kurt Russell’s character, a bio-engineered super-soldier raised from infancy to be a killing machine. Not a replicant as such but the film works as if the soldiers are replicants.

Kurt Russell plays the titular soldier whose early life and career are shown in a clunky montage at the start of the film. He and his platoon are under the command of Gary Busey (being Gary Busey) as part of a nearish future space military whose purpose goes unspecified. Unfortunately, the arrival of Jason Issacs wearing a pencil moustache heralds the obsolescence of Kurt’s platoon – Issacs has a new model of a soldier who is even more soulless killing machines and has bigger muscles, epitomised by Jason Scott Lee. Busey is sceptical and so Issacs pits Russell against Scott Lee in a series of challenges. Russell is left for dead and is thrown in the trash…

Cut to Arcadia 234 – a junkyard planet! Kurt Russell is part of the trash being dumped on the planet but it seems he isn’t as dead as he might have first thought! Recovering sufficiently to survive being dumped from an automated trash-dumping spaceship, Russell eventually finds a community of castaways on the junkyard planet.

Arcadia 234 is a classic case of the future junkyard. The people who live there, recycle the junk into useful products. They themselves have been abandoned and forgotten. Russell’s character has literally been dumped there as an outdated product.

The visuals aren’t always convincing but there’s a nice establishing shot at one point which shows the remains of a big aircraft carrier in the background – which on a smaller scale is reminiscent of the ruined spaceships of Jakkuu in The Force Awakens.

Sadly Russell’s character struggles to fit in with the castaways, confused by his PTSD (sort of) and attraction to Connie Nielsen’s character (which is communicated by him staring at her creepily) and occasional violence. Just when things look bad for him, the space army people arrive on the planet for training exercises and Jason Issacs decides to kill the castaways for no particular reason. The rest of the film involves Kurt Russell klling the bad guys.

The film never quite makes good and never quite gets to cheesy-but-funny. The director Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with way too many other directors called Anderson) has made better films but it isn’t unwatchable. There’s a sketch of a better film there but it feels like a Paul Verhoeven movie without the ironical/cynical/satirical bite. It wants to both be anti-war and anti-militarism and also be a bad-ass film about futuristic soldier fighting each other for the heck of it.

Still for 10 out of 10 for a junkyard planet.

Plot territory: Future Junkyards

I was going to say that they seem to be everywhere these days but actually I can only think of three recent ones. But three is a lot right?

The junkyard in Becky Chamber’s A Closed and Common Orbit (reviewed here). The book has two interwoven stories one about an AI trying to live as an embodied being with help from her friends and the second story told in flashback about Jane – a cloned child who (along with other cloned children) works in a giant junkyard on an isolated planet.

The San Jose junkyard zone in Blade Runner 2049.

2049junkyard

Without spoiling the plot Ryan Gosling visits this hi-tech scrap heap to interview the owner of an orphanage which turns out to be…a child slave labour workshop where kids recycle hi-tech junk. Given the timing of the film and Chamber’s book it is unlikely either cribbed from the other but the visuals in Blade Runner 2049 almost work as visuals for Chamber’s book.

Less focused on the horrors of child exploitation we’ve also had recently the giant intergalactic junkyard from Thor Ragnarok (review here):

THORjunkyard

Is it just me or do junkyards only exist on cloudy days?

The city in Borne isn’t technically a junkyard but it has similar tropes of gangs of scavangers making use of the remains of technology but with the twist that it is discarded bio-tech. I guess The Phantom Menace has the child-labour-junkyard trope but without the giant space junkyard.

As a piece of plot territory, the giant junkyard is one that is implictly science-fictional rather than fantasy or at least requires a society in which mass manufacture is a thing and hence the disposal of used goods is a thing. A junkyard can then become a place in which the fringes of society live but also a place where technology can be found.

A junkyard is also a place that hides in plain sight. They are by their nature visible but exist where people with wealth can ignore them. There is an in-built critique of capitalism (whether an author intends that or not) with an implication of the ugliness of waste. The inhabitants of the junkyard are also people being discarded by their society – the sfnal junkyard is rarely a day job but instead home to gangs or slaves or slave owning gangs.

There’s an implication of secrets, forgotten knowledge, death and also rebirth in the fictional junkyard – dead things coming back to life for good or ill. An alchemical theme to the junkyard.

 

 

 

More Bad Ideas from the Gun Crowd

I covered Sarah Hoyt’s incoherent pro-gun argument the other day here. Larry Correia has had a few things to say also but mainly on Facebook (he’s been slowly depoliticising his blog for a while). It is mainly the usual stuff that I’ve covered here before – encourage teachers to carry concealed weapons.

Correia’s theory is that is schools are gun free zones then this encourages shooters. The fact that the recent school shooting HAD an armed officer present and this did NOT deter the shooter or limit the death toll is apparently not germane to the issue.

“You can’t count on guards, or the state, or feelings, or another law, or stupid gun free zones, or some liberal’s wishful thinking.”

Well, you really, really, really can’t count on guns as the appalling mountain of evidence keeps demonstrating.

Larry points to the policy in Utah of allowing teachers with an appropriate licence to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. Meanwhile in Utah in 2014:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-teacher-shooting-utah/utah-teacher-shoots-herself-in-leg-with-concealed-weapon-idUSKBN0H62HL20140911

That absurdity aside, the Utah law also prevents the school from knowing IF a teacher is or isn’t carrying a gun.

In reality more guns in schools means more shootings in schools. The impact on mass shootings would be zero (as can be seen by the fact that having armed officers at a school does not deter shooters) but there would be additional deaths, injuries or scares as a consequence of more armed teachers.

The results may be ironic (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-23691146 ) or tragic: (The following link may be upsetting and includes refernce to suicide. https://www.ajc.com/news/crime–law/students-return-lithia-springs-high-after-teacher-shoots-self-classroom/o9ekUOCFkr8jY76Vnxw3oI/ ) but more guns in schools wont prevent mass shootings.

 

Anti-Gun Control Arguments Haven’t Become Any Smarter or More Honest

Dishonesty remains at the core of anti-gun control arguments and I note that regardless of evidence, shifting policies, or gun control experiments in countries other than the US, these arguments have barely shifted in decades.

Here’s the failed Sad Puppies 5 leader Sarah Hoyt https://web.archive.org/web/20180221173128/https://accordingtohoyt.com/2018/02/21/your-most-basic-right/

Here’s a summary of the arguments deployed:

Self Defence: Hoyt starts with claiming a fundamental right to self-defence. That’s a good start, as at least that is common ground. She trips over it almost straight away.

“So while it’s illegal to attack you, the criminal will still do it, and if you don’t have the right to defend yourself (as is true in many places in Europe) then you’re devolving to the criminals having power of life and death over law abiding citizens. This is a recipe for the law to become dead letter and for everyone ignoring it.”

The argument is posed as if X occurs then Y will happen. If there is no right to self-defence, Hoyt claims then effectively the end of the rule of law will happen. She also claims that in many places in Europe there is no right to self-defence. Where? Because that would be a simple test of her argument. Point out these countries that have no right to self-defence and we can all go see how everyone is now ignoring the law in general.

She doesn’t mention a single one. Nor is it clear which European nation has everyone ignoring the law.

Of course, she also wants to connect this to gun control. The UK has strict gun control, arguably the strictest gun control in Europe. And yet:

Armed population are a defence against tyranny: there is little evidence for this being true and substantial evidence that it is false. Authoritarian governments do not tend to first act against guns but rather tend to first act against ways for people to organise. Free trade unions are a common target, open communication is another. Tyrannical regimes may enact gun control but not more so then non-tyrannical regimes because…most countries enact some kind of gun control.

But more relevant is this claim runs counter to a later argument: criminals will get guns or other arms one way or another anyway.

Lawbreakers will still have guns: Hoyt says:

“Because it makes killing easier, criminals and psychopaths will have it. They will have guns, regardless of what the law says.”

Yet that hardly means it should be made easy for them. A determined burglar can break into your house but that doesn’t mean you should leave your front door open. Making life harder for criminals to commit crimes is how laws work. Few laws prevent all cases of a crime and this kind of fatalism applied across the board really would lead to the law becoming a dead letter with everyone ignoring it.

Of course, Hoyt has forgotten that she thinks actual determined people fighting a tyranny somehow WON’T people to break the law and get guns.

A gun is just a tool: True and tools make it easier for a person to do a thing. Printing presses are tools and the development of printing presses and their spread led to more books and more literacy. Computers are tools and have led to profound social change. Sure, without printing presses people still found ways to make books but precisely because it was harder there were fewer of them. Likewise, without spreadsheets people would still do accounting or statistics but the tools we have make it easier. A gun is a tool that makes killing people EASIER. Hoyt does recognise that guns make killing people easier and then ignores that point.

Note that this argument runs directly counter to the necessary for self-defence argument and the armed population argument. If a determined person will easily use ‘a shoe, my handbag, or the handle to my office door’ to serve the same purpose as a gun then what need does anybody have for a gun?

This argument is part of Schrodinger’s gun – when a gun is both a magical talisman that enables the rule of law and wards of tyranny and yet also a dumb lump of metal easily replaced with a well-aimed shoe.

You can be confident that a person who advances such arguments does so with NO sincerity. To advance these Schrodinger’s gun argument implies that the argument is offered in bad faith.

Gun control is stupid: Hoyt starts struggling:

“The only people who believe that the way to prevent violence is to disarm the law abiding people and leave them at the mercy of psychopaths are children and idiots. “

Children, idiots and a wide range of people on the left and right in most nations of the world. In the English speaking world, in countries with many cultural connections with the US, major gun control measures have been enacted by CONSERVATIVES.

Stalin! The arguments come closer to gibbering at this point. I don’t know how Hoyt thinks the Bolshevik’s came to power but I’m quite certain she doesn’t believe that Lenin and Trotsky were just fine & lovely and Stalin betrayed the revolution. The Bolshevik Red Guard were armed paramilitaries who toppled the Provisional Government. Lenin took power using literally MILITIAS of armed citizens to depose a more democratic (if deeply flawed) government.

Private militias do not have a great track record when it comes to the rule-of-law versus tyranny. There are many exceptions but a list of people who had their own armed militias BEFORE they took over the state includes these chaps:

  • Pol Pot
  • Mao
  • Lenin (and as a subordinate Stalin)
  • Hitler

On the plus side, there are examples of people’s militia’s fighting for freedom against tyrannical governments or against military dictators (or wannabe military dictators) but even these EXCEPTIONS tend to not be groups that Hoyt would like (e.g. the paramilitary wing of the ANC or the Sandinistas). In zero cases, do we have nations maintaining significant private paramilitary forces during periods of democratic stability with rule of law. Private guns are not a prophylactic defence of freedom.

Gibber, gibber, SOROS!: Seriously.

How Views of Trump Change on the Right

I drew a little schematic of an idea to try and show how some on the right have reacted to Trump.

viewschange

I’ve naturally focused on my intentionally weird sample of Puppies/right-leaning SF writers. It is also not intended to be particularly accurate at this point – more of a rough sketch of how I see the views shifting. In particular, the starting point is arbitrary- I didn’t double check when the first comment made about Trump’s candidacy was.

The vertical scale runs from opposed to Trump to supportive of Trump through different degrees.

  • Opposed to Trump: the person is simply against Trump for multiple reasons.
  • Opponent is worse: the person is opposed to Trump but sees him as preferable to Hillary Clinton.
  • Anti-anti: The person avoids talking positively about Trump but talks negatively about those who are opposed to Trump.
  • Sceptical support: The person has doubts about Trump but is prepared to support them.
  • Supportive: The person overtly supports Trump

The people listed are based on how I see their publicly expressed views changing over time.

  • LC – Larry Correia. LC expressed strong dislike of Trump, particulalry at nomination time. I think my line is a bit off as he was still talking about both candidates as being equally bad even at the election. However, now when he talks about such issues his position is more anti-anti.
  • JCW-John C Wright. Wright had a more complex journey. I’m not sure how anti-Trump he was initially but Trump was not his favoured candidate. These days he actively promotes what he sees as Trump’s accomplishments.
  • SH – Sarah Hoyt. Initially opposed to Trump, her views became closer to sceptical support over time.
  • VD – Vox Day. Consistenlypro-Trump.

So has Trump won over the anti-Trumps and does that make his position more solid? I assume similar paths are followed by others at the further end of the political spectrum but it is important to consider why some of these people were anti-Trump.

A consistent theme among the early opposition to Trump, aside from his general obnoxiousness, were four important factors:

  • Concern that he was a stealth Democrat based on his past financial aid and general hobnobbing with East Coast Democrats.
  • Concern that he would follow ‘populist’ stimulus style policies – particulalry mass infrastructure spending.
  • Concern that he would mess up the nomination of a new Superme Court Justice.
  • Concern that he was the candidate Clinton could most easily beat (I actually think Ted Cruz was more easily beatable but that’s irrelevant here).

The last dot point was made moot by Trump actually winning. The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court mean that Trump achieved a core goal for the right of the GOP in general. Finally the first two points have been reduced as concerns by Trump largely following the more standard GOP-right policy agenda.

Over time, Trump has become a more conventional extreme-right GOP politician in terms of policy and hence opposition to Trump in that arena has reduced.

Timothy the Talking Cat is Doing a Thing

[From the desk of Timothy the Talking Cat]

missiontimpossible

Timothy the Talking Cat, the world’s leading editor of books who is also a cat (that is: he’s an editor who is a cat not an editor of books that are also cats because that would make no sense), will be DOING A THING.

Frankly, Timothy is SICK AND TIRED of what has been going on. The various things, instances and activities that have occurred that are in many ways UNACCEPTABLE, OUTRAGEOUS and AGAINST COMMON DECENCY and the laws of California, West Australia and Andorra. It is time somebody stood up against this and made a stand with those that understand when a stand must be made to steady society and stand steadfast instead.

Timothy will do a thing and thing will have:

  • Objectives
  • Targets
  • Future accompishments
  • Stretch goals
  • Metrics

The metrics will be in imperial measures like furlongs or barleycorns or such like because while they will be metrics they won’t be metric metrics because of Timothy’s firm stance against the plutocrats of the EUROPEAN UNION who no doubt are already in fear of Timothy doing a thing.

So ner-do-wells and flittity-gibbets and slugabeds and other nincompoops and vexatious individuals who frankly TRY MY PATIENCE all the time in various ways are on notice that I have noticed their behaviour and that this cannot continue!

“Oh this is just a poorly organised publicity stunt and Timothy hasn’t even worked out the details yet.” is what some tired cynical leftist will probably say because they are a loser and stupidhead. Well NO SIR! Sure I may point out that my excellent book McEdifice Returns which was not only written by me (and Straw Puppy) but also has an appearance by me in the book (and by ‘me’ I mean Timothy the Talking Cat), is available from here right now: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/764769

But the idea that Timothy the Talking Cta would merely do a thing in a desperate bid to gain publicity for his excellent book (currently at a low, low price for a limited time) is not only INSULTING but is representative of exaclty the kind of CYNICAL, NIHILISTIC, AMORAL rubbish that is consuming modern society. That kind of attitude is precisely why Timothy will be doing the thing that he will be doing.

MARK MY WORDS!

Review: Black Panther

[Spoilers are avoided]

Interesting movies should offer lots of potential for disappointment and good, interesting movies create their own pitfalls and somehow avoid them. Black Panther had lots of capacity to be awful – the concept of a hidden kingdom in the centre of Africa was used in the original comics as the background for the character of the Black Panther but drew on the colonial era tropes from H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. While not the most negative view of Africa to appear in Western literature, it was still a perspective on the continent derived from the prejudices and privileges of European colonisation. A myth of hidden wealth that was there if only you could find it.

Those influences are still there in this film but re-appropriated. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the new king of Wakanda and the titular Black Panther – a Wakandan who is also part of world affairs, while his country’s technological and economic advancement remains hidden. Rather than a process of discovery, we first see Wakanda through his eyes as he returns home to be crowned king. Wakanda from then one becomes a central character of the film – one of the most fully imagined fictional countries I think I’ve ever seen on screen. Aside from subverting or rejecting tropes about African nations, it also shows Wakanda as a country of multiple indigenous cultures and lifestyles. Across this clever mix of costumes and implied cultural traditions is an Afro-futurism and technological utopian in which people live both an urban and traditional pastoral existence cut off from the outside.

Both ethically and in terms of plot inevitability that isolation can’t continue and the tension of the idea in terms of Wakanda’s potential impact on the world drives the rest of the story forward. An exiled man of royal blood seeks a way home (Michael B Jordan) and a new purpose for Wakanda; an old enemy Ulysese Claw is intent on cynical destruction (a gleefully appalling Andy Serkis); the CIA has become curious about Wakanda after the events of Captain America: Civil War (in the form of Martin Freeman).

While not quite a simple male/female split, the conflict between Wakanda being forced to change by external forces versus it finding new paths of its own highlights the roles of key Wakandan characters. Shuri (Letitia Wright) T’Challa’s younger sister encapsulates Wakanda’s own technological modernism and a move away from tradition and ritual. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is an agent of Wakanda acting outside of the country (we first meet her on a mission to rescue girls captured by a militant group in an unnamed African country) who sees a role for Wakanda outside its borders. Okoye (Danai Gurira)  as head of the Wakandan all-female special forces and royal guard offers a more conservative, isolationist view. While their perspectives on Wakanda’s future are different, they are portrayed as people working together in the common interests of the nation. Difference versus conflict.

Of course, for plot reasons, conflict gets the upper hand.

The politics of Wakanda are not utopian. It has flaws and aspects of the story are inevitably reactionary – you really can’t have a film about a king trying to hold onto his throne when faced by a usurper without implying some sort of endorsement for monarchy as a system of government. Wakanda’s isolationism and refusal to act in other’s affairs also adds a complex layer to the nation as a character. Wakanda is itself a superhero and like all superheroes, we are left wondering why they only act when they do. Given Superman’s powers could he not have resolved a thousand world conflicts and given Wakanda’s technological and military advantages, could it not have done more? Where Black Panther rises above other superhero films is that it begins to make these questions overt and pertinent. Whether a superhero or a nation should act and when should they act if they have to power to do so? How to act without becoming a petty tyrant or hegemonic power?

You can worry about those issues or you can sit back and enjoy the stunning visuals or, best of all, you can do both. It’s a popcorn movie and a movie that sets up a series of questions about power (without resolving them). It has its own extended James Bond movie elements (form a Q-like briefing on gadgets to a showdown in a casino) and its own Ruritarian romance elements. Getting all that to work and also be a seamless piece with the rest of the Marvel movies is itself a remarkable accomplishment. That it is also a very entertaining film is what makes it really rather good.

Gorgeous, fun and riveting.