Monday, July 30, 2012

Revolt of the Islamic Demogorgon

The spate of revolts across the Islamic world has been hailed as the Arab Spring by the Western media. "Spring" is a symbol of rebirth and has positive connotations. In the West, the focus of the largely liberal media has been positive; this is the Muslim world's version of the Reformation or the Enlightenment depending on who's talking. These revolts are mostly against either military dictatorships or minority ethnic monarchies. A revolt against a dictatorship or a monarchy is always a positive thing to a progressive. Anything is better than that right?

The Arab Spring began with Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who grew tired of being forced to bribe the police just to sell his fruit. He refused to pay, and petitioned to see the governor. When he was refused, he set himself on fire and later died in a coma. Right from the start one should notice the difference between this sort of thing and anything that happened during the American Revolution. In fact, I don't believe this even happened in the French Revolution. It's hard to imagine any of the sans-culottes of revolutionary France burning themselves alive.

Bouazizi's act set off revolutions in several Islamic countries. There were successful violent revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. Western air forces and probably special forces participated in the latter. There was a largely peaceful revolution in Egypt where military dictator Hosni Mubarak of thirty years was forced to resign, probably because of pressure from the United States which funds Egypt's military to the tune of $1.3 billion a year. There was violence in several other countries, and the violent revolution in Syria is ongoing.

Western liberals and progressives believe a myth about history, namely that history is progressive. As history goes along, so the myth says, all societies advance inevitably towards their highest potential. As Percy Shelley makes clear, the horrors of the French Revolution were just birth pangs, a mere hiccup, despicable more because they held up the inevitable advance of society than any moral difficulties since of course Judeo-Christian morality and indeed morality in general must bow before the advance of the Demogorgon. Of course Western liberals and progressives know what any and every society's highest potential is: a socialist and secular Western civilization, if we could only get rid of those damn conservatives once and for all. They all agree that Western civilization is much farther along this path of progress than, for instance, the Middle East. So they all greeted the Arab Spring with the highest exultation expressing one of their deepest beliefs about human nature and history: all change is progress. Change is inevitable and it is always good. The only thing holding us back from utopia is various political bogeymen, the identity of which can be adjusted as temporary political needs require. It is based on real historical trends, at least in the West. Things have seemed to get a lot better in terms of our standards of living in the West and even in the world. In the leftist version of history, sometimes called the "Whig history" by conservatives, this progress is due to the advances of science or Reason. The view is superficially compelling, but it is an assumption about history rather than a conclusion drawn from it, and it is notoriously ethnocentric. It studiously ignores the history of the rest of the world as well as the real history of what made the West different from the rest of the world. Being completely devoid of understanding of the real history of the world, it always substitutes the myth of inevitable progress, not just for us but for the entire world. In the process it must assume that all peoples of the earth are essentially the same. Again, there is an element of truth to this. All human beings are fundamentally the same, but the Whig history ignores the fact that this similarity ends at the existence of free will and the ability to instantiate spiritual choices into the physical world. Those choices may very well be different, and they may be choices made by whole cultures and nations that lead to very different conceptions of what one's role in the world ought to be. Assumptions about the foundations of proper government can be even more diverse.

Currently Egyptian politics is even more convoluted than usual. What the West hailed as an Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious factions viewed as a great opportunity. Amazing how people who actually live in Egypt know their own country better than Western journalists. Actually, it's not that amazing. What the Western media failed to realize, these people immediately understood: the failure of the U.S. supported military regime was a major opportunity for Islamist advancement. Thus with U.S. help the Islamists took over in Egyptian elections.

George W. Bush believed this same myth, that all peoples are fundamentally the same. In this interview at about 2:30 in, Peter Robinson mentions the noted expert on the Middle East, Bernard Lewis. Bush immediately nods and says he knows and greatly respects the man. Then Robinson hits him with this quote:

PR: This is Bernard Lewis in 2011. Quote: "I don't know how one could get the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood is...benign...[This was the common media interpretation at the time, amazingly enough.] In genuinely fair and free elections [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster." Close quote. In Egypt in the presidential election, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood has now won.

GWB: Correct. 51-49.

PR: Disaster?

GWB: I think democracy is never a disaster. The disaster of course is that people would suspend or forego the institutions that are required for democracy to thrive and go back to the era where people's voices didn't matter. In other words, one of the things that we ought to be insisting upon, we the free world, is that there be certain elections, in other words four years from now or I don't know whatever the term is, but there ought to be certainty that the people then get to go to the ballot box to decide whether or not the current winner fulfilled his promises. So I think people ought to investigate carefully the promises made, and then help enable the Egyptian people to hold people to account for either meeting their promises or not.

PR: So more democracy not less?

GWB: I think so. Yeah absolutely. So the United States ought not to be in the position to say, okay, we're for elections just so long as the guy we want to win wins. What we ought to be saying is that we're for elections and give the people a chance to express themselves. I haven't studied the platforms of these candidates, but I bet that they're mainly about improving the lives of their fellow citizens.

Uh huh. Mr. Bush says we should "investigate carefully the promises made" and that he hasn't himself "studied the platforms of these candidates" but that he'll bet they would be mostly about economic prosperity. The new Egyptian President might be an important resource to consult:

In the 1920's, the Egyptians said:
"The constitution is our Koran."
They wanted to show that the constitution is a great thing.
But Imam (Hassan) Al-Banna, Allah's mercy upon him, said to them: "No, the Koran is our constitution."
-The Koran was and will continue to be our constitution.
-The Koran will continue to be our constitution.
-The Koran is our constitution.
-The Koran is our constitution.
-The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
-The Prophet Muhammad is our leader.
-Jihad is our path.
-Jihad is our path.
-And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
-And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration.
Above all- Allah is our goal.
The shari'a, then the shari'a, and finally, the shari'a.
This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari'a.
I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text (of the constitution)...Allah willing, the text will truly reflect (the shari'a), as will be agreed by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by the legal and constitutional experts.
Rejoice and rest assured that this people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic shari'a as a text to be implemented and as a platform.
The people will not agree to anything else.

President Morsi took a literal oath while on the campaign trail to make the new Egyptian constitution reflect shari'a law. The Western press lamented the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections, but took solace in the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood only won 37% of the vote and 49% of the seats. What they failed to mention was that the second highest total was an even more radical Islamist party adhering to Salafism. Together these two parties got 61% of the popular vote and 69% of the parliamentary seats, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate winning the presidency. Mr. Bush assumes that Mr. Morsi made campaign promises about improving the lives of Egyptian citizens. He may have, but he also promised to move the country in an Islamist direction. Which do the Egyptian people care about more: Islamic law or economic prosperity? At this point any objective observer would have to conclude that Islamic law is and will continue to be the dominating factor in any Egyptian democracy, as I believe it would be in any Muslim democracy. In the future we will see if Islam can support a free democratic republic. I believe it cannot and will not. When push comes to shove, Islam will have the priority, and Islam has right from the beginning depended upon coercion. Islam is not a peaceful religion. War is as important to their religion as Christ's resurrection is to Christianity, the proof of their rightness and the reason for the success of their founding prophet. 

The question here is not whether or not Egypt maintains a democracy. It could continue having these votes until kingdom come and the people would still vote for Islamist candidates. The question is whether or not Islamist government promising to implement shari'a law will lead to Western style republics with the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted. The period of this revolution in Egypt produced numerous accounts of the persecution of Coptic Christians who have lived in Egypt for centuries, and this persecution was not limited to mobs. The military responded to one complaint by killing even more Christians.

George W. Bush represented the United States of the 20th century very well. He was a center-right evangelical Christian with an extremely naive and uninformed view of the rest of the world and saw no contradiction between being a conservative and supporting all kinds of government spending and control. He believed that government should get out of the lives of Americans and into the lives of everyone else, except of course when government has a place in education, the economy and whatever else all the busybodies in Washington, D.C. told him. He equated democracy with freedom, a leap that cannot be supported if one's experience of the world is wider than the United States. These children of the so-called Arab Spring are Islamist to the core and will continue to be so. If all the governments of the world became democratic tomorrow, this would not guarantee world peace, as Bush amazingly states in the previous chapter of that interview. More likely it would mean another world war, just like the democracies of Europe engaged in after democracy became the norm in Europe. Why does Bush believe things that are demonstrably untrue?

Because he, like many conservatives and Christians, has thoughtlessly accepted the false premises progressives have been selling us for a hundred years. Our form of government is not the most fundamental characteristic of the American people, nor would it be for any other people in the world.  Our Christianity is fundamental. Please don't misunderstand me. I prefer our system of government. But the claim that a worldwide utopia will be the result if every nation on earth adopted it is lunacy. And the idea that we can make them adopt it is even more lunatic. Even if we succeed, as is claimed for Iraq, democracy is government by the people and the people are Muslim. Democracy is the worst gift we could have given them. If a failure, the entire region will become a power vacuum and plunged into war and instability until such time as seven strong men worse than the first take their place. If successful, we give them the sword with which to strike us. See how well they get along with us when they have lifted our system of free enterprise onto their society and become as economically successful as we are, which has already happened in places like Yemen, Qatar and Bahrain. See what happens when toothless secular Europe succumbs to their Muslim immigrant population. Once the opportunity exists to challenge the Great Satan militarily that challenge will come. Our pet the Islamic Demogorgon, praised by progressives of all stripes, will turn on us with an unfocused rage and animal viciousness unlike any the world has ever seen.

Now that's whack.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Politics of Batman: A Surprising Conclusion

I did not intend this blog to be about superheroes, but it caught my attention and seemed to catch the attention of what few readers I have. This will not be my last post on the topic. There will be at least one more on Superman. But it will be the last post about the Nolan Batman movies. I saw the final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, last night. My thoughts on this movie will be somewhat different than I have written before.

When I wrote the last Batman post, I had intended to discuss the idea of human morality in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. My thesis originally included Batman Begins because I believed Ra's al Ghul, the villain of the first movie, to be a symbolic God, bringing justice upon a city which richly deserved it. That this character was the villain showed the movie's enmity towards God and rejection of His judgment and righteous wrath. I portrayed Batman as a character who was moral without God and without giving a reason, trying desperately to save a city from its own sins when that city deserved destruction. But there was also the very Christian theme of redemption, of fighting for good in a world that, even though headed for destruction and deserving of every punishment, God still loves and fights for. The ambiguity of this dynamic was portrayed by the fact that Bruce Wayne had actually been very close to joining al Ghul's League of Shadows. Both believed in the immorality of crime. The only difference was one believed Gotham was beyond saving and the other believed it wasn't. God would be within His rights to take either side, but redemption is the more Christian one. So I left the first movie out of my analysis. For anyone paying close attention, that post also contained both the admission of the Joker as a true representative for villainy as well as the possibility of Gotham's redemption. And then I remembered the final words of chapter 23 of my book. In the end, I believe the United States will return to its roots and will return to God. I wrote:

"There are many today who say that Christianity in these United States is dying. We are following in the footsteps of Europe, just a generation or two behind. It is nothing to God whether the United States remains a Christian nation or not. God will always preserve the Church. There will always be a Remnant. Perhaps it is time for us to pass the torch to other nations. Perhaps it is time for us to fade away, cut our losses and take on the historical role of the minority Christian, traveling in a hostile and foreign land. Many young and old say that, but I do not believe it. When I look at this land that I love, I do not see what God saw in Sodom and Gomorrah. I see righteous people of genuine faith everywhere I look. And I cannot believe that God is done with us yet. Not while we remain."

God would be within His rights to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but we are not Sodom and Gomorrah. That was the difference between al Ghul and the Batman. In that argument, I will take Batman's side.


The Dark Knight Rises revisits this theme of redemption, even connecting the movie's central villain(s) to Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows from the first movie. Two new minor characters that I remember go through redemption stories. There is the policeman who was portrayed as hostile at the beginning of the movie, choosing to vigorously pursue Batman instead of the villainous Bane who had just killed several people and shot up what basically represented the New York Stock Exchange (more on this later). The first time I saw this character, whose name I forget, he was at a party wearing his uniform with medals on his chest disparaging Commissioner Gordon. The impression given is of a man who only cares about himself and his own career advancement. I thought to myself, "Here we go again. Another military or police figure being demonized." Very late in the movie this character was seen rejecting Commissioner Gordon's impassioned plea to join the fight to save the city. But in the end he showed up at the front of the police lines, proudly wearing his uniform. He gave his life along with many other heroic policemen fighting the criminals and terrorists who had taken control of Manhattan. I mean the Old Town or the Narrows, of course. This entire scene was an obviously intentional homage to the policemen and firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. One of several points in the movie where a lesser man may have shed tears. (I kid, I kid.)

The other prominent redemption story was that of Anne Hathaway superbly portraying Catwoman. With just the right mix of badass bravado and heartwarming vulnerability, Hathaway's Catwoman tells a story of a down on her luck lifelong thief trying desperately to begin anew and leave her life of crime. A sullen remark about three quarters of the way through the movie about Wayne's "stuck-up girlfriend" removed any doubts in my mind that Wayne would end up with her, which he did. Catwoman selfishly betrayed Batman early in the movie, but in the end gave up an easy escape to save him. Catwoman even had a memorable line expressing pointed disagreement with Batman's refusal to use guns, shortly after blowing a hole through Bane with a couple of rather large ones. In fact, they were the large guns mounted on Batman's motorcycle from the second movie, emphasizing a slight hypocrisy in Batman's otherwise solid ethic. The performance was superb. If her role had been larger Hathaway may have stolen the show like Heath Ledger stole the last movie. I'm willing to bet she will get a spinoff, and I will also bet it will be better than the alluded Robin sequel.

But some backsliding on the guns issue is hardly the only conservative point being made in this film. I have already mentioned Catwoman's redemption as a microcosm of Gotham's. There is also the expansion of a theme that has always been part of the Batman mythos: an obscenely wealthy man using his wealth for good instead of evil. In the real world this is more often the case than not, but Hollywood generally portrays rich men as evil. Wealth attained is viewed as sinful by the progressive, since according to their worldview it can only be attained by taking it from others. But this movie emphatically makes the point that many wealthy people end up giving most of their money away to the less fortunate and often work harder than anybody for the good. After all one can only spend so much. Bruce Wayne's company supplies the money for city orphanages until it stops making profits. Profits are the eternal bogeyman of the socialist, representing all that is wrong with capitalism. But here company profits are the source of charitable donations that are sorely missed by the recipients when absent. In fact the future Robin grew up in one of these orphanages and asks Batman to help. In the end, Bruce Wayne donates his mansion to the orphanage. The movie sends the clear message that rich people are not all evil.

Then we have the disparagement of the appeasement strategy. Early on in the movie the president is seen speaking on television about not negotiating with terrorists but recognizing certain realities. Gordon correctly identifies this as bullshit, declaring that the city is on its own in this fight. The terrorist Bane demands that the outside authorities leave Gotham alone or he will blow it up with a fusion bomb, also demanding that they refuse to allow refugees to leave. The outside authorities comply, fearful of the terrorist. There is a pointed scene where the future Robin is trying to lead the orphans across the bridge and out of the city but is stopped when the other police bow to the terrorist and blow up the bridge. In the end it is revealed that the terrorist was intending to blow up the city anyway regardless of whether or not his demands were met, much like most real-life terrorism. Demands of terrorists are constantly met, and once the terrorists' strategy has worked one time it is guaranteed to be tried again. They will not stop themselves. One of the movie's points is that sacrifice, bravery, boldness and a stern recognition of the character of evil is required to defeat it.

Tangentially related, the movie shows the folly of the lies told in the previous installment by the good guys for albeit noble reasons. Robin rejects Gordon's compliance in the lie that Batman killed Harvey Dent as Bane very publicly uses the revelation of the truth for his own ends. Alfred tells Wayne the truth that Rachel had chosen Dent before she died, a lie that led Wayne into years of solitude and apathy, mourning the life he thought he had lost. The revelation of Batman's true identity is at this point almost an afterthought. The movie rejects the idea that lies are sometimes justified by circumstances. The Truth always gets out, and lies always have consequences despite the perhaps noble reasons they were told. Conservatives believe that hard Truths must be told regardless of the consequences.

Far and away the most interesting conservative theme is the not-so-subtle allusion to the French Revolution. I almost couldn't believe my eyes. I have never seen this in a modern popular movie. The average movie-goer might not pick this up, but I believe these allusions were intentional. The scene where the criminal Bane attacks the New York Stock Exchange in an only slightly more violent and vastly more calculated portrayal of the Occupy Wall Street movement is just the beginning. The allusion really comes through when Bane gives a long-winded speech declaring the revolution of the people in front of the prison where most of the city's violent criminals have been locked up, the reason given for Gotham's victory over crime in the eight years since Dent's death and Batman's disappearance. The scene draws clear comparisons between OWS and the revolutionaries of late 18th century France. The French Revolution began in earnest when a revolutionary mob stormed the Bastille, a fortress prison, and freed all the prisoners. The comparison between this apocalyptic moment in history and the scene where Bane blows a hole in the door of the prison is surreal.

Even then, these allusions might have been circumstantial if it weren't for the justice system these criminals and terrorists put in place in Gotham. The scene in front of the judge, who turns out to be the Scarecrow from the first movie, a psychiatrist who for his own purposes gets criminals out of prison on insanity pleas, clearly portrays the essence of the Revolutionary Tribunal and the other various and nefarious abominations that passed for a justice system in revolutionary France. There was no reason for this scene to be included in the movie. It would have been completely sufficient to have Bane order their execution. I cannot see any other reason for the inclusion of this scene than to draw comparisons between the villains of this movie and their revolution to the French Revolution and the beginning of leftist politics. I have seen some conservative reviews make the OWS comparison, but none so far have recognized the French connection. To me it couldn't be clearer.

And the final twist: Miranda Tate. Near the beginning of the movie everyone, even Alfred, wants Bruce Wayne to hook up with her and start a new, more normal life. A rich philanthropist interested in the clean energy from a fusion reactor developed by Wayne Enterprises, she is interested in Wayne because of his philanthropy. She maneuvers herself into position as Wayne Enterprises' new CEO after Wayne's fingerprints are stolen and Bane uses the attack on the stock exchange to destroy Wayne's fortune. For most of the movie she is portrayed as Batman's friend. He eventually does hook up with her in an apparent sexual encounter in Wayne manor. However in the end she is revealed as a co-conspirator with Bane, indeed, his superior. She is the daughter of Ra's al Ghul, whose Islamic name is made concrete by Tate's donning of something that looks very much like a hijab for much of the rest of the movie. She is wearing it when she dies. The theme of justice, vengeance and terrorism is clearly connected to the Islamic hatred of the Great Satan. There is also a slim and possibly unintentional connection to the French Revolution. In fiction, there is no greater symbol of the terror of the French Revolution than Dickens' Madame DeFarge from The Tale of Two Cities. These two female characters are motivated only by their own sense of justice and characteristically feminine style of cold-hearted vengeance. Everyone on the other side must die. Offenses are never forgotten. No mercy. No forgiveness. Hatred and vengeance are properly expressed with a smile and a caress, a nurturing of evil men. It is not for nothing that the Western left defends Islamic terrorists and vilifies Israel. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Both are opposed to the core of Western Civilization: Judeo-Christian values.

In short, this last movie should serve as a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Perhaps I exaggerated my earlier criticisms, but I still believe the progressive themes were there especially in Ledger's Joker. Perhaps the last movie shows a change of heart. After all, New York City is the poster child for the sort of modern day American liberalism that at times rejects the more extreme progressive elements. OWS started there, so New Yorkers are intimately familiar with the ugly side of progressivism. In the end the government had to forcibly remove many of the occupiers to prevent their continual disruptions, and all sorts of criminal activities were uncovered in the process, including ad-hoc tribunals and unchecked domestic violence. If there is a redemption in the works for modern liberalism it would ideally start in New York. The split within the Democratic Party between the Clintons and Obama was real, bitter and has not been forgotten. Bill Clinton especially has been accused, probably accurately, of deliberately undermining Obama with clever sound bytes such as his seemingly offhand reference to the fact that he was the last President to preside over a balanced budget, praising Romney's business credentials at the same time Obama was attacking Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and a number of other seemingly innocuous statements that poked holes in Obama's facade. If the United States is to save itself, the most crucial aspect from a political perspective is for the progressives to lose control of the Democratic Party. Americans will never tire of throwing the dominant party out of office. The cycle of peaceful revolutions will never end. If the Democratic Party remains in progressive hands any progress on spending and entitlements made by a more conservative Republican Party can be destroyed in just two years of a Democrat controlled government as the first two years of Obama's administration showed. If Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Dean run the Democratic Party into the ground by holding the line on progressive policies, we could see a transformation of the Democratic Party. That can only be a good thing.

The timeline for the movies fits this theory. The first Batman, a rejection of a global police force for justice, began in 2003 and was released in 2005 under five years of George W. Bush and Republican controlled government. The second movie was made in the following years and released in 2008, the heady election year that swept the current progressives such as Obama into power. In 2008, the liberals were one hundred percent behind Obama and adored him from all sides. Today the picture is much different. Could it be that Obama is undone by his own party? Could it be that the Democratic Party is the key to the redemption of our political system? Could Hollywood itself be redeemed? Perhaps many traditional liberals have finally seen the dark side of the progressives they have aided and abetted since the sixties. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the New Left, and resistance is coming from the center left.

Now that's whack.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


In the previous post I argued that the primary fault of modernism is to replace God with Reason. This is not the review of Atheist Delusions I promised, but I felt the need to explain exactly what I meant. Having God as god instead of Reason does not require one to be irrational. Rationalism is different than rationality. The Wiki definitions on this are actually very good, but I will add my own to clarify my point.


- Rationalism: "Any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification." In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive." Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position "that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge" to the more extreme position that reason is "the unique path to knowledge."

- Rationality: The characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice a necessity. It is a normative concept about reasoning in the sense that rational people should derive conclusions in a consistent way given the information at disposal. It refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action.

I much prefer these definitions over the ones I saw at, for instance,, for the simple reason that both are defined by Wiki in a way that makes clear the primary philosophical distinction I am after. "Rationalism" is the idea that Reason itself is a source of knowledge, while "Rationality" is merely a mode of thinking from premises to conclusions. Those are the essences of my definitions. The best way to illustrate this important difference is to simply assume one, then the other, to be true and think about what the world of Reason would look like in both cases. In practice, these are two different definitions of Reason. I hold them to be contradictory. I also believe this difference in definition is one of the primary differences between conservatives and progressives, and until both sides understand the difference we will continue to talk past one another.

First, if Rationalism was true then anyone who is "rational" would always come to the same conclusions. Since everyone using their faculties of Reason is deriving their knowledge from the same place, namely Reason, then anyone who concludes differently than what those who have obtained their knowledge from Reason have concluded are by definition irrational.In this case there can only be one rational answer to every question, and all other answers must be irrational.

Second, if only Rationality is true, then anyone who is rational may reason under exactly the same rules as every other rational person yet still come to different conclusions because he has reasoned from different premises. I may, with my rational faculty, reason that God exists because I take the Bible as my premise. Another may, using the same faculty under the same rules, reason that God does not exist because he takes as his premise the teaching of Charles Darwin. But it is quite possible that both are using Reason in the same exact way under this definition of rationality, and therefore one could conclude that despite the differing and even contradictory conclusions both are rational.

My own definition of Rationalism: A belief that Reason is a universal (true) and a primary source of knowledge such that anyone correctly employing Reason will inevitably come to the same conclusion (false).

My definition of Rationality: A universal methodology for reaching logically valid conclusions from premises.

(A sidenote: The debate over what to do about Iran often hinges on whether or not one views Iran as a "rational actor." Those who say Iran is a "rational actor" assume that even if Iran gets the bomb it will not use it for the same reason no one has used it since Nagasaki: mutual assured destruction. Those who don't believe Iran is a "rational actor" say Iran may use it as a first strike weapon without any regard for retaliation, thus making an Iranian bomb extremely dangerous. I have seen a few, not many but a few, argue that Iran may very well be a rational actor and still use the bomb since their premises are different than ours. However both sides of the debate tend to use the term "rational" with the incorrect definition, that of Rationalism. I believe this definition to be the most widely used one in the West, and this argument over Iran demonstrates the immediate importance of understanding just exactly what we mean when we say "Reason" or "rational".)

At this point I had begun a long tangent on the Socratic or dialectic method, but it became too long so I will save that for another time. I will simply emphasize that the above definitions reveal Rationalism to be idolatry, and Rationality, which I will heretofore call "Reason", to be a necessary part of human nature. The Enlightenment and the modernists, the majority of whom were Christians, tended to be rationalists more often than not after many of the ancient Greeks. The postmodernists reacted by attacking Reason itself, with varying results. What I have done is put Reason in its proper place within both the Trinity and the imago dei as the connection between the Will, or Spirit, and the Body. In this position Reason can neither have the supremacy nor can it be marginalized. I have come to call this view Trinitarian metaphysics and explain it in detail in chapter 19 of my book. On this depends my entire worldview.

Postmodernism has failed to dent modern culture and will share the fate of the similar Romantic movement in English literature, leaving behind nothing more significant than a few good poets. Modernism was defeated by its own logical conclusion: the horrors of World War II. From the ashes came the United States of America which only twenty years ago became the world's sole superpower, the first since Great Britain in the 19th century. The United States is tottering on the brink of a precipice, drunk with its own power. Yet deep within her history she possesses all the qualities of a transcendent world leader, key among them a desperate and absolutely necessary dependence upon the one true God for her sustenance. We stand athwart history, between an age of darkness and an age unlike anything the world has seen since the age of King Solomon of Israel, when the world came to view the wealth and wisdom of one nation under God. To the whole world it was proclaimed that our God is mighty. The Truth behind our success is absolute and obvious. Our choice is whether we tell it. Our path is whether we live it.

Now that's whack.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Politics of Batman: Human Morality

This is the last planned post in the Batman series. I must write it today since The Dark Knight Rises comes out tomorrow. I may write one more after having seen the new movie, but I expect many of the same themes. The current topic I have saved for last since it is the most important.

Ruminations on the origin of human morality were in my opinion the primary reason for the modern political division of right and left, which occurred in France during the period of the French Revolution starting in 1789. It is readily apparent today that the major difference between the American and French Revolutions was the role of religion. The American Revolution was mostly political. There was no anti-religious element to the revolt whatsoever. In fact many of the major participants in the revolution did so citing religious freedom. This is quite understandable since many of the original colonies were formed precisely because they were tired of the religious conflict in Europe and wanted a place where they could practice their religion without threat of persecution and political machinations. For instance, Britain had forbade the printing of English language Bibles in the colonies. The printing of the first American English language Bible did not occur until 1782 with the approval of the independent American Congress. But while the Americans did indeed intend to escape from various European religious authorities, they most certainly did not attempt to escape the authority of God. God's authority over the new nation was explicitly and proudly acknowledged even by deists such as Jefferson. The founders went even further by heavily emphasizing that no stable free society such as the one they intended could exist without a population restrained by religiously imposed morality.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” ~John Adams

The idea here is that without authoritarian government a populace cannot be restrained from doing so much evil so as to completely destroy itself unless religion provides that moral restraint. Yet they did not want to establish religion, despite the recognition that it was necessary for the type of society they wanted. Rather they assumed it. They knew the American people were already religious without formal religious authority, and this reality meant they could safely employ a brand new style of government not so much protecting freedom and morality but assuming it. (The Bill of Rights was initially resisted on the grounds that it implied the freedoms specified therein depended upon the document and its incorporation into the government rather than on God. Many were wary that the Bill of Rights might lead to the assumption that rights granted by the government could be taken away by the government. Quite prescient, considering many of those freedoms have since been removed by appealing to that very Bill of Rights.) Thus the freedom they enjoyed and intended for the new nation was only possible so long as the populace retained religious morality. Our freedom is quite literally in our own hands, dependent upon our relationship with God, and not in the hands of the government.

The French Revolution on the other hand was explicitly anti-religious and anti-Christian. For the French at this time the escape from religious authority was intended to be complete and replaced by the authority of Reason, or what Thomas Jefferson called the “unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion” and the “general spread of the light of science.” (These quotes are referenced in Chapter 13 of my book.) Indeed history shows that Jefferson and other less religious American founders such as Thomas Paine were highly sympathetic with the French Revolution at first. There is the famous Culte de la Raison, Cult of Reason, which chose various women to parade around Paris as the goddess Reason and worshiped her. The Cult of Reason organized the transformation of seized Catholic churches into Temples of Reason. This is the most striking evidence of the error David Bentley Hart made in the thesis of his book Atheist Delusions, though one can find evidences in his own words. I will probably write a review of this book in the future, since the correction of his error is important. When modern people reject Christianity, Reason, often identified with Science, is nearly always the cited authority and presumed to be superior.

Having rejected Christianity, the new French left had to come up with a completely new foundation for morality other than the Church or the divine. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who conveniently had died in 1778 and so could not comment on the resulting atrocities provided the answer. Rousseau taught two things which were in complete opposition to the American founders. The first was the denial of private property in favor of collective ownership. I may comment on this further in the future. The second is the denial of moral standards imposed from outside oneself. Instead, Rousseau taught that morality comes from within oneself, particularly from the feelings of empathy one feels when observing suffering. When one considers the modern progressive movement, it can very nearly be reduced to Rousseau. The ideological divisions of right and left appeared in this context and ever since the "right" has been defined by various factions opposed to the designs of the left. It is the left that has had the strongest vision in Western politics since then, which must be the reason for its great success despite its many persistent failures. It is the story, the philosophy and the vision of leftist politics that has driven its success. The logic has dominated Western thought so much so that whenever politicians of any faction appeal to it they encounter both political success and policy failure. The obvious failures, starting with the failure of the French Revolution, are really the only reason it is consistently opposed. The pervasiveness of Rousseau's thought extends so far into the popular consciousness that we don't even notice his assumptions are present in, for instance, the Batman movies.

There is much more to say here, but before we continue with the movie, just one more observation. If morality is not absolute and imposed from the outside but comes from within, what are we to make of conflicts between differing moralities? If two are in conflict, how is that conflict resolved without reference to the absolute? Which one is superior? The progressive answer is always the same: mine. And there can be no further comment or justification, because none is possible in their universe.

"You think the answer lies within when your heart betrays you?"
~Project 86

In The Dark Knight the Joker sees Batman as a kindred soul in his own personal battle against civilization. The Batman is fighting on the wrong side and must be converted, a feat the Joker actually accomplishes with Two-Face. This is the progressive version of the devil in the garden, tempting Eve:

"Don't talk like you're one of them! You're not... even if you'd like to be. To them you're just a freak, like me. They need you right now, but when they don't, they'll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their "code"... it's a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these uh, these "civilized people", they'll eat each other."

As indeed they do, in any other context than a Hollywood movie, unless of course they consider themselves bound not simply by a code, but by a power that enforces it. The entire point of this movie is to prove the Joker wrong not through argument but through a demonstration. When the chips are down, the people choose the good for no reason. No justification, no basis for choosing the good is given, nor even any explanation of what good is or how it is to be determined. It is assumed. It is assumed by the Batman most of all in the final showdown with the Joker. The funny thing about this theme in the movie is the weakness of Batman's response. He can only keep gruffly repeating a single belief: The people of Gotham City are good people. Sure they are, Batman. Sure they are. This assertion cannot be taken on the basis of evidence. It is a belief.

Christian morality, no longer identified with Christianity, is only hanging on by a thread. Christians should be involved in weaving that thread into a rope, not cheering or merely looking on while it frays. Without its proper foundation, the Joker wins every time. And perhaps this is why the Joker makes such a great villain. He really is "ahead of the curve." He is pointing to the truth of our own future if we do not as a nation return to God as the foundation of morality. Somewhere deep down we know this, and it's why the Joker represents a real threat and a worthy villain.

The Dark Knight really is a beautiful picture of contemporary American society. We know what is good, but we don't know why. We only believe in it because we have this idea somewhere of both what it is and that it ought to be fought for. Our morals of course descend from Christianity, but we are in the process of rejecting Christianity. So we cling to the "good" like a baby to his pacifier, ignorant and uncomprehending. The last vestige of a barely remembered state of consciousness awaiting only the right historical accident to be lost for good. Dad is not around to get us a new one, or find the old one. This state of affairs cannot continue. We will go one way or the other. We will either come back to Daddy or descend into evil.

Now that's whack. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Games and Rules

This post comes as something of a confession. I am a gaming fanatic. I was a gamer before it was cool. Some of my earliest memories are of our family game night. The game we most often played was a homemade game called "marbles." This game is basically a simplified version of "Sorry" and involved moving four marbles along a linear path to get them all "home." How did you move them? By rolling one six-sided die (henceforth known as a "d6") every turn. In other words, the only thing in the game that wasn't decided entirely by luck was which of your four marbles to move with your die roll. When I lost this game, I would stay awake at night for hours trying to figure out what I did wrong. I often cried when I lost. I told you this post is something of a confession. Before laughing at me, please take into account that the number of my years was in the single digits at the time. Then you can laugh at me. I realize that the vast majority of people are not like me. Precisely because of that, I believe I have something to offer that the vast majority of the world can't because they were busy not caring about winning stupid games.

I remember games and even positions better than I remember people. I still remember the time I should have beaten my Grandpa at chess. I'm sure I was less than ten years old, and I remember clearly his worried face, knowing that I had a one move mate. I spent a long time on that move, mostly because I could tell he was worried but couldn't figure out exactly why. I didn't see it, made a different move, and ended up losing. Years later I remembered the position and realized the move I should have made, which was an immediate checkmate, and realized why my Grandpa had looked so worried. I still hate myself for missing it. (Okay that was an exaggeration.) I had spent the entire game pushing a pawn up the center of the board, trying to turn it into a queen. I was so successful that I had it on the sixth rank, with only his King blocking me from getting a second queen. I had completely cleared the center, and I was so intent on my goal I didn't realize the checkmate move. A simple Queen move right in front of his King and covered by my pawn would have checkmated him. Unfortunately I had put my Queen in that position to protect the pawn's advance, not to threaten his King. I lost sight of my primary goal by focusing too narrowly on a secondary goal. It was a lesson I never forgot.

I was interested in chess until I started beating my dad somewhere in my pre-teen years. I remember clearly the first time I beat him. It was in a ski-lodge during a ski trip in the Colorado Rockies, and it was an endgame back row checkmate with two Rooks. My dad is an M.D., a pretty smart guy, and also extremely competitive. Recently during another vacation we played again, and I absolutely crushed him. He had stopped playing me shortly after I started beating him literally decades ago, so the simple fact that he agreed to play me was something of a personal breakthrough for him. He doesn't like losing, and I thought it was boring winning all the time. 

In high school I spent a lot of time playing a Word War II simulation board game called Axis and Allies. Again, one of my earliest memories was a time my father and I went to a building belonging to a Christian campus group affiliated with my church, a group I later joined while attending my hometown university. They couldn't keep the building for financial reasons. At the time the group was dying, so they were selling the building and giving away unclaimed contents of the building to friends and family. I remember I got a pretty cool book there called The Cross and the Switchblade and of course all the King James Gideon pocket Bibles one could want.

(I used to have a collection of these. I had an orange one and even a red one from a Gideon group that handed them out for free at my private Christian high school where every student was required to have a Bible for mandatory Bible class every day. The irony was not lost on the students.)

I also got my very first copy of the original Axis and Allies board game, after observing a couple of the remaining members of the group playing it. Little did I know what I was getting into. Looking back on it, that was something of a turning point in my life. Pretty sad I suppose.

In high school a friend showed me an underground expansion of it called World at War that was world's better than the official game, mostly because the Axis actually had a chance to win, and I ended up buying it. I currently own two versions of it as well as two versions of the original game, and two different Axis and Allies games for the European and Pacific theaters from the same company. (If anyone wants to play the computer version they claim they are developing, don't get your hopes up and definitely do not attempt to "pre-order" it. They've been working on it for well over five years now.) I love playing the Axis because the Axis are always at a disadvantage because of the Allies superior production. That makes it the particular sort of challenge that true gamers love. I used to play it quite a lot with another friend from high school, but I won most of the time. I remember him lying face-down on the couch in our basement with his face in his hands after failing to see what I was planning and paying for it. We were a lot alike. I still have spreadsheet files of saved positions in the game that we apparently believed we would finish someday.

I still remember two games I played with him in college. There was this Christian music festival we both went to a few times called Cornerstone Music Festival in Bushnell Illinois. I just received the sad news that this year, 2012, will be the last one. Apparently they are not doing nearly as well as they were back in the day. 20,000 people was an average showing in the years I went. But the decline of the Christian music industry will await a future treatment here. I only bring it up because the last time I went to the festival, I spent most of it playing Axis and Allies: Europe in a tent in the sweltering heat of the Illinois summer on a former pig farm. I loved my music, but I loved my games more. This time my friend and I were on the same side and playing the Axis, because it was generally recognized that we were the superior players and the Axis were significant underdogs. Of course we won. There was another time I played the game with the same group of friends and my friend led the entire other team against me. He failed to notice a certain move I was making, and I was able to take Great Britain early in the game. It was far from over. The Axis are so disadvantaged that even conquering Great Britain (undefeated since 1066!) barely evens the odds, but my opponents lost heart and surrendered. I was disappointed. I was looking forward to an epic struggle. I love the game. I don't like it when it's over prematurely, especially with the outcome still in doubt. But I guess I had a bit of a reputation in the group of friends. They love their games, but I would estimate that I end up winning far more than my fair share of them.

After college I was living at my parent's house looking for a job. I was unemployed for six months after graduating, and spent the lion's share of that time obsessing over a new game called Axis and Allies: Miniatures. This was a hex-based collectible miniatures game and had nothing in common with the original except the name, the World War II theme and the use of d6s. A friend from this group of my gamer friends introduced me to it, and I still remember the first and second times I played him. I lost the first game, and spent hours upon hours obsessing over why I lost and coming up with a strategy to win. I won the second game, but shortly afterwards we both realized my team was illegal due to a dumb rule. I spent the next year or so mercilessly attacking this rule on the game's official forum. It was not obvious to most people, but I'm a gaming fanatic and it was obvious to me after a few weeks of familiarity with the game. Basically the rule kept an entire class of units from being competitive, and it was totally arbitrary. Removing it would at one stroke make a large number of units playable by anyone who was interested in winning, and also create a Rock, Paper, Scissors dynamic that all game developers are trying to create in their games.

The Rock, Paper, Scissors dynamic prevents one ultimate strategy from defeating all other strategies. This ultimate strategy is the holy grail for serious gamers like me. When I obsess over a game, it's because I'm searching for the holy grail, the strategy that will account for all variables, plan for every possible situation and defeat all comers. If such an ultimate strategy exists, and a gamer finds it and utilizes it, he has "broken" the game. Game developers are trying to prevent this, because if the holy grail exists and a gamer figures it out, the game is no longer fun. Everyone will simply copy the strategy and you will soon have a one dimensional game where everyone is playing the same exact way. Imagine for a minute if whoever designed the rules for Rock, Paper, Scissors had made using the Rock illegal. The only options are now Paper and Scissors. If these are the rules, it would be positively idiotic to ever play Paper, because you could tie with Paper vs Paper but you could never win. The smart strategy is to always play Scissors because that guarantees you will either tie or win. In more complicated games it is not usually this obvious, but the dynamic still exists. In order to make games interesting, game developers try to make sure that every potential strategy has a counter strategy that can defeat it. This is called "game balance." I am simplifying the concept of game balance with the Rock, Paper, Scissors analogy, but you get the idea. (The best games have more than three possible strategies and make sure that excellent tactics also play a factor. For instance in a good game, I could play Paper so skillfully that I could beat Scissors if played by a less skilled player. This is like playing the Axis so well that the Axis win even though they are at a disadvantage. It also illustrates the difference between strategy and tactics.)

I realized that this dumb rule I mentioned earlier meant that the holy grail of gaming, the ultimate strategy, existed in Axis and Allies: Miniatures, and I was hooked. I had been beaten by Scissors and had constructed a Rock team to beat Scissors, but Rock was illegal. Obviously the only choice was to perfect the Scissors strategy and I would have found the holy grail. (I am strenuously trying to avoid delving into the far more complicated and far more interesting ins and outs of this game so as not to bore you. You can thank me later.) I spent the next several months perfecting the Scissors strategy and came up with a team I thought could dominate competitive tournaments. It was not unbeatable, but in a round robin style tournament the only teams that could beat it were so lopsided they would be heavily disadvantaged against other types of competitive teams that a serious tournament was sure to have. So I started to think about playing this game competitively. My motivations were simple: I saw that the game was broken by a stupid rule that could be easily fixed, but nobody would listen to me. So I decided to prove it, and kick some ass along the way.

I ended up traveling to GenCon, a gaming convention where Axis and Allies: Miniatures had been introduced the previous year. The first and second place finishers the year before both played Paper, but this was understandable because the year before the game had been released at the convention and no one had seen it before. (Understand that in this game it's entirely possible to play teams with no coherent strategy at all, which is why a well played but poorly constructed Paper team could win it all.) However because of this most players were blind to the Scissors strategy I had developed. I knew this from the game's official forum, having spent months trying to explain why Scissors was superior because Rock was illegal. I didn't, and couldn't, pay for a hotel, so I purchased a week long bus pass, researched the routes on the Internet, and found a bus route that went directly to the convention center from a residential area. I simply parked my car on the side of a different residential street every night and slept in it, taking the bus to the convention center every morning. Not only did I avoid paying for a hotel, but I avoided all the downtown exorbitant parking fees too. Yay! Don't ask if I showered.

The format I was interested in was the basic one: 100 point constructed. All this meant was that teams must consist of 100 points worth of miniatures and you could make your team from whatever miniatures the game had released, as long as you owned them. There were other formats, but this was the one where you could come with your prefigured strategy. The night before the official tournaments I played at a local gaming store in a rated tournament I had hooked up with online. I completely dominated them and won all sorts of prizes for the game. The best team I beat there was one I expected to see a lot, as it was a mathematically obvious combination of the strongest units in the game, which any fool could have figured out. The problem was he had no coherent strategy, because that team was a combination of Paper and Scissors. It was easy to beat with a fully committed Scissors strategy simply by attacking the Paper portion of it. The guy who played it was the owner of the shop. He clearly expected to win the prizes he was offering to all the kids he played with. I imagine the purpose of the tournament was to host a bunch of rated games with kids to enhance his rating. I walked away with the prizes but when I checked my rating later that tournament hadn't been reported. The dude was a jerk picking on kids for his own benefit over a stupid game. Oh well.

The next day at the convention I dominated the official 100 point constructed tournament and even beat a different but very strong Paper/Scissors combo team I had personally constructed and posted on the forums. I won with a great roll early on that decided the issue (shots are fired with d6s), but it was a great roll because I had stacked my team to maximize just the type of roll I needed to beat teams like his. Scissors beats Paper after all. After the game, my opponent shook my hand and told me he had gotten the idea for his team from some forum poster named "tragicmishap." I sheepishly told him it was me. For many people this would have been an embarrassment, but my opponent was a class act who took it all in stride, and I became good friends with him and his group.

After winning the same tournament the second day, they asked me if I would play a different team in the third one (there were four). I smiled and said I'd play a different team if my team lost. Taking up the challenge, the three of them stayed up half the night trying to make teams which would beat me. Keep in mind that I made no secret of my strategy. I told everyone who was interested exactly why I was beating them, just as I had been doing on the forums for months. Anyway during the third tournament one of them came very close to beating me with another strong team that could have been better than it was. It was essentially a weaker version of my Scissors strategy. Another one had constructed a team entirely to beat me, but we never played because he lost too many games to other teams, just as I had predicted.

Finally on the fourth day one of them constructed a very strong Paper team designed specifically to beat mine that was also strong enough to make it through the crowd undefeated and earn the right to play me. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him play most of the day and formulated a tactic to beat him. Since my games at that point were not very challenging I could multitask. By the time the final game rolled around I was ready. I was undefeated after four games and he had lost one, but unfortunately the statistical system, the Swiss system, used to determine the winner showed that I would win the tournament even if I lost the game to him. So it was already over. I was so disappointed I asked the people running it if we could play the extra game anyway, and to the victor goes the spoils. There were prizes, and even though I had already won I agreed to put them on the line over a game I didn't need to play. They agreed, and we sat down to play the game. Since the tournament was officially over, there were no other games going on at the same time and so all the other players were watching our game. I spent most of the game stalling, as I often did, but this time I had to maneuver around some obstacles he had created just for me. What's a little barbed wire between friends? At any rate my opponent rolled fairly well, better than me in fact, but I still won because Scissors beats Paper.

At the end of all this, including the local tournament, I had gone 20-0 in internationally rated play, won five tournaments in five days and an estimated $400 worth of merchandise for the game. After just one weekend of rated play I was ranked #6 in the world and #4 in the United States. I drove home and never played another rated game again.

Within six months my team was made illegal twice over by two new rules. I was furious. Still on the forums, I screamed and cried to the developers that the proper reaction was to remove the dumb rule that made Rock illegal, not to make more dumb rules making Scissors illegal. What would happen to the game if you couldn't play anything but Paper? If Rock was a legal team, I said, then my Scissors could be beaten and Paper would have a real purpose: beating Rock. I soon lost interest in the game and stopped posting. I had broken their game, I had told them why it was broken and how they could fix it, but they didn't listen. They responded not by listening to me but by taking the shortcut and making my team illegal. For those of you wondering why I am posting about this on a blog about progressivism, wonder no longer. I have since learned that most authority figures when faced with similar situations have the exact same reaction as those game developers did.


People in authority have a hard time admitting error, because admitting error undermines their authority. The near automatic response to error is to believe it wasn't really an error and proceed to make another one to hide the first one. It is just like lying to hide a previous lie. This is a basic lesson about both strategy and about human nature. It is one of the more subtle differences between progressives and conservatives, if only that conservatives either understand this or at least act as if they understand it and progressives don't. There are many, many lessons I have learned gaming that contribute to my political views, but most of them surround the interplay between a system of rules designed by people to make a level field of play and other people exploring that field. As a result of my experiences, my sympathies are with the players. Players usually know the game better than the game designers do. The correlations to economics, government and the rule of law should be obvious. I may expound on this some other time, but for now I'll leave you with that.

Suffice to say, it is now about five or six years since all of this happened, and maybe a year ago I checked in on the game again. I found out that my team was now illegal or made less effective by no less than five new rules, counting the first two. However, I also found that someone had finally found the guts not only to remove the dumb rule which was my original goal, but they even extended the idea in ways that greatly benefited the game. So all is not lost. But now we have an added layer of complexity in a game that didn't need it. It only needed one simple rule to be removed and everything would have been fine. Instead there are five new rules, most of which are over-corrections making Scissors extremely difficult to play resulting in another game imbalance, and the offensive rule was removed anyway. And I'll be damned if it didn't take new people coming in to make the required change who had made no error to admit.

Now that's whack.