After Trek

I recently finished reading Trekonomics by Manu Saadia. It analyzes the Star Trek shows and movies to discover what kind of economics exists in the Trek universe. I hadn’t realized how dorky the corner of the Internet I regularly traverse is but I was actually already familiar with many of the arguments the book puts forth, though there was less nerdy jargon being thrown around than online. The book takes for granted what the characters claim about the Federation’s society having no money and no want and teases out what that would mean as far as labour, innovation, psychology, and so on.

The end conclusion is that the Federation’s innovation is not technological, but political. It does present an interesting hypothesis for the Drake equation – that thing scientists and sci-fi enthusiasts use when they need to pull a number out of their asses for how many alien civilizations exist in the universe. The book points out that exploring space is inherently unprofitable and that space exploration means creating a society where massive resources are not wasted on convincing people to gamble on mobile games and suing each other over intellectual property violations. Perhaps the main thing preventing aliens from zooming around in space ships is that they never figured out a way to organize their societies around anything besides profitability, which is to say that capitalism is the problem.

It’s an interesting thesis and obviously impossible to test, but seeing as how space exploration stalled once it stopped being a dick measuring contest (i.e., stopped being possible to profit in terms of national prestige) it does make some sense.

Anyway, I found it an interesting read. And I suppose I should really get on with watching Discovery already.

Down with politics

Elsewhere in the world I have been discussing the book Soonish, which is about incredible inventions that are on the cusp of making the world a better place. Some of the proposed technologies were interesting, some were ho-hum, and some were completely pie-in-the-sky. The thing about the book that most leapt out at me, though, was the politics that it was uncritically espousing.

Several times the book discusses how the inventions will be used by the American military, which made me pull back with some befuddlement – how, I asked while reading, is improving the way people kill each other making the world a better place? What I found especially striking was that it was clear that the authors took it for granted that supporting the US military was an unqualified good and most likely didn’t even consider it as a political act at all.

The other thing that struck me about the book, which shouldn’t be surprising considering its “science fuck yeah” tone, is that it insisted on technical solutions for political problems. The section on housing goes on about how outrageously outmoded the current construction model of building houses is, and what with the housing crisis in America today the best solution is some kind of modular houses that assemble themselves or some shit (I read the book months ago so I don’t remember the specifics).

In fact, the book argues, with the rising homelessness crisis and unaffordability of housing in places like San Francisco, it’s practically a moral necessity to get these robot houses approved and building themselves ASAP since they can do the job faster and cheaper than what we have right now.

That line of argument reminded me of how some people talked about fixing world hunger back in the nineties. If we could just develop the right fertilizer or right GM crops or whatever then we could increase crop output and famine would forever be eradicated. Of course, this ignores the fact that the world hunger crisis exists at the same time as the world obesity crisis. The problem isn’t that there’s not enough food for everyone – if that were true, it would be impossible to eat enough to become obese. The problem is that food goes not to who needs it, but who has money to pay for it. Which is to say that the problem is political, not technical.

It’s the same thing with the current housing shortage. If developed countries really, really wanted to, then everyone who wanted a home could have one. But a host of of political problems – baby boomers who want real estate prices to stay high because selling their houses is their retirement plan, developers chasing luxury prices for wealthy international elites who just want someplace stable to park their money, widespread societal aversion to the idea of renting, a regulatory environment that makes approval of new construction so arduous that it incentivizes developers into only focusing on the absolutely most profitable projects, and so much more – combine to stymie efforts for change.

So my expectation is that if self-building robot houses or whatever are approved, the savings in time and money will just mean larger profits for the developers and no meaningful difference will be made in the amount of housing being constructed. But woo robot houses.

It’s December again

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time once again to shit on Love Actually. Here is an interesting essay about hating the movie for its arrogant Englishness which links Love Actually to Brexit and manages not to break the shoehorn it was using:

Love Actually is objectively a very bad movie, but that explains nothing. The world is full of bad movies. Besides, I don’t believe in hating movies, no matter how bad. Honest critics can find a movie stupid or dishonest or boring or shoddily made or politically dubious. But hatred? That’s just a sign of something missing in yourself. If you hate Marvel movies, you’re probably just not in the target demographic. If you mock Tyler Perry movies, you’re really just mocking the people those movies are made for . . .

My revulsion for Love Actually nonetheless comes principally from its Englishness. I don’t believe in hating movies and I don’t believe in hating peoples either, but Love Actually forces the question. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.” The opening line tells you everything you need to know about the real subject of this film. Love Actually takes two of the most beautiful phenomena on Earth — love and Christmas — and replaces them with Englishness. Love Actually predicted the Brexit era, in a way, since both are the result of the ingrained English sense of their superiority and the final proof that their sense of superiority is an antiquated fantasy. George Orwell identified the basic assumption of English conservatism back in 1939: “Nothing ever changes and foreigners are funny.” That’s the operating principle of both Brexit and Love Actually. The dominant aesthetic is entitled insularity.

Basically it argues that Love Actually is English provincialism at its worst and that watching the movie is essentially like watching England savagely wanking over a photo of itself.

Sonic the, uh, fighter of Communism?

I’ve mentioned @fanfiction_txt before, which is a Twitter account that tweets quotes from actual fanfictions and reviews. I always look forward to a new tweet and most of the time it’s something hilarious. It’s great to see what fresh lunacy is out there after a long day at work.

This tweet is only okay for me, mostly because I’m not super into Sonic the Hedgehog and don’t really care about the characters from the games. But the fic the quote came from, on the other hand . . .

Sonic the Hedgehog: Make America Great Again

By: AmericaverseWarlord

Actions speak louder than words… and the barrel of a gun speaks loudest of all! Sonic the Hedgehog, a fearsome warrior who trusts only his instincts and his shotgun, fights alone after Americageddon to protect his star-spangled country. Will he be able to save America from the diabolical clutches of Communism, or will his quest for revenge ultimately destroy him?

Rated: Fiction T – English – Poetry/Angst – [Shadow, Sonic] [Bride of the Conquering Storm, Metal Madness/Metal Overlord] – Chapters: 42 – Words: 125,183 – Reviews: 47 – Favs: 40 – Follows: 32 – Updated: Nov 23 – Published: Aug 29, 2016 – id: 12125232

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN FINALE – THE SIEGE OF STALINGRAD III
Part 2 – God Is Calling Me Back Home

After a long, grueling battle with his greatest enemy, Sonic has finally succumbed to the might of Communism. However, he was able to deal them a crushing blow before his death. Will Donald Trump’s Space Force be able to finish what he started?

42 chapters of this horseshit? C’est magnifique!

Russian spies also suck

The news lately has been about the terrifying power of Russian intelligence agencies, who are accused of things such as destroying American democracy and assassinating dissidents in the heart of British power, so here is a reminder that Russian spies are just like Western spies, which is to say that they’re also stupid fucks:

Basically journalists were looking for info on a couple of Russian spies identified by the Dutch. Seeing as Russia is corrupt as shit, the traffic police’s car registration database had been sold on the black market years previously. The journos found the people in the database and saw that the address registered was for the GRU’s cyber warfare branch (the GRU is the Russian agency responsible for military intelligence). The spies registered because GRU officers are exempt from drunk driving charges, traffic stops, etc.  So the journos looked in the database for other people registered under the same address as the GRU building. The end result was that they found the names, dates of birth, cellphone numbers, government ID numbers, and whatnot for 305 Russian spies. And all because the spies wanted to avoid traffic tickets.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Sheesh, when it’s laid out like this then the parallels are just ridiculous:

– living five adults to a two room apartment

– being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you

– ‘totally not illegal taxi’ taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet

– everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex

– mandatory workplace political education

– productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites

– deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences

– networked computers exist but they’re really bad

– Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason

– elite power struggles result in massive collateral damage, sometimes purges

– failures are bizarrely upheld as triumphs

– otherwise extremely intelligent people just turning the crank because it’s the only way to get ahead

– the plight of the working class is discussed mainly by people who do no work

– the United States as a whole is depicted as evil by default

– the currency most people are talking about is fake and worthless

– the economy is centrally planned, using opaque algorithms not fully understood by their users

On anime and nuclear annihilation

A nuclear bomb exploding in downtown Tokyo, as imagined in Akira

It is strange days when we see Japanese schoolchildren running for their lives in simulation of a nuclear attack from North Korea. The picture in the linked article reminds me of nothing more than Cold War evacuation drills in the US.

Selfishly, as an anime fan I wonder how all this uncertainty is going to affect the anime industry. I never thought the threat of nuclear conflict would figure into my estimation of when we could expect season 3 of Attack on Titan, but here we are.

It’s jarring to think of these things when thinking of anime, which, let’s face it, is mostly just escapist fantasy, like most mass entertainments are. I’m reminded that Jane Austen joked about being tempted to include a treatise on Napoleon in Pride and Prejudice just to counteract how light and frothy her novel was. I’m also reminded of what Slavoj Zizek said about the use of the Christian calendar, which uses the birth of Christ to mark the flow of events: he called it the irruption of the infinite into the historical. Perhaps we might call the imposition of nuclear geopolitics into the logic of anime production as the irruption of the political into the inconsequential.

Of course, this statement is both facetious and incorrect, for anime is already political. It is produced in a web of politics -government grants to aid in translating content for export, industry-wide discrimination to discourage women, a regime of austerity that encourages overwork of animators, and a capitalist ideology that demands crass commercialism – and also expresses statements of political positions – women are always emotional, Chinese and foreign characters can never beat Japanese protagonists, and Koreans don’t exist.

The surprise we feel when placing anime in the same headspace as nuclear diplomacy is a surprise that has been manufactured. Being apolitical is a political stance, and depoliticization is a political action. To divide the world and say these things are of politics and these things are not is an act of power (Michel Foucault called it power/knowledge, which is the power of defining what knowledge is).

The personal may be political, but it’s inconvenient for the powerful to let common citizen remember this fact. Politics is not merely debating tax rates and talking at town halls, which is to say it’s not only for politicians and activists, but keeping it an activity of a small elite certainly makes it easier for those elites to set the agenda. Political apathy serves those who already have power.

And so we come to anime and its role in the politics of apathy. Crudely speaking, anime is just another cog in the machinery of distraction that keeps the masses quiescent in that old Roman strategy of panem et circenses (i.e., bread and circuses). Focus on your pop culture, say the masters of the world, and leave the important things to us. This was, of course, the old politics, before the divisions in democracy were laid so starkly bare, but it was a deal that many thought worthwhile, and many still do.

But even behind this wall of willful ignorance, sometimes the world of politics would intrude, as in the current case of North Korea and its nuclear arsenal threatening the home of anime. We find that we cannot leave politics because we are already doing politics. We are reminded that we live in a political world. The personal is political, but now we see that the reverse is also true, that the political is also personal. In a liberal democracy, to not resist is to consent. Therefore if we wish not to die and to continue watching anime, we must act.

Action begins in knowledge, so I ask first that you learn what is happening around you. What circumstances led to the nuclear standoff threatening our beloved hobby? What power moved us to this impasse?

After answering these questions for yourself, then ask yourself this one: am I okay with things continuing the way they are?

If your answer is anything besides “yes”, then continue asking questions, including the big one – what should I do? The answer is simple: do anything that you can. Speech is action, so even something as minimal as talking online is still a step in the right direction.

My fellow otaku, ignorance is only a temporary condition. I challenge you to look up from your TV and computer screens. Remember that you are not only a consumer. You are also a citizen.

Sing, O Muse

DOOM's space marine protagonist fighting off an endless wave of demons

I had no idea that the Los Angeles Review of Books was covering video games but it seems obvious in hindsight. Games are texts in a literary theory sense, after all, as Wikipedia explains:

In literary theory, a text is any object that can be “read,” whether this object is a work of literature, a street sign, an arrangement of buildings on a city block, or styles of clothing. It is a coherent set of signs that transmits some kind of informative message. This set of symbols is considered in terms of the informative message’s content, rather than in terms of its physical form or the medium in which it is represented.

As texts, games are open to analysis like any other text. It was inevitable that their analysis would move out of the amateur space of student papers and personal blogs and into the formal world of published reviews after the generation that played video games was old enough to get PhDs in literature.

Anyway, the following article is an excellent analysis of the liberal democratic zeitgeist that’s valuable even if one has not played the video game being reviewed. It’s about the modern politics of rage as mediated through the 2016 reboot of the DOOM game franchise.

It’s all great, but here are some choice bits for the tl;dr brigade:

DOOMguy Knows How You Feel

The Union Aerospace Corporation [UAC] appeared as a futuristic defense contractor in the original game. In some not-too-distant, post-apocalyptic future, it has decided that the only path to a sustainable future for humanity is to literally mine energy from Hell. Shockingly, this path to prosperity goes horribly awry. It is up to the newest incarnation of doomguy to sort it out, mostly through destroying key objects, ignoring proffered advice, and murdering a dizzying assortment first of zombified ex- (post-?) UAC employees and then, well, the demonic legions of Hell itself . . .

Games are machines for producing affect, and the affect the public most fears in games is rage . . . The DOOM Emotion Machine pushes you to move beyond mere expression of rage, not just inchoate, unfathomable rage, not just rage at any old thing or the nearest narratively acceptable target, but to feel free to rage at the people who brought you here, rage at their apologists, rage at the idiocy of HR, rage at the plodding stupidity of looking for one more source of “dead labor” . . . Rage at Hell but rage at who brought you to Hell and why any of this is necessary at all . . .

DOOM wants you to consider that when “they go low,” you will scrape the pits of Inferno to go ever lower. DOOM wants you to feel more. But — and perhaps this is sheer, irrational hope on my part, a shard of redemption in a game of bleak glee — DOOM wants you to remember that it is all so stupid. That all of this is instrumental, that the only way out is through, but that this is brutalizing to the world and to yourself. In my most hopeful moment, I think DOOM has old Spinoza on the mind: learn to feel joy in the world again and yes, learn to feel joy in the pain of enemies but remember that it is just — in a measure of mere magnitude — a lesser joy than in the flourishing of friends.

This is some goddamn top shelf games writing. A thousand aggregated Metacritic scores could not encompass the informativeness of this review.

Also, if you’re keen to peruse the magazine’s other video game essays, I recommend Something is Rotten in the State of Lucis: On “Final Fantasy XV”, which analyses the political philosophy of Final Fantasy XV, with especial regard to Hamlet and Americana. I probably won’t ever get FFXV, but this review is well-written enough to give a non-player much to ruminate on.

What do furries think of the Conservative party?

Yes, this was an actual question that was asked.

This weekend’s Conservative leadership convention shared space at the Toronto Congress Centre with the (much better-attended) 2017 Anime North convention. The National Post’s Maura Forrest took the opportunity to get out of the political bubble and talk to some real Canadians about their views on the issues and who they were hoping would win the leadership.

I have no words.