Monthly Archives: September 2011

In the Grim Darkness of the far Future, Pants will be one size fits all

While the general thrust of this blog is comics, and the way that comics can introduce us to philosophy, I have many geeky hobbies. I don’t talk about those hobbies as much, for various reasons, but one of those reasons isn’t because they don’t get the gaze of philosophy turned upon them. There are few things in my life that escape philosophical scrutiny. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard. Case in point, the other night a friend and I were trading quips about which of the various factions in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 setting are the least morally reprehensible (sadly, it’s probably the Orkz).

I first played 40K back when it was still in its second edition, and wasn’t trying quite so hard to be relentlessly grimdark (despite its relentlessness it still frequently fails at the grimdark, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about). I’ve played numerous other GW products, and while only two have captured my affection in the long term (Man o’ War and Bloodbowl), I do keep coming back to 40K in one form or another. Most recently, the friend who I was having the aforementioned discussion with and I have spent more than a few hours playing Dawn of War 2, and those hours planted the seeds of a Dark Heresy campaign (for those unfamiliar with it, Dark Heresy is one of four roleplaying games set in the Warhammer 40K setting).

What has inspired this post, however, is not Dark Heresy itself, but the most recent addition in the form of Black Crusade (which according to various scuttlebutt is finally streeting this week). In Black Crusade, players take on the role of the forces of Chaos, a rather radical shift from the other three games in the line. I’ve seen comments from some people who have some issue or another with the game’s subject matter. I can’t say I blame them entirely, as many depictions of Chaos in 40K can be summed up as “Fuck yeah, heavy metal! Rape and kill! Yeah!” This is not, of course, universally true, but it is true enough. It is also not what concerns me, as while I can see why people would object to said material, asinine players can reduce most games to this boring level.

What concerns me, and in this case I suppose I should clarify that I mean concern as in, “are of interest,” rather than as in, “cause for,” is the way that the underlying metaphysical assumptions of 40K limit the possibilities of Black Crusade, and in doing so limit my interest in the game. All the Warhammer factions are dicks. This has been established time and time again; yet despite the corruption and dickishness of various factions, 40K operates in a way the indicates that there is objective good, and there is objective evil, and this view is rigorously enforced.

Take, for example, the Imperium of Man. In 40K, the Imperium is most likely going to be our protagonists; the faction may vary, but most of its is the humans who are the “good guys” of the tale. Of course these good guys come from a society that is a mix of a theocracy and a dictatorship, and if you are not ideologically in line with them you are entirely likely to find a galactic jarhead kicking your teeth in, or an inquisitor giving the thumbs up to virus bomb your planet into oblivion. Yes, the Imperium faces some nasty foes; Genestealers, Chaos cultists, the seemingly-egalitarian-but-actually-incredibly-oppressive Tau, Skynet– I mean Nekrons. It’s a long list… of course it doesn’t help that in addition to being a violently repressive government the Imperium is also a big believer in an expansionist policy of manifest destiny and proud supporters of racism.

So even when you factor in the threats presented by other factions in 40K, the Imperium still isn’t a very nice place to live. I, for one, certainly wouldn’t see a problem with attempting to secede from or rebel against this kind of organization, because as a moral entity I’m not buying what they are selling. Yet according to the metaphysics of 40K, what I would be doing is wrong. Certainly, the setting might be willing to acknowledge that my goals are noble, but I am still in fact an evil person, and not just in the opinion of the Imperium. I am in fact objectively wrong; my wrongness runs counter to the very nature of the universe, and as a result of this I am going to become corrupt, fall to Chaos, and have a dick grow out of my forehead.

From my personal point of view, this pretty well sucks, as despite all their rhetoric to the contrary Chaos is just as authoritarian as the Imperium. Sure, Chaos doesn’t mind if you have tentacles (it’ll even help you grow some!), or what many sweaty hours of watching anime leads you to do with those tentacles, but ultimately Chaos is simply the Imperium with more viscera, cholera, and lube. I know more want to have a tentacle up my bum than I want the Emperor’s dead-ass hand up there. My anti-authoritarian butthole is not down with that (especially since no one asked nicely and offered lube or a reach around).

Yes, I realize that 40K is ostensibly about the grimdark where even the good guys aren’t that good, and that by its very title Black Crusade is about being the tentacle puppet of Chaos. My point is that the very metaphysical assumptions, and the way those metaphyiscal assumptions are realized mechanically, particularly in the form of the Corruption mechanic that pops up in the 40K rpgs, rather undermine the idea that there is not a force that is objectively good. These metaphysical assumptions limit storytelling possibilities; in particular the possibility of narrating stories that feature characters who want to overthrow the Imperium. Sure, such an endeavor is likely doomed to grimdark failure. I’m okay with that. The part I don’t like is that there’s seemingly no one for me to participate in that kind of story without my character growing a dick from his forehead.


Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Geekery, Philosophy


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V’s Vendetta: Virtuous vel Vicious?

I begin this post back in June of this year. Since that day it has pressed its nose against the glass like an annoying puppy. Perhaps it is time to finally let it come inside, though if it pisses on the floor I’m taking it to the pound in the morning.

As the title of this post might suggest, I want to talk about Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In particular I vaguely recall reading an article back in June, and it once again struck me the way that many people regard V as an unambiguous hero. This seems to happen most frequently with those who are only familiar with the watchable, though much inferior film version of Moore’s story, but I’ve seen it in those who have read the comics as well.

It is true that Norsefire is an evil organization. Norsefire has engaged in a pogrom designed to remove “deviants” from society. It engages in propaganda campaigns, and closely monitors the words and deeds of the English public. It is unsurprising that the actions of Norsefire closely resemble those of the Nazi party, as Moore was one of many who were disturbed by the creeping overtones of fascism that were becoming increasingly common in Thatcherite England. (Though it should be said that Norsefire is not presented without humanizing features. Unfortunately, a deeper discussion of that element is beyond the scope of this current post.)

At first blush it seems unsurprising that we here in the West might respond to V as an unambiguous hero. He is, after all, going after fascists. Despite the misbehaviors of our own governments, we’ve been taught that this is a cause we can unambiguously rally behind, right? I’m quite fond of kicking fascism in the teeth myself, as is Mr. Moore. Despite his feelings on fascism, Moore does not present V in an unambiguously heroic role.

Throughout the course of Moore’s narrative, V makes it clear that he is a kind of arch-existentialist. He is concerned that mankind through off their shackles, all their shackles, and if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves then he will give us no choice but to confront the horrors of existential freedom. This in and of itself is a rather glaring question, and one Moore would return to in later work; is it ever ethical to force another person to confront their own freedom? Telling people about existential freedom and what it means, even guiding them toward a recognition of that freedom is one thing. What V is doing is wrapping the people’s chains in philosophical C4 and blowing them into the stratosphere whether they want it or not.

As someone who works with existentialist ideas, who as both philosopher and human thinks that confronting the terror of Nietzsche’s abyss and the horror of Sartre’s existential freedom is a good thing… I’m conflicted about this. The goal of these confrontations is supposed to motivate us towards is that of authenticity; yet if we force another into this confrontation, if we take the choice to move toward authenticity away from someone, can the result still be said to be “authentic” as such. I must confess that my general inclination is to say no.

That said, V’s philosophical ambiguity has its physical analogue. We can take the classic route and argue that those who work for Norsefire, even if they are not secret police or members of the party’s ruling echelons, have sealed their own fates. They knew what they were getting into. Their actions, however innocent they might consider them to be, support a fascist regime. As such, their deaths are necessary, and even just. Even here I don’t think Moore is unambiguous, but again for the sake of space this particular element will have to be tabled for another time, because even if we were to accept this simplistic view, V’s predations are not limited to those actively in the employ of Norsefire.

In particular, part of V’s plans to bring down Norsefire’s corrupt regime is to instigate food riots. It is certainly true that Norsefire is harmed by this action. Norsefire’s control of the populace is weakened, and various soldiers and police are either actively injured in the riots, or forced to focus their attentions on rioting areas. It is quite clear that the general populace of V’s England suffer their own losses because of V’s actions. People die. People suffer injury or lack of food. V is… unconcerned with this. For V, if you are unwilling to accept the enlightenment he brings, you are part of the problem, and if your life is lost in pursuit of his goal then your life is lost in pursuit of his goal.

Again, this is something I find troubling. It raises that classic question; do the ends justify the means? V reduces human lives to the status of objects, of tools to be used against Norsefire. This is not an unambiguously heroic action.

I also believe that Moore deliberately invokes V’s ambiguous status. V tells his protege that he (the V that is) is the destroyer; he tears down the evil that is now; while she (the V that will be) is the creator; she will guide (but not lead) us from the rubble toward a brighter future. I think it is clear that Moore is telling us that just as Watchmen‘s Adrian Veidt is a villain, but not one whose actions can be regarded as the classic, simplistic mustache-twirling villain, V is not a knight in shining armor. He engages in acts that are morally questionable at best, morally objectionable at worse. I also suspect that if we limit ourselves to reading V as unambiguously heroic Mr. Moore might tell us, in his inimitable way, that we are missing the damn point.


Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Alan Moore, Comics, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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You are not the Center of the Universe, no not even in the Matrix

This post was at least partially inspired by a conversation with a certain someone. That someone will remain unnamed in order to protect him (or her) from violent retribution.

From time to time, solipsism rears its ugly head. For those not in the know, solipsism is basically the delusion in which you think you’re the center of the universe; or to be more precise, at least in the philosophical sense, it means that you think you are the only thing that is real – everything else is simply a product of your imagination. Your cat, your significant other, your job, everything that does, has, or will exist is simply a product of your awesome, awesome brain… though as much as hate to Godwin an argument so early on, I have to ask; why you be hatin’ on Jews so much. That’s right, if you’re the only real thing in the universe then the Holocaust is also a product of your diseased mind.

I realize that going there was something of a cheap shot, but I did it to demonstrate that solipsism is rather easily torn down, because despite what pretentious undergraduates (and people who misunderstand what Descartes was arguing when they should be focusing on the actual flaws in his argument) fail to understand is that it’s not difficult to determine that there are things external to our own minds going on. There’s even a technical term for it: Mataphysical Realism. Metaphysical realism is simply the idea that there is a world that is external to us, and that there is a way this world works.

This is true even if the world one perceives is created by a deceiving demon, one has been reduced to a brain in a jar, or one is trapped in an overhyped film. Even if the world is demonstrably an illusion we are still bound by metaphysical realism. I’m a strong supporter of phenomenology and intersubjectivity, as such I believe that we do, in a very real sense, create the world; that is to say there is no meaningful world beyond the world of human experience. Yet this doesn’t mean there is no world external to our experience. My existing doesn’t create gravity qua gravity, but it is what shapes how I am able to understand gravity.

I just realized I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. I generally try to make these posts a bit more than short Philosophy 101 lectures, but really there’s not much to say about solipsism. It’s a rather amusing kind of arrogance and is easily deconstructed. So I suppose I shall simply end by saying don’t do it or you shall be mocked. Said mocking might involve pictures of cats.



Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture


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Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand

The latest news to be making the rounds in that Orson Scott Card has finally let the full extent of his batshit crazy see the light of day. Card has been on the “it’s not okay to be gay” train for a while now, but he’s, for the most part, manage to disguise the worst of his froth behind a faux-civility. Sure, he was talking shit, but at least he wasn’t rabid (at least in the examples I’ve personally read, it is entirely possible that there are earlier examples of batshit crazy that I’ve missed).  In case you’ve remained unaware of his crazy, he decided to (poorly) re-write Hamlet as an anti-gay screed.

This has prompted discussion about how we should look at Card’s earlier work. Admittedly, this is not a discussion that is limited to Card, and frequently pops up as a topic of conversation whenever “Person X has previously enjoyed the work of Person Y, but is currently reevaluating that enjoyment upon discovering that Person Y is a dick.”

A common response is that if we enjoy the work we can continue to enjoy it without agreeing with Person Y’s beliefs or dickish behavior. In some cases I agree. There are any number of people who I think are asses as human beings, but I can read/watch/etc. their work without suffering moral quandaries. Card is not one of those people.

First and foremost, Card’s behavior goes well beyond being a dick, and into the area of preaching an anti-human stance. Not only does he hold these beliefs, but by joining such hate groups as the National Organization for Marriage he actively seeks to turn his morally reprehensible beliefs into action. Even if he wasn’t, we should always bear in mind that a person’s beliefs guide their actions, guide their way of being in the world. Even if Card was not active with groups like N.o.M. his way of being in the world would still be guided by a set of beliefs that no human being should ever, under any circumstances be willing to support.

Yes, I enjoyed Ender’s Game. I used to recommend it to others. I will no longer be doing so. In supporting Card’s work, any of Card’s work from any point in his career, I am supporting a stance I find unsupportable. I can try and justify it all I want, I can add all the disclaimers I want; in supporting that book I am supporting Orson Scott Card. All the justifications do is allow me to avoid feeling guilt over my moral failing, and personally, I don’t consider it a small moral failing in this case.

I don’t claim to be morally perfect. However, this is not a subject on which I am prone to bend. I don’t read the work of Terry Goodkind both because he’s a tedius writer, and because like Card’s screed his books are a thinly veiled bully pulpit for the moral slime that is Objectivism. I consider Scientology to be nothing but a virulent poison, and as such will not support anything even tangentially related to it.

I’m all for allowing dissent, and have no desire to stifle the ranting of any of the people mentioned above. I’m perfectly willing to forgive human foibles. However, there has to come a time when we must say enough is enough. If we believe that the words and actions of a writer such as Card are morally reprehensible, then there is never justification for supporting their work. Because in doing so, we are in action, regardless of our words, enabling the very thing which we claim is a source of disgust to us.

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Activism, Pop Culture


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The Children Still do not Resemble the Parent

I’ve written about poor fan behavior more than once on this blog. This time I’m not here so much to talk about the specifics of their bad behavior, but about the behavior itself.

Years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote a troubling essay titled “Xenogenesis.” In that essay he recounted some of the horrible things that had been done to various writers… things that had been done by fans. I’ve never like reading this essay, precisely because it makes me wonder about my own behavior, yet at the same time that is exactly why I re-read it every time I go to a convention, because the truth is things have only gotten worse in the days since Ellison’s essay. Someone dressed in a Tribble costume shot Claudia Christian. Fortunately the gun was filled with blanks, but that doesn’t make what happened any “better.” A jackass in a yellow hat tried to “punk” Rob Liefeld at a convention, and then crowed about it on the internet. While it is true that a good number of individuals, fans and pros, came down on him for his idiocy, a great many people applauded his boorish behavior. Ethan Van Sciver had art stolen off his table at a convention. At Dragon*Con this past weekend a bunch of “bros” felt the need to shout “Wesly Crusher!” upon seeing Wil Wheaton.

The fact that Mr. Wheaton had an otherwise enjoyable experience beyond this incident is not the point. The point is that the incidents never should have happened at all, and the behavior gets even worse when we look at the internet.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ignorant, hateful comments directed at comics professionals on places like Bleeding Cool or Newsarama. The calls for harassment and violence, be that toward the yellow hat-wearing jackass, or even someone as despicable as Rob Granito, are also a frequent, troubling part of our discourse. And a non-existant Heaven help you if you fire back. When Mark Waid went off on Granito there were people taking umbrage at what Waid did. Because obviously someone getting up set because Granito was trying to bolster his own rep by namedropping a recently dead man’s name is just so unbelievable.

Even more troublesome than the behaviors themselves are the fact that these people are more and more our face. When I do check a story on a comic’s site, it is this kind of behavior that I expect to see. We could certainly try going the No True Scotsman route and denying ownership of these individuals as part of our community, but what does that do to address the problem? The same is true of simply saying, “these assholes are the exception, most fans are great.” Because even if it is true that these assholes are the exception, they are still what people see when they see our community. These members of our community alienate us from professionals, from each other, and from people who might want to participate in our community.

As a community we need to make it understood that we will not be tolerant of certain behaviors. People are still free to say what we want, but we need to make it clear that we simply won’t tolerate their behavior. I know the geek creedo is supposed to be all about inclusiveness, despite the fact that geek culture is and always has been cliquish, but lines have to be drawn. If fanboys want to piss in the pool I see no problem with making sure it’s their own, isolated pool they do it in.

The rest of us also need to remember that no matter how much money we spend, no matter how invested we become in these stories and characters, we’re not actually owed a damn thing. Nothing. This doesn’t mean that creators, companies, and celebrities are above critique, or even of being the butt of a joke. I  happen to think Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men was one of the worst things I have ever read, and what I’ve seen of Firefly left me feeling that it was one of the worst shows to ever be on Television. I have no problem with saying so. That does not, however, entitle me to abuse Mr. Whedon either on line or in the flesh.

I am well aware that this is not a perfect world, and I am far and away from being a perfect person. There will always be assholes everywhere, and because there will always be assholes everywhere a portion of those assholes will be geeks. What we can do is our best to ensure that the worst elements of our community, both in person and online, are the outliers.


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Comics, Pop Culture


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