Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Liberals and anarchists and post scarcity oh My!

Well I’ve read waaaay too much of the culture to keep everything straight, so this post will probably veer into the very general. Anyway I think the culture novels are a fascinating kind of window into a world of post scarcity. The message seems to be, post scarcity economies breed anarchists with extreme boredom, which must be satisfied by liberal doo gooder interventions to help others. I think this is a really interesting end result. In “Player of Games” one of the characters remarks that “we don’t live in an age of heroes anymore.” With sufficiently advanced technology what are we to do with ourselves? Are we to descend into a complete Dionysian hedonism? Or will that ultimately fall short of what we want? The culture feels the need to justify and support its own hedonism and as a result they engage in countless interventions through their contact consortium.

The beauty of it all is that Ian M Banks is not a heavy handed moralizer like Rodenberry and his ilk. Banks keeps everything rather crazy by switching POVs in insane ways and by creating massive, tragic conflagrations. Basically it’s a good thing he’s a brit otherwise these novels wouldn’t work. He has a sick sense of irony and he just works it to utterly depressing proportions. Chris noticed how he uses a vignette format to just drive the reader crazy and man is that awesome.

Last but not least I think the culture novels provide a very odd answer to Camus. Why do we not commit suicide? The Culture says “Well you can have a whole lot of fun, or fight a war, but if you’re bored you can always use the euthanasia gland to kill yourself,” An answer properly fit for Mr. Banks.

Substantive post, Look to Windward

As I was reading Look to Windward, I cam across the same problem I have with the majority of the science fiction genre. Even though I start on page one, I feel like I have opened the novel right in the middle and have absolutely no idea what anyone is talking about. I personally need a little more background information and a little less of the author assuming I know what they hell he was writing about. But that is clearly just a personal bias I have, since I don't have any experience with science fiction outside of the readings for this class. Aside from the fact that I spent most of the novel being confused, I did actually enjoy reading it, or at least my interpretation of what I was reading. I'm sure I will be disproved in class today when I realize what I though was going on wasn't really happening. One point that Banks made that I found very interesting was when Huyler and Quilan are discussing the actual reason for the mission and what Quilan is expected to do. Personally, I found Quilan's character slightly annoying, in the way that he was willing to complete a mission that he had no idea what was going to happen and then kill 5 billion innocent people, simply because he was depressed and wanted to die. I found it hard to buy that reasoning, or even feel sympathy for him as a character throughout the novel.

However, the conversation that arose when they were discussing the motives behind the mission made me think of another discussion I had in a different class. Huyler is trying to justify what they are about to do, kill 5 billion innocent people as revenge, and he says that any culture recognizes this kind of trade. “They cost us that; we cost them that. They recognize that sort of revenge, that sort of trade, like any other civilization. A life for a life.” It occurred to me that this sort mentality is exactly how we think about war today, and have thought about it for a very long time. We had a similar discussion in my War and Personal Responsibility class the other day. Is anyone really innocent in a time of war? Are the five billion people that Quilan is supposed to kill guilty simply because they were complacent in what happened during the war all those years ago and have done nothing to make up for it since then? In my class, we had a discussion about whether Americans today are equivalent to the Good Germans during WWII; ordinary citizens who never harmed anyone but never did anything to stop what was happening.In a sense, complacency equals guilt. I think the ending of the novel proves that Banks does not believe this to be true and does not feel that those who do nothing are just as bad as those who did everything. This parallel did not occur to me until the end of the novel, when I finally had most everything straight in my head about who was who and what was going on.

Additionally, I would have liked a little more background on the war, the Chel people, and the Culture. I had a hard time figuring out why the Chel were so blasé about the fact that they needed to kill all these people, and what exactly the Culture had done during the war that would have justified such a severe reaction. It was hard for me to empathize with the Chel people throughout much of the novel. Hopefully in class today, someone will be able to shed some light on the background story so that I can better appreciate the novel itself.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Problem with PTJ’s Post

So unlike Chris I haven’t had the free time to write a delightfully detailed rebuttal to PTJ’s post. However I figure I can at least provide a “short” (700-1000 word not that short for most but compared to chris?) post in response.

So the meat of prof’s argument is that science and God, are as Doria claims, “parallel ways” and that the two are categorically different, therefore they should not concern one another. According to PTJ, I and Chris’s attack on Russell’s tolerance of belief in the face of scientific reason is invalid in this case. I do not agree. Science and God are not parallel in a social context. Faith is a subjective personal attribute that defies rationality and is pretty near impossible to convey through language. Language exists in the rational interpersonal realm. Thus when you try to convey faith to someone you sound like an irrational imbecile.

Now what does this have to do with the parallel ways? Well the parallel works so long as you restrict your God stuff to the subjective personal and your science stuff to the rational outer world. When one’s religious faith influences actions taken in the outer world you fall into dangerous territory. The two worlds are irreconcilable for a reason you see. When people start claiming that evolution is wrong because “god said so” we have an epistemological failure to communicate.

Chris and I wouldn’t be such secular assholes if those with faith kept to PTJ’s cultivated Weberian neutrality, but they don’t. Religion has always tried to make the lines perpendicular and the results have been disastrous. PTJ may be right that miracles exist outside of the scientific paradigm. If the only result was a renewal of faith then no one would care. But religious sillies have used this sign of miracles to justify their own idiocy in the real world. They claim that Katrina is an intervention of God rather than a byproduct of environmental destruction; they refuse medical treatment because God will save them. A refusal to acknowledge the natural law of the phenomenological world is a big freakin danger. Whether you believe in miracles or not, you will still fall accelerating at 9.81 meters per second squared if you jump from a cliff.

Now PTJ brings up a good point. A life dedicated to “shit happens” is no life at all. You should just kill yourself and be done with it. But there’s no reason why I can’t construct meaning in my life without the assistance of a God or an organized religion. As Camus says we are truly free when we acknowledge that there is no ultimate meaning, for then we are the ultimate arbiters of what that meaning is. Some of the happiest, most caring and moral people I know are atheists. They’ve fought all their lives against oppression and injustice and gotten very little in the way of accolades or material reward (well except for gains from collective struggle). These folks believe in science and reason and gravity and still live a life full of purpose.

I think part of the greatest danger to leading a meaningful life is organized religion. Unlike a personal philosophy constructed from community and personal input, organized religion is a whole set of beliefs sold as package deal. You can’t pick and choose what makes the most sense to you and your community; you just take the whole friggen box. That’s a danger as totalizing ideologies (Catholicism, Leninism, fascism, Hinduism etc.) are always the ones that claim complete truth and complete authenticity. Those with a monopoly on truth tend to take that into the real world and slaughter a whole lot of people. Nor are you allowed much of a choice in the matter. Unless you convert to a religion the adherent is usually inculcated from birth to believe and follow the dictates of the church/mosque/synagogue/temple etc. That’s no way to construct meaning. That’s brainwashing. You can’t truly believe in something if you have never sampled different fare on a level playing field.

Worst of all, organized religion often pits spiritual and godly knowledge within a sect of specialists. The priest or the rabbi hold a monopoly on proper meaning and can use that to discipline and manipulate those in their flocks. It destroys human freedom in the name of a God perpetuated by those in power. Now this is partially addressed by some of the mainline protestant denominations. Quakers, UCC’s (PTJs chosen flavor of Christ) and their ilk are pretty good about devolving spiritual knowledge to the laity. But even so I feel like it’s an impoverished philosophy. Only drawing from a single book? A big book indeed, but still only one source? Just doesn’t pace with common sense.

The only religious group I genuinely think is alright has got to be the Unitarian Universalists. They claim no official dogma and stake no claim to universal truth. Now I find their services kind of uninteresting, but some folk like them. I’d say my spiritual experience is out there in thick of it, fighting the good fight. There’s a certain joyous exuberance to it that’s hard to describe. But why I fight has a lot to do with thinking reasoned arguments, I may find a spiritual zeal within it, but I also provide arguments that can exist in the rational outer world on their own merits. Anyway that’s All I got right now.

Keep on thinking and always be skeptical of prophets.

Refection for Children Of God

Firstly, there has been a lot of impressions that the novel offered a simple idea of whether there is a god or not (see the two previous posts and comments. A more interesting angle was how did believe or the degree of believe affect the different members.
However, I really like the quote that was brought up in class "whatever the truth is, blessed be the truth". While this would probably be seen, and may have been written, as a religious statement, I see it as more of a statement of acceptence of the world and of its beauty, separate or with something religious. While goodness and truth were brought up in the conversation, they were discussed as founding blocks and intrinsically connected with theistic models of world view. While religion is the main theme, whether something is good or not can have absolutely nothing to do with religion, even in a theisticly questioning novel.

One thing I really did enjoy about these two novels was how differently they approached he fact of dealing with and finding of a new world. Although she went very little into the actual what would have happened on Earth as an effect of the discovery in terms of technology, business and exploration, I still found it refreshing. Immersed in Star Trek for my humans making contact literature, the amount of change on Rakath that occurred because of human landing at first felt very wrong, especially once Sophie started to directly influence the settlement she was with. What this really reveled to me is that the question is actually why not participate? In Star Trek, working on a non-warp drive world is considered interfering, while here it was presented much more as if Sophie was participating and doing her part.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Children of God, Reflection post

I am probably one of the few people in class yesterday who did not have a very passionate dislike of this book. I will agree that I thought The Sparrow was better, I do not believe that the specific failings of Children of God have anything to do with Russell's literary abilities. Maybe I was just able to appreciate the fact that this book, while clearly science fiction, was not as hardcore into the genre as some of the others we have read. I slightly disagree with the notion that the theme of the book is “God is there is you believe in him and he’s not if you don’t”. I think Russell was aiming for a slightly more ambiguous message: No one knows if he is there at all. Jut because you believe, as Emilio did through most of the first mission, doesn’t mean that God will be there for you, and just because you don’t believe, as Emilio does after the first mission goes to pieces, doesn’t mean he still won’t give you something beautiful, i.e. the music. I think that Russell’s point with the music was not to wrap things up neatly and have Emilio believe in God again, because I don’t think he ever gets back to that place.
I agree with the conclusion that Russell was instead saying, “Be careful what you wish for”. They went all the way to Rakhat because of the music and they all had to endure so much death, suffering, and pain and in the end what do they get? Music. Its kind of a cynical way of saying, well you asked God for this and here it is, whether you like it or not. I would have liked to have Russell made Emilio’s character a little more disappointed with the music at the end, that yes it’s beautiful but was it really worth it? What, if anything did it change? I don’t think she explored that as much as she could have. Sequels usually aren’t as good as the first one was and, while I enjoyed Children of God, I feel The Sparrow did a better job at fully exploring its themes and really making the reader think about things even after they were done reading. Children of God leaves you wondering, but not in the same way. I agree that perhaps it could have ended with a bigger bang or a bigger twist, but I think Russell’s intention was to have the ending be as plain and simple as the whole thing started: with a beautiful piece of music and a question about what it means.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moral of the Story: Jews and Catholics are partially brain dead

AAArgh. I’m sorry but that novel was a total mary sue. Carlo gets it in the end. Emilio has a child and grandchild, and his mental sanity. And we’ve all got purpose because genetic sequences harmonize! Whooptee doo! While I certainly didn’t detest the novel as Chris did. I definitely didn’t think it was a tour de force. 438 pages and the payoff is…well…bland. The janata will live as an intellectual curiosity and the Runa march on.

Also I didn’t notice any of that “whaaa?” that we were supposed to experience. Maybe its because I read way too much sci-fi but nothing was too out of the ordinary. I was waiting for something a bit more expansive. Like, Isaac has bioengineered a new virus that does x or that the janata are actually a subset of earth wolves brought here by y. Instead it was just “oh the perspective has changed and these folks aren’t as evil as we thought..” Though I did find it deliciously pleasurable to see Kitheri get trampled to death. Too bad there was no specific detail.

Stemming from the good but kind of eh plot, the message of the novel was eh too. God is there if you believe in him, and he’s not if you don’t. What simplified nonsense is that? Pascal’s wager is more sophisticated than this. Russell just gets mired in postmodern relativism. We don’t need 438 pages for “to each his own,” That’s all grand and magical but, really find something a tad more interesting The only useful message of this novel is “Catholics and Jews are really stupid for believing in God.” They go through trial and tribulation and never seem to wonder, “Maybe God sent us that meteorite?” No its always “God sent that meteorite at this angle so it would only damage us! Praise the Lord!” They’re like a bunch of abused kids exclaiming when daddy buys them a soda after a particularly vicious beating. Wake up you nonces, God does not love you. This is all a product of natural forces. Some of which you control, some you don’t. If god does exist, he’s not helping!

Also, why couldn’t Russel resolve some of the big questions such as where the Magellan party went or why 6 missions failed? All of this was left unexplained so that she could focus on healing her main man sandoz. And she only accomplished this mixing some genotypes together to make a song. Ggarg. This book frustrates me.

Children of God, substantive post

One interesting point that struck me as I was reading Children of God, was the role of Issac, Sophia's son. My first reaction to his so called "not normal" behavior was that he was autistic. If this was the intention that Russell wanted the reader to go on, it is a very interesting detail to include. People, and more specifically children who are autistic are often "others" in their own world, a foreigner of sorts in the way that they react to and understand the world. I thought this was an interesting parallel to the broader concept of the "other" that this book examines. Sophia is clearly an other, being a human being on Rahkat. Supaari is an other, being a Jan'ata in a community of Runa, and Emilio Sandoz is an other as well, being the only known survivor of the the first mission back on earth. Having Issac as he was, exhibiting behavior of someone who is autistic, illuminated the theme of communication and its importance when encountering the other. This made me think back to The Conquest of America, in which Todorov claims that the Europeans were "successful" in their conquests due to their superior communication skills and there ability to "understand" the native peoples. Many of the tragedies that occurred in this book were a result of miscommunication or misunderstandings of the other. The fact that Issac is the one who discovers at the end, the ultimate purpose of the mission, is a strategic move on Russell's part. it took an outsider among his own people, human beings, to understand another outsider, the inhabitants of Rahkat.

Hate's like Gardening

I think a lot of our discussion danced around two issues that were never completely addressed, ontological displacement, and epistemic frameworks.

So first let’s get into ontological displacement. Basically ontological displacement is a total displacement of being. The thing, or the Other is so utterly different that it cannot truly relate to us, its ontology. Its being is alien to us. I’m not sure this can happen between humans, but it could certainly happen across species. There may be aliens that are so different we don’t even know that they’re aliens. So different that we cannot understand the other on anything but a superficial level; think of the planet in Solaris.

Perhaps this is unnecessarily privileging experiential knowledge over everything else, but I think that in order to understand a person you must have some sort of common referent i.e. a common experience. When your natures of being are completely divorced, this is rather difficult. There’s a taste of this in Todorov, as the natives and the Spaniards seemed to exist on different planes of existence, though they were not so different that they were totally unrecognizable to one another

That sort of dove tails into my other point about epistemic frameworks. As I was saying in class, you can only really empathize with an Other if your epistemic and moral frameworks have some sort of commonality. Cortes could understand the how of Aztec ruled, but could never sympathize with or fully grasp the why. This cyclical time stuff was as nonsensical to him as it sounds to most westerners. I’ve read about the Aztecs, and taken classes on Latin American history. All I really know is the how. Their world view still sounds like nonsense on stilts. Circular time and ritualized speaking do not appeal to me and I do not empathize with the decisions drawn from them (ex. human sacrifice). I can still hate their leaders for these practices with much ease.. Tim mentioned how much we hated on Columbus. Well the guy’s epistemic and moral frameworks seem utterly alien to us, and examined within our own modern moral system, his actions seem utterly repugnant and for good reason.

I think the only real hatred is a hatred based on knowledge of the other. Chris and I were discussing this and we agreed that the sensationalized other as the “foe” is more or less just fear. It’s an enhanced fight or flight response, not real hate. You’re not really fighting a person but a wild animal that will stop at nothing to destroy you. Thus it is not hate but instinctual fear that drives us to atrocities. Hate is only made possible through active participation. You have to fully understand how radically different your moral frameworks for two people to truly despise each other. In other words, hate’s a garden and it needs tender loving care.

Children of God: Not as different as we thought

Stylistically, this book seems much less 'fate' than the previous novel. Because we have no fore-knowledge about the fate of the charecters, the story seems much more malleable and doesn't have the same classic tragedy air. Even though there was almost a genocide in this book, it seems much more uplifting, Emilio has found his faith again, and a 'purpose' behind the tragedy of the meeting has been found. Although to me it seemed very anti-climatic that the genetic music was what needed to be found as the true beauty and point of the meeting. Almost like the Star Trek Next Gen two-parter about the genetically coded message that everyone thought would be instructions to the ultimate weapon, it almost wasn't necessary and you wish they had left it as, "it happened that way just because it did". I did like the touch about the genetic music, but I didn't think it was worthy of being the "point and purpose" to the suffering. If she could have worked it in so it was there, but all those trials and tribulations hadn't been necessary to find it, I believe her theme (i.e. Job II) would have been much better maintained.

An interesting parallel with the title which might have been completely unintentional is that Emilio's constant refrain seems to be "don't do this to me again, kids and babies". However, the title directly relates to Children (although here it is meant in the wider since of the three separate species all of children of the same God). Perhaps the parallel here is that despite however much he tries not to, Emilio will meet up with all the children again. I'm not certain about this interpretation, and wonder if Russel purposefully does not have Emilio use the word children or child to reduce this parallel, however, to me it seems something that should be significant in this imagery laden novel.

One strong compulsion I felt throughout the later half of the novel was just to yell the word 'genocide' at Sophie. Even through all her prejudeces and the evil she felt had been committed by the Jana'ata, with her history and the conditioning against genocide she almost certainly has, one would hope she would pause to consider what she was truly doing. Sophie's complete blindness to this fact only worked for her, although it would have felt jarring with anyother character, because of her proven ability to shut out her emotions and disconnect herself from the realities of what were going on around her. This is also why Russel couldn't allow any of the other humans to survive, if just one other had, they may have been able to rein in the attempted genocide to a role reversal where the Runa became masters of the land, while the Jana'ata became the lower class species.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Columbus, Card, and the Alien

[This serves as both my Substantive and Reflective Posts for Todorov]

My first thought in the first few chapters about Columbus was how well Orson Scott Card's novel Pastwatch fit into this narrative. The way Columbus is represented in both books as a man more on a quest for the Church than trying to gain money. The impression I truly got of Columbus was of a noble, if time-misplaced, nitwit who without many forceful hints, would completely miss the importance of reality and continue on in his own world.

The analysis of the differences in communication methods also struck me. The presented idea that Montozuma and the other civilizations did not wish to speak to the envoys when they were there, but still preferred to ask the soothsayers what their chances were and what the state of affairs were. This seems perfectly nonsensical until the differing modes of communication are thought of. A person-to-person mode of communication is assumed and is actually what the basis of communication analysis is in the "Western" context. The idea that this second mode of communication with the natural and social group and religious world would be the more dependable runs counter to what I can see as provable. Coming out of an anaylsis of Methods from my IR research class, I believe then this is when other methods than a scientific or neo-postivist must come to bear as with these you would quickly notice that not everything matched. However, if the entire society is forming itself with a constructivist/relational view, they are building the world among the way they see it and they agree it to be, regardless of how a truthful discourse between themselves might present it. To me, this makes the most sense on how to see a how this completely different way of communicating with the universe might come to work.

However, these differing types of thinking are what we are looking for in our classic 'other', and cause me to doubt many of the science fiction aliens that we find. The oddest thing is how we often find patterns of thought and physical shapes on Earth that are more bizarre or different than many from other worlds, even when the ones that are supposed to be "human" aliens are excluded.

An interesting point we touched on in class was the differentiation that evolves when we chose or chose not title someone/thing as human. If they are human, they can be equal. However, Todorov argues that almost by definition, if the other is not human, it cannot be equal, as we have delineated a difference that can not be overcome. This is unequally troublesome for an even hopeful idealist as the hope would be when other alien races are found that we learn to eventually work with them as equals. But can we truly accept that someone is truly 'other' in practically every way, except that they are inherently have the same moral and "human" rights as us, even when there moral structure is alien to us? It is hard to truly conceptualize what this would mean, let alone how an individual or humanity as a group would handle it. But looking at Todorov and pasts where we have met alien humans for the first time probably is the closest we can come to analyzing how we might feel.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reflective post, The Conquest of America

I think that the conversation we had in class today regarding whether understanding automatically leads to sympathy is an interesting one that clearly has ties to numerous other books that we have read. Emilio and the others in The Sparrow felt sympathy for the Runa, and even the other species at one point, but it is clear in the end that they didn't really understand them at all. So if it is the case that one doesn't need to truly understand to feel sympathy, it only makes sense that it can go the other way: one can understand another person or another culture and still not feel sympathy. I still agree with the point that Phil made about the difference between understanding how and understanding why and the effect that has on sympathy. There is a difference in those two types of understanding and I think the understanding how is a lot easier to accomplish. However, understanding why on a deeper, more psychological level is essential to the element of sympathy.

I definitely also agree with the point that just because you understand someone doesn't mean that you sympathize with them or even like them. I can think of a few people that I know pretty well and still absolutely dislike. In fact, understanding your enemy is perhaps the best way to beat them. The more you understand about how someone does something, the easier it becomes to destroy them in the end. I also think that it is possible to sympathize with someone and still dislike them. Empathizing with ones enemy is one way to get and to keep the upper hand. Perhaps this is why Cortez seemed to understand, and even sympathize in the end, with those that he encountered? Was he doing this because he knew that this was an easy way to get what he wanted in the end? Maybe Cortez is proof that it is possible to understand, sympathize, and even feel sorry for someone, but still destroy them in the end.

Conquest by Traffic Sign

I think Todorov’s greatest contribution is his emphasis on the discourse of language and epistemology. Rather than focusing on the political or material bases on which the Spaniards conquered America, but the underlying linguistic and epistemological reasons why. For example He does not discuss “How the Spaniards used smallpox to massacre the Aztecs.” Instead he talks about how the Spaniards used signs to obliterate the other. I think this is an extremely original and interesting contribution. I had never thought to contemplate how cyclical notions of time, and ritualized speech could so easily demobilize a people. The way in which you conceptualize these things determines much of your behavior. It makes much more sense now that the Aztec’s hesitation is put within a broader discursive framework. Without this framework, I think we lose a lot of understanding in regard to the Mesoamericans.

I also like how mike mentioned that westerners were particularly suited to understand the other so that they could annihilate them. I think this shift from Columbus not understanding the Caribs at all, to Cortes deftly exploiting Aztec ideas, show the shift from the medieval to modern times. Rather than seek to conquer the holy lands and cleanse them of unbelievers, the Spaniards seek to conquer the natives and then convert them to their purpose. Todorov describes this as the ironic case of eliminating the internal other (through the reconquista) whilst introducing massive external others into the regime. This shift in attitude really presupposes a more modern view, because it is one based on imperialism instead of crusader zeal. The Spanish crown wanted an ethnically pure state so that it could then impose its purity on others.

In that regard I also enjoyed the overview of Columbus as a silly man. Who knew he was such a superstitious little Catholic! Columbus is supposed to be this great modern explorer who laughed in the face of those who claimed he would fall off the earth. Yet for all his abilities in the field of naturalism, the man was not a very good follower of scientific skepticism. He had what Freud would call “religious delusions” ie that his belief in religion forced him to believe in things that might be true, but for which there was no evidence. To fill that gap Columbus deluded himself with “discovering” evidence to always support his beliefs.

Substantive post, The Conquest of America

I think that it is commonplace in American culture to place Columbus, and other explorers, on a pedestal of sorts. After all, they "discovered" America and opened the doors for the beginning of what our country is today: a place founded by foreign explorers. This being said, I would think that the majority of us in this class would disagree and follow the another thread of the story: that the explorers conquered a land that was not theirs and perpetrated a genocide against the native people. In the first part of The Conquest, Todorov attempts to explain the initial discovery of the Caribbean islands by Columbus and his crew and one thing struck me as very interesting: The seemingly arbitrary way that Columbus decided whether the natives were "good" or "bad". Todorov shows evidence to support that claim that Columbus is so distracted by the beauty of nature and the physical appearance of the islands, that he neglects to consider the native peoples in any serious way. Todorov shows several experts from different texts that show Columbus's obsession with the physical beauty with the islands. Todorov claims that due to the fact that Columbus focuses on nature first and people second, his communication and interaction with the natives suffers. Columbus makes assumptions about their communication skills, or lack thereof in his opinion, and seems to be fixated on the fact that they wear no clothes. I also thought it was interesting that Todorov links this point to Columbus's decision that the natives have no religion. There is a line the Todorov uses to justify this leap of logic: Columbus would have assumed that any human being wore clothes upon the expulsion from paradise, thus these people cannot possible be civilized human beings. This link between religion, nature, and the natives is one that shows Columbus is clearly evaluating them based upon his own cultural standards, a practice which seems the only logical thing to do in his eyes. This made me think of a moment in The Sparrow, when the riot was started after the Runa children were being taken away: they were acting based upon their own cultural standards, which seemed logical to them, but eventually lead to their downfall.

Another point that I found particularly interesting in The conquest, mostly because it is something I had never considered before, occurred in the epilogue. Todorov states that "This extraordinary success (Western European colonization) is chiefly due to one specific feature of Western civilization...among Europeans thereby becoming proof of their natural suoeriorty: it is, paradoxically, Europeans' capacity to understand the other" What I gathered from the statement is that Todorov is basically saying that the Europeans conquered the natives and not the other way around because they understood the natives better in the end. I am not sure if I believe that this is the case, but it is something that made me stop and think as I was reading. Is it really that Europeans were better communicators? Was it really nothing to do with technological might and infecting the natives with disease, i.e. smallpox? OR is it a combination of these factors that caused history to play out the way it did. Like I said, I don't know the answer or even my own opinion about it but it is a point that I found very interesting to contemplate.

Unprepared expeditions + CS Lewis=Bad

So I think this class was eerie in that we seemed to be in pretty good agreement. The Jesuits were well intentioned and had some cute ideals, but they were woefully unprepared. They never thought to observe the planet from afar. They never contemplated the effects of their exploration. They never even checked if the air was breathable. The Jesuits got drunk on their own sense of serendipity and they never thought about the consequences of their actions.

I think the real message of the book lies therein. There may be a creator god or there may not be, but the fact remains that He or she or It isn’t going to interfere. You may read in that God is determining events or providing miracles, but he’s not. God if it exists is not going to interfere in worldly matters. When you choose to believe that God sent you on a mission and then that mission fails don’t blame God, blame your foolhardy assumptions. I think Mike mentioned that Abe Lincoln quote about god being on your side during war. It encapsulates everything pretty well about the whole “god’s on your side” ethic.

On a somewhat unrelated note I think this novel falls into a weird tradition of Sci-Fi/ Fantasy stories written by authors riffing on CS Lewis’s notion of the restricted God. Lewis basically stated God had to allow the universe abide by certain physical laws. If god were to screw around with miracles it would destabilize everything and well…up would be down and down would be up. Thus we need gravity and all the danger that it implies. Without physical laws, things can’t exist, but as a result existence creates evil or dissatisfaction, or whatever you wish to call it.

Russell follows in this tradition of “Well god may be out there, but he aint doing ya any favors.” Of course CS Lewis himself was notorious for breaking his own rules by allowing the introduction of “limited” miracle every now and then to show that god was still around. These miracles are quite similar to the turtles that the Jesuits kept witnessing. Further Lewis was big into science and “learning,’ much like the Jesuits. So I guess you would say that Sandoz suffered from an acute case of CS Lewis. Although Lewis was an atheist turned anglican, not an atheist turned catholic. So it doesn’t totally work. Oh Lewis, you were a traitor to your Irish brethren, no wonder your theories about God were silly and your novels sucked. And on that note, long live the IRA! The old one, not the PIRA. They’re silly.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reflecting on The Sparrow

One thing I liked about the general conversation about The Sparrow was the mention that it was treated as though it's "better" than sci-fi. Which makes me think of the quote
"I've always liked the idea of a special Hugo to be awarded (by force, perhaps) to literary authors who write books dripping with themes filleted from mainstream SF and then deny that it's science fiction 'because it's not about robots and spaceships'." (Terry Pratchett, fun sci-fi quotes)
Although there are spaceships and aliens in this novel, to a "real literature" critique these elements can be safely ignored while they focus on the 'worthy' aspects of the story. But since the quality and thought-provokingness is not unique among Sci-fi novels, what is it that sets it apart to make it more relatable? It can't just be the minimization of 'technobabbel' and the fact that it isn't military or fighting-based (neither of these elements being unique either)? The reason is two fold, firstly the novel centers around the inner journey of one man, and and the religious/theological subject, themes that are associated with 'high' literature.

A basic idea/assumption, that as Americans at least we have, mentioned in the course of the discussion was that there is in fact little reason at all any aliens landing on Earth would say "take me to your leader." In fact, although I've read one book where the ET said "take me to your paleontologist", I can't recall an instance where the aliens first entered/integrated with earth culture and from there announcing themselves. It seems to me, we would be really annoyed, scared and mystified if that happened, so what reason was there to think it would be successful with that approach.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Reflection Post, The Sparrow

I thought it was an interesting question that Professor Jackson brought up during class: what mistakes did the mission make and could they have avoided them? I think the answer is only so clear to us because we have hindsight to guide us. Of course they should have been more logical, more rational, and less trusting in what they did. We know that would have probably saved them in the end. However, I think it is also important to remember that, from the very beginning, this was believed to be "God's mission". God wanted them to do this and would protect them from harm, so they didn't need to worry about logic or rational thinking: they had God on their side. It is plausible to speculate on what they could have done differently, and I agree that there are many things that fall into that category. However, in the context of the book I don't believe that any of the characters could have acted differently and still stayed true to what Russell made them to be. They landed on this alien planet with their own cultural and religious bias and stereotypes which made the characters more believable, at least in my opinion. I think that, for me, the theme or main message of this book is that: just because you believe doesn't mean that God will save you in the end. And in order for this to be the thought that the reader comes away with, Russell had to make it seem like what they did and the actions they took, while in hindsight could have been avoided, were the best step to take at the time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

For the Love of God come Armed

Perhaps I'm being a bit silly, but anyone in the expedition think "hrrm maybe we should bring some future weapons." Explorers going to an alien planet unarmed, grand plan...grand. I’m of course being a bit simplistic, but a whole mess of trouble could have been avoided if the humans had brought some orbital weaponry. Obliterate a few Janata strongholds, and make em think twice before they do anything silly. Of course the risks associated with bring a whole bunch of guns, are rather legion. However, the complete lack o worry that they would be attacked or would require force is incredibly naive.

Though its no surprise that naiveté is the rule of the day. Jesus has ordained this mission so of course everything will work out real well. That is…if Jesus actually gave a flying crap. The willful delusions of the expedition’s leadership to assume that things were ordained and that the intelligent life would never attack them were poorly advised. That and bringing only one Lander. Hasn’t Aliens taught us anything? Always have a backup Lander for pilot by remote. Anyway it seems as if the Jesuits got caught up in the excitement, but never thought about the possible dangers of the mission. They made a whole lot of safely precautions on the way there. But man, they did not think about the problems of contact all too well. I mean they didn’t even try to predict if their germs could cause a disease outbreak amongst the aliens.

Substantive post, The Sparrow

I will admit that this is the first book in this class that I actually managed to get through the whole book and end up enjoying it in the end. Russell is clearly a talented writer and her use of language and character development helped to make this book seem not too science fiction for a person like me. Often times there are elements of the the novels we read that I just do not understand but I honestly did not have to go to wikipedia once during this one. What I found most interesting about this novel, and what I feel separates it from others in the sci fi genre, was the overt use of religion throughout. For most of the novels that I have read in this class, my impression was that religious undertones were usually present in some fashion but they were subtle and not ones recognized immediately by the reader. In The Sparrow, the entire plot is based on the fact that God has chosen these people for this mission. It is stated several times, by the majority of the characters even ones who are apparently not religious, such as Anne and George Edwards. It seems that non believers end up believing in the end and those who put their whole life into following God end up losing him somehow, such as Emilio Sandoz. Theer are several passages that I marked as I was reading that all basically allude to the same thought: If God choose them for this mission, how could anything possibly go wrong? This novel questions the role of God in the world and I was surprised not to find more of an outrage of the initial discovery of life on other planets. I would have thought that the religious institutions in the world would be the last people to be accepting of this because it means that we, as humans, were not created special in God's eyes, that there are others out there as well. Anne even makes the comment at one point that perhaps God liked the Runa better because their planet was so much more beautiful and they themselves were more attractive as well. This question of God, his intentions, and the reasons why he sent this group of people to Rakhat are all interesting questions that the author grapples with and, I feel, leaves it up to the reader to decide for themselves at the end.

Are you a vegetarian yet?

One thing that needs to be covered first about this book is that if there is any book that will make you turn vegetarian, this might very well be the one.

An interesting thing is how everything goes down the drain so quickly, when the musicologist dies right after they land, you get the feel that it is going to be a gradual dying off, not the sudden killing of everyone else in a few pages. What this showed was that even if you begin to believe you understand a society, you are still likely to miss something and that one thing can send the entire plan on a huge tremendous down swing. While it was good to see how everything feel so quickly, after all the buildup, it seemed a let down.

Stylistically, I didn't like the idea of going into the viewpoint of the two Jana'ata. It made them much more human, and this made them more relatable, which I thought was actually unfortunate as it hurt they idea of them being truly "other". While Russel may have been trying to make us relate to the Jana'ata and see how we had the potential to evolve as they did. She tries to make a contrast between, "oh don't they seem so much more like us" and "what kind of creatures are they" and while this is obviously drawn, I feel that it took concentration away from actually exploring the differences and uniqueness of their society and turning into some relation to the Middle Ages of nobles and peasants.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Concept of the Simple

I noticed that the class response missed something rather key. It seemed like we kept trying to muddy the waters of what the political was, and who it pertained to. Yes the work was a bit contradictory at times. It often provided a convoluted reason for conflict that jumped between Platonist essentialism and materialist analysis. At one point economics, morality etc have little to do with the enemy, and then it seems that the enemy is created as it stems from those same moral and economic conflicts.

However, we shouldn’t let this confound what the political is. Schmidt’s discussion of the political was pretty explicit in its dualistic, dialectic obsession. He wasn’t interested in muddy waters. He discussed things in a way that Descartes called clear and distinct ie the boiled down definitions. Schmidt really should have titled it “The Concept of the Simple” because he’s not dealing in anything but simple distinctions. He wants an all encompassing, universal definition; he can’t get too complicated when dealing with absolutes. This is why he likes dialectics so much. It logically helps boil everything down to one simple distinction, to their essential properties. Putting forth an either/or dichotomy forces him and the reader to categorize something as essentially a or b. In this case something is either political or non political.

The political is not complicated for Schmidt, which as Mel points out is a key reason why I didn’t like the text. You are political based on a basic either/or question. Are you willing to use deadly force in this conflict? If yes then you have a political situation. If no, it is not political. That’s it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reflection post, The Concept of the Political

During class Professor Jackson asked the question, according to Carl Schmitt, how do we know someone is the enemy? I felt, as I was reading the essay, that the answer was very simple: The enemy doe snot have to be physically ugly or morally evil, they are just the person or people who have the opposite belief that you do. Simply by the fact that they have just as strong a belief as you, except not about the same thing, they are a danger to your way of life and can be considered the enemy. I got the impression that Schmitt felt that this simple explanation was was constituted the enemy on a larger level as well, such as the enemy of a state. The enemy of the liberal is the conservation, the democracy, communism, etc. This is why i didn't matter what the moral standing of your enemy was or what he looked like. It simply mattered that he held the opposite belief from you so strongly that it threatened your way of life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"The Nazi Stuff"

I ended up taking notes in class today, and thought I'd go ahead and post them.

Part 1:
-concept of political (p 26 & 37)
-new outlook: diverse state from the political
-state, what is it: question of capacity, recognition, black box(?)

-goes up and downs magnitude scale, but can't go sideways (i.e. the concept of enemies would most likely not affect competitors in economics)
-us/others: biological, history in past of having a distinct other

-Becomes political when "sufficiently strong enough to group men according to friend and enemy. If, in fact, the will to abolish war is so strong that it no longer shuns war, then it has become a political motive, i.e. it affirms, even if only as an extreme possibility, war and even the reasons for war." (p 36)
-willing to have a war, and kill someone else
-is it the same to pay public safety to fight?
-the conclusion seemed to be that although it is different, paying them to fight does not mean it is not political

-Balance of Power, or does he support that only the possibility of war, doesn't need Balance. "A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated, a completely pacified globe, would be a world without distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics." (p. 35)
-MADD, Twilight Zone episode reference- no potential for harm, no need for protection from the state

-When is there not a possibility of real killing?

-Difference between enemy and other, can flip, doesn't need to be stagnant for all authority.
-political level, doesn't mean you personally hate the individual, hate the group - Christmas Truth
-'Axis' was common future fighting against, not fighting for a common future with US and Russia
-political to make shift with Russians between WWII and Cold War
-p 79, economic violence - is political, word game trying to imply nonpolitical distinctions that don't truly exist

-How do you know someone is an enemy? How do you know who the enemy is?

-foe vs. enemy
-foe can turn into an enemy - threat to our existence, an existential threat
-foe: inhuman other, can annihilate
-enemy: human other, push back to borders, root recognition

-is using legal proceedings (like EU with Microsoft) to sue the other a war?
-what if suit has potential to threaten livelihoods?
-identity theft as war? when brought to t he extreme could end up killing the person

-orders of magnitude - center on individuals/small groups who can now hurt state
-Nietzsche: 'strongest society doesn't have to be stringent w/prisoners'

-declare war on idea, which is an existential threat, but not an other.
-or is it the carriers of that idea? create dialog - 'statified' or 'stated' Al Qaeda
-'crazy' people, 'crazy' ideas --inhuman, same side as aliens in "Aliens"

-propaganda - how a state defines what/who the enemy is
-shaped the enemy, "enemize" them, show them the way out of the dark towards society or they must be completely inhumane.

Mac/PC: Franco-Prussian War. PC as France and Mac as Prussia. (Xerox must be Rome!!)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

the political enemy

What I found most intriguing was the concept of the foe verse the enemy that the translator made sure to make. The idea that a political enemy as a force must exist for their to be a state seems at face value very accurate. However, Schmitt seems caught up by the very idea of negativity in politics, and sees that a state, or political party, must be against something and is for something only as far as it oppose a broader concept. For example when he switches to speaking about the pacifists, he says they fight the non-pacifists. Everything in his writing tends to exist in a duality, especially the friend-enemy concept.

The one less polarized concept is the difference between the political enemy and the personal enemy. The political enemy must be hated, if not as a cause of the enmity, then the hatred would quickly grow. The disturbing thing about this is that it seems to imply that once there are political enemies, they can never be truly reconciled. Force seems an end means to get what you want, and his ultra-realist perception of force being the driving factor and extreme in all communications and relations between groups.

The idea of the enemy that most interests me is the very one demontionality and requirement. In Schmitt's writings, an enemy is what holds the state together. The state is not held together by people of like minds or working hard together, but rather because they look outside the state and are able to point and say "there is the most horrendous enemy". Beyond his statement in the book that this means without finding another force outside the planet to unify against there can never be a world government, this also implies that any state would be in an almost constant cold war. However, the passion that has to go into the war and its ferocity is actually what I think is most important rather than the fact that there is the enemy. If this passion was not channeled into hatred for an enemy but rather into something more positive, then war would not have to be the inevitable option he lays it out to be. Andrew's insight (see below) about Schmitt's one sided view that force is right and the predominating (and practically only) aspect of the political, blinds him to the fact that it is the passion that's important, and the willingness to use force is only a measure of that passion.

The Politics of Balls /Dialectics on Opium

Carl Schmidt: a testament to why even dead Nazis are pernicious bastards

So reading the Concept of the Political is something like reading the deranged ramblings of a facile monkey trying to ape the movements of a far greater thinker *cough* Weber. Surprise! Everyone politics has to do with the use of force! It’s not like Weber didn’t say something incredibly similar 9 years prior to this essay. Oh wait, he did!

It seems like Schmidt’s primary contribution to political thought is his unique obsession with force. Unlike Weber who gets into the mechanics of rule and the use of legitimate force, Schmidt just talks about force. Regardless of who or what you are, so long as you can get a bunch of dudes to kill, you have become political. Probably the best quote is when he says that once pacifists engage in a war to end all wars, only then will they have shown to have “political energy” in that they convinced enough people to group themselves between “friend and enemy”

This has interesting and dangerous metaphysical consequences, namely that the political becomes solely about drawing lines, about defining who is Other. In order to be political one must be willing not only to kill but to consider their enemy as something worthy of destruction. Yet at the same time you should consider loving that enemy in the private sense! Oh Schmidt how odd you are. Though what’s most peculiar is his justification for all this. Not morality or something rational, but on grounds of some weird realist notion of foreign nations. It’s as if there’s this platonic wonderland where you find your other and then seek to annihilate him or her. Of course that’s what he says at first. Schmidt seems to realize that he sounds like the mentally handicapped. Then he explains it all away by stating that that reasons for political matters, aka conflict, arise out of these other things in addition to the state’s drive for strength and expansion. Those axiomatic hallmarks of the political can never go away.

As if to make things worse Schmidt bases much of his argument on these silly dialectical notions. I know most German theorists felt a need to copulate with Hegel, but the intellectual necrophilia is rather obscene here. He gives no evidence or reason to institute dialectical categories in a discussion of the political. Good vs. evil and beauty vs. ugliness do not mean that you can divide the political world in two as well. This is glaringly obvious when Schmidt glosses over starving people into submission as just another example of disciplining unsuccessful competitors. Because intermediate forms of violence, like blacklisting someone from work, and non murder forms of violence (like rape) do not factor into his equivocation, we get a stilted view of the political. His obsession of using either or propositions completely screws up his theory. There’s no nuance, just totalitarian certainty.

Really it all boils down to political theory of crass warlordism. Whoever has the most guns wins the game. We all rush into a head-on collision with death to prove our political point. To show that we have the biggest balls. But that’s a rather foolish prescription for society. For in Schmidt’s world the only solution is a political force so big that it annihilates all internal political wills and keeps other states at bay. Some would call this dictatorship. Other would call it fascism. I just think Schmidt’s a fool.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Combination post: Ender's Game and The Concept of the Political

As I was reading The Concept of the Political by Carl Schmitt one continous thread seemed to be present throughout the entire essay. The notion that the state or the political entity in power must always portray their opponent as the "enemy" or as something dangerous and poteintally harmful. Schmitt makes the argument that this is necessary in order for whoever is in power to remain in control. As long as the enemy is always viewed as such, you will have the support of the public against them. This goes back to our discussion in class about the buggers. The reason that was alluded to as justification for killing off the buggers was that they were the "enemy" and they might attack humans again one day. It was presented as humans being the good guys and buggers being the bad guys and that their was no middle ground. This very black and white argument can be related back to Schmitt. The group in power, the humans, felt the need to project their political enemy,the buggers as the "other" or as a dangerous entity to human rule and domination.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More crap on the Buggers and Alterity

Something that I thought was very interesting about Ender's Game and our subsequent discussion and blog posts was our focus on the idea of destroying the other. When its ok to do so etc. That Thursday we had a discussion in my Cairo class where we discussed Seeing Like a State, which argues that notions of high modernism and all that sort of stuff. Essentially the obsession over totalizing narratives was big focus of high modernist thought. On both the left and right people got sucked into these questions of universality. If something didn’t fit inside their neatly constructed paradigms, then it was something Other and usually was ignored or destroyed.

I think when discussing Ender's Game its good to think of it through the gaze of modernist thought. Ender's Game is an interesting commentary on “seeing like a state” because that’s the gaze that nearly all the “important” people seem to take. The Bugger’s do not fit within their intellectual framework. So instead of putting more effort into understanding them, they seek to destroy them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

so, what would I do

When I was supposed to answer the question about what would I do if I had the final say over what we should do about the buggers, I did go for a slight cop-out, saying I would ask everyone else. But there is a good deal of truth to this. As evidenced by the fact that whoever was told the full information we had on the buggers, was never permitted to leave Eros, I doubt that many people who where not in the executive council at the time where asked about what options they could see. Therefore, the "viable" options presented could have been very limited. I agree with Tim, that we could have probably fleshed out other options possible in class (whether we would have supported them or not).

It seemed almost everyone agreed that more attempts to communicate would have been pertinent. Graff did say that "as soon as we had a working ansible, we tucked them into our best starships and launched them to attack the buggers home systems" (250), which implies that they did not attempt to use it in serious attempts to use it to communicate with the buggers. While I will be the first to admit that the communication methods probably would not interface well with each other, the attempts should have been made, as well as serious research to try and make an ansible that used a form that could communicate. (I mean now PCs and Macs are compatible.)

Other options included a military operations that did not require the extermination of all the bugger worlds. How could we even suppose that the one invading bugger army was not a renegade army or one particular "nation" of the buggers, a hypothesis I did not think of while still in class. To guard against this, it would have been prudent to build just as strong of an army over the years, sending them out on regular scouting trips and trying to keep a section of space for ourselves. After taking several years to develop the ansible and sensing no return of the buggers, why not set up a more defensive position instead of one of such a strong attack.

So what would I do? I would set up a more defensive fleet, especially with the ansible, if the fleet was based outside the asteroid belt, or whichever direction towards the source of the buggers invasions. This is because there are many reasons for the buggers attacking with that group still being hostile but that doesn't necessarily reflect the entire race. If it could be shown that all the buggers had supported the invasion, I would be much more likely to support actions like the IF took, but I would hope I'd still believe in innocent until proven guilty, and an entire race should not be condemned base on the actions of the few.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Hello everyone!
Just a quick reminder:

1)Label all posts!! both with your name, and if it is substantive or reflective. We could potentially also start labeling them with which books/discussions they belong with. Some other groups have done it, we can debate if we think it would just make it look cluttered or if it would be useful. Personally, I think it might be handy, at least for themes.

2) Have a great Spring Break!!!!! Hope everyone has a chance to relax!


(note: originally posted 3/7, this is a bump)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ender's Game, substantive post

The one thing I noticed while reading Ender's Game is the thin line between the adults and the children in the book. Ender and the others at Battle School are supposedly these brilliant children who, we learn at the end, are the only way that the human race can win against the buggers. Yet the author still gives them very human and very childlike emotions throughout the book. The love and compassion that Ender feels for Valentine has a very childish spin to it, it is very much a younger brothers love for an older sister. Ender feels confused about what he is doing and unsure about himself, who he is, and who is becoming which are all very angsty, teenager appropriate emotions and thoughts. He wants to be rid of this "duty" to eliminate the buggers and doesn't seem to want to except the adult responsibility for what he is doing.

Those Who Fly Away from Earth

I’ve read Ender’s Game a number of times and I’ve come at it from a number of angles. Now that I’m reading it as an “adult,” one big thing strikes me. This is a novel about utilitarianism and why its got some issues. The continued survival and the continued happiness of humanity are achieved through the extermination of the Buggers. Now humanity can expand past their own solar system without worry of danger, and with a slew of planets ready for new occupants.

All of this comes at a relatively low price. In exchange for some money for the Fleet and a few children, humanity can enter a new age. Yet we’re left to wonder if this is entirely moral. The children brought up in battle school are not kids anymore, especially not Ender. Not only have they lost their innocence, they’ve lost their whole damn childhood. Reminiscent of Aliah, these are adult minds shoved into that of a child. Raised on obedience, command and violence, the authorities have dehumanized them to a great extent, made them into tools who will never outlive their usefulness. Even as the war ends, various members of Ender’s jeesh have become hot commodities for the next set of conflicts. There’s no retirement for these kids, they’re condemned to a life that is not their own, unless they a trip on a colonial vessel. Otherwise they’ll be killing for the next 50 years.

When you think about the kids like this you begin to loose some respect for humanity. It reminds me of the short story “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas.” In the story a city is blessed with the utmost happiness, everything goes well, even acts of nature. Yet, it is all predicated on the total misery of one little child. Those who can’t stand it “walk away.” Here we have a less polarized situation, but children are still being dominated for the benefit of everyone else. The question we’re all left with at the end of the novel is whether we too should “walk away.” Well…would you?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Placing Ender

I feel this is one novel which the age that you are when you first read it makes a large difference. Having read it when I was only a few years older than Ender was at the end, and believing myself to be very capable at that age, it seemed no large thing that those fighting the war and being pushed were children. In fact, to me, their maturity was not due to their intelligence, but took a large part from them being treated as if they had responsibility and as if they were capable of adult reasoning. Reading this book again, I still made those connections with Ender and the other "children". Although after what they have been put through, they seem to loose most of the behavior which would be expected from a 'typical' child. The contrast is most clearly expressed by Petra when after defeating the buggers and fighting a war, they will probably have to go to school when they get home because they're not yet 17. Graff also displace them from children as when he speaks to Ender towards the beginning, he places both himself and Ender under the category of tools for humanity, as long as humanity needs them.

One thing I particularly noticed this time through, was Graff's relation to Ender and Ender's corresponding inability to tell that Graff actually cared about him. Ender assumes, even when Graff makes an unnecessary and actually impromptu genuine gesture before they take off for Command School, Ender hardly has a doubt that it is just another move to manipulate him. What is surprising is how Ender doesn't probe further into what they are manipulating him for and doesn't suspect something more is going on. Although as he is being run to exhaustion and being completely isolated, maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Commenting on Ender's Shadow off Prof. PTJ's comment on Ender's Shadow with Bean figuring out more than Ender, from what I recall was due to him having more information and actually having people talk to him. I thought it was an interesting ending and helped draw a further parallel between the two boys.

(on a side note, this is what Tim and I found in Disney:

Monday, March 10, 2008

V's explosive fetish

Hrrrrm so according to Phil I would argue that this is a novel about anarchy when it’s actually about something else. Well yes and no.. Yes I do think this is a novel about one specific method for bringing about anarchy. However it is not a book largely about anarchism and the voluntary social order that could come about later it is about insurrection.

V certainly is trying to bring about anarchy. However his strategy is not an entirely efficacious one. I don’t fall into his school of thought. That said, V is still trying to bring about anarchy. He is aiming to destroy all forms of hierarchical power so that people can self organize a cooperative, equal and free society. V’s ideological monologues are a rather clear anarchist critique of authoritarianism and the state. To reduce that down to mere vengeance, belittles V. V isn’t that one dimensional of a character. This is not a parable about crossing the wrong man. It’s a parable of what happens when the state uses naked force to achieve its ends. V is the essential byproduct of state violence; he is its dialectical opposite. He is insurrection.

V is not the creative energy of anarchism, he is a destructive force. He is solely an insurrectionary, using spectacular acts of violence to precipitate a break in the ruling atmosphere of ideas. As I argued all throughout class and in my previous post, V is not there to build anything up. He seeks no office or post, nor has he much of a vision to offer. He’s just trying to open space. V remains an anarchist in his beliefs, but his actions only take us halfway there. There was an old anarchist federation called “Love and Rage.” V covers all the rage, but his love is a bit lacking. Hence the whole Evey situation, she’s supposed to provide the ‘love,’ the creative energy necessary for a new free society. Or at least that’s what V think’s she’ll do.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Reflective post, V for Vendetta

In class, we posed the question of whether V is a good guy. My first thought was something from another class that I am in: In the movie Fog of War, Robert McNamara, when asked if the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII was justified, he responded that, sometimes in order to do good, one must do evil. This seems to be applicable to V in the novel. In his eyes, the ends justifies the means. He is attempting to "do good" or to achieve something better than the Party. In order to do this, he must do evil by killing those who turned him into what he is today. Does this make the killings justified? This depends on whether you really think that V is ultimately trying to do good or if you believe he is simply out for revenge for his past. The same argument could be made to justify the Party's actions: in order to make society good for London, they have to do some bad or evil things first. This is anything but a black and white issue and it all depends on where you personally draw the line. Is killing only bad in certain situations and justified in others? Is it ok if the desired outcome is good? If the person's intentions are good? I don't think it is possible to answer any of these questions, which is why I don't think anyone can say for certain whether V is good or bad. Every person in the room will have a different viewpoint.

V reflection & humanity

One point in class that I'd like to offer additional evidence towards was if V's killings were justified. I think our end conclusion was that he was amoral throughout his killing process, if not immoral. The fact that he offered to kill for Evey does not have to be seen as if V thought he would actually end up killing him. Firstly, we know he was a good pawn for V's plans and secondly, he had already well established that, as a principle, Evey did not like killing. So why, after she went through a reaffirmation of her principles and honor, would she start killing? Therefore, V's question about picking the rose can be seen as another test for Evey, making sure that right away she would continue to turn away from killing. Therefore V was only asking to reaffirm Evey's principles and in no way believed he was actually going to kill Allister. So this would take away a piece of the random killing V dabbles in.

However, I have another point to add to why his killing does not discriminate throughout what level of the government/police one is in. At the vignette at the end "Vertigo" V kills the admittedly heartless man through slapstick comedy. The need to kill this man is not evident, nor is it presented as a singular instance. This incidence therefore reforms the immorality of Vs killings. Personally I see V's assassinations more as amoral, he references no normal moral codes at all in his actions.

The issue of humanity has come up in several of our discussions, and has been in fact our theme lately. But I don't think anyone has of yet not consolidated these ideas. This is not meant to be the perfect list, but is inviting discussion and additions.

In V for Vendetta: Humanity seems to be based on the idea of human dignity. We mentioned that Delia is able to preform the experiments when she sees that the people don't look human anymore, they look pathetic. Also, the last 'inch' also seems an essential key to finding one's humanity. Humanity is presented as something that must be worked upon to maintain, but that every person has within them.

Dune: Humanity is not something that everyone posses, it is defined as he ability to overcome one's animal instincts and overcome pain. Therefore in the Duniverse's philosophy, all people would not have the same rights.

He, She and It: It plays with the idea that humanity is not invested in a human being, a theme that many stories dealing with aliens brings up. That what we call human and humanity, is not inherent only in homo sapiens but also in most thinking, sentient beings.
Through this interaction, I think comes the further understanding of what it means to be human. We use the adjective human to describe all types of higher order sympathies (human dignity, human decency, etc.), however we might be able to better describe these ideas as something less species specific. Although it might be interesting to imagine a world in which it turns out that these ideas are specific to humans alone.

These are just a couple incidents in which we have discussed the notion of humanity.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


In class it was noted that Shira was hard to relate to, I found this interesting, especially concerning my post about how easy and interesting I found it to relate to Malkah. Although I see how Shira can be seen as whinny, and shallow, I think she portrays the tensions between the world the corporate society is trying to put her in, and her more traditional upbringing.

One a different note:
An interesting thought experiment coming out of our discussion of Yod would be to imagine a machine that is definitely not sentient but is programmed to learn (and for self-preservation). This machine would learn to emulate human behavior. When its program become advanced enough, when it felt it suited itself, it's behavior might become indistinguishable from that of a real person. What could be used to tell the difference, as pointed out by someone in class I believe, you can talk about having feelings and how you feel without genuinely having them, so couldn't something that didn't have feelings be able to convince someone it did. (From Mike's confusions in TMIAHM, we might be able to understand through the grasp of humor, between mechanical and sentient.)
I'm not saying I believe Yod was not sentient, for it seemed to me as if he were, but it is interesting to note how we have no way of determining if a being was sentient or not. Descarte's "I think therefore I am" is also a way that I suppose we use to show how humans are sentient beings, but this is something that we can only know for ourselves, and we transfer to all other people because of the few we know and ourselves are sentient.
Also, the "I think" might need to be modified, or at least better described for a machine. Machines commonly process information and produce results, so in an advanced machine, that eve doesn't begin to claim sentience, this process could be considered thinking in a linear manner.

Malkah, A Women of our generation

Being born in '87, just a few years max away from us, Malkah seems uniquely situated for our generation to relate to (although as the book was published in '91 it was probably aimed for our parents and their younger sibs). Also due to its early publishing date, what has happened in our youth can only be speculated with, although to me it seems unerringly accurate that Malkah would be someone a person of our generation could be. The original of the tech savvy, never wanting to allow technology to get ahead of her, and not by not keeping up, rather by making sure we keep up with it. Also the historical events seem not to be improbable in today's world. A random malcontent blowing up Israel/Palistine for who knows what reason, and then in hindsight not even really caring who did the blowing up or why, all that it matters was that it happened, and now we need to move on. It will not be a country, it might not even be a specific group, but someone will probably take responsibility for it if there's any positive PR to be gained (the last obviously not being the case in Malkah's world).

Malkah has also grown up with thinking robots in her surrounding literature, although she would have read Frankenstein, Data from Next Gen was beginning to be prominent as Next Gen was starting its 4th season in '91, and other positive literature and films dealing with thinking, human-like machines abounded. From someone who expanded the internet before it became popular, a view of a world where so many ideas about artificial intelligence seemed every-day and relatable, the idea of making sure the cyborg had human tendencies would be an easy concept for someone of Malkah's openness.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

State of ...?

Although V is the second proponent of anarchy we have encountered, his brand is quite dissimilar to that of Heinlein's Professor. V's purer brand is more idealistic as he not only believed in the power of the mob, but also in the people's ability to make decent choices. Prof did not see the masses as more than a mob to be controlled and manipulated, and while V did use manipulation, he did believe the people were capable of more, as evidenced by his last speech. This doesn't mean V believes that everyone will make the right' choice, but that some would choose it, and all would have the potential to. This differences between V and the Prof is how they view the mob: either as a hoard of people, or a mass of individuals.

Also intriguing is how V views the entire process of politics and even governance that lead up to the 20th century as a negative and hurtful process. this is not only true of his view of tyrannies, but rather of and form of governance which requires some trade offs between individual freedom with public wellbeing and cooperation

Interestingly, his view of anarchy is different then chaos. He seems to believe that although the last time chaos existed in his world, was when the Party took power. Evidently, V believes that the people able to self monitor themselves to a reasonable extent, so no space opens up for another group to take power, as some are already plotting to do. His believe is that since now the people are awake to the tyranny, they will exhibit the tendency to get along. His believe on the future seems dependent on a Rousseauian view of humanity, which might not be held by all the Vs that follow him.

Smash the State...Literally

“I guess having been out in the front lines of conflict for most of my life, I just haven't had the time to grow older. Anyway, death usually comes suddenly and unexpectedly to people in my line of work, so I don't worry about it.” Saul Alinsky

“We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.” Buenaventura Durruti

“Marcos is every untolerated, oppressed, exploited minority that is resisting and saying, "Enough already!" He is every minority who is now beginning to speak and every majority that must shut up and listen. He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak, their way to speak. Everything that makes Power and the good consciences
of those in power uncomfortable - this is Marcos.” Subcommandante Marcos

These three quotes encapsulate the key aspects of V the character and V the ideal.

First we’ve got Alinksy. This quote has a lot to do with V’s conception of freedom, namely that we can only break out of our mental and physical prison by acknowledging our mortality. Through this action we come to understand that our fears are weak and unfounded. If we are willing to accept that death may come whenever, then we must also accept that we must live life. To accede to the demands of those in power is a foolish thing under this new mental framework. For even if you may live longer as a favored pet, you’re still not free and you’re still gonna die sooner or later. It’s a matter of living “lives of quiet desperation” or truly living. The individual that accepts that they cannot live forever and understands it on that “gut level” will no longer cower in deference, because what’s the point? As the old saying goes “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”

Second we’ve got Durruti. This goes to V’s notion of the destroyer and creator. Like Durruti, V does not fear ruins, in fact he welcomes them. He knows that society has every ability to build something else in its place; all it needs is to be freed from the shackles of authority. This is central to understanding V. The creation of ruins is central to his belief system and mode of social organization. As an insurrectionary anarchist, V believes that the inherent dissatisfaction of the masses can explode when they witness the spectacular destruction of authority. What differentiates V from others is that he seems unable to do much more than to destroy. V is so warped from his own torturous past that he must commit a kind of suicide. Only with Evey, the girl who won’t kill, can we bring about a new time of anarchy.

I think this points to the main weakness in Vs ideals. The “land of do what you please” is awesome. As yall have probably surmised I’m all down with it. My issue is that by simply destroying the authoritarian apparatuses, V does not create an environment for positive social organization. He creates a system that may or may not produce a new norsefire. Why? Just like V, all of society has been warped by centuries, even millennia, of hierarchical rule. Yes we all have a very strong cooperative instinct and when push comes to shove, most folks are whole lot more cooperative than competitive. But the matter remains, that whatever competitiveness they had has been exacerbated a million fold, while cooperative behavior has been crushed. We cannot overlook the massive power that socialization has on people and their behavior. By and large what we term as “human nature” is really just what we’ve socially conditioned people to engage in. Unsurprisingly our current sickly batch of prominent businesspeople, public intellectuals and politicians seem to think we’re all greedy bastards. How convenient for them.

Under a different social setup this “human nature” would be different. The great problem with V is that he does not try and change anyone’s socialized behavior…except for Evey. Everyone else is still programmed as they were before, to be sheep. And while their natural impulses to egalitarianism and freedom are certainly heightened in this environment, they are also hungry, confused and unsure. I can only hope that their recent encounter with the State has left them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Though all is not lost. For at least here our revolutionaries are faceless and unable to take up a seat in government. This is where the third quote comes in. For those that don’t know, Subcommandante Marcos is a spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation or EZLN. The EZLN rose up in 1994 in the Mexican state of Chiapas. They soon declared a ceasefire and have since used a mix of violent and non violent tactics to secure better lives for their communities, which are mainly composed of poor Mayan farmers. What makes the EZLN special is that they advocate for revolutionary pluralism and participatory democracy…not Marxist Leninism. They place heavy emphasis that their leaders are accountable and controlled by the communities at large. Part of this is expressed in that all major EZLN leaders wear ski masks at all public events. Thus the leadership can never fully develop a cult personality. Further this seemingly mere security measure forces the observer to think that the Zapatista could be anyone, anywhere. The mask, much like V’s, is a way to include others in the movement and to destroy the potential of charismatic leaders. For just as Evey points out, the man or woman behind the mask will always turn out to be smaller than the symbol they became.

This is important to understanding V. His insistence on retaining total anonymity is probably his best organizing tool. He forces the rest of us to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. We can’t put our faith in him as he’s just a shadowy figure, one without a mass organization behind him or a specific party line. V, as any good organizer knows, seeks to open space so that others can step in and organize/transform for themselves. He does not seek to lead or control them; rather he is a grand facilitator… a facilitator of people and high explosives..

Reflection on He She and It

Scot’s uncomfortable, felt as he read the female chapters that he was being wrung out.
Seems like folks either like the cold analytic examination or the inner emotion stuff. This book has more inner emotional stuff.

Is this a warning or something else? Nobody seems to know.

There’s this debate over whether or not this book is anti male. But it seems more like this is a book about gender and the danger of certain traditionally, but not exclusively, male characteristics aka violence.

What is Yod? Glop? Free town? Free towns rock, but rock within a precarious existence. The multis aren’t too bad when compared to glop which is feudalism with weak feudal lords, aka the thirty years war

YS is a disciplinary culture similar to Disney. Novel shows neoliberalism and social disciplinary power run amok.

Jews…They survive. Are they religious or more of a culture? Gimmel sucks Yod is a puzzle for Judaism

Is Yod a person? He has agency mostly, but cannot harm certain folk. Cannot create a new Yod, he is unique, gives him some personhood. Yod has consciousness. Personhood is something of a social construction

We may not be able to transmit experience, we only have words. thus it is hard to know what or who Yod is.

So yeah those were the notes from last class. Probably should have put them up earlier...whoops.

Anyway, I think Marge Piercy’s novel is a good example of internalized disciplinary power, but Tikva is not a very good example of “libertarian socialism.” Overall I thought the novel was uneven in its more social science focus. While the multi enclave’s are incredibly detailed, the free towns don’t seem to offer a coherent political alternative. In comparison to the multi enclaves and the Glop, the free towns are a great deal better. However the free towns remain indistinct. Yes they’ve got the town halls, but aside from that, things don’t seem all too different.