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Tag Archives: modernity

There’s No Real Freedom Without Authority

The people always want to be free but they are their own worst jailors. If everyone can do what they want in their own best interest, a ruthless race to the bottom is assured. If we know others face no restraint we won’t exercise restraint ourselves in the lifelong competition for food, shelter, money, mates, and prestige.

The information age has outstripped the ability of traditional social technologies to limit individual choice in ways that yield a net benefit to everyone. It is now too easy for individuals to circumvent the customs and soothing myths that create an illusion of harmony. They can get very accurate real-time information to optimize their self-interest whether in the job market or the dating market.

When everyone has access to networks, no one wants to be the 5 that settles for a 5 in life and so all the rest is a game to outmaneuver and sabotage one’s way to a better spot in the great game of musical chairs as society falls apart. Instead of getting things done, most energies are devoted to finding out who has to jump on the grenade and take one for the team. Then arises even more social strife when the despised loser nominated as grenade jumper refuses to jump.

It is impossible to reinstate rules that no one really wants to practice in real life. Nor does acting as if older customs still existed do anything to resurrect them. These systems existed by being airtight constructs that very few could successfully defect from. With that seal broken, they are imaginary fancies.

So the question lies in how to adapt to the problems of modernity in an efficient and realistic manner.
Policy in most other areas of public life suggests we need to arrest the relentless race to the bottom at strategic points.

Without safety nets like EBT cards, soup kitchens, shelters, and minimum wage there would be bread riots and people working for less than a dollar an hour to be able to afford just enough white flour and rice to keep them alive. Desperate people with nothing to lose would force anyone with surplus wealth to live in compounds guarded by private armies.(aka the 3rd world)

Without solid rules, there would be no 40 hour work week with a cushy weekend for those lucky enough to have jobs. There would be no holidays, paid vacation, or benefits. Many would be simply be worked to death. The marketplace would have no use for useless old people sticking around.

Without free association and strict controls on real estate, bidding wars impoverish even the highest paid workers, ensuring they never have kids and their high IQ breed goes extinct.

Without land forcibly set aside for parks, every urban area would be an unbroken sea of grey and all old buildings would be demolished to make way for cookie cutter tenements.

Without force itself, there would be no taxes, nor any polity at all.

The best kind of rules aren’t heavy-handed, stupid rules no one wants like forcing all American women to wear hijabs or banning plastic straws.
The rules that work best are those that force people to do what they’d like to do anyway by using the authority of the state to make sure everyone else has to do it.

No one could afford to pay taxes if the IRS didn’t maintain an airtight seal with extreme aggression and precision. Otherwise any sucker who paid up would live at a disadvantage to everyone else.

The state is truly legitimate when it becomes not just a parasitic occupying army but a broker that relieves the tensions in the endless struggles between humans. Without such an intervention, the natural state of man is Malthusian squalor. Hobbes was right.

We can see that the legitimacy of our present system really went into steep decline right as it broke the back of the old labor left that Bernie Sanders tried and failed to resurrect. The negotiation between labor and the state ended, and with it their role as a broker sustaining balance for the average worker.
Ever since, there has been a wasteland of open borders, free trade, corporate welfare, and parasitic wars to enrich the military industrial complex.
I am critical of corrupt unions and of the borderline communists who did their part to bring a hostile reaction down on them, but the “cure,” I think, has proven far worse than the disease. When the duty of easing tensions is not fulfilled, a swelling volcano cone rises up under the ruler’s feet.

The result of these modern pressures is both sides of the political spectrum now demand a return to authoritarianism. Most people, whatever their politics, understand intuitively that their freedom and empowerment have enslaved them to one another more than ever, the great game board a terrible gridlock of collective checkmate further than the eye can see. It has become self-evident that any kind of modern society requires the intervention of a strong state at carefully chosen points.

When everyone has excellent information and mobility they are forced to beg for a legitimate ruler to mediate between the people on earth and the powers of heaven.

Attack on Titan and Modernity

I watched the first two seasons of the anime, Attack on Titan and was quite impressed. It was the darkest and creepiest concept I’d seen since Berserk. The Japanese have an amazing eye for visual details in the natural world I never tire of whether it’s falling rain or cherry blossoms. That comes across strongly here too conveying visually both the sweetness and impermanence of our brief lives.

The basic premise is a great walled medieval city has been under siege by shambling giants for hundreds of years, as long as even ancestral legends can remember. Life has gone on normally inside the walls while only a handful of scouts have to deal with the harshness of the outside world. Then one day, a giant even taller than the walls peeks over at the terrified people below and everything goes to hell from there, complete with a breach in the wall.

We soon see these giants attacking the city itself, forcing the locals to retreat behind one inner wall after another as they are forced back.
The titans themselves are the most unsettling creatures I’ve seen since the titular Aliens with their chestburster larvae.
The Alien Xenomorphs are designed to appear as foreign as possible. The titans are possibly even more terrifying because of their familiarity. They look like very large, naked people at first but something is missing. They have vacuous facial expressions and their eyes are totally innocent like those of a baby. Even as they approach with mouths eagerly open and hands outstretched their pupils are dilated as though they may be friendly.

The human foolish enough to fall for this ploy is scooped up with a firm hand and promptly chopped in two by a great set of teeth, the hulking beast oblivious to their desperate pleading as they go in. If their whole body somehow goes down the Titan’s gullet without immediately debilitating blood loss, they get to perish in the steaming heat of the Titan’s stomach amidst a clutter of twisted corpses they are soon to join.
What’s more horrifying still is for all the titans’ hunger for humankind they don’t need the nourishment and periodically cough up “hairballs” of undigested human body parts. To add insult to injury the butchery to which they are single-mindedly devoted serves no apparent natural purpose.

I see this new Japanese Titan myth as a natural descendant of the African zombi myth that later became popular in the West.
Zombis were originally an allegory among African peoples for humans torn away from all family and identity by the slave trade, the living dead. In the modern West, zombies live on as atomized individuals in a post-Western atomized society where nobody cares about anyone else because all others are just adversarial competitors in the market economy whose main contribution to one another is to drive down each others’ wages.

The Japanese have one of the last, best societies on earth that is high trust and homogenous with low crime and world class health care and education. They have refused to have third world immigration on anywhere near the scale of other modernized societies preserving their ethnic domain and culture. The fertility rate is among the lowest in the world with a large and dysfunctional culture of incel outcast males but the Japanese have weathered population contractions before when hitting the very limited natural carrying capacity of their mostly mountainous, resource-poor island chain.

The variables that are different this time are those introduced by the modern neo-liberal capitalist economic system that pits all humans against one another in a fight to the death in a single grand arena.

The adversarial nature of man vs. man is the very core thesis of Attack on Titan. The overt adversaries resemble humans, but like zombies lack empathy or any trace of human spirit. Man vs. man is a strong direct theme in the series. As the humans are forced back by the Titans, there is less food and resources to go around, meaning much of the population becomes unsupportable surplus. At one point, the unimportant, the useless, and the old pretty much draw straws to go on a mass suicide offensive against the Titans so the rest don’t starve.
Furthermore, it is strongly hinted throughout that the central government of the great city is highly corrupt. To everyone’s astonishment, the most promising Titan fighters from boot camp are funneled away from the front lines to the government enforcers and secret police instead. Amidst an existential crisis of the entire species, scheming politicians are still up to no good. As if that were not enough, a religion of evangelical fanatics also vies for power and influence in the dying embers of the human world.

Even in the most dire circumstances, humans still engage in relentless zero sum games against a heavy backdrop of nihilism.
What is most shocking is this narrative comes from one of the best-off societies on the planet. Yet they too are consumed by the malaise and despair and decline that besets everywhere else.

History tells us there are sweeping trends that affect everywhere. A Japanese mercantile elite overthrew landed warrior aristocrats just like in the West when exposed to the same technology and pressures. They pursued a flavor of nationalism very similar to that in Europe and America at the time. The outcome was inevitable and so it is now.

Even if all the foreigners were instantly expelled from the United States, the intractable questions remain as we can see from the example of Japan. If these questions were answered, foreigners would be little threat and kept as powerless guest workers or expelled at will rather than function as a civilization-destroying political wedge.

Japan shows us that modernity poses a spiritual and cultural challenge that every 1st world country must deal with as roughly the same historical forces are in play from one end of the globe to another as it has been before.
Caught in a vice between attacking swarms of Titans and the backstabbing tendencies of our own treacherous kind, we seek a way towards a worthwhile future where people can cooperate again against common threats.

The society that figures it out first seizes the unclaimed prize. Or perhaps we all sink back into a great Dark Age.

What Game of Thrones Tells Us About Modernity

It’s not often a work of fantasy breaks into the the mainstream.

I read tons of fantasy when I was a kid and with the exception of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the whole genre was considered a niche market.

Thus the re-emergence of fantasy into the popular consciousness comes as a major landmark.
Why did this happen?

The first word that people use when they describe Game of Thrones is ‘realistic.’
There’s no clearly defined good or bad guys, plot twists break from established conventions.
The whole social world is defined by infidelity, incest, Machiavellian self interest, and betrayal.

The one classically moral character who refuses to adapt and insists on sticking to his values comes to a tragic end.
Not only is he killed, his best intentions lead only to strife and catastrophe.

I tried to read these books at the recommendations of some friends, but I didn’t get very far. The first thing I noticed was that I’d been introduced to about 20 different characters by page 50 and I struggled to keep them all straight in my head and remember their unremarkable Old English names.
Already the social relationships between these characters were becoming a web of petty backbiting.

In short: it was an awful lot like spending time on facebook; the kind of shallow social interaction I’d always gone to fantasy books to get away from!

Fantasy is a form of mythology; it tells larger than life stories about the experiences in our daily lives.

The huge success of Game of Thrones is a powerful indicator of how the popular consciousness has shifted.

The schemers win and the honorable men are naive fools who will only end up being taken advantage of. Worse, their good intentions will inevitably backfire within our modern order.

Why does this tragic outcome have such a deep appeal?
Members of the audience perhaps wish an Eddard Stark could have won the day but simultaneously have a cynical knowledge that this can never be.
In this moral dissonance, we perhaps find a certain catharsis that helps us resolve emotions we bottle up every day.

We know that asshole boss who played The Game of Thrones better than we did is going to be the winner over us, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…

Perhaps before this Second Great Depression revealed beyond all doubt that a great game of selfish intrigue defines our society up to its highest ranks, we could tell ourselves that some how the good guys will win in the end.

Those who care about the future of this society would do well to take note that these ‘realistic’ attitudes have seeped into the wellsprings of our collective imagination.

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Eddard Stark

Eddard Stark

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