In Defense of Mary Sue

There are two distinct ways in which the term Mary Sue gets used in literary works (as well as any other fictional medium, really).  The most common usage today is in the context of the perfect protagonist.  This could mean a character that has a seemingly limitless aptitude for displaying/learning skills that go well beyond the realm of reason even within the reality of the fanciful narrative in which s/he exists.

Think of characters that are described as flawless physically, and around whom all the other characters gravitate towards, whether the plot necessitates it or not.  Obvious examples are characters brought to life within the pages of fan-fiction, but I would say that such writings are somewhat of a given on account that they are meant to be tributes to existing characters, thus overemphasizing said characters attributes might be unavoidable in this genre.  More worthwhile examples of Mary Sues are characters that are actually successful, and one could say well-respected, within literature.

Characters like James Bond and Nancy Drew in their original literary inceptions could very easily be argued to fit this description.  James Bond speaks every language of every country he steps foot in, can fight (and always win) in every fighting style confronted with, and can (and will) seduce any woman he desires because every woman he meets just naturally lusts after him without hesitation.  Likewise, Nancy Drew effortlessly picks up any activity she tries, is seemingly liked by everyone and often complimented on just how great she is by the other characters, and of course understands investigative deduction and forensic science well beyond what ought to be plausible for a person her age.

A word needs to be said about not going overboard and pinning the Mary Sue label on any character that just happens to be either capable, or powerful.  For example, although Superman is essentially a god-like character in many regards, he’s not really a Mary Sue as the term is commonly used.  Notwithstanding the fact that he has a fatal weakness in kryptonite, a lot of the narrative around Superman centers on the way his immense power keeps him on some scale separate–even isolated–from the very people he is dedicated to protect.  No matter how humane he is, he is never going to be human, and will always be an outsider in that regard in the only world he knows as home (especially since his birth planet no longer exists).  In this sense, there is a genuinely ongoing tragedy underlying the Superman saga, whether it is explicitly stated or not, in a way Mary Sues don’t really have to deal with.

There is a secondary definition to a Mary Sue, and it involves authors who essentially write themselves into the plot of their stories as a means of wish-fulfillment.  To put it simply, when the main character in a story is written as a idealized version of the author her/himself, and is written in a way to fulfill the perfect protagonist archetypes described above, then we have a Mary Sue on our hands.

I can see why people dislike either incarnation of the Mary Sue trope sneaking into the pages of a story.  Perfect character can get stale very quickly, because they are largely unrelatable to the vast majority of readers.  Moreover, the overreaching plot of a story will become very boring if we can tell from the start that the main character will always save the day, get the love, or that every obstacle encountered is just a superficial plot piece that offers no real danger in the long run.  However, despite all this reasonable criticism on why not to write characters in this way, the fact is that Mary Sues can actually resonate with readers if they find the story engaging enough–compelling writing just have a way of trumping all tropes.  The two examples of James Bond and Nancy Drew can attest to this just by how prolific both characters have been through the decades.  (It should be noted that I am aware how Bond has been greatly “de-Sued” in his cinematic portrayal over the years, in particular in the most recent Daniel Craig films, which show him as a far more vulnerable and broken person than he ever was in print.)

What this tells me is that people don’t mind Mary Sues so much as they like to use Mary Sues as a convenient way to write off a work of fiction they probably disliked to begin with.  And I get that, too.  Sometimes, characters in a book can just rub you the wrong way.  I for one absolutely loathed Holden Caulfield when I first read The Catcher in the Rye, and am still not too found of the little shit to this day.  (I’ve mellowed out about him because I’ve come to terms with the possibility that he’s a character I’m not meant to like.)  If I discovered that Holden was written to serve as an idealized stand-in for J.D. Salinger my opinion would not be swayed one way or the other.  This brings me to the final point I want to make on this topic, and it deals with the issue people have of authors writing themselves into the characters.  As anyone who has ever written fiction can confirm, it is unavoidable that some part of you will come through, in some way, in every character you will ever create.  I’ll even go as far as to say that I have never written a character that didn’t reflect some aspect of my personality, morbid curiosities, lived experiences, faced dilemmas, overcome setbacks, learned failures, and hard fought successes.  And I know that people will object that I’m shamefully stirring away from the genuine opposition leveled against Mary Sues (i.e. an author’s perfect protagonist wish-fulfillment), but I would argue that the fear of not wanting to create a Mary Sue-type character may be holding some writers back from exploring the full depth they can push themselves to because they are too paranoid about falling into this trope.  What I would urge instead is for a different approach.

You shouldn’t just see yourself as the author of the story, but remember that you are also its first reader.  You are the first one who will look through the characters’ eyes and see the world as it is written for them to see.  Regardless of whether you are a novice or been doing this for years, it is no easy feat to create an entire world from whole cloth, and then give to it a pair of eyes (several pairs, if we are being honest) for others to share in the experience.  It can be a rather frustrating task to even know where to start.  My take on the matter is simply to realize that, as you’re struggling to give sight to your story’s narrators, it is perfectly fine to first start with the pair of eyes ready made in your head, and expand from there without fear of breaking some unwritten rules of storytelling.

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Darwin’s Use of Natural Selection, and Metaphors in Science

From its initial publication on November 24th, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species revolutionized the scientific field through its presentation of evolutionary theory as the biological process capable of accounting for the diversity of life observed in the world.  And the key means by which Darwin proposed evolution to be possible was a mechanism he called natural selection.

From the start, controversy arose against Darwin’s strictly naturalistic explanation for the emergence of new species, and opposition formed swiftly to denounce evolution by natural selection as an insufficient theory that is unscientific in its analysis.  Most of the early opposition was religious in nature, but a more legitimate note of dissent came from Darwin’s own colleague Alfred Russel Wallace, who criticized Darwin’s choice of diction in referring to the evolutionary process by the term natural selection as misleading to the general public, because it needlessly implied a selector in the process.  Darwin countered Wallace’s objection by making the case that, for explanatory purposes, natural selection served as a sufficient term as it gives people a descriptive (albeit metaphorical) idea of how the wholly naturalistic phenomenon operates in comparison to the widely familiar practice of artificial selection.

Wallace himself was a proponent of evolution (often referred to as its co-discoverer along with Darwin), and was by no means opposed to the idea of natural selection.  He simply preferred the phrase “survival of the fittest” as a much better alternate to natural selection, arguing:

Natural Selection is, when understood, so necessary and self-evident a principle, that it is a pity it should be in any way obscured; and it therefore seems to me that the free use of “survival of the fittest,” which is a compact and accurate definition of it, would tend much to its being more widely accepted, and prevent it being so much misrepresented and misunderstood.[1]

Wallace thought that among the scientists in the field, who understood their work, the use of natural selection was not an issue, but among those who did not understand evolution and its process, the metaphor would fail to convey Darwin’s true meaning.  Undoubtedly aware of the attacks his and Darwin’s theory was already being subjected to, Wallace must have been worried that confusing people about the function of natural selection with metaphorical language would only serve to move skeptical minds further away from embracing evolutionary theory.

Darwin responded by agreeing that natural selection can be misleading to some, and even decided to incorporate “survival of the fittest” alongside natural selection as a compromise to Wallace in subsequent editions of On the Origin of Species.  But Darwin also commented how through the continued use of natural selection, his intended meaning will become more widespread, and weaken the sort of objections Wallace made.[2]  Despite these concessions on the issue, Darwin remained largely dismissive of Wallace’s concern, even bluntly responding that Wallace overstated the case for the opposition, and implied that certain individuals will misinterpret any term simply because they are too keen on scrutinizing over matters that are trivial to the average person.[2]

Darwin introduced the concept of descent through modification (i.e. evolution) in Chapter I of On the Origin of Species by drawing parallels to the artificial selection observed in animal domestication[3], something most of his readers would have been familiar with at the time.  He does this as a means of easing his audience into his argument in Chapter IV, where he finally makes his case for natural selection.  The confusion Wallace referred to can be argued here by Darwin’s parallel between artificial and natural selection, and his stating how, “this preservations of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variation, I call Natural Selection,”[4] because it indicates the presence of intelligent oversight (as is the case for artificial selection), when in reality no such implication need be made for the process to function.  Though in his exchange with Wallace, Darwin appeared to be shrugging the matter off as a nonissue, he nevertheless thought it important to both defend his use of natural selection, and clear up any confusion about his intent in later editions of the book:  “It is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us. With a little familiarity such superficial objections will be forgotten.”[5]  Thereby reiterating his confidence that by continually familiarizing the public with his true intended meaning for natural selection, the term can be salvaged and the misguided dissent will disappear.

Charles Darwin insisted that metaphorical terms are needed in science for the sake of expressing an idea, and that it is the general descriptive quality that ought to be focused on by readers, not so much the personification of abstract concepts.  For example, when one says that particles are physically attracted to one another, few actual think there is some sort of conscious intimacy taking place between the consciousness-devoid matter.  Same goes with the description that gravity pushes down on a table, in that nobody would claim that the result caused by the force is driven by a self-awareness to hold on to the object.  In the case of natural selection, while in a literal sense a misnomer, it is nevertheless an apt description of the mechanism taking place.

Despite what is often asserted within anti-Darwinian circles, evolution by natural selection is actually not a completely random phenomenon, in that there does occur a mode of selection.  To explain it simply:  Different variants exist among and within different species, exhibiting different traits; some of them will be better adapted to a given environment, thus they will better survive in said environment, leaving more descendants with the same beneficial traits than the less adapted species.  It is blind, unguided, and in the long-run goalless, but also not really random, in that nature itself non-randomly provides the setting in which the various random traits will either flourish or flounder.  Thus, although the selector is an unintelligent and unaware agent, it is a selector nonetheless; a natural selector.  Meaning that Darwin’s use of natural selection as a metaphorical expression to describe the mechanism of evolutionary theory is a fitting one, and an entirely justifiable one.

Natural selection, as a term, is metaphorical only in the broad sense, but very descriptive in light of the proper understanding of the science involved in its function.  Darwin was right to point out that, given enough promotion, a phrase will begin to take on the definition popularly assigned to it even among the most stubborn minds.  Originally, the Big Bang was coined as a dismissive mockery of the theory, and is neither accurate not descriptive, but it has such wide use that objections have been thoroughly forgotten, and nobody emphasizes its metaphorical implications.  This leads into the main point, and it is one that Darwin himself indirectly made to Wallace, how for those who are opposed to the implications of evolution no term or explanation will be justifiable, and misconstruing natural selection is a means by which to either conform the concept to their personal liking or discredit it as insufficient.  The same would happen with “survival of the fittest,” or any other alternative phrase that could be proposed.  And it is through the merit of its work that science is judged, not by its ability to accommodate to the ignorance of its detractors.

 

[1] Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, eds., More Letters of Charles Darwin:  A record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters (London: John Murray, 1903. Vol. 1.), 270.

[2] Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, eds., More Letters of Charles Darwin:  A record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters (London: John Murray, 1903. Vol. 1), 272.

[3] Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species ed. James Secord (Oxford: University Press, 2008), 111.

[4] Darwin, Origin of Species, 141.

[5] Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species, 6th edition (London: John Murray, 1872), 63.

Nietzsche’s Great Blunder on Human Inheritance

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote extensively about his interpretation of human development (as well as human degradation), and in his beautifully articulated fervor he often fell into the habit of overextending his narrow understanding of evolutionary theory.

One cannot erase from the soul of human being what his ancestors like most to do and did most constantly / It is simply not possible that a human being should not have the qualities and preferences of his parents and ancestors in his body, whatever appearances may suggest to the contrary (Beyond Good and Evil, “What is Noble,” Section 264).

The detrimental part of Nietzsche’s error above is his apparent endorsement of Lamarckian inheritance (an early evolutionary hypothesis that states how organisms can pass on traits they acquired in their lifetimes to their offspring; considered to have been largely displaced as a scientifically viable theory in favor of Darwinian natural selection).  In the same section, Nietzsche goes on to say that if one knows about the character traits and likes of the parents, an accurate inference about the child’s personality traits and likes also becomes possible; emphasizing that it is only, “with the aid of the best education that one will at best deceive with regard to such a heredity.”  Nevertheless, Nietzsche ignores the impact that environmental pressure plays on the development of a child’s psychology, i.e. the fact that people (in particular children) seem to readily adopt the characteristics and traits that are prevalent in their surroundings (this is not an absolute rule, but a general statement).

For example, I have always lived in working-class urban areas in the United States, where there reside quite a few immigrant households (my own included).  And where there are immigrant households in the U.S., there are also first-generation Americans.  By Nietzsche’s assessment these first-generationers should retain the “qualities and preferences” of their parents and ancestors, yet in reality, more often than not, they simply don’t.

If they were born here–or arrived here at a young age–went to American schools, associated with American peers, and indulged in American pop culture to any extend, their qualities and preferences will be inseparable from that of anyone else whose ancestry goes back several generations in this country.  This will be true in regard to their most basic characteristics, such as their accents, their mannerisms, their values, their ideals, their politics, and their interaction with societal phenomena.  What remains of the traditional ties to the parent’s mindset becomes solely a sentimental practice for the sake of the still unassimilated elders, rather than a reflection of sincere attachment to ancestral values.

Nietzsche might have countered by saying that this is just part of the deceptive education he warned about.  But if we accept that people can be deceived about their likes and preferences by their surroundings, does it not also warrant the notion that people are deceived about their likes and preferences by their parents (i.e. childhood indoctrination), rather than having inherited them by Lamarckian means?  In fact, under close scrutiny Nietzsche’s two opposing premises seem to be virtually identical, as long as one does away with the Lamarckian inheritance component in the first.

Nietzsche rejected free will as a viable factor in human psychology.  Thus he may have been motivated to accept acquired inheritance as a necessity to explain human behavioral traits in a completely deterministic universe.  But, if so, this is a needless exercise on his part, since the fact that people’s behaviors are determined by a combination of genetic (in a purely biological sense, not the abstract personal interests discussed above) and environmental factors, is sufficient enough in offering a thorough explanation of the matter.  However, I doubt that free will held any real motivation in Nietzsche’s reasoning on the subject.

More likely, Nietzsche saw Lamarckian inheritance as a more fitting addition to his greater philosophical aims.  Charles Darwin had adamantly proposed that in the grand scheme of things, the only coherent way to speak of evolution is on the level of populations, not individuals.  To Nietzsche–who by all accounts had no trouble accepting either Darwin’s theory by natural selection, or the common descent of living organism–this view would have been too naive to satisfy his want for a more inwardly self-reflection (he was after all more a philosopher, than a scientist), not to mention I suspect he probably saw it as antithetical to his own promotion of individual development and preservation, in favor to the preservation of the population as a whole.

Thus, it might be safe to say, that in this case at least, Nietzsche had fallen into the same trap he had warned others of with so much rational eloquence.  He overlooked the fact that the veracity of a conclusion cannot be determined by its conformity to our preferences, but must stand on its own merits.

Yes, the Alt-right is Racist, and Fascist, too

I’ve always been of the opinion that the best thing about the internet is that it can connect you to people you would never have had the chance to meet otherwise.  Unfortunately, the worst thing about the internet is that it can connect you to people you might never have wanted to meet in the first place.  A further caveat I need to add to my thinking here is that it also gives opportunity for groups of people, who would otherwise silently fester in the fringe of their own obscurity, an outlet by which to promote and recruit for their ideas.  Trailing in that online tradition of appealing to edgy opportunism, mixed in with out-group paranoid hysteria, development of an in-group lexicon, and add a good sprinkle of desperation for online celebrity (propelled forward by a base of fans hiding behind the unrestrained security of online anonymity).  Finish it off with a dose of victimhood mentality about being an aggrieved, unheard sector of society, and you have the key ingredients of an Identity Movement.

The alt-right is one such Identity Movement in the news lately.  It’s hard to tell whether the white supremacist nationalist “identitarian” movement is really winning over any hearts, or if its vocal presence and relentless social media self-promotion is just giving that impression. Either way, these brand of racists are no longer content with posting anonymously on message boards like Stormfront [no, I’m not linking to it; you can google it if you’re that curious], and are confident they can gain a mass appeal among America’s white majority.  One of the main reasons why I’m doubtful of the alt-right’s claim to be gaining mainstream traction is the fact that despite being a movement focused on race, whose primary objectives deal entirely with the promotion (though they would undoubtedly call it protection) of white people and white identity–well to the point of wanting race to be the determining metric of citizenship in a proposed ethnostate–it’s main proponents (and their online followers) will whine incessantly if you so much as dare actually pin the dreaded “racist” label on them.  (It has to be a social progress of a sort when even racists consider being a racist a bad thing, and I’m one to take any progress I can get.)

Deflection, conflation, and obfuscation are common tactics of argumentation and self-defense among the alt-right when it comes to fending off the (accurate) racism charge leveled against them.  Usually something along the lines of:

“The leftists/liberals are the real racists!  All they do is talk about racism, and always at the expense of white people.  The alt-right is just a reaction to the left’s/liberal’s anti-white racism.  The Left’s anti-racism is just a code word for anti-white.”

Okay, I’ll bite.  For the sake of argument, let’s grant the premise entirely.  Let’s grant that the current political Left has a prevalence of anti-white racism at the core of its ideology.  Now, how does the Left being racist against whites (a scenario wherein racism is a bad thing within the stated premise), justify an equally racist pro-white reaction against it (wherein now racism is stealthily flipped as a desirable response)?  Surely, if the initial racism from the Left (as the alt-right identifies it) is a bad thing, then racism as a counter to it would be equally bad, as it would make you simply an inverted copy of that which you are opposing to begin with.

What the alt-right misses (be it intentionally or unintentionally) is that rather than succumb to a false dichotomy in which one must choose a side between racist leftists and the racist alt-right, it is possible to denounce both sides as racists, and oppose them both simultaneously (as the vast majority of people living in the Western world already do).  Just like I can oppose a crime committed against a person, without having to condone the wronged person’s subsequent retaliation if he or she decides to even the score by committing an unlawful act in revenge.

It simply amazes me how people involved in this argument (including those attempting to argue against the alt-right) fail to point out how saying that other people (people you ideologically oppose) engage in racism, doesn’t nullify or justify one’s own racism.  After all, the KKK and the Nation of Islam are both ideologically just as racist as each other, regardless that the stated goals of their racism contrast one another.  To repeat, simply pointing to racist practices of other groups (practices that you wish to emulate, by the way) doesn’t make your racism more justified, or less racist.

I’ll state it even clearer for alt-right supporters: whenever you find leftists/liberals saying we should get rid of whites on the basis of them being white (by whatever active/passive/Marxist/post-modernist/cultural/political means or influence you wish to identify it as) it is racist.  When the alt-right says we should get rid of non-whites on the basis of them being non-white (by wanting to create an ethnostate where citizenship is to be determined based on race, which will inevitably deprive current non-white citizens of their citizenship status based strictly on the criteria that they are not white) it is racist.  And I can–and I will–call them both as such, and point out the myopia of calling out one side’s racism while mimicking the same line of thinking from the other end of the spectrum.

Alt-right spokespersons are very quick to eschew the racism charge against their ideology by saying that they (and people like them) are essentially just in favor of preserving white identity as a unique and distinct concept, just as all other races ought to be respected in their desires to preserve their own unique identities.  When stated in such terms, it can sound rather benign.  But the reality is that every time people who are sympathetic to the alt-right start to map out their end goal (i.e. the creation of a white ethnostate, wherein citizenship rights are to be primarily based on the merits of a person’s race) of just what this sort of ideology entails if it was actually implemented, the outcome is always, by necessity, indefensible on every civic and (I would argue) moral ground.

Once again, deflection and obfuscation are the means by which people within movements like the alt-right communicate.  So whenever challenged on the indefensible violations of human rights that would inevitably follow were their proposition for a white ethnostate put into practice, their go-to retort is to insist that nothing about their goal of creating a white ethnostate is inherently violent, in and of itself, against non-whites who happen to already reside in the carved out area; insisting that sufficient compensation to these non-whites to simply be relocated out of the white ethnostate would be a peaceful alternative to the transition.  I’m tempted to point out how these are the same people who mock the political Left for being unrealistic utopianists for advocating for a classless society, all while sincerely putting forward the expectation that a group of native-born citizens will peacefully relinquish their citizenship rights (and all the protections and privileges it guarantees them) as long you give them enough cash to make it worth their while.  However, I’ll be charitable once more, and for the sake of argument grant even this (absurd) premise well beyond any reasonable sense that it deserves.

So let’s say the alt-right accomplishes its goal, and a white ethnostate is established.  Let’s say that within this ethnostate there is a moderately-sized metropolitan city of 150,000 people, whose non-white population now needs to be relocated.  For the sake of being generous, let’s also say that the percentage of that non-white population is as low as 10% of the whole, leaving us with only a meager 15,000 individuals that now need to be removed.  And since I’m in such a generous mood, let me put the total percentage out of this already small group of individuals who will actively reject any attempts to be removed from their place of birth (regardless of the monetary compensation offered to them to do so) at a measly 1%.  That’s 150 individuals.  150  native-born, law-abiding, multi-generational citizens, whose legal status and citizenship rights will now have to be forcefully revoked, who will have to be forcefully evicted from their country of birth, not on the merits of any wrongs that they have individually committed, but based strictly on the metric of having been born as the wrong race.  This is the reality of what the alt-right is advocating for, if one follows their proposition to its logical conclusion.

So why is this point not being hammered every single time someone like Richard Spencer gives an interview?  And then continuously followed up on when he gives an evasive non-answer that fails to acknowledge the violent ethnic cleansing campaign that will undoubtedly have to happen to fulfill this alt-right talking point?  How can you let these same people babble on about being stalwarts for the cause of individual freedoms and liberties, while advocating for the implementation of policies that seeks to deprive people of the greatest guarantor they have for safeguarding their individual liberties: their citizenship rights–rights most of them have a privilege to by virtue of their births, regardless of their race.

The reason I’m writing this post isn’t because I’m worried the alt-right will actually achieve its stated goal.  I’m fully aware that all of this is a fantasy scenario.  A racist, fascistic wet-dream of a fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless.  The logistics of it are not only impractical, the morality of it are intolerable even among the population they are trying to appeal to, i.e. conservative-leaning whites.  I’d even go so far as to say that the proposition of creating an ethnostate, where being white will be the primary criteria considered for citizenship, is furthermore not just ahistorical, but outright anti-historical.

The reason I say this rests on the fact that even during America’s most openly pro-white eras–where slavery was an acceptable labor practice and open discrimination against non-whites was not only tolerated, but often encouraged–even at such a time, where the proclamation that the United States was a de facto “white country” would not have raised the slightest eyebrow among the population at large, even at that time, citizenship still was not and could not be based on the merit of race alone, as evident by the existence of non-white freemen that lived and worked in various sectors of American society, and were still considered American citizens.  Despite the widespread (socially acceptable) discrimination that existed against them, and despite the fact that there were a multitude of legally binding social obstacles that prevented them from enjoying their full citizenship rights on equal terms with the white American populace, the one fundamental right they could not be deprived of was their status as a citizen of the country.  They were still American, and were identified as such by the highest courts of the land.

Perhaps there will be alt-right supporters who read a post like this and say, “Yes, well I don’t care what you say, I’m still in favor of a white ethnostate.”  Rest assured that my goal in writing this prolonged screed on your screen isn’t to convince you to give up your views.  It’s simply to get you to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that when you say you’re fine with a white ethnostate, you are by definition saying you’re fine with revoking the citizenship rights of nonwhites, even if they are native-born and law-abiding members of society.  And you further support this policy, even if it means using force against whatever percentage of these now racially undesirables refusing to give in and surrender their rights to the nation they were born under–essentially endorsing a policy of ethnic cleansing in the region you wish to carve out only for yourself, and people you wish to racially identify with.  Furthermore, it would go a long way to your credit if you could do so under your real name, if these are the convictions you honestly hold.  Because if you do it solely behind the safety of an online pseudonym, where no one can tell if you’re being sincere or trolling for the “lulz”, you can’t turn around and expect anyone to be willing to waste their time and energy engaging in argument with an opponent whose honesty cannot be reasonably deduced.

Moreover, the real reason I bothered writing this post comes down to the fact that those of us who look at the alt-right and see the absurdity of what they are saying need to stop with the near-apologetic way we talk about these people.  Yes, the alt-right is fascist by virtue of the very goals they outline, and the means they are willing to resort to accomplish them.  Don’t allow yourself to get derailed arguing about free speech and free expression by a group that’s literally talking about wanting to strip away the citizenship rights of people on account of them having been born the wrong race.  How can you say you support free expression, when you don’t even support basic rights of citizenship?  By definition, you cannot subscribe to this view, and still maintain to be an advocate for either individual rights, or any sort of enlightened values.  The only word for this line of thinking is authoritarian.  And pointing a finger at what the authoritarian, anti-white leftist/progressive “cucks” are doing, doesn’t negate the fact that while the ideological goal may be different, your the intent and ideological methodology is identical.

Because authoritarianism, by any other name, from any other side, still smells just as rotten.  And the alt-right was rotten at its core from its very inception.

Stranger Danger, Knocking at the Door of Society

In Austin there have been a series of bomb explosions this month from an as-of-yet unidentified perpetrator* (see update below).  Of course it goes without saying that all of us here are hoping that the person/s responsible is/are apprehended sooner rather than later.  Living in the city, what I’ve seen is that life is more or less carrying on as usual in the public sphere.  This is to be expected as people by and large still have duties and obligations to concern themselves with that forces them to carry on regardless of the danger that may be surrounding them (bills still have to be paid after all, and kids still have to get to school).  That is to say, while I know many individuals are certainly taking any and every precautions they can to be safe in a time like this, the city’s social life remains largely undisturbed.

This observation caused a coworker of mine to opine how surprised she was that everyone (referring to those of us who reside within Austin) is responding far more nonchalant about these bomb incidences than one would expect of people in similar situations.  Although I can somewhat see what she meant by the comment, I feel that it also brings up the further query of how exactly one is expected to act while this kind of situation is going on?  How do you as a person properly respond to potential danger that is far enough to be an abstraction to you subjectively, even though you rationally know it’s objectively close enough (mere miles if you’re an Austinite) that it ought to keep you on high alert?  In this regard, trying to gauge out one’s safety risk is comparable to standing in fog–those outside can see you’re in it, but you (precisely because you’re in it) still identify it as something that is some distance removed from you.

The southwest Houston neighborhoods I spent my teen years growing up in were not particularly safe places (it unfortunately goes without saying how most urban areas in big US cities aren’t).  During that time, I have been held up and robbed–and intimately known many others who have been held up and robbed–by street gangs and desperate individuals enough times to have developed a sixth sense about which way to move, what sort of characters to avoid, and how to secure my home to ease my mind on the matter as much as I can (as a precautionary rule, the little chain lock on the door does little good).  My point is that, like most city-folks, being surrounded with some degree of criminal activity is not something new to me.  Nevertheless, no matter how much personal familiarity one has with this nation’s crime rate, the news that a neighbor or coworker has been assaulted and/or robbed within walking distance of you (or that random packages are detonating in the city) will always stir a certain level of anxiety in a person’s mind.

I know people who use this to argue that the human “heart” is naturally inclined to do evil in times of desperation.  But I’m unconvinced by this line of reasoning.  Just as I doubt that man is naturally disposed to be good, I’m equally skeptical of suggestions of his innate wickedness.  Man is adaptive; his behavior situational.  Which is why I see no necessary contradiction in the fact that a person can be a callous murderer at one moment in time, and a genuinely loving parent in another.  In fact, I’m fairly certain that the three men who robbed me at gun point a few years ago probably spent that very evening exchanging pleasantries and joy with some loved one or another (quite possibly with my money; in which case, I at least hope it managed to bring someone happiness).

But this doesn’t do anything to relieve the reality that social communication is being broken down in the densely populated areas of the world.  And it leads me to ponder a few things.  Namely, what if in the future someone who sincerely requires my assistance knocks on my door for help?  Will I readily trust the person, or will I assume that it must be a clever ploy to get me to leave the safer confines of my home, concocted by individuals looking to prey on the average person’s sympathy towards a helpless voice?  I don’t know.  Ideally, I like to think I’m empathetic enough to answer the call for help.  Shamefully, I’m inclined to admit that there’s a chance I might not respond to a doorstep plea.  But it’s easy to philosophize about different scenarios when one is safely removed from the moment of action.  In the moment, a normally rational person can easily be overtaken by anxiety-induced irrationality.  I have even been told by many friends that their social anxiety has reached the point where they don’t feel comfortable having people approach them as they are getting into their cars, because their minds instantly start to recall all the horror stories of victims assaulted (or worse) by opportunistic criminals.  (I personally have also always been of the opinion that there is no inquiry that cannot be made by a stranger just as well standing several paces away from my car door, as standing right in front of it.)

For me, all of this brings up the issue of how exactly we’re supposed to create a more socially cohesive and  cooperative society, when for the sake of our very survival we have little choice but to be vigilantly suspicious of the individuals we are stuck sharing society with?

*Update, 03/21/2018:  A person believed to be responsible for the bombings was identified by law enforcement authorities today.  He took his own life as authorities moved in to apprehend him.

Quick Thoughts on Jordan Peterson and his reading of Nietzsche

As rare as it is for me to have interactions with Kronstadt Revolt (KR) readers, the few times it does happen it’s exclusively occurred outside the actual confines of the blog (i.e. mostly emails and private messages through twitter).  My best guess is that due to my low posting frequency they want to make sure there is actually someone still typing away at a keyboard behind the dashboard menu before fruitlessly putting a comment into moderation limbo that may never be read or approved by anyone (as an fyi, comment settings are set to only moderate the first comment you post, to make it easier to control spam from bots; after that first-time approval showing you’re human, your subsequent comments should post automatically).  Never mind that my twitter updates are about as (in)frequent as my blog posts, it is the trend that has developed, and I’m happy to interact with readers who feel the need to check in on a thing or two, here and there.

By far the most viewed posts I have on KR are the one’s about Friedrich Nietzsche (with Nietzsche’s Views on Women in particular getting the lion’s share of these views).  Considering the popularity of the subject, I suppose it makes sense that the majority of questions I get revolve around people either asking for clarification about Nietzschean philosophy, or challenging my interpretation of it.  Neither of which I mind.  Considering I wrote a book about the guy’s philosophy that earns me some amount of profit, it would be absurd of me to scoff at either people asking for more details, or questioning my perspective on the subject.  (If nothing else, I can at least point them to better resources than myself on anything I personally fail to address; usually Nietzsche himself.)

Over the past few months, however, the sporadic question or two I find in my inbox about Nietzsche have more than a few times come attached with one other name: Jordan B. Peterson.  Although usually not so much in the form of a question, as an eager endorsement for me to explore the man’s views on similar topics (or just any of the wide range of social/psychological topics he covers).  If nothing else, the man has an enthusiastic fan base, which very much has grown exponentially since his name started making the rounds on the online “memosphere” in late 2016.  Since then his lectures have become increasingly popular on YouTube, and many people (mostly young men, but others, too, I’m sure) regard him as a foremost intellectual of our time, going so far as to credit him for re-instilling guidance to their lives.

In part, I’m writing this post to serve as a bookmark I can direct future inquiries to that may come my way regarding my thoughts on the man.  Let me start off by saying that I was aware of Peterson somewhat before I was actually aware of Peterson.  To put it less cryptically, I first saw the man in a YouTube segment back in 2011, where he opposed a set of atheist bus ads in Toronto, and where he stealthily mentioned that atheists like Richard Dawkins maybe should be discriminated against (one might be inclined to assume he’s come a long way in the promotion of free speech given he has cultivated it as one of his leading mantras over the course of the last 2 years, however a general dislike, and outright hostility towards open atheism–let alone outright anti-theism–is not an uncommon theme for Peterson to this day, despite his popularity with centrist-to-conservative leaning atheists online).

Unfortunately, in the segment Peterson is never asked whether it’s warranted to be so hostile towards a limited bus ad campaign put on by atheist activists (on their own dime, no less), when one often can’t go 2 miles in most North American metropolitan centers without coming across scores of billboards, posters, films, books, songs, graffiti, church signs, church buildings, and motel room nightstands, all advertising on behalf of Christianity, with little worthwhile resistance from secular voices.

While I didn’t notice it at the time of my first viewing of that debate, I had also come across Peterson’s work a few years prior in the form of his 1999 Maps of Meaning, a book that left no impression on me due to its overemphasis on Jungian psychoanalysis (much of which rests on highly unfalsifiable assertions, which irks not just me, but modern psychology as well, since as a fields it has largely moved away from Carl Jung’s theses and conclusions).  The writing style in the book is also occasionally laced with a distinct tone of self-importance (i.e. repeated mentions of how grand the contents held within it’s pages truly are) that I find personally distracting.  This is just a subjective matter of literary taste (so think of it as nothing more), but my take has always been that if a work is important/intelligent/paradigm-changing it is better to let the work speak for itself, then boast about it to the reader with the very work.  And as a result I quickly forgot the book, the man who wrote it, and failed to recognize him as the “Canadian man opposed to atheist bus ads” I saw years later.  I honestly never expected to come across him again, especially not with the large following his views have garnered since my first exposures to him.

Yet, since around early 2017, he has popped back up not just on my radar, but a great deal of the sociopolitical/culture discourse, causing me to try to familiarize myself with his views again (though with a bit more concentration then before).  Peterson is a psychologist by trade, and a lot of his content deals with the dynamic behind chaos and order as prominent in the lives of individuals struggling to find meaning in their existence.  This may be why he’s been described as a surrogate father figure to a segment of millennials who feel directionless in the modern world; a viewpoint both as much harped on by his critics, as it is embraced by his admirers.  His advice can range from the practical (“Clean your room; straighten yourself out first”), to dire warnings against the influence of cultural Marxism (lately, he’s been more keen on dropping the cold war terminology in favor of a more updated “Neo-Marxism,” or just plain “postmodernism”–two distinct terms he has a habit of using interchangeably), to his more spiritual messages bemoaning the modern world’s loss of traditional (i.e. Christian) faith (essentially, he finds that there’s value in the historical/psychological meaning religion, in particular–if not exclusively–Christianity, offers to the human psyche; this social criticism of his is often tied in to his screeds against Marxism and postmodernism, too).

Because the questions directed at me about Peterson involve my thoughts, on his thoughts, about Nietzsche, I’ll write my quick take on what I’ve seen of him on the subject so far.  To me, the man strikes me as someone who doesn’t so much read Nietzsche’s writings, as he reads into Nietzsche’s writings (a habit I warn against in my own book) to make the philosopher’s views sound more sympathetic to his own.

Whenever he brings up Nietzsche in his lectures, it’s usually to point to the Prussian philosopher as an intellect who foresaw the nihilism that the Western world’s gradual move away from traditional (i.e. Christian) faith would lead to, and to cement Peterson’s personal views on why the preservation of Christianity (even if only as a metaphorical archetype to be aspired to) is important both for the individual, and for Western civilization as a whole.  The caveat that he doesn’t usually bother to focus on in these lectures, however, is the fact that as far as Nietzsche was concerned, Christianity itself is ultimately a form of nihilism, precisely because its grounding foundation is imagery and can therefore offer no lasting counter to the harsh empirical reality the modern age has forced on us.  Nietzsche’s subsequent objections to contemporary secular philosophers attempting to create alternatives to Christian values wasn’t due to their move away from Christianity as a moral framework, but their continued reliance of what he considered to be fundamentally Christian morals.  Hence, the philosopher’s wider intellectual project of wanting to create a transvaluation of all values, in which Christian concepts like GoodEvil, and Sin, are to be displaced by a philosophy that affirms life, rather than fetishizes death.

In Nietzsche’s view, Christianity at its core, would always be, and could never be anything more than, a death cult that inverts man’s base instincts and desires into absurd notions of sinfulness, rendering it as a moral system to be entirely hostile to life.  (As a reference, I offer every page, paragraph, and sentence of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist, which in German also translates to “The Anti-Christian”.)

I’ll grant that given the many hours of lecture footage Peterson has up on YouTube where he explores numerous philosophical topics, it’s possible that I missed the part where he goes into depth regarding Nietzsche’s staunch anti-Christian position, and how it’s completely incompatible with his own defense of Christian moral values as a framework for society.  But from all the footage I have seen (and it personally seemed like quite a bit at the time of viewing), Peterson seems to always evoke Nietzsche as a kind of kindred spirit, who would have sided with him against the godless forces undermining Christian morals as a sound foundation of meaning for people.  And, speaking as someone whose familiarity with Nietzsche is just a bit more than the average layperson’s, this strikes me as mistaken at best, and downright deceitful at worst.

I’ve been warned that Jordan Peterson fans have a tendency to get cheeky when they come across even the mildest push back to their favorite psychologist, so my preemptive retort is that, yes, my room is always in a state of unmatched tidiness, and my stance is so upright one would be mistaken to call me anything less than permanently erect.  Hope that settles that matter.

Private vs. Public Schools

Parents who bear the financial luxury of having the conversation, may eventually find themselves weighing the advantages and disadvantages of sending their children to a well-respected private school, over what has been described as the more lowbrow settings of many public schools.  Full disclosure: I spent some time pursuing a career as an educator in a public high school, so I can attest to the shortcomings of its structure personally, if need be.  I have also been associated with a good many private schools over the years as an academic tutor, so I can also verify how much of their oft-heralded academic superiority is greatly exaggerated by its enthusiasts.

It’s true that many private schools have higher test scores and graduation rates than their public school equivalents.  It’s also true that private schools, being primarily funded by the parents who can afford to send their students there, are not obligated to accept every child looking to enroll into their institution (having parents whose income can meet the financial demands of a private school education is also not always enough, since many private schools reserve the right to dismiss any student whose academic performance or personal views fall short of their satisfactory standards).  Public schools, being funded largely by the state through taxes, are normally prohibited from being selective about their student body (hence why it’s called public education; if you’re under 18, you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat).  However, it is also true that private schools are often better at promoting an engaged and interactive learning experience in the classroom, as opposed to public schools where preparing students on how to pass standardized tests reigns supreme.

I present all of the above not because I want to argue one educational system over the other.  In fact, if I wanted to, I could probably convincingly argue the talking points for either side, without ever injecting my personal views into the discussion.  What I really want to address here is the libertarian argument I often hear in my part of the country, which insists that public schools should be completely replaced in favor of private schools in order to increase the value of America’s education system.  The reason I don’t support this view is because its proponents use questionable criteria to argue against the value of public schools, and because the entire argument appears to be accepted by individuals whose real goal is to  satisfy their already existing political or philosophical ideology, rather than an actual desire to provide a better educational model for the students.

Eliminating public schools will by definition exclude certain people from getting any kind of education–primarily people who need it the most–because there will always be someone who will not be able to pay the tuition, or meet the academic standards of the private institution.  And these children also need to get a basic education if your goal is to truly have an educated populace and be economically competitive on the global market (if it’s not, then disregard this whole post and go about your day).  A proponent of the private-school-only model might argue that private schools come in a variety of forms, and several could be set up where private tuition and high academic standards will not be decisive in enrollment.  To which, perhaps, individuals can donate of their own free choosing to contribute to the basic education of those less affluent in society.  The problem with this line of reason is that it sets out to resolve something for which there is already a solution.

There is in fact already a model in place by which education is provided to those who cannot afford high tuition rates and whose scholarship is not exemplary, and it’s called the public schools system.  What motivation is there to create a complicated set of arrangements within the private school model, when the public schools already serve the function to meet those arrangements?  Essentially, I find two reasons at the heart of it offered by private school proponents, neither of which has much to do with increasing the value of education:

1.  “I don’t like taxes, and big government.”

2.  “I don’t approve of what the state is teaching my child.”

Point number one is popular with libertarians and fiscal conservatives, who feel that government involvement in the marketplace (be it of goods or ideas) and taxation is harmful to the system as a whole, as it leads to over regulation, a lack of productivity, and a stifling of the individual’s liberties in favor of providing communal welfare.  We can debate the validity of these economic points all day if we want, the bottom line as it relates to the public schools is that because public schools are funded by the states (through taxes) they are an infringement against the rights of citizens who may want to opt out of their requirement to pay the taxes which fund institutions they get no services from (either because they have no children, or prefer to send their children to private schools).  The issue I see with this is that while it would make for a compelling sociopolitical discussion about the role of government and civil services, none of it has anything to do with invalidating the notion that public schools serve a needed role in educating citizens who otherwise would have no access to formal schooling.  If your contention lies with the process by which public schools are funded (i.e. taxes), then you have to first voice your concern with the supreme law of the land (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8).

Whether you agree with the efficiency of it or not, the government (both federal and state) has the constitutional right to collect taxes, which it can in turn use to fund social services; education being one of those services on account that it provides a positive benefit to society.  Thus, the whole justification taken here in favor of private schools over public ones, seems to stem from the fact that the existence and funding of public schools doesn’t align with one’s political beliefs.  But this is unsatisfactory in convincing anybody outside of your mindset in the objective worth of your position, since a socialist could equally argue that private schools ought to be eliminated because they foster a sentiment of elitism and class segregation, which will lead to long-term economic ruin.  The problem with both approaches is that the topic at hand is being used to support one’s predisposed political opinions, instead of letting one’s political opinions rationally derive from the topic at hand.

The second point is, to me, a testament as to why public schools are necessary.  Speaking primarily as a former educator, it needs to be said that when I sought to teach students verifiable, testable, reliable data, I owed it to them not to let their (and their parents’) biases deter their learning process.  There is not doubt that the public school curriculum is at times undermined and dulled by the school board that overseas it, which can have negative affects on the education standards presented to the students.  But ultimately the teacher is still not held accountable directly to any parent or school administrator who may take issue with the philosophical implications of a particular topic raised in class.  Teachers are held accountable to the set district standards, whose authority lies independent of the administrators running the campus and the citizens whose taxes fund the district.  And as long as they can demonstrate that they have not violated said standards, no parent or administrator can dictate the information and content that make up the teacher’s lecture (try as they might at times, they will by necessity lose in every attempt, as they very well should).  Therefore, to promote private schools over public schools as a means to ensure the promulgation of your personal ideals and values in the classroom, is to me a position that is almost pointless to refute, because I guarantee you that there are a number of demonstrable facts, across various academic disciplines, that negate many opinions near and dear to your heart.  Once again, trying to make reality conform to whatever ideology you have chosen to accept is by definition incompatible with providing students with a thorough and comprehensive education.

It is worth mentioning that I am in no way arguing that private school should be abolished, or even that public schools provide a superior education.  I know that there are private schools that do exemplary work, whose curriculum is completely devoid of political or theological considerations, where the primary objective is to give its students a proper education based on good scholarship and proper critical thinking skills.  Hence, I take no issue with there presence in the greater educational system, serving as an alternative to parents who are considering it as a viable venue by which to educate their children.

My main point here is to argue that public schools are necessary as a social service.  Furthermore, my aim is to counter the view prevalent in my neck of the woods (conservative, libertarian-leaning America), where people are inclined to argue against public education because they feel uncomfortable with the way they are funded (i.e. taxes), or don’t like the lesson plan being taught.

If, for instance, you are a parent who prefers for your child not to learn about evolutionary biology, or analyze a work of literature you find vulgar, and opt out for the private school route to avoid the implications you think such things will have on your child’s greater thinking, you have the right to do so without considering my feelings on the matter; nor would I even try to suggest that you in anyway ought to take my considerations on the subject seriously.  However, if you come to this conclusion, and therefore insist not just that other parents should follow your lead, but that the educational system needs to be designed in such a way as to undermine the existence of the public school model, you have essentially forced me to engage you on the matter.

My position does not stem from a desire to satisfy the axiomatic precept of my political or theological identification, but from a recognition that many members of society benefit from–and are dependent on–the existence of public schools to educate their children; in hope that a decent education will provide at least some chance of letting them rise higher in the economic hierarchy than their parents.  I see no reason why I should stand in the way of this hope, or concede the argument to those who aim to do just that.