Affluenza Is A Misdiagnosis

smaug_affluenza

I do not mean to compare the actions of a teenager to those of a centuries old dragon who essentially committed genocide. Or do I? In a way, maybe I do.

Let’s put on our imagination caps for a moment. Imagine you’re a great dragon growing up in middle earth, doing all those dragony things that dragons do when they’re young. Burning down villages, stealing gold and jewels, eating dwarves and humans, causing a ruckus and whatnot. Now imagine that, as a dragon, there is, in all likelihood, no one in any way capable of standing up to you. There are, in effect, no negative consequences for your actions. We assume that dragons have no intrinsic sense of justice here. Indeed, there is only positive reinforcements for all your dickery. Lots of loot, people grovelling, making offerings so you won’t burn the town down and such. And then, what? Centuries go by. Eventually, you hoard all your gold in a mountain and go to sleep for a while until a murderous little halfling comes by and bests you. Oh, the indignity.

Centuries unopposed. Done in by a fat, hairy-footed burglar. At least, that’s how it might appear to Smaug.

Let’s spin this out a bit more, since that’s what we do here. I propose to you dear, readers, that, in the case of Ethan Couch the the right thing happened.

You heard me. Justice was, in fact, served. Well, I might have made some minor tweaks to his punishment, but, all in all, I do not think that punishment was too light.

I know what you’re thinking. In fact, it seems like most of the internet is eager for blood on this one. They want to see the boy strung up by his toes, flayed alive, perhaps even executed. At the very least, they want to send a 16-year-old boy to prison. This, I think, would be a fantastic miscarriage of justice. And I’ll tell you why.

He’s sixteen years old. That’s it. He’s a kid.

I don’t give two shits if he’s rich or poor. He’s a kid. I am well aware of the fact that this same judge sent a 17 year old to grown-up prison for manslaughter. It just so happens that this kid was black and poor and not rich. And that was, in fact, a miscarriage of justice. That was wrong. That kid was also just a kid. That kid should also have been sentenced to probation and sent to a cushy treatment facility on the taxpayer’s dime (since it seems unlikely that he would have been able to afford their program on his own).

You see, Couch doesn’t suffer from “affluenza”. That’s a goddamned made-up word. That’s a bunch of gold-plated bullshit. It’s very clever bullshit, but it’s just utter nonsense. He suffers from being 16 years old. I’m a substitute teacher and you know what I’ve found out about 16-year-olds? They are idiots. Most of the time, they are benign idiots just discovering what it’s like to try on different personas, just starting to have opinions about stuff, but for the most part have not actually accrued anything resembling real world knowledge. I posit that no 16-year-old truly understands the consequences of his/her actions.

I sometimes find myself wondering, while talking to some idiot 16-year-old, “How can you be such an idiot?” but I have to remind myself that every generation is a bunch of new idiots. And every generation has to learn all the lessons I learned the hard way. No generation of kids is ever going to learn just by you telling them what’s what. They don’t care what you think and won’t until well after they learn the hard way. They are going to screw up and do completely stupid, moronic, possibly downright offensive stuff. Some of them will learn. And some of them won’t. But all of them are still figuring this stuff out.

Now, to be honest, I would not have sent the kid to some posh resort with horseback riding and yoga. I would have sent him to a hippie commune with farming and yoga. That kid would spend every summer vacation until college growing his own food without a car or a credit card. He would be put in a position to learn what it is to work. And he would be a better person for it. Maybe. I also would have done the same thing with the poor black kid who ended up in prison.

But there’s a problem with this. The American justice system is not built on these principles. In fact, this sort of punishment would not serve the actual function of the American criminal justice system. What is that function you ask? It’s to maintain a hierarchical society. Couch didn’t go to prison because he’s rich. He did the same idiotic thing that the poor kid did, but because he’s rich, he didn’t go to prison. I don’t even think the judge was bribed (though I did, I admit, initially knee-jerk in that direction). I don’t think the judge needed to be bribed. Maybe he even saw a bit of himself in the boy. He saw someone of his own class (because you don’t get to be a judge without being affluent yourself).

The fact that practically the entire internet thinks this kid should be in prison like the poor black kid speaks volumes about our blood-lust society. Everyone is saying, “He should be treated as badly as me.” No one is saying, “I should be treated as well as he.” Everyone wants to drag others down. No one wants to elevate anyone.

I have a radical theory that the truly morally correct way to reduce recidivism in youth crime is to take that gang member or rich drunkard and separate them from their peer group, isolate them in a safe, comfortable place like a farm, or research station, or poor village in Africa. They will grow vegetables, help do science, or pass out food and medical aid. That is how you fix the problem. It even pads the resume rather than blemishing it.

If a person is an adult and robs a convenience store, should you put him in jail? No. You should give him an interest free loan to go to school, learn a trade, start a business, or whatever, until that person can pay back the person that he wronged. That’s how you handle crime.

But, you say, won’t that encourage crime? I don’t think it would. Poor people, by and large, commit the most crimes (excepting the mass atrocities committed by world governments or corporations). If you elevate those people, rather than send them to prison, they will stop committing crimes. Most crimes are committed out of desperation, not out of evilness. Even murders are often acts of desperate people.

The problem is that we, as a country and civilization, are more interested in punishing and degrading than we are in understanding and elevating. And it isn’t working. The statistics support this.

Couch got what was coming to him. I just want to see everyone get the same kind of punishment.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
? Nelson Mandela

The Mask of Agamemnon

image

Today I was in Oxford.  The one in England.  The one with the famous university.  The image above has two things in it that are dear to me.  One is my wife.  The other is that mask on the top shelf.  That is the death mask of King Agamemnon.  I saw this at the Ashmolean Museum about ten years ago and since then, I’ve often thought back on it thinking it couldn’t possibly have been real.  Must have been dream or something.  Agamemnon couldn’t possibly have been a real person.

The story of The Illiad is a really crazy, fascinating, violent myth.  It’s full of gods being capricious and manipulating humans to get things done.  Nonsensical things, like starting wars and whatnot.  I mean, if you trace the entire mythological story of the Trojan War, it starts with a wedding on Mount Olympus and ends with a whole lot of people getting killed.  Including some of the greatest heroes in Greek lore.  Basically a typical party on Mount Olympus.

Agamemnon did not die in the war.  He was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra.  She had her reasons.  I mean really.  Honestly, the dude had it coming.

The mask is really, really cool because it shows that there really is a grain of truth to the whole story.  Maybe more than a grain.  Agamemnon actually did live.  The Trojan War actually did happen.  The city of Troy was excavated by Heinrich Schleeman (sp?) a terrible archaeologist, but a man who knew how to think outside of the book, so to speak.  Finding the city of Troy was amazing because it forced us to really think about what we assume is myth.  Obviously, Eris did not throw the golden apple and Paris was not bribed by Aphrodite so that he could have Helen.  However, is it possible that Helen and Paris did exist and did, in fact, have an affair?

The question of why the Greeks attacked Troy is, perhaps, a mystery that we cannot answer.  I’m not sure if it had any tactical value or was a source of some significant trade good or trade route or what.  But it is most certainly a fact that they did attack and sack and mostly destroy the city.  And it is possible that it was because of some act of infidelity.  This is actually the explanation that I like the most because it lines up with the myth and it’s quite plausible.  Imagine you’re the king of Sparta.  You’re a king.  You have been told all your life that everything you say is basically gospel.  You technically can’t do anything that isn’t already sanctioned by the people because you are the people.  You’re the guy.  You are the decider.  Your wife cheats on you and you want her back and you think to yourself, “Well, Menelaus, old boy, I have thousands of the best warriors in all of Greece and my brother is  also a king with many more soldiers, so all I need to do is find a way to spin this.”

Yeah.  I mean, he probably had to do something to convince the people that this was the right thing.  If Troy had no real tactical significance, there had to be a higher reason to go.  Like a holy war.  And if you read all the plays and the epic poetry, this whole thing was a holy war.  Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to the gods for favorable winds and their blessings in combat (that’s why his wife murdered him, by the way).  When people are willing to go to those lengths to convince their troops (and perhaps themselves) that this is what’s right, well, crazy things can happen.  Stories that will ring down through the ages (embellished, but essentially true).  That lasting fame is why Achilles went along in the first place, right?

In the end, we will probably never know just how true these stories are, but the mask is proof that on some fundamental level, all that crazy shit happened.  A man named Agamemnon, a king, lived, died, and probably waged war somewhere in between, existed.  And that’s pretty damned cool.

And also a really big argument against the divine right of kings.

Cheers.

Mens Rights Now!

You’ve been on the internet, right? You know what it’s like?

The internet is a weird goddamned place. If it can be thought of as a place. Have you ever heard the TED Talk about the “filter bubble“? The internet is a place where you can be exposed to literally every perspective on the planet, where there is this never-ending torrent of information and knowledge and opinion and argument at your fingertips. And yet, do you go to the internet to hear about those things? I don’t. I go to Facebook to see what my friends are up to and what stupid things they’ve been posting and then I go to Reddit to check out all the things that are being re-posted in all the same old subreddits I’ve always been subscribed to. I have about a dozen or two other websites that I check regularly, but I do not go out of my way to explore outside opinions. I never go to Fox or Stormfront, is what I’m saying.

So I see the internet as this thing that has this uncanny ability to alienate people from mainstream society while at the same time connecting them with people that they agree with. If you are fringer with fring-ey beliefs, you are going to find other people that see things the same way as you do and you will associate with them and they will make your beliefs seem normal and okay. They are going to make you feel like you’re right. They are going to reinforce those ideas and make you less likely to find flaws and reject them. No matter how fring-ey your weird ideas are, there are people who think like you. I’m talking about Alex Jones motherfuckers. I’m talking about Stormfront. I’m talking about Nazis and the KKK. I am not linking those bastards, but on your own time, you might find some of those sites interesting from a sort of anthropological perspective. The front page of the KKK’s website is particularly fascinating because it presents this bizarrely wholesome, “family-values” kind of face. Only it’s all about white supremacy…err….separatism, I guess. It’s utterly bizarre.

In particular, the movement that has been plaguing and annoying me is Men’s Rights Activists. I do not understand these people. First of all, bear in mind that MRAs do have a couple of reasonable points. Things like child custody ought to be addressed and discussed. I think in today’s cultural moment a serious discussion of what it means to be masculine–or indeed what we mean by masculinity–needs to be had, especially in response to the strides that feminism has managed to make. Do I think that there are feminists out there that maybe take things a bit too far? Absolutely. Do I think for a moment that this means that men are somehow oppressed? No way. In fact, I truly think that it’s insane to be a man, especially a white man, and somehow feel that you are being discriminated against based on your gender. Just completely insane. You cannot be in the majority–I use “majority” in the sociological sense here–and also be oppressed.

These men believe that feminists have…somehow created an atmosphere of female privilege where all women do is accuse men of rape and abuse and get sweet alimony/child-support awards and live off of men’s hard-earned money. Do these things happen? Sure. But that certainly isn’t the majority of situations. Domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men. Rapes happen all the time and more often than not go completely un-prosecuted (or just unreported).

And it’s also true that there are feminists who have an overinflated sense of the importance of femininity. But what the fuck do you expect after like ten centuries of being told that you’re inferior and suddenly realizing that you’re not?

My take on the whole MRA movement (and honestly, it is a collection of movements on a spectrum…some less absurd than others) is that it’s a bunch of entitled little boys with no girlfriends (or who have been spectacularly hurt by a specific woman) who are cherry picking extreme cases in the media to conflate and distort and revel in so that they can feel indignant.

Let’s look at this from the standpoint of reproductive advantage. There are a couple of different ways that mates can be chosen. Consider a community of chimps. Most of the time, the alpha male and his buddies get to do most of the sex, especially when the females are in heat. Chimp females have unambiguous estrus (unlike human females), so it’s fairly easy to tell when they are fertile. So during that time, they have to hang out with the jocky alpha dudes and accept their manly gifts. There are some other issues that further complicate the matter, but for the most part, this is how things are done. The males choose their mates and the females have little say in the matter.

Now, in birds, it’s almost completely the opposite. The males have a biological imperative to impress a female or he doesn’t get laid at all. He has to have the brightest feathers, build the swankiest nest, and the sing the most beautiful twittering aria to attract a female’s interest.

Human society used to be a chimp society. Alpha males chose their mates, the betas (and lower) got whatever was left over and that was that. We had things like arranged marriages (arranged by the fathers), dowries, female genital mutilation, virginity tests, and all sorts of other horrifying things. Well…we still have that in some areas of the world…a disturbingly large percentage of the world, actually.

But in America, at least, we have changed. We are now something else. But far from swinging the pendulum all way to bird society, I think we’ve become something new. Rather than a male choosing a female or a female choosing a male, I think the cultural ideal (if not the norm) is that the two choose each other. That there is a mutual attraction, mutually agreed upon and consummated and built and worked on. That’s not to mention homosexuality and polyamory, where again, I believe the ideal is a situation where all parties involved forge a relationship based on a mutual understanding between consenting adults rather than one party choosing another and forcing or manipulating the other party into a relationship.

What I think most MRAs think is that we have become the bird society. A culture under the tyranny of women, where sex is used as a tool to manipulate and abuse men and men are now an underclass with fewer rights and privileges. But that’s what happens when privilege is lost and equality becomes the norm, isn’t it? When a tax is proposed on the super-duper wealthy they talk about how it isn’t fair. Fuck you, it isn’t fair. It’s loss aversion. They don’t want to lose something that they once had. It’s nostalgia for a bygone era. It’s like reading Tennyson. It’s a bunch of mopey whiny bullshit from a bunch of crybaby men who wish they could still fuck whoever they want and take whatever they want and be secure in the knowledge that they won’t be ripped apart by the media or by society in general. The fuck of it is: odds are, they probably still can. To a great extent, that privilege still exists.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m making mountains here. I just know a few of these guys and it just seems ridiculous to me. The level of obsession exhibited by them suggests something pathological. Or at least it seems that way to me. To be fair, just about everything anyone says on Facebook seems vaguely pathological or at least mildly narcissistic. But then again, to categorically claim that all feminists are raging bigots is crazy. Isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Ein Mann muss tun, was ein Mann tun muss.

ToolTips

dominantSpeciesGUI8

We all make promises that we can’t keep. I promised I was going to start working on the game rules. And then I realized that there was no GUI element for the cards. You see, in the game, Dominant Species, there are 5 dominance cards drawn each round which the players can take and play during end-of-round scoring. There some 20-odd cards (each unique and exhibiting a surprisingly non-trivial one-time event) in a deck which also serves as the game clock.

They are really important.

So as I was pondering how best to start implementing the “Planning Phase” of the game, I realized that there was a critical UI element that I hadn’t added. Silly me.

So there it is. If you mouse to the top of the screen, the cards slide down from outside the window. If you mouse over a card, it shows a tooltip (that was a pain in the ass to code), and if you mouse away from them, they slide back up out of sight. Easy peasey, nice and cheesy.

Wunderschoen

Ladies and Gentlement, we have a UI

dominantSpeciesGUI7

It’s not a functional UI. The game doesn’t play yet, but all UI elements are present and rendering. To be totally honest, I’m fairly certain that this entire UI could have been programmed by a seasoned code-jockey in like a day. It has taken me (according to my git), about 17 days.

I am a little concerned that I might be shooting myself in the foot somewhere around here by setting the thing up to render without any other functionality, like gameflow or states or anything of that nature. I have some skeleton code in place for the various game phases (modeled after the actual game phases: Planning, Execution, Reset), but none of it does anything yet and it is totally possible that as I start building in that functionality, that there will be inefficiencies.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

Anyway, as you can see, all UI elements are rendering. You can turn any bit of the UI off with a click of one of the three buttons on the bottom of the screen. The player element mats are individually switched (though this could become tedious, I’m trying to do things which will keep the screen from getting cluttered).

The thing I don’t know at this point is whether the rest of the process will be faster or slower than what I’ve done so far. I mean, all I have left is to actually program the game. The entire data structure that represents the game in its initial conditions is in place. The UI is rendering. Basically, I’ve set the game up on the table. Now it’s time to tell the computer how to actually play the game.

And I thought Twilight Imperium had an awful setup time.

Lasst die Spiele beginnen.