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.

A Secular Rapture

Just to be clear, this is not a picture of Jesus. It is a picture of the Great Prophet Zarquon. And he is quoting Carl Sagan. Allow me to explain:

At the end of Chapter 18 of Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the Great Prophet Zarquon returns to his flock.

Here is what Zarquon said as he stood in front of a audience of delighted diners just as the universe was collapsing outside the time bubble:

“Hello, look, I’m sorry I’m a bit late. I’ve had a the most ghastly time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment. Er, how are we for time? Have I just got a min–” And so the Universe ended.

Slightly edited for convenience.

Douglas Adams is so perfect that to discuss the bit of fun, the gentle teasing that he is directing at Christianity and very idea of the Rapture that has been “nigh” for the last two thousand years, you kind of take a little away from it. I’m going to do it anyway, but there it is. He’s saying that at this point, it’s probably not ever going to happen, and we should just accept that fact. The universe is going to end at some point whether Jesus/Zarquon returns or not. This is empirically verifiable.

It is said that atheists and secular humanists do not believe in anything. That they don’t have faith in a better future in the afterlife. And in a way, there’s a point to be made there. It is a comforting thought. As long as I believe in Jesus, I can go to heaven and be deliriously happy for the rest of eternity. Awesome. Atheists look forward to what, exactly? Oblivion? Non-existence?

I would say that non-existence is certainly a step up from eternity in hell. And there doesn’t seem to be any real consensus about how it is, exactly, that one is supposed to get into heaven.

What do I have to do make you happy, God? Well, it depends largely on who you ask. God’s pretty silent about the topic, but Catholics would argue that you must confess your sins and pray to a saint to intercede on your behalf and take part in a number of sacraments and go to church like fifteen times a week. It’s really a business transaction. The business of guilt.

Calvinists say that it doesn’t matter what you do; it’s all predetermined. It is only the fear that maybe you are destined for hell that keeps you in line.

Modern protestants, I’m increasingly convinced, are insane. What does a protestant have to do to get into heaven? Nothing. All they have to do is believe in God and accept Jesus as their savior. Being a nice person doesn’t really factor into it, it seems.

Regardless, all Christians believe that someday Jesus is going to come back and sweep up all the good, believing Christians and take them up to heaven. Atheists think this is ridiculous. What, they ask, is God waiting for?

I meant that initially, to sound flippant, but the question is valid. What’s the hold-up? It’s been two thousand years since Jesus promised he was coming back and…he’s not here. It’s sort of like Groundhog Day. Humans just keep making the same stupid mistakes, killing each other, not learning their lessons, sinning, calling each other names, and it just never fucking ends. Where is Jesus? Maybe we’re supposed to learn our lesson before we can get out of the cycle. The problem is, we are actually running out of resources.

Here’s the thing. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in things. I believe people when I think they are telling me the truth. But I don’t believe in things. That’s weird. If I can observe it, I can accept it. Otherwise, there’s going to have to be a heap of circumstantial evidence. Jesus coming back is one thing that I just can’t bring myself to count on. Especially as a matter of faith.

What I want to put to you, dear friends, is that despite this, atheists still believe in a rapture. Rather, we hypothesize, that if certain conditions are met, then yes, humans will get to live in paradise for-fucking-ever.

Yeah. Here’s what we hypothesize: if humans will just figure their shit out, stop killing each other over stupid shit, start treating each other with respect and dignity no matter what they look like or who they are, and begin really throwing every conceivable resource at their disposal at science, philosophy, art, and education, eventually we will all live in an awesome futuristic, super paradise Star Trek world. We will live in a world where all our needs are met. We will be free to pursue whatever career or interest meets our fancy. We will get to fly in awesome space ships that travel faster than light. We will actually ensure that the human species (and many others besides) doesn’t go extinct. That is the Secular Rapture.

The difference between the Christian and the Secular Raptures? One requires that you not do anything and never forget that you are scum and deserve to roast in hell, and as long as you can grovel and snivel at Jesus’s feet, you will go to a place where you will be incapable of being crabby for the rest of eternity. Boring.

The Secular Rapture is something that requires hard work, a thirst for knowledge, genuine innovation, a drive to be better than we are, and some real imagination. One comes about because of God. One comes about because of us. One is beyond our control and is apparently the result of a whim from some selfish human-hating deity (and before you tell me that God loves humans because of Jesus…just shut up, I don’t buy it…he allowed us to kill his son so that we could be forgiven? That doesn’t even make a single bit of sense.). One is completely within our control and might not happen if we don’t get our collective asses in gear. And hell, it might not even happen if we do.

It might just be too late. Just like Zarquon.

Peregrinari inter sidera est mea maxima desiderium.

Scrolls, Scrolls, Scrolls

So, I just finished the main quest for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  I’m a little surprised, honestly.  Not about the ending.  There were no surprises to be had there.  In many ways the story is quite standard.  This is not a criticism, just a fact.  Anyway, what surprises me is the fact that I actually finished the game.

All told, I have logged an astonishing 93 hours on the game.  I think I spent less than 6 hours on the main quest.

I have some problems with it.  If you had asked me three weeks ago whether I was likely to finish the game it would have been an enthusiastic “yes.”  I was enjoying the hell out of the game and I was hitting it hard for hours every night.  The problem is, it soured for me somewhere around hour 50.  As stunning and well-designed as the dungeons are, they started to feel repetitive.  After a while, I even stopped looting these dungeons.  There was nothing in them that I wanted.  Nothing in there for me.  I was the uber Dovakhiin who could shout a fucking dragon into submission and destroy it with nary a thought.  When fighting a dragon is nothing more than a nuisance, there is something wrong.

Even Alduin was a trivial encounter.

Bethesda, in the months leading up release, was bragging about how the game would have so much content.  The problem with having that much content is that when a player spends that much time in a world, he begins to see its flaws. I suppose it is a monumental feat that the major flaws did not become evident until so many hours had gone by. I spent far fewer hours on, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I was entertained the entire time, but it was by no means a perfect experience.

To contrast, I have spent far more hours on Minecraft. Hundreds probably. But Minecraft still hasn’t lost its allure.

My experience with Skyrim is something like my experience with Family Guy in one important respect.  It’s essentially the same exact show that it was in season one but where it was interesting and new and fresh back then, it is now stale, boring, and its structure is showing.  It can get a few more yuks by making fun of its own formula to a certain extent, but that will only take it so far.  Then again, the Simpsons has been doing that for years.

I feel the same about Skyrim.  Unlike a TV show, there isn’t really a “jump the shark” moment. Just as there wasn’t a specific one for Family Guy.  Rather, it was a gradual realization that everything is the same no matter where you are in the world or what you are doing.  The sameness is palpable, oppressive after a while.  Many of the small quests and stories are clever; don’t get me wrong.  But almost all of them have you doing the exact same thing.  Travel to a location, fight some fuckers, recover an artifact, return it for money. It doesn’t vary much.

An example of what I’m talking about is the flow of a dungeon.  Almost every dungeon that you encounter in Skryim follows a pattern.  I don’t care if its a mine, a bear cave, or a centuries old Dwemer ruin.  You kill a few mobs outside and then enter the dungeon. As you pass a certain threshold, you may or may not notice a sealed door that would take you directly to the end of the dungeon.  But it is inaccessible.  Instead, you follow a more or less linear rail to the terminus of the dungeon where you fight some sort of boss, get some sort of quest item, learn some dragon shout, and/or complete some objective.  There’s a door behind the blasphemous altar or ancient sarcophogus.  Behind that door is a chest with some really sweet loot and some shelves with potions or soul gems or alchemy reagents.

You will then find that barred door or hidden passageway that spits you out at the beginning of the cavern or poops you out at the top of a mountain that would be inaccessible from outside.  The structure is apparent.  It’s a convenience, a mercy for the gamer, not to have to slog back through a now empty and desolate cavern, but when you iterate it sixty odd times or more, the game begins to feel engineered, rather than organic.

My understanding is that Bethesda had an entire *team* of dudes just designing dungeons.

Don’t get me wrong, the game is good.  It might even be great.  And it’s beautiful.  My god, is it beautiful.  But I’ve played it.  I’ve done it before.  It was like Oblivion (without the annoying Oblivion Gates) and Morrowind before it.  But where Morrowind was unlike anything I had ever played before (think Season 1 of Family Guy), Oblivion was an iteration of Morrowind and Skyrim is an iteration of Oblivion.  There is nothing inherently new.  In fact, I might even go so far as to say that by streamlining the level-ups and the various crafting and combat systems, they actually managed to make the problems more apparent.  There isn’t a whole lot of min-maxing to be done, which takes some of the fun out of it for me.

In fact, for the first two hours of the game, I was waiting for some stat assignment or detailed character creation screen to pop up.  It never did.  Maybe I’m still waiting for it.

In the end, I enjoyed my romp through Skyrim.  I will probably even play it again someday.  Perhaps even someday soon.  But I will never finish the game again.  I won’t ever be able to recapture the magic of it again.  It just isn’t in me for this one anymore.  It’s been exhausted.

Lastly, I would like to point out that Skyrim is not a sandbox game. A sandbox should have more options, more paths, a more vibrant world. Skyrim just has a lot of dungeons. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can’t call it a sandbox. Your options are too limited. You can’t open a store. You can’t build a house. You can’t create a trade network. You can’t rule a nation. X3: Terran Conflict is a sandbox. Minecraft is a sandbox. Skyrim is not.

I sold the Elder Scroll to the librarian at the Winterhold College for 2,000 pieces of gold.  I should have haggled.

Ein Freund der Teufel ist ein Freund von mir.

How Steve Jobs Affected Me

I do not own a Macintosh. I will never own a Macintosh, iPad, or iPhone unless someone else buys it for me. I will never spend my dollars on one of Apple’s devices.

I do own a Generation 6 iPod (I think at the time it was called iPod Video because you could watch Ask a Ninja videos on it) and I use it all the time.

I find it interesting that my Facebook feed is overflowing with all sorts of sentiments concerning the death of Steve Jobs. I personally, am focusing most of my media consumption on other matters, but it’s not unreasonable that this should get a certain amount of play. Indeed, it managed to elicit a bona-fide spin from yours truly.

This was my family’s first computer. The Macintosh 128K. I believe the 128K part refers to its RAM. My current home (Windows) PC has 4 gigabytes of RAM. A little perspective. Also relevant: the Mac 128 debuted in 1985 and cost almost $2500.

By today’s standards, it was an utterly useless and overpriced machine. But it was great. I am pretty sure I am the person I am today because of that machine. What did I do with it? MS Paint, for one. Hours disappeared. But I think the lion’s share of my hours were spent playing this text-based game. Didn’t know it was a book until several years later, but it captivated my mind. I spent hours and hours and hours typing my way around the Heart of Gold. I didn’t actually beat the game until I was 25. Had to. Closure, you know.

Anyway, that machine introduced me to Douglas Adams. This is absolutely crucial as far as I’m concerned.

I will not buy an Apple product if I can help it. I think they are over-priced and under-functional. This is partly because I like to play PC games and Macs just don’t do that thing. It is also partly because I like the feel of putting together my own machine from parts I picked myself. My home PC was lovingly assembled in my home by my hands. I installed Windows 7 on it and crossed my own fingers while waiting for the BIOS to post. And then heaved a sigh of relief when it did, in fact, post on the first attempt.

I just purchased an Android Tablet. This one. My phone is a Droid X. I like its customizeability. I like that I can root it and hack it and do what I want with it. I like that they are the machines that I want them to be. Not the ones that Apple thinks I want them to be.

But, we must ask, would they exist if it weren’t for Apple? Would the tablet computer or the droid be the objects they are today without the iPhone or the iPad? I don’t think so. Apple kicked the industry into high gear with innovation on a staggering scale. They forced the industry into a whole new direction by demonstrating two things: what is possible and, more importantly, what the market will want. No, they didn’t just find out what the market wanted. They created the market’s demand for all things “i”. And it was brilliant. And it worked.

I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs. I like what he did for and to the industry. I don’t want his product specifically because it is overpriced and cookie-cuttered. But the product I do want is available because of him.

A closing thought: I own that Gen-6 iPod and still use it because it is hands down, the single best dedicated digital music player that has ever been manufactured.

PS: I sketched the comic at the top on my Android Tablet. Fun fact!

Gute Nacht, süßer Prinz

Things that Douglas Adams taught me

My favorite author died 10 years ago, today.

I don’t want this to be one of those weepy sentimental things, because Douglas Adams was not a particularly sentimental person. What he was, was a man, a writer, an atheist, with a love of life and a love of humans and the sorts of things that they do that I don’t know if I can hope to live up to.

He was not a satirist, I think. He wasn’t cynical enough for that. He loved the shit out of life too much for that. What he did, was point out all of the things about humans that were absurd and point out how funny they are and how we should all be happy about it. Without all of life’s little absurdities, it really wouldn’t be very interesting.

He was an existentialist, though he might not have used the word. He showed me that life had no meaning, but that this is a good thing.

He taught me what it means to be a “radical atheist.”

He taught introduced me to Richard Dawkins who taught me about evolution.

He taught me that science is ridiculously interesting but reminded me that science is not so interesting that we should forget about life and why science is important.

He taught me that literature is important.

He showed me that even tragedy is necessary.

He taught me a lot of very important things and is largely responsible for the person I am today.

He was my friend even though he didn’t know it. I think he would have liked me.