P.Z. Myers Admits He Has No Evidence for His Beliefs

October 18, 2019

So, one of the most vocal if not one of the most prominent New Atheists has has admitted that he doesn’t have evidence for most of his beliefs, in response to someone who said this rather innocuous statement:

I am a very critical thinker, which is why I am an Atheist — I don’t believe in things for the most part, unless there is evidence.

Myers’ response:

I’m an atheist, too, and I’m trained in science, and shocker…most of the things I know I don’t have evidence for. I can’t possibly. There are too many things.

To me, this sounds a lot like my own standard view that I can form beliefs without necessarily having knowledge because I don’t have the time to verify everything I might want or need to believe in. Except I tend to argue that that might indeed mean that I can’t claim to know them, while Myers here is claiming to know things that he says he doesn’t have evidence for. And recall that most atheists didn’t care for my position, and in general did insist that we had to have evidence for our beliefs. In fact, the standard New Atheist line was that atheism was more rational than theism because atheism was a mere lack of belief and so didn’t require evidence, while theism was an actual belief and so needed evidence, which it lacked. So this statement of Myers’ seems to undercut the supposed atheist and skeptical intellectual superiority in only believing things that were evidenced. If he can believe things without evidence, then so can theists.

But wait, it gets better:

What I actually have is a consistent worldview built on a model I’ve tested on a few key points, and that seems to hold up well under most circumstances. That’s all any of us have. You can be a devout Catholic who believes in transubstantiation and the trinity and dead saviors rolling back stones, and you can say exactly the same thing — your model of the universe simply includes some fundamental assumptions mine doesn’t, and vice versa. You can even carry out the same logical process that I do with my wiring. You can say you’ve done spot checks of the pieces of your theology that matter to you now, and they hold up, but just as I haven’t visited the coal plant, you haven’t yet visited Heaven. You get satisfaction out of your weekly Mass, just as I’m happy with my house wiring and tooth-brushing, and that’s enough for now. [emphasis added]

So, Myers here has pretty much flat-out stated that theists — Catholics in particular but there’s no reason to claim, at least from his statement, that other religions and theists are any worse off — are following the same process as him and so, presumably, are equally rational. This … doesn’t seem like skepticism/atheism anymore. It also seems like he’s eliminated any way that he can claim that theists are necessarily irrational and atheists are rational, or that theism is irrational and atheism isn’t. Um, is this still P.Z. Myers? This seems to be a radical shift from his normal rhetoric.

He does try to give himself an out:

One difference, though, is that I’m a fan of testing my assumptions, mostly. We have this scientific method we use that allows us — even encourages us! — to examine and verify the stuff we don’t know, even if, to be perfectly honest, we can’t possibly examine everything. A scientist or a philosopher is going to inspect key assumptions now and then, and try to build better models of the world as they go, sometimes throwing out perfectly serviceable models, like religion, for others that get some, but never all, of the details better.

Ironically, we have no evidence that Myers, in fact, is indeed a fan of testing his assumptions or even that he does so, and of course many theists do indeed examine their presumptions and are, in fact, even scientists or philosophers. In fact, the entire field of theology is about examining these assumptions and building better models of religion and also therefore of the world. So, again, there is no reason to say that atheists are more rational or even more prone to doing this than theists are.

So why would Myers do this? And at the end, the reason becomes clear:

That’s one of the dangers of the kind of atheism held by the guy I took that quote from. It was taken from a conversation in which he actually refuses to consider evidence against his deeply held belief that women who accuse men of harassment are not trustworthy, and he offered up that statement as a testimony that his beliefs are all true, because as an atheist, he doesn’t believe in false things lacking in evidence. It’s a dangerously cocky dogmatism that far too many naive atheists support, where the fact that he has examined a few key points in his worldview (although, more likely, he’s had them handed to him when he read a book by Dawkins), means he has therefore verified all of his opinions with evidence. If he believes it, it must be a fact, because otherwise he wouldn’t believe it.

Ah, someone was using that “We can only believe things when we have evidence” line against one of Myers’ Social Justice pet philosophies, and so he had to fire back somehow. Note that the conversation — which he refuses to link to in any way — almost certainly isn’t as Myers describes it, as if the original commenter was saying that he didn’t have sufficient evidence to warrant believing the women and Myers had it all he had to do was provide the evidence. If he did so and the original commenter still didn’t believe that, then Myers could call him dogmatic … but then Myers wouldn’t have had to spend an entire post arguing that we can rationally believe things that aren’t evidenced and having to accept that Catholics aren’t making an epistemological error when they believe in God. So either Myers doesn’t have the evidence, or he’s made a huge concession that he didn’t need to because he could have simply provided that evidence. Either way, it’s not good for Myers.

And remember, one of the reasons the “skeptic” side of the Great Rift in Atheism gives for this is that the Social Justice side are abandoning their skepticism and even atheism in order to promote Social Justice goals. Myers has abandoned the skeptic demand for evidence and conceded that theism as a worldview may be rational and coherent. Hmmmm. Looks like they might have a point.

Myers ends with this:

You’re supposed to practice this idea called epistemic humility. An awful lot of atheists seem to lack it.

Because what Myers is saying that they are lacking is, in fact, something that the entire foundation of the New Atheist movement insisted that they lack: the ability to believe or claim to know things that they don’t have evidence for. He’s cut the feet out from under the entire movement — and both divides of that movement — and doesn’t seem to be at all concerned about that. It seems that the anti-Social Justice atheists are more his enemy than theists are right now. Oh, how things have changed!

Thoughts on “Friday the 13th, Part 3”

October 17, 2019

The Friday the 13th series seems to be defining the typical path a horror series takes, by fitting into that pattern almost exactly despite not really having other examples to fall back on. The first movie was a bit unique and unapologetic about what it was trying to do. The second seemed to try to add in some standard tropes while maintaining the format of the first movie. The third part seems to be trying to return to the feel of the original movie and does so by pretty much directly copying it, but also adds a gimmick — here it’s 3-D — to try to drum up some interest.

And, for the most part, that’s the problem with it.

There’s a lot of scenes here that were clearly meant to try to take advantage of the 3-D technology of the time. Lots of times things are arranged to look like things are coming out of the camera so that the audience could experience that effect. However, I don’t have 3-D glasses and so only watched the 2-D version, and so all I get is the feeling that it was done for a 3-D effect that I can’t see. It’s possible that in the original 3-D it was impressive, but it’s mostly an aside for me, and so anything that that would have done to enhance the experience is lost. It’s just an obvious attempt to trigger that that takes me out of the movie for an instant.

Also, while it tries to return to the original movie’s sense of doing normal things in-between the killings, it fails at that because it makes too big a deal out of a number of plot threads that it never pays off. It isn’t as bad at this as the second movie was, but the main heroine turns out to be a never-before-seen potential victim of Jason which the movie hints at earlier and then stops the movie to talk about at one point. This is never actually paid off except if we ourselves take heart from her surviving again, but the movie itself never acknowledges that. There’s a burgeoning relationship between her and the owner of the new camp and that, of course, goes nowhere but is talked about an awful lot. The prankster and his issues with being overweight and at least in his mind unattractive and the supposed date he had with one of the other girls gets a lot of focus but, again, really goes nowhere. While the first movie did have things like this, it didn’t focus on them much and treated them simply like slices of life to cut to in-between killings, while the next two movies seem to want to use them as character moments that never pay off but also seem to stop the movie so that they can get them out. As an example of the difference, in the first movie there’s a strip Monopoly scene that’s clearly only there to give us a break from the killings — and to give time to set up for the next one — and provide some fanservice. Most of the cutaway scenes in the first movie are, in fact, pretty much just that sort of thing. That’s not the case in the next two movies.

That the movie so directly copies the first is also an issue with it. It starts with seemingly unrelated killings again … except they are unrelated Jason killings in this one while in the first movie they weren’t. The progression of killings proceeds exactly the same. No one who has a chance of surviving finds any of the victims until the end, when the heroine runs around finding them all and panicking. Finally, after killing Jason she, as in the first movie, gets into the canoe and floats out into the lake, only to eventually be attacked as in the first movie, except this time seemingly by the mother instead of Jason. The police find her as the last survivor regardless. The plot points are so identical to the first movie that it invites comparison, and then all we can note is that the first movie has far more charm than this one and this one doesn’t really do anything new other than the 3-D.

Again, for modern horror fans the killings are neither gory nor creative enough to really generate interest. All of this has been done in other movies and we’re now past the point of thinking these things shocking or cool. The movie also makes me re-examine my assessment of the second part because I said that I might watch that one as part of re-watching all of them, but since there is no real progression from the second to the third I don’t need to do that and so have no real interest in re-watching it. And part of that is because I don’t really see a reason to re-watch the third one either. The first one had some charm, but the second and third are standard and somewhat mediocre human slasher movies. I’m probably not alone in my assessment of the series at this point because the next movie proudly brands itself as “The Final Chapter”, meaning that at this point fans were probably tiring of the series. Of course, after the “Final Chapter” it continued for six more movies in that line — not counting “Freddy vs Jason” — of which I have four in this series. It’ll be interesting to see how the fourth one managed to revive the series.

Game schedule …

October 16, 2019

There has been, in the past, some interest in the list of games that I’ve wanted to play less just as “I want to play this” but instead more as “I would like to comment on this and how it was done”. And for a number of these — “Elsinore” being the most obvious one — I’ve talked about having the games and maybe even playing them a bit and then have said nothing about them. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that I haven’t been playing them at all, and so don’t have anything new to say.

Except, perhaps, a comment on why that is and when I might get around to playing them.

In August and into September, I was pretty busy at work. Work has slackened a bit so I’m not personally that busy anymore, but I’m also caught in a situation where my work schedule can be rather … fluid. Basically, at this point I mostly sit around waiting for another group to scream for my help and/or find a bug on my side that I need to fix or at least investigate. So I can go from mostly sitting around all day to having to do a quick debug or come on on a weekend or holiday depending on what’s going on.

That’s … not really conducive to playing a game that I want to comment on. After all, to do that I really would like to get a coherent playthrough of it, and that means that I probably shouldn’t potentially go weeks between play sessions. Ideally, I’d play it mostly on one day or at least daily if I can swing it. And, as it turns out, while right now I can’t really do that, in about a month or so I should get some time where I could do that, as I have another long December vacation coming up. So, other than playing “The Old Republic” a bit, I’m going to save the games for that time.

Here are the games that are on tap for that time, pretty much in order:

Elsinore: Because after commenting on it so much I promised I’d try it out, and it wasn’t obviously terrible so I’m going to give it a full opportunity.

Steins;Gate: Because I’ve seen the anime and was told the game was better, and so am going to give that a try.

Chaos Child: By the same company as Steins;Gate, the premise sounded interesting, where you get to choose positive or negative responses that are supposed to have an impact. I tried playing it a bit but got confused by the mechanism of selecting positive or negative, and found that at least the intro went a long, long time without giving an actual choice. It’s a great game to do like I did Persona 4 Arena 2: sit down for a day and just go through it.

The Council: I was browsing in EB Games and saw the game. It sounded interesting and wasn’t that expensive. But like almost all of these it’s a visual novel type game with choices like the Bioware dialogue wheels. When I booted it up, there was a prominently displayed message of “This game was made by a diverse workforce including different races, sexes and gender identities” — not quite a direct quote — and I thought “Oh, no, here we go”. But the initial sequence wasn’t actually terrible, and I could only find woke-virtue-signalling if I looked really, really hard (the main character’s mother is a huge adventuress and quite competent at it in a historical context) so it might be worthwhile playing. And while I figured out how to save anywhere I still want to have the variable timing that visual novels demand.

So, anyway, December. I really hope I’m not already overbooking that time …

Thoughts on “Stand By Me”

October 15, 2019

So, the next movie in the Stephen King collection that I’m working my way through is “Stand By Me”. This one is, obviously, not a horror movie at all, but is instead more of a coming-of-age movie. It’s also one of the best-received King movie adaptations, as for the most part people seem to think positively of it, especially when compared to other movie adaptations.

I also happen to have a quirk wrt this movie. I’m a fan of the Yu-Gi-Oh anime series, and through that I’m also a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh abridged. The title of the movie references the song “Stand By Me”, and in the abridged series at one point a parody is done of that song by Malik Blishtar — or Marik Ishtar — where he sings that to Bakura. So every time I see the title or even think about the title I get that parody stuck in my head, and so start hearing “Bakura, Bakura, stand … by me” and so on. It’s both entertaining and annoying.

So, what about the movie itself? Well, the movie is based around four twelve year old boys that set off to find the body of a missing kid after they overhear one of their brothers having found it but not wanting to report it because they had stolen a car at the time and didn’t want to get caught. There’s a bunch of other little plots based around the lives of the kids and the goings-on in their small town. Overall, it’s basically a story where they set out on a quest and arguably become men — or at least grow up a little — because of that quest.

The movie is, itself, well-done. All of the actors do a good job — especially the boys, who all became popular actors later in life (except for Will Wheaton, whose role in Star Trek: The Next Generation garnered him criticism but, eventually, some geek cred) — and the movie and the adventures mostly work. If you remember the time the movie is set in or like coming-of-age movies, then you’ll like this movie.

Unfortunately, I’m neither.

Now, it could be pointed out that I’m not really a fan of slasher horror movies either, and yet having gone through some of those over the time I’ve been watching horror movies I’ve actually at least liked some of them, and haven’t really felt the need to bring up that they aren’t my style of movie. I’ve even said that I might watch some of those again at some point. So why is the fact that coming-of-age movies aren’t my style of movie more relevant here than it is there?

The reason is this: in the slasher style movies, even if I’m not fond of the gore, the movies still tend to move, because the least interesting of them focus on the killings and escaping from killers rather than on the overall plot or characters. So they tend to be short and make up for lacking substance by adding action. So, at least stuff is always happening. And if they do build in some sort of plot or characters, then there’s that to generate interest in the movie.

But coming-of-age movies rely on an emotional connection to the material to work. “Stand By Me” doesn’t have much of a plot, nor does it really have a direct and focused character arc. It’s mostly a collection of individual vignettes that reveal things about the town, the time, and yes, importantly, the character of the kids themselves. But unless you like or can in some way relate emotionally to the kids, the character points aren’t monumental enough to work directly as a character arc. The kids grow up a little and potentially deal with some issues, but that only matters if you’re relating to the kids and interested in their stories. And you are only going to be interested in them and their stories if you have that emotional connection.

I didn’t have that emotional connection, and so saw it as a competently executed coming-of-age story that left me cold. I have some minor criticisms — for example, I felt that the sections focusing on the older teens were mostly pointless and only there to establish them as the final obstacle for them to overcome — but overall there’s nothing structurally wrong with it. I just didn’t get that emotional connection and so the movie left me a bit cold.

As such, this isn’t a movie that I’ll watch again, but it’s in no way a bad movie. I don’t regret watching it once, and would recommend it to people who like that sort of movie. It’s just not the movie for me.

Batman’s Promise

October 14, 2019

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Batman’s Promise” by Randall M. Jensen. This essay examines the details of Batman’s main motivation for fighting crime and particularly fighting crime in Gotham: the promise he, as a child, made to his parents after their death from “some punk with a gun”.

One issue with the essay is that Jensen focuses on two of the three main categories of morality in consequentialism and deontology and then has a hard time fitting Batman’s promise into those moral systems. The promise is to make Gotham a better place, but it doesn’t seem like that’s Batman’s main purpose for doing that. However, his promise doesn’t seem to be him just following a set rule that breaking promises is a bad thing to do and he made a promise. Against both interpretations is the idea that his promise seems to be more to him than a moral calculation or reasoning, but has instead become part of him, and in fact in a lot of ways has come to define who he is, which is generally not the case for one element in a consequentialist or deontological moral system.

The way out of this, of course, is to look at the third moral system or category and use that one: Virtue Theory. Batman tries to make Gotham better and tries to keep that defining promise simply because that’s what he has concluded a virtuous person in his circumstances would do. There doesn’t have to be a set rule defining this demand. He doesn’t have to evaluate every circumstance to see if that is making things, overall, better or worse. He doesn’t have to demand that everyone else do so as well, because they are differently situated. He can even, at least initially, tell people whose circumstances are closer to his that it’s not their responsibility to do that. Batman made that promise, and virtuous people keep their promises.

This would also resolve the long discussion in the essay over whether you can or need to keep promises to the dead. Consequentialists require keeping promises to provide utility, and it’s difficult to see what utility there can be in keeping a promise to someone who is dead and so can no longer be helped by doing so or harmed by not doing so. Deontologists would require there be a set rule, but it’s hard to imagine a deontological moral system that can properly justify a rule that promises must be kept to people when the promise is utterly irrelevant to them. Both, of course, can justify promises made to someone who is now dead but where, at least, the promise can be kept to their relatives or friends, but that’s not really the case with Bruce Wayne’s parents. This is, again, far easier to explain with Virtue Theory: Batman made that promise, and as long as the promise is in any way relevant and as long as he is able to fulfill it he is obligated to do so. He is obligated to live up to his commitments even if no one — other than himself — can hold him accountable for them.

This is also seen with the idea that Batman doesn’t do this out of revenge or, I’d argue, even out of retribution. Batman can easily be seen to be trying to make Gotham into the city that his parents wanted it to become, and tried to make it through their charitable works and other, more normal means. And despite that, street crime ended their lives and the lives of other people, which is why Batman focuses on that sort of crime and improvement. It can easily be argued that Batman fights not merely for the Gotham that his parents wanted, but ultimately for the Gotham his parents should have had, but couldn’t because of “some punk with a gun”.

While Jensen focuses on the comics and recent movies, the DCAU is the better source for these statements. In the Justice League two-parter “A Better World”, Batman faces off with an alternate universe Batman who has joined an authoritarian Justice League in controlling the world. As they fight in the Batcave, the alternate universe Batman convinces the DCAU Batman to join him by saying that through seizing power they’ve created the world Batman wants: one where no child ever has to lose their parents because of some punk with a gun. But as they drive through Gotham, DCAU Batman notes the horrific cost of that authoritarianism, and then fires back at his counterpart by sarcastically saying that his parents would have loved this world, which convinces the alternate universe Batman to change sides and realize how bad this was. This was not the world his parents wanted. This is not the world his parents deserved. This was not Batman keeping his promise to them. Batman doesn’t want to avenge his parents, or get retribution against the criminal underworld for their deaths. He wants to make a world that they would be proud of and want to live in. That, and only that, will keep his promise.

How did it end up like this?

October 11, 2019

I’ve probably already talked about this, and the preamble is going to be a bit long because it’s probably more interesting than the grumble, but I noted something this week following on from my post last week.

Other than my traditional Christmas post, I used to have a few “traditions” from my Christmas vacation. However, almost all of them had faded away and so I wasn’t really doing most of them. But, recently, some of them starting creeping back in. This year, I’m going to have more vacation than normal and had decided even before then to reinsert some of them because I’d have the time and they seemed like a good way to pass that time. So I had already planned to re-watch Babylon 5 over break. I’d also decided to take a day — I was thinking New Year’s Eve day — and re-watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies (excluding The Hobbit, which I had never bought because I didn’t really enjoy the book and, in fact, didn’t finish it).

And I also decided to re-watch all of the Star Wars movies.

So, as is my wont when I’m wandering around and such, I started planning a lot of it out, including things like days and the like. I decided that I wanted to, at some point, go for a walk and buy some lunch, and so started planning out when I’d start watching the movies and then go out so that I’d be at the place after it opened, which also required thinking about days and the like, and, well, going on like that. I decided that, for me, I’d watch to the end of “Attack of the Clones”, go out, and then watch the last four movies, which should get things done in plenty of time for me to, well, fall asleep.

It took me a while to realize that I’d left something out of the calculation.

Yep, none of the new movies were on the list. Now, at first blush there’s a simple explanation for this: I was following my original schedule and that’s all that there were then, so I just left them out. But then I started musing that even after being reminded of their existence and despite having the time to watch them, I had no interest in watching the new movies again. I then remembered and mused about adding “Rogue One” to the list … but then had to admit that I didn’t care enough about that movie to watch it then either. I could have, but didn’t really feel it necessary or desirable.

So, no interest in watching the newer movies. And yet … I kept the prequels in. I’m not as fond of them either, but certainly would rather watch them than the ones in the new trilogy. Why is that?

Now, someone could muse that the issue is that I’m getting old, and falling into the time-honoured tradition of thinking that what was old was good and what’s new is crap, mostly out of nostalgia blinders. The issue with this is that I’ve been watching a mix of new and old shows and movies and that’s not holding up. So older shows — like Soap and Charmed — I’ve liked, but I’ve also been disappointed by a few of the ones I grew up with, like Remington Steele and Mork & Mindy. I’ve also liked the first Friday the 13th movie better than some of the new horror movies I’ve watched, but also disliked the second one more and liked Happy Death Day but not the sequel. I’ve liked some old games and some new ones. I’m not really one to be blinded by nostalgia.

The problem is this: I just don’t like the new stuff, probably because it’s just not very good. But for Star Wars, this is a critical failure on their part. Remember, I still watch the prequels despite not being that impressed by them. I also am not reading any of the new canon’s books despite the fact that I own most of the old EU and re-read most of them on a regular basis, even the ones that are weak like “Legacy of the Force”. I was what you’d have to consider a “Warsie”, a huge though not obsessed Star Wars fan, buying almost anything that I came across from Star Wars and consuming most of it. Right now, I’m not consuming a lot of it and am not at all certain when I’ll buy the last one, if I will at all, and what I’ll get of the trilogy that’s supposed to come after that. I don’t buy the comics anymore, and have little interest in doing so.

How did it come to this? How did the Star Wars franchise fall so low that I, a dedicated fan, no longer have any interest in the franchise? It’s not just that it’s different, because I often don’t mind that. It’s also, for me, not that it’s diverse because, well, I’m currently watching the feminist-friendly Charmed and liked — at least at the time — the girlpower oriented original Birds of Prey. So what’s wrong with Star Wars that I don’t care for it anymore?

Maybe … maybe it just sucks. I think I’m gonna hafta go with that one until someone finds an alternative explanation that makes more sense.

Thoughts on “Friday the 13th, Part 2”

October 10, 2019

The original Friday the 13th movie was probably the Platonic Form of the slasher genre. Unfortunately, the second movie is probably the Platonic Form of the uninspired sequel to a slasher movie.

The movie first cuts off the ties to the first movie with a long, drawn-out sequence where someone goes and finishes off the survivor from the first movie. This … is a mistake, in my opinion. First, the sequence is rather long and for people not familiar with the series it’s going to be difficult to figure out what’s going on, despite the fact that the scene itself references the first movie. Second, those who remembered the first movie and liked the character — guilty as charged — are going to be annoyed at having her be rather unceremoniously killed off, at least in part because she insisted on staying in or near that town — it seems — alone. It seems to be an attempt to ape the opening sequence from the first movie, but that one was more suspenseful as we didn’t really know the story at this point, whereas this one is more plodding.

And the movie, in general, seems to be nothing more than a slavish attempt to ape the first movie. We get the warning from the same person, the killer being hidden from the counselors until the very end, various semi-gory murders, the final girl being a counselor who had a relationship with the owner, and a fake-out at the end. But the murders are prosaic, the characters uninteresting, and the times they stop the action seem far more like attempts to do that than as simple “slice-of-life” moments. One scene epitomizes this, where there’s a sequence with one of the female counselors who is interested in the counselor who’s in a wheelchair, and after all their flirting and their making arrangements for some sweet, sweet love the guy in the wheelchair is killed and then she is, but the characters weren’t developed enough to make me care about the scenes where they flirt with each other, and so those scenes fall flat and so I don’t care that much about their death scenes.

The ending is particularly bad, as they seemingly kill Jason but then he bursts in through the window to grab the Final Girl … and the movie fades out to the next morning, with her being loaded into an ambulance and asking where her boyfriend Paul was (repeatedly). This is never explained. Compare this to the first movie, where the Final Girl, in the morning, was seemingly pulled underwater by Jason, and at the end muses that Jason was still out there, then … but that could have been simply a hallucination or dream of hers, leaving room for interpretation. The movie explains what happened at the end but leaves it open for sequels, while the second part doesn’t explain anything.

The first movie’s charm was that it audaciously didn’t bother to explain or develop the horror aspects, but structured the movie so that no one cared. This movie makes more references to Jason and definitely makes the lore a bigger part of it, but never really explains anything and so we both care more about it and care less because it isn’t ever paid off. There’s not much new in the second part — there is the scene where the Final Girl wears Jason’s mother’s sweater to try to distract him, which works for a bit but ultimately fails — and its aping of the first movie just doesn’t work as well.

Still, it’s not terrible. I can’t imagine watching it as a standalone movie, but definitely could watch it if I ever decided to watch the entire series of movies again.

Ranathawn Diary: Balmorra

October 9, 2019

After fleeing from an attack by the Voidwolf on our contact point, we were directed to Balmorra to obtain some new weapons from what was called Project Nebula. Balmorra is a planet that was in the Republic but was invaded by the Empire, and once the situation became untenable the Republic pulled out and left it to the Empire. The Balmorra people don’t care for Empire rule, but also aren’t that happy with the Republic for abandoning them, and are keeping up a resistance movement that the Republic is now trying to aid, despite only having one small beachhead in an area overrun by large bugs. By which I mean human-sized bugs. So Balmorra’s not a good place to take a vacation, in other words.

I decided that I’d go out on these missions with Risha. To start, I actually like her. She’s competent and has some sense of honour, and she can be fun to be around. There’s something pleasing about two footloose and fancy-free women going out on the town to cause some mischief. Second, she’s actually pretty competent in a way that the others aren’t. Bowdaar is pretty much pure muscle and Corso is good with guns, but Risha has more subtlety to her than they do, because of her criminal background. This makes her a good back-up for cases like this. And, finally, she’s trying to reclaim her throne, and these missions are all about working with the Republic, which will get us some attention and possibly an association with the higher-ups in the Republic political and military structures (we’re already in contact with a well-known Senator). It’s a good chance for her to get known so that if she needs to call on them for help she can.

The one problem is that Risha has been taught mostly criminal activities, not politics, so she often gets annoyed when I take on jobs for the military and political entities without demanding payment first. The thing is, as a criminal or mercenary it’s the right call to look after your own interests first, but you aren’t going to be seen as a hero or even as someone incredibly useful if you do. If you act like a mercenary, you’re going to be treated as one, and being treated as one means you aren’t going to get to sit in on any of the interesting meetings; they’re going to pay you and tell you to stand by in case they need to pay you again. But if you seem like a patriot, then they’re going to involve you in those things, especially if you’re successful enough that they can use you to rally their forces. That gets you into the inner circles where the power is, and anyone who wants to play politics needs access to the power, one way or another.

That’s why when the opportunity came up to redirect some of the weapons to the Balmorran resistance instead of sending them all to the Republic I sent them all to the Republic. Sure, I was sympathetic to the Balmorran cause, but no matter what happened the Republic movers and shakers would see me as someone only interested in making a buck rather than the “greater good”, and their “principles” won’t let them make such a person part of the inner circle … or, at least, not after the hard work is done. I need an in there, and playing nice with them gets me that.

This is actually one of the bigger differences between the Republic and the Empire. The Empire, based as it is on the Sith philosophies, tends to accept those whose motivation is self-interest. In fact, often people in the Empire are suspicious of someone who claims to have no self-interested motives for doing something. The Republic, on the other hand, is all about sacrificing for the greater good, likely because of how it is influenced by the philosophies of the Jedi. Except the problem is that the Republic isn’t free from self-interest or motivated reasoning, and so oftentimes they have to try to justify their actions by appealing to the “greater good” even if it really isn’t.

I saw this in spades with the Barrager, an incredibly powerful weapon that uses pretty much every sort of power that a planet produces to fight off an attacking fleet. This really sounds like a pyrrhic victory, and so it only makes sense that it’s a weapon that was originally designed by the Empire. I was tasked with finding it and destroying it, but on two occasions the Republic commander seemed willing to put his own interests over principles. First, I had one use of a console, and he wanted me to use it to deal with an attack on his forces instead of helping out some hackers. This doesn’t seem unreasonable, except that those hackers were, in fact, the ones who got him access to that console and were only in trouble because they did that. Yes, sometimes you have to make sacrifices, but letting those useful hackers who helped out die isn’t likely to win you any favours in the future. But the worst was with the Barrager itself. While I had thought that we were supposed to destroy it, the commander wanted to keep it and use it. What was the “greater good” here? Seemingly luring a fleet to Balmorra, using the Barrager to destroy it, and thus ensuring that that fleet couldn’t devastate any other planet. So, essentially, turn Balmorra into Taris to prevent another planet from becoming Taris. It’s difficult to see how that trade off is one that fits in with Republic principles.

In the Empire, the underlying philosophy is to be self-interested … but, then, when you come across someone who stands for principles and order they’re almost certainly telling the truth. In the Republic, self-sacrifice is strongly encouraged … but that means that anyone who is self-centered is always going to at least mouth the ideals of self-sacrifice even as they — intentionally or not — focus on their own self-interest. I wonder if the Jedi and if some of the general Jedi arrogance comes from that: having to constantly convince themselves that the actions they take really are for the “greater good” even when, at times, they aren’t.

Thoughts on “Secret Window”

October 8, 2019

“Apt Pupil” was the movie that had Ian McKellen in it and seemed like it had an interesting premise. “Secret Window” is a movie that had Johnny Depp in it and … well, that’s about it. So how would it fare? I’m going to completely spoil the ending in this post, so if you don’t want it spoiled you should stop reading now.

Anyway, the basic premise of “Secret Window” is that Johnny Depp is an author estranged from his wife — she’s just waiting for him to sign the papers, which for some reason he won’t do — who is writing his next work at a cabin way out in the middle of nowhere who suddenly is accosted by someone — played by John Turturro — who claims that he stole his story and, even worse, ruined the ending. This leads to an escalating set of events where the man does bad things to the author in an attempt to get him to admit that he stole the story and, again, more importantly to rewrite the ending to the way it’s supposed to be. But things are not quite as they seem.

In mysteries or movies where there’s a twist it’s important to lay out the clues that reveal the ending and even make them obvious at times, so that if the viewer takes the time to think about them they’d be able to figure out the ending and reveal the twist, so that at the end when all is revealed they say “Of course! It all makes sense now!”. You don’t want the ending or twist to come out of nowhere. But the key is to lay out the clues, but then not give the viewer the time to think about them. This means employing misdirection and distraction to do that. You drop the hint, but then distract them with a plot point. Or a character point. Or a jump scare. Or even a red herring. They have to clearly note the hint — because you don’t want the reaction at the end to a point to be “Wait, when did that happen?” — but then have to be encouraged to forget about it until you remind them of it at a key point later.

This is what dooms “Secret Window”. About a third to half-way through the movie, when it seemed like a simple escalation of violence from disturbed individual movie — see “Misery” for an example — I suddenly noted that they were spending an awful lot of time on the relationship between the author and his wife and her new boyfriend. The movie started with him finding the two of them together. She called him and they talked for quite a while at one point about the details of their relationship. The “Secret Window” story started with a man talking about killing his wife and there was a flashback to his wife finding the secret window and creating a secret garden, where the story claimed the husband was going to bury his wife. While the escalation of violence movies can do that in order to get us to feel afraid when the attacker targets them, there really seemed to be too much of this for the relationship they had, and the hints were far too focused on the wife being the victim and not the author. So either the movie was wasting a lot of time on something irrelevant, or there was a twist where the author himself was actually the killer and, thus, his attacker was in his own head. Which ended up being the case. Since there wasn’t anything in the movie to distract me from thinking about what was going on, the twist became obvious and so was ruined.

The other issue is that the ending isn’t a particularly interesting one. The best interpretation of it is that after he had tried to kill the two of them before — he leaves after discovering it and goes back to try to shoot them, but the gun is empty — the ending he needs to rewrite is to actually do it this time, and in a way consistent with the “Secret Window” story. Turtorro’s character is someone who he invented to allow him to do things like that, and it’s implied that that persona takes over for the killing and possibly thereafter as well. But the better ending would have been that he had, in fact, already killed her, but refused to admit it to himself. He could have gotten off on temporary insanity, and this could be some time later. This would explain why the people in town, when he first walks in there, look at him with suspicion, and why the sheriff doesn’t take his complaints about the threats and the dog seriously. It also fits in with the new ending, with the idea that the killing had become a mystery to everyone … even himself. And it also avoids having the ending where he gets away with it completely, which is a risk if we don’t care for the villain or like the victim, which we probably should for his ex-wife. The ending kinda fits, but is a bit awkward and unsatisfying, especially since the only impression we have of the sheriff who says that he’ll catch him eventually is that he’s incompetent and so probably won’t.

The performances, especially those of Depp and Turtorro, are quite good, but the plot isn’t that interesting. I have no great desire to watch it again.

The Mystery of the Horrible Hound

October 7, 2019

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is “The Mystery of the Horrible Hound” by Rafe McGregor. This essay is more of a literary analysis than a philosophical work, as the main thesis here is to argue that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is more reasonably interpreted as a supernatural story than as a mystery story. Unfortunately, the best evidence McGregor has for that is that it’s a poor mystery, where the main villain’s plan was somewhat weak and Holmes makes a major error that he really shouldn’t have made in setting up a plan to catch the villain. Looking at the history as outlined in the essay, it seems more likely that the flaws can be best explained by a shift as opposed to this being Doyle’s full intent. Originally, he was writing the work with someone else, and Holmes wasn’t originally supposed to be in it. By the end, Holmes was the main character and the other author had dropped out. So it’s more likely that Doyle had started a collaboration on a supernatural horror work — Doyle had written some of those himself — and after Holmes was added — likely to help generate interest — the work shifted away from that original model and instead to a mystery, but to avoid redoing everything the supernatural elements remained, which then had to adapt to the mystery plot, which explains the oddities.

At any rate, that’s not that interesting. What is somewhat interesting is that he uses Noel Carroll’s ideas of what makes the horror genre to try to argue for it. The one idea that I want to focus on is the idea that horror seems to include a prevalence of monsters that aren’t at least physically strong enough to instill fear on their own in people, if I’m interpreting McGregor right there. And the reason I want to talk about that is that it doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not necessarily, from my recent stint of watching horror movies.

Some horror movies do, in fact, do this, but the reason doesn’t seem to be related to the nature of horror itself, but to practical reasons. Horror works may well choose to focus on creatures that in and of themselves aren’t a physical threat to make it clear that this is a supernatural occurrence. If the creature wouldn’t normally be a threat, then the fact that it is can only be the result of something unnatural, and so this distinguishes it as a supernatural sort of horror as opposed to the more natural horrors of simple serial killers and the like. However, this can backfire if the monster seems so physically weak that the audience simply can’t see it as a threat even if it actually is one (people have commented that, at least at first blush, “Night of the Lepus” seems that way, as it’s difficult to see rabbits as a threat even if they are one). Another series that uses this sort of structure is the “Leprechaun” series, and one of the reasons “The Leprechain Returns” fails is because it fails at that, as a leprechaun killing people should do so in a creative or funny way using supernatural powers but none of the deaths in that movie are that creative. So there’s a practical trade-off to doing that.

Which, then, is why a number of horror works — especially movies — aim in fact at creating a monster that is, in and of itself, physically imposing. Jason from the Friday the 13th series, especially when he becomes a full on supernatural threat, is very imposing. While Freddy from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” isn’t as physically imposing, he has a very frightening weapon in and of itself that works with his supernatural abilities. Even classic monsters like Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula are in some way physically imposing beyond what one would consider normal. When this is done, it makes it abundantly clear that the monster is a threat, and so we automatically feel fear just by looking at them, which means that no work has to be done to establish that they are a threat. Then all the movie needs to do is make the supernatural parts clear by having them not die to things that should kill them and, voila, a supernatural horror is created. This works particularly well for movies and TV shows because they can use the image to establish the threat and fear and so don’t need to take up time with exposition establishing that, leaving more room for suspense and horror.

And, of course, the most extreme supernatural horrors — ghosts and spirits and the like — tend to make hay out if it not being clear what the physical threat is. Ghosts tend to be immaterial and so it isn’t clear what sort of physical threat they actual present. They can be anything from a mental threat — driving the inhabitants insane with fear — to a direct and overwhelming physical threat. And, in fact, there is a respectable subsection or horror that is about mind games themselves with little physical threat at all, at which point the focus is more on them being bizarre and/or representative than anything else.

So it doesn’t seem to me that supernatural horror monsters in any way typically look like monsters that aren’t a physical threat, as the hound appears in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Typically, that’s done to make the supernatural nature of the beast more apparent. But the hound is both a reasonable physical threat to someone who is unprepared and, in fact, is ultimately completely natural and acting in line with its natural abilities. So, on that angle, at least, the hound isn’t a good reason to think that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a supernatural horror rather than a mystery.