Archive for August, 2012

You were always on my mind …

August 31, 2012

So, lately I’ve been listening to the soundtrack from the video game “Silent Hill: Shattered Memories”, and the first song on the CD is a creepy, depressing version of the (I think) Willie Nelson favourite “You Were Always On My Mind”. Taking the creepy tone as well as the lyrics into account always makes me think that that would have been a perfect theme song for Silent Hill 2, as it seems to fit James Sunderland’s dilemma perfectly, as well as one of his endings. It’s too bad it wasn’t done for that game.

Amateur …

August 27, 2012

So, over the weekend … I watched golf. Specifically, the end of the Canadian Women’s Open.

Now, I don’t normally watch golf. I’ve been able to watch the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup in the past, and watched when Mike Weir was on his way to winning the Master’s, but in general I don’t watch a lot of golf. But on Saturday afternoon I was about to take another run at TOR, and wanted to have something on in the background, and remembered that CBC often shows sports, and flipped there to see if they were. And golf was on. And my thought was “Perfect! It’s a sport that I don’t have much interest in watching but that I can at least listen to while waiting for the cooldowns on my abilties to expire between scraps”. But then they had to go and ruin it all by … making history.

Now, when it comes to sports I can’t resist a good story. Which was one of the main reasons I followed Mike Weir’s run at the Master’s. And so, soon into the afternoon, I learned that there was a chance for history to be made, with Lydia Ko being possibly the youngest woman ever to win an LPGA event and being the first amateur to do it in a long, long time. She also seemed like such a pleasant person so it was pretty easy to root for her.

So, on Sunday, instead to playing TOR I watched the end of the round (laundry played a bit of a role in that as well), where she indeed manage to win it, and did it going away on Sunday with an impressive showing on the back 9.

One of the funniest moments, though, seemed to come when they were handing out the awards at the end. They handed out a medallion to the top Canadian, and then went to hand out the award for the top amateur … except that I think most people — especially Ko herself — had actually forgotten or didn’t realize that, of course, that would be the tournament winner, Ko. You could see that reaction on her face, which was almost a “Yeah, yeah, top amateur and then the trophy … oh, wait, that’s ME”.

It was a story worth watching, in my opinion. And she deserves congratulations, especially since that’s about all she’ll get out of it; as an amateur, she couldn’t actually take home the prize money …

Ji’ark Diary: Negotiation

August 24, 2012

On Alderaan, I eventually met with Jaesa Willsam’s parents, and attempted to convince them and their Jedi protector that all I wanted was to talk peacefully with Jaesa, and convert her to my cause, a greater cause than that of the Jedi or the Sith. The Jedi, as was to be expected, was unconvinced of this, but her father seemed open to listening, as long as he got something out of the deal. Appealing to that, I offered to set them up in luxury on Drummond Kaas, to take them away from the fairly poor life they were currently living. Her mother was hesitant, but her father was anxious to escape the rather bleak life of a minor servant to the nobles on Alderaan. Eventually, he prevailed upon her to accept the deal and the Jedi to his credit did not attack me in an attempt to stop me from doing so.

When I told Darth Barras of this, he chortled at what he called my cleverness, claiming that being able to feel that her parents were living a good life because of the Sith would leave her in constant torment, which is exactly what he — and what I, by extension — should want as I attempted to convert her to the dark side.

Darth Barras is a fool.

That may be the way the Sith generally work, but this only further outlines why the Sith way is flawed. I wanted Jaesa’s ability in order to help create a new order, one built around honour and one where one is generous when one should be and brutal when one should be. Giving her parents their better life and having her sense that was aimed at making her question what she had been taught, and the worldview that she was clinging to, in order to open her mind to new and better possibilities. Only when her delusions of how the Sith and the Jedi operate have been stripped away will she be able to see the proper way forward. Thus, it is not her torment that I am after, and in fact torment would be counter-productive. This is to be a negotiation, not an attempt to drive her insane, insane enough to slaughter innocents and like it. Rational, calm thought is required, not another brutal, out-of-control killing machine. The Empire cannot long survive that sort of “conversion”.

The seed is planted; all that is left is to determine if it will bear fruit.

Review of “The Witch Watch”…

August 21, 2012

Shamus Young of Twenty-Sided Tale fame recently self-published a couple of books. One of those was “The Witch Watch”, a fantasy novel set in Victorian England. Now, I’ve commented before that I like Shamus’ writing and joked that I want to be like him when I grow up (despite the fact that we’re about a year or two apart in age) because he does and likes to do a lot of things that I do and like to do, which would include writing novels. It’s only the fact that I currently, at least, have a steady job that makes me not go out and write a novel myself, which Shamus is blessed to no longer have. That being said, he’d probably be willing to trade the novelist for the steady job …

Anyway, I saw I think the character preview or comments on the novel and was a bit nervous, since it didn’t quite sound like my type of book … even though it probably should have been given the content. However, I made a point of browsing for it on Amazon — the Canadian version — every so often, and it came up. So I bought it, even though it was a bit more expensive than I’d normally be willing to pay for a book of that type, mostly because I wanted to support Shamus who is having some financial trouble. (Or, at least, was having some financial trouble. He might be rolling in the dough and lighting cigars from $20 bills from the proceeds from the novel for all I know, since he doesn’t talk about it much and while his wife did talk about that at times on her blog in the recent reshuffle of his site he lost the link to her site — a trackback to a post she’d made referencing his “About” page — and he doesn’t link to either of her sites directly. I mean, seriously, how can you not link to your wife’s sites on your blog? Especially when one is even relevant? Shame [grin]).

Anyway, I was in the middle of “Legacy of the Force” when it arrived, and put it on hold, at least in part because of the nervousness I had about from before. And then I finished “Legacy of the Force”, and needed a new book to read, thought about it … and then went to re-read “The Order of the Stick” instead. Finishing that and still having nothing that was just light fiction to read — although there are a few philosophical texts outstanding — I decided to bite the bullet and sit down and read it, despite my trepidation. Now, the reason I’m telling all of you this is to get my bias out there; I was already expecting to be disappointed when I started to read it, so you can take my comments in that light.

I was disappointed by it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the basic idea is good. It all starts from basically a random thought — according to Shamus — about how odd or funny it might be to have people try to raise someone from the dead and get the wrong person. I might not have chosen the path Shamus took with this, and can think of at least two other ways that I might have liked better, but it’s an interesting idea and if his take was implemented well, it would have been an interesting plotline. And the characters focused on are interesting as well, or at least had the potential to be, as is the political situation in London where he mostly sets it. So there’s a lot of good that could be built on.

If I had to sum up my problems with it — and I guess I’ll have to sum up my problems with it in a review — it’s that the implementation breaks up the narrative flow too much. And this is a major problem for me, because everything follows from the narrative flow. You get the plot — and get interested in the plot — because of the narrative flow. You get sucked into the plot and just want to keep reading and reading because there aren’t any natural breakpoints, which is how you end up with books that you start and then read all the way through until 2 am and you finish it (long training, BTW, has allowed me to resist that, but I still like a good narrative glow). It’s also critical for characterization, because you only really start to feel for and attached to the characters when you’re immersed in their lives and so you aren’t able to simply think of them as characters, but start thinking of them as people. If the narrative flow is disrupted, then it seems that you get less involved. You’re reading it an awful lot like you’d read a history textbook or even a philosophical work, where you have moments where you are deeply engaged and other moments where you aren’t because it’s mostly listing off facts or basic prinicples. And, for the most part, I felt this way a lot when reading this book.

In my view there are three main issues that cause this to happen, at least for me:

1) Chuck (something or other, I can never remember his last name) over at SFDebris I think describes Kenneth Biller’s work as “Something needs to happen to advance the plot, and so it does just because it needs to, even if it can’t actually do that when the plot doesn’t demand it”. That’s close to what I see happening here, although it isn’t as bad. It’s not a case of “The impossible has to happen, so let’s make it happen”, but more of “I want this scene to happen, and so I have to get from here to there, and so I’ll do this”. Basically, it looks to me like Shamus had a number of scenes in mind that had to happen, and then he tried to link them together. Which, to be fair, is basically to me what writing is, so I won’t fault him for that. Narrative flow, in fact, is precisely doing this: linking separate scenes together in a seamless way. The issue for me is that the linking is not seamless. There are a number of cases where the links don’t seem to make sense. For example, in one part in order to make a scene happen, the characters have to take a 3 week long sea voyage. With the villains on the same ship. Which requires them to do something on the ship. That can take 3 weeks. It seemed to me exactly like Shamus was caught up in having that scene, and then realized what the rest of the novel would mean to that, and then instead of reworking the initial construction so that it made more sense reworked the scene to work with the issues. However, sometimes you just need to drop a scene or rewrite some of the premises to have things make more sense. Now, I’m not sure that this is what happened — I am not a mind reader — but that’s just how it struck me.

Another — and less spoilery — example is the introduction of Lord Moxley, head of the titular Witch Watch. He comes around to get a report on what has happened, and when he finds out that they have an “abomination” he says he’s going to stay away to maintain plausible deniability. Sure, makes sense. But then he comes around the next day to berate them over the nobles they arrested. In the same operation. That they didn’t brief him on? Really? It would have worked out so much better to have him come around to berate them over the nobles, hear about all the details, leave to claim plausible deniability, and then only reappear when the plot demands it later. That way, you’d have one scene that covers off his introduction and role, without forcing in a mostly pointless additional scene later. It would have allowed more focus on the primary characters and helped maintain the flow better.

And this happens quite a bit, at least in my opinion.

2) The exposition — and there is a fair amount of it — doesn’t blend nicely into the narrative flow. It’s mostly done through letters at the end of some chapters, and through asides that relate the life of Gilbert (the dead guy). The problem is that these are all outside of the narrative flow. Even though Gilbert starts with no memory of his past, there’s no hints early in the book that what we are seeing are his recovered memories (although it’s implied later, but that’s too late in my opinion). So what we have is a scene where the main characters are doing something and then it gets interrupted for basically a flashback scene, and then we jump back into the action. It breaks the narrative flow, and that’s so easy to fix. Take, for example, some of the initial memories. Simply have Gilbert and Simon running away, and then drop into the flashback. Do it in italics to make it clear that this is a flashback memory. And at the end have Simon interject with “Sir? Can we (puff) rest for a (puff) bit?”, making it clear that this was Gilbert simply slipping into recovering his memories while running, which would have both set-up and demonstrated that as an undead he now doesn’t really breathe or tire, and worked the memories into the narrative flow better. And there were a number of cases where Gilbert had the time to think about his lost memories and try to recover them, that we know he’d be interested in.

Adding to the problem here is that these asides end with the interesting memory of how he died and thus ended up being raised by mistake … which is about half-way through the book. So this isn’t something that we trace all the way through the book, but is instead something that ends up being mostly dropped half-way through. That means that we don’t even have something that we can expect to see all through the book, and so we can’t redefine our narrative flow as “Present/Past/Present/Past”, which has been done quite effectively in a number of other works. So it ends up being a bit jarring. Especially when you consider …

3) There are a lot of questions answered that don’t need answering. Relating this back to point 2), most of the things that we needed to know could have easily been done in the narrative when they became relevant. What the longer scenes showed were events that were used, but only as minor points, and as ones that we didn’t really need explained. It almost seems at times like there was a game of “Well, how did this happen? Well, like this. Okay, so then how did this happen?” and on and on and on. But we don’t need everything explained. We also don’t need to know the full backgrounds of the characters. Having a full background for a character is nice to have and is something that a lot of really good writers do, but they don’t try to make sure that we, the readers, know all of it. It’s there to help them build a consistent character with consistent motives, but they only bring in the details that we need to know, and leave the rest in the background until bringing it up fits into the story. There seem to be a lot of details of Gilbert’s and even Alice’s past that only set-up minor points, and we can even see this when Alice feels the need to describe Moxley to Gilbert despite the fact that even he notes that he’s unlikely to actually ever meet him and so have to worry about it. In essence, there needs to be more “show” and less “tell”, which should help with answering questions that the readers don’t need to know and with maintaining a good narrative flow.

Ultimately, this book is not as bad as some of the books that I’ve started reading and never finished. In fact, it’s not actually a bad book. However, if I wasn’t planning on doing this review, I would have stopped reading it, mostly because reading it felt like driving in a standard vehicle with someone who is just learning how to drive a standard: there’s a lot of jerking that breaks you out of a smooth flow. That made it a very frustrating read. The good news is that all of these things can be fixed; it’s a matter of experience and writing and re-writing and re-writing until it all flows nicely. So, it’s just a matter of gaining experience and working it all out.

A couple of minor points:

1) I really liked the consistency in the “panic with the staff” parts. It’s actually an example of how to fit small details into the narrative nicely that add to the work.

2) When describing “Grayhouse” for the first time, he notes that people think that it just describes the colour of the house or that people think they spelled the name of the colour wrong. The problem here is that the English — meaning, in England — spelling of the colour is “gray”, which I know because Canadians spell it the same way. It’s Americans that spell it “grey”. Grayhouse, being in England, spells it right. It would have been better to have Gilbert muse on this instead of the unseen narrator/author, because if the author makes a mistake and we note it it, again, reminds us that we’re reading a book, which is never good.

Free for all …

August 20, 2012

The last Not-So-Casual Commentary is up, on TOR going FtP.

The chart of what will be free and what will be pay, at least for far, is here.

Ultimately, I’m going to go for a “wait and see” approach, and decide in January/February if I’m going to continue paying or not. And right now, I’m almost level 45 out of 50 on my Sith Juggernaut. I should be putting up more Ji’ark Diaries but … I’d rather play the game. You understand.

Feature Creep …

August 10, 2012

This is tagged with the “Overcoming Shyness” tag even though it isn’t one of my specific posts in that series because being or not being a creep is something that a lot of shy people both fear and, unfortunately, do.

Anyway, here’s a guide to not being a creeper (or, I guess, creep). It starts out defining what a creeper is:

Let’s define our terms here. Let’s say that for this particular conversation, a “creeper” is someone whose behavior towards someone else makes that other person uncomfortable at least and may possibly make them feel unsafe. A creeper may be of any gender and may creep on any gender, but let’s acknowledge that a whole lot of the time it’s guys creeping on women. Creeping can happen any place and in any community or grouping of people, but in geekdom we see a lot of it at conventions and other large gatherings.

Well, it’s nice that it tries to make it gender-neutral, but it clearly isn’t when it gets into the details or, if it is still trying to be, would fail miserably in at least a couple of places. Anyway, in my quest to point out how a lot of the rules people devise around these sorts of things don’t actually work so well if people tried to follow them — which shy people not only often try to do, but it’s also one of the best ways for them to gain the social skills they lack — I’m going to go through them all and point out the issues with them, if they have any. And some clearly do.

Let’s start with, well, the first one, just to be different:

1. Acknowledge that you are responsible for your own actions. You are (probably) a fully-functioning adult. You probably are able to do all sorts of things on your own — things which require the use of personal judgement. Among those things: How you relate to, and interact with, other human beings, including those who you have some interest in or desire for. Now, it’s possible you may also be socially awkward, or have trouble reading other people’s emotions or intentions, or whatever. This is your own problem to solve, not anyone else’s. It is not an excuse or justification to creep on other people. If you or other people use it that way, you’ve failed basic human decency.

Well, yes and no. Yes, you are responsible for your own actions, but we do generally tend to think that if someone has a particular issue that makes it harder for them to do certain things that we loosen our standards a bit for them. In this particular case, if you happen to be socially awkward and are known to be so and are known to be struggling with fixing that it would seem only reasonable for people who know that to give you some slack when you screw up, instead of, say, claiming that you are a “creeper”, which seems to imply either a deliberate attempt to make someone uncomfortable or that you’re making no attempts to learn how not to be a creep. This one seems to translate to “If you screw up, it’s your problem and that you didn’t intend it at all and are genuinely both puzzled that you did cause discomfort and apologetic for means absolutely nothing at all”. It’s the epitome of the utterly insane “If you make someone else uncomfortable, you are automatically wrong and bad” argument. Sure, you have to take responsibility for your actions, but other people have to take responsibility for their reactions. If you make a genuine mistake and didn’t intend to cause discomfort and give every indication of being sorry and will try to learn from it so as not to do that again, it’s a problem with the other person if they react with anger and not with understanding.

2. Acknowledge that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you. Which is to say that you may be trying your hardest to be interesting and engaging and fun to be around — and still come off as a creeper to someone else. Yes, that sucks for you. But you know what? It sucks for them even harder, because you’re creeping them out and making them profoundly unhappy and uncomfortable. It may not seem fair that “creep” is their assessment of you, but: Surprise! It doesn’t matter, and if you try to argue with them (or anyone else) that you’re in fact not being a creep and the problem is with them not you, then you go from “creep” to “complete assbag.” Sometimes people aren’t going to like you or want to be near you. It’s just the way it is.

This is similar to 1, and has similar problems. Look, there are cases when you can, indeed, argue that you aren’t and that they are wrong, because they are reading something into your actions that isn’t there and, in some cases, that no reasonable person should think is there. If someone thinks that you are hitting on them because you ask them to pass the salt, and that you keep doing that every time you want the salt is creeping them out, the problem is not with you, but with them. And there are many closer cases where someone, say, mistakes an innocent offer of a drink with a proposition, say. So if they think you are a creep because they are making guesses at your intentions and you can prove that you don’t actually have those intentions, then yes you can indeed argue with them over that. And while it might not change their feeling that you are a creep, if you are right then the problem is theirs, not yours. Just because someone is creeped out doesn’t automatically make them right to be creeped out.

3. Acknowledge that no one’s required to inform you that you’re creeping (or help you to not be a creeper). It’s nice when people let you know when you’re going wrong and how. But you know what? That’s not their job. It’s especially not their job at a convention or some other social gathering, where the reason they are there is to hang out with friends and have fun, and not to give some dude an intensive course in how not to make other people intensely uncomfortable with his presence. If you are creeping on other people, they have a perfect right to ignore you, avoid you and shut you out — and not tell you why. Again: you are (probably) a fully-functioning adult. This is something you need to be able to handle on your own.

This is an issue over obligations. Yes, no one is obligated to tell you that you are creeping them out, but they really should … especially since they might be reading something in that isn’t there or may have eccentric views on what counts as “creepy”. But, hey, in conventions it’s easier to just avoid people you don’t like than try to explain it, since you aren’t likely to be friends already and aren’t even likely to see each other again anyway. But this goes for absolutely everything, even someone you don’t like because their voice reminds you of Fran Dresher’s. In a more tightly knit social group, like a class or having a friend of a friend join in to social outings, then this is a really, really bad way to go. You really should let them know and see how they react, if you can. Simply ostracising them won’t help them in any way, and might really hurt them — and might hurt them more than your discomfort at their creepiness.

4. Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use. Yes, I know. You know that. But oddly enough, there’s a difference between knowing it, and actually believing it — or understanding what it means in a larger social context. People go to conventions and social gatherings to meet other people, but not necessarily (or even remotely likely) for the purpose of meeting you. The woman who is wearing a steampunky corset to a convention is almost certainly wearing it in part to enjoy being seen in it and to have people enjoy seeing her in it — but she’s also almost certainly not wearing it for you. You are not the person she has been waiting for, the reason she’s there, or the purpose for her attendance. When you act like you are, or that she has (or should have) nothing else to do than be the object of your amusement/interest/desire/use, the likelihood that you will come across a complete creeper rises exponentially. It’s not an insult for someone else not to want to play that role for you. It’s not what they’re there for.

This one’s fairly good, but a lot of people who get called creeps already get that. Also note tha a lot of people who do think that don’t come across as creepy, because they learn how to get what they want from people. Shy people who are trying to get into social groups but don’t think that people are just there to be used are the ones who didn’t learn by failing because they disliked it so much because they see people as important, unlike those who treat them as toys.

5. Don’t touch. Seriously, man. You’re not eight, with the need to run your fingers over everything, nor do you lack voluntary control of your muscles. Keep your hands, arms, legs and everything else to yourself. This is not actually difficult. Here’s an idea: That person you want to touch? Put them in charge of the whole touch experience. That is, let them initiate any physical contact and let them set the pace of that contact when or if they do — and accept that that there’s a very excellent chance no touch is forthcoming. Do that when you meet them for the first time. Do that after you’ve met them 25 times. Do it just as a general rule. Also, friendly tip: If you do touch someone and they say “don’t touch me,” or otherwise make it clear that touching was not something you should have done, the correct response is: “I apologize. I am sorry I made you uncomfortable.” Then back the hell off, possibly to the next state over.

This is the first of the ones that clearly break the gender neutrality, or else it doesn’t work. Imagine that everyone, male or female, followed this rule and waited for the other person to touch first, and let the pace be settled by the other person. So, you are doing this … and so is the other person. Ergo, no one makes the first move and so touching vanishes. Nice job breaking it, hero.

So, either it’s a call to let women touch first — which ignores that they may set a faster pace than the people they are touching are comfortable with — or it’s actually logically impossible. Nice. And since touching is so crucially important to a lot of social bonding — which is why PUAs make a big deal out of anchoring — following these rules will end up with the person being considered odd or strange because they never touch anyone. Not, then, a rule that shy people ought to follow.

6. Give them space. Hey: Hold your arm straight out in front of your body. Where your fingertips are? That’s a nice minimum distance for someone you’re meeting or don’t know particularly well (it’s also not a bad distance for people you do know). Getting inside that space generally makes people uncomfortable, and why make people uncomfortable? That’s creepy. Also creepy: Sneaking up behind people and getting in close to them, or otherwise getting into their personal space without them being aware of it. If you’re in a crowded room and you need to scrunch in, back up when the option becomes available; don’t take it as an opportunity to linger inside that personal zone.

Kinda good, but the issue is that personal space actually varies with the amount available — I once actually had people feel bad walking into an empty theatre because at the time I was all alone and would have had a solo movie — and with the person and culture. Yes, violating personal space can be an issue, but I’ve had it happen to me and just moved back. Eventually, people get it, and if they don’t, tell them. Do pay attention to circumstances and context, which takes a lot more than what is said here.

7. Don’t box people in. Trapping people in a corner or making it difficult for them to leave without you having the option to block them makes you an assbag. Here’s a hint: If you are actually interesting to other people, you don’t need to box them into a corner.

Again, context. If you don’t need to box them in, don’t, but don’t panic if you happen to due to perfectly natural mechanisms (like a crowded table, or whatever). Never try to box anyone in, but don’t obsess and move around to avoid it either. If they feel boxed in, they can always ask for space or ask you to excuse them and move out of the way if they want to leave, as happens many times a day every single day everywhere in the world.

8. That amusing sexual innuendo? So not amusing. If you can’t make a conversation without trying to shoehorn suggestive or sexually-related topics into the mix, then you know what? You can’t make conversation. Consider also the possibility the playing the sexual innuendo card early and often signals to others in big flashing neon letters that you’re likely a tiresome person who brings nothing else to table. This is another time where an excellent strategy is to let the other person be in charge of bringing sexual innuendo to the conversational table, and managing the frequency of its appearance therein.

Again, context is important. Listen to conversations among real people. You’ll hear an awful lot of it. Does this mean that all of those people are tiresome and bring nothing else to the table? Of course not. It’s simply not the case that sexual innuendo is a problem generally. It becomes a problem if it’s all you do, or if it’s done at inappropriate times, or if the people you are talking to are sensitive to it. Be yourself with these things and hope to find a group that talks the same way you do. After all, you’ll be looked at funny if you slip physics jokes into inappropriate places or with a group that doesn’t care for them, so the focus on sexual innuendo is odd and seems to be coming from someone who doesn’t realize just how normal that is. It’s like my aversion to swearing, except that I realize how normal it is; I just don’t care much for it. He may not care much for it, but that doesn’t make it generally inappropriate.

Now, starting off a conversation with someone you just met with one would be a problem, but that’s one of those “inappropriate times” that I referenced before.

9. Someone wants to leave? Don’t go with them. Which is to say, if they bow out of a conversation with you, say goodbye and let them go. If they leave the room, don’t take that as your cue to follow them from a distance and show up wherever it is they are as if it just happens you are showing up in the same place. Related to this, if you spend any amount of time positioning yourself to be where that person you are interested in will be, or will walk by, for the purpose of “just happening” to be there when they are, you’re probably being creepy as hell. Likewise, if you attach yourself to a group just to be near that person. Dude, it’s obvious, and it’s squicky.

So, you’re talking to someone and they say “I want to get a coffee”, and you could use one, too, and so you say “I’ll join you”, is that wrong? Likely not. If you’ve seen someone that you find interesting, and want a chance to talk to them, and you’re told that they might be at place X later, is it wrong to head over there just in case? Again, likely not. There’s a fine line here between stalking and just doing perfectly normal things, and one that isn’t easy for people to figure out. Essentially, what people need here is to learn how to read body language and so know when the person isn’t interested in talking to you, not some hard-set rules about when you go with someone and when you stay.

10. Someone doesn’t want you around? Go away. Here are some subtle hints: When you come by they don’t make eye contact with you. When they are in a group the group contracts or turns away from you. If you interject in the conversation people avoid following up on what you’ve said. One of the friends of the person you are interested in interposes themselves between you and that person. And so on. When stuff like that happens, guess what? You’re not wanted. When that happens, here’s what you do: Go away. Grumble to yourself (and only to yourself) all you like about their discourteousness or whatever. Do it away from them. Remember that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you. Remember that they’re not obliged to inform you about why they don’t want you around. Although, for God’s sake, if they do tell you they don’t want you around, listen to them.

It’s good to know when you aren’t wanted, and while I’ve messed it up in the past I do have a rule that I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted. So learning to read these signs and respecting them is a good thing. But, the people described here are jerks, and I see no reason to not grumble about it to other people. The big thing, though, is to not take this as a sign that there’s something wrong with you, necessarily. They might not like your shirt (yes, some people are that shallow). They might think you’re a creep. You might be one. As many shy people know, if this keeps happening you might have something that you need to work on, so go try to figure that out. But just because some other people are uncomfortable around you doesn’t mean that they should be, or are right about that, or that you have a problem.

And I think that sums up the whole problem with this list: it is built around the idea that if other people are made uncomfortable around you, then that’s your fault and your problem and something to be worked on, rather than perhaps it simply indicating that you and they really shouldn’t hang out together. And if shy people take the former interpretation as if it is the absolute always true truth, then it can set them back massively. So, we need to look at nuances and contexts, and understand that the creepee might be wrong or the creeper might be wrong, and figure out how to figure out who is wrong and how to fix that, even if just for interactions with other people than the creepees.

Ji’ark Diary: Honour

August 4, 2012

Alderaan is a society purportedly based entirely on a strict system of honour and supposedly noble houses. Based on that, it’s not much of a surprise that it contains indentured servitude and is engaged in a massive and destructive civil war.

The problem is that the more emphasis one puts on looking honourable, the more you get those who appear honourable in order to avoid losing the support of the populace who then will immediately break their word and act dishonourably the instant they think they can get away with it. It fosters the appearance of honour over the actual possession of it. Thus, all you end up with are people who will use honour to get what they want and use it to manipulate others, but who cannot be trusted to actually keep their word or act honourably. It becomes an exercise in rationalization. If you want to attack your neighbour, you make up an excuse about how they treated you dishonourably and rally your forces to avenge this dishourable act. As long as you can be convincing enough, you can use honour to justify any action. And, of course, they will use your attack as a sign that you are dishourable, and so will use that to rally their forces. And then you have war.

Duke Kendoh of House Thul is a prime example of this. He was deceptive and manipulative, and yet had the temetry to act hurt as if I had acted dishourably when he sent me to settle a score with another noble while pretending that it had to do with my mission. I, of course, feel no need to honour agreements that are based on utter lies. He did eventually manage to provide some useful information, but then decided to report my actions to Darth Barris in order to get me discredited. Perhaps the most telling thing about Kendoh’s “honour” is that his Sith guards not only did not defend him or interfere with me in any way throughout my dealings with him, but were actually quite pleased to be rid of him when I killed him.

But there is true honour on Alderaan. The noble that Kendoh sent me after was quite impressed when I kept my word of not killing her in exchange for what she could tell me, and I ended up fighting alongside Organa forces and their leader told me where to find Jaessa’s parents when I had defended that choke point, as she had agreed.

Honour is not something you wear as if it was a fashion statement, that you can put on and take off depending on the situation. Honour permeates who you are, and defines every action you take. The Sith, the Empire, the Republic and the Jedi have all seemed to have forgotten that. My goal is to help at least some of them relearn it.

Virtue and Vice; Ends and Means

August 3, 2012

Lately, I’ve been pondering the difficulty all Virtue Theories face in defining and justifying what counts as a Virtue, Vice or, in my case, an Indifferent. I had started from Kant’s “Treat everyone not merely as means, but always also as ends in themselves” principle, which I tied to the idea that what is critical to morality is moral agency, and that means treating moral agents as moral agents, making — I argued — agency the primary focus. But there’s a lot of work to be done in moving from agency to a full set of virtues and vices, because agency can’t carry the burden itself; there are some things that we do want to think vicious that it seems that agency could carry on its own. That might mean that I need a new underlying principle, but how to come up with that? It seemed a massive puzzle.

But, it turns out, it isn’t. I can start from Kant himself and justify all of my virtues, and didn’t realize the power of the statement that I had already justified. See, I started from agency, but because I started thinking about it from Kant’s principle I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the principle itself that justified my move to agency. That I took from the definition of morality, arguing that morality requires moral agents and so must have as its key principle that moral agents must be treated as moral agents. Thinking that this, then, was the proper translation of Kant’s principle in my model, I needed to find a way to get from that principle to my set of virtues and vices, but it was difficult to do. Why? Because being a moral agent means choosing between what is virtuous and what is vicious, so it’s hard to move from moral agency that says that you must be able to choose between them to a set of virtues and vices that defines what it means to make morally appropriate and inappropriate choices. Basically, I was trying to move from the general definition of “We must respect choosing moral and immoral actions” directly to “And here’s what is and isn’t immoral”, and that’s really hard to do. I needed another step in-between, another premise, to get from the general to the specific.

And what I have is Kant’s actual principle: Treat others not merely as means, but always also as ends in themselves. One of the things about agents in general is that they have ends or goals they want to achieve. Moral agents can try to achieve these goals in moral or immoral ways; they are capable of grasping the intellectual force of morality and choosing their means in accordance with it. So, for example, lions have ends, as they count as agents; one of those is to find food. But they aren’t capable, as far as we know, of acting based on a full consideration of moral principles; they are too tightly tied to instincts to properly do that. The same thing could be said for primates, even those that we claim show empathy; they act on empathy, not on a moral consideration of that empathy and how it is properly moral to act on it. Humans, however, really do seem to be capable of properly understanding and acting on moral principles, which is what makes them moral agents. They won’t, of course, always make the right moral decisions, but being capable of making the wrong moral decisions is indeed what makes them moral agents.

So, what we have are moral agents who have ends, and who have the ability to choose the means by which they achieve those ends. From our starting principle, that means that unless we give them the full ability to choose the means they use to achieve their ends, we are not treating them as moral agents. And if we don’t treat them as moral agents, then we are at best amoral and, I would argue, actually being immoral. Thus, we must always keep in mind that they as moral agents have ends. Thus, we must never treat moral agents as merely means to our ends, but in all interactions with moral agents we must treat them as having ends in themselves that they must fulfill, and carefully act always in a manner that allows them to choose moral or immoral means towards their own ends. We don’t have to do that for agents that are not moral agents — ie we can treat them as ends — because the means they use to achieve their ends aren’t relevant because they aren’t moral, and so are at best amoral. Note that this doesn’t mean, however, that we have no moral obligations to animals because we are ourselves moral agents, and have obligations to our own ends and to our own moral means of achieving those ends, and so we can get obligations to animals through that (although a lot more work is required). And unlike modern morality, we can indeed have things that are immoral even if they impact no one except ourselves, if we treat ourselves as means to our own ends instead of as moral agents in and of ourselves.

More work needs to be done, of course, but it’s easy to come up with at least some examples of how this will define certain actions as immoral from these principles:

Murder — If you stop someone from being able to take any actions merely to satisfy your own ends, you are clearly treating them as a means to your end.
Rape — You are clearly simply using them as a means to your desire for sexual pleasure.
Lying — You are impeding their ability to make proper choices so that you can achieve your own ends.

Now, the biggest problem I had previously was this: it looked like under my model that I couldn’t give someone a painless truth serum to get them to tell me where they had hidden a bomb that would kill many people, but that I might be able to torture them to get the information. I got into this problem because I needed to be able to punish people who did wrong, and justified that by claiming that giving people consequences isn’t impeding their choice in a bad way — under the Stoics, things like that are things you should overcome in order to act morally — but clearly taking away any meaningful choice would be. Lying is a case of this because it isn’t just giving them an impediment that they can overcome in order to act virtuously, but is instead making them think that they have the proper information to make their choice when in fact they don’t. They, being unaware that you are deceiving them, can only overcome this deficit by, in fact, not trusting what you tell them, which they have no reason to do. Note that this analysis of lying fits nicely in with Kant’s universal ban on lying, although this allows for white lies in cases where there is no impact on someone’s choices or decisions, such as in Edward Feser’s car joke.

But if I add in another long held principle of mine, I can easily escape this problem. I am, of course, an intentionalist, and a strong one. What you intend to do is what matters in determining morality, not what happens. So, what will determine whether the torture case counts as a “consequences” case will be what your intention in carrying out the torture is. If you torture them to manipulate them into giving you the information, then your intent is wrong and you are doing something immoral. If, on the other hand, your intent is just to take the necessary steps given the situation at hand, then your intent is fine and you are doing nothing immoral. So, for example, if you decide to lock someone in a small room for 3 hours because you think it will make them talk, that’s immoral, but if you lock them in a small room for 3 hours because they are dangerous and that’s the only room available, that’s not immoral.

From this, we can define Virtues, Vices, and Indifferents:

Virtues: Treating a moral agent as a thing that has ends that they can achieve morally or immorally.
Vices: Treating a moral agent only as a means to your ends.
Indifferents: Actions or ends that one can achieve either morally or immorally.

I find the idea that things like money, sex, power, friendship and even food and life are things that don’t in and of themselves have moral value and yet can be rationally desirable irresistable. This allows me to define them: anything that can happen or be achieved by either moral or immoral means (at least in theory). So:

Money: One can become rich by manipulating, lying to, and cheating people, or by producing a really good product or service that everyone wants to buy.
Sex: One can get sexual fulfillment through an open and honest relationship — even one that’s just for sex — or by lies, manipulation or even rape.
Food: One can steal food, or earn it.
Life: Life is just one big set of choices of moral and immoral means, including when one’s life ends.

So, now I have Virtues, Vices and Indifferents, all — I think — justified from what it means to be moral by definition. This is a good place to stop, for now. Later, I’d like to go through the Catholic and Stoic/Greek virtues and vices to see if my model can encompass them, and why they aren’t if I can’t.

That’s Like, WoW, Man …

August 3, 2012

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

So far, I like TOR except for the things that it does that I disliked in DCUO and WoW …