Archive for July, 2022

Reason, Values and Interests

July 29, 2022

Following on from the post I looked at last week, Jonathan continues with a post talking about why he’s not an ideologue but is perhaps a semi-ideologue.  The main problem here is that what he really seems to be trying to do is continue to argue for why voting against someone on the basis that you don’t like them is acceptable and reasonable, while adding the idea the voting based on strict party affiliation is also acceptable and reasonable.  He admits that they may not count as rational, but that they are what we in general actually do and it’s okay to do that.  Again, as noted last time, the odd thing about this is that he’s facing some criticisms that Gad Saad are leveling against liberals for not voting for Donald Trump and is trying to defend himself and liberals against that while ignoring that these are objections that liberals level against conservatives for voting for Donald Trump and not voting for Hilary Clinton.  After all, many conservatives claimed that they didn’t like Hilary Clinton and many conservatives still just voted Republican because that’s the party they are affiliated with.  Now, I haven’t gone back in his history to see if he makes the same complaints against conservatives, but he doesn’t note that liberals make the same — presumably invalid — arguments, and he gives short shrift to the idea that liberals had plenty of actual, non-feeling reasons for not voting for Donald Trump.  This strong a defense, then, seems like it can only be spawned by Jonathan feeling that despite all the reasons that one might have had to prefer Hilary Clinton, he, at least, only did it because he didn’t like Trump and Clinton was a Democrat, and so has to defend himself from a strong charge that his choice was irrational.

Now, he does try to make the case that, at least sometimes, that can be justified, at least in part based on values:

The idea of being tribal is not looking that bad anymore. Even if we blindly voted against Trump based on gut feelings, which eighty percent of us do when torn between our reasons and feelings, it still would be rational to vote based on partisanship because it is a heuristic. It is a shortcut that increases the likelihood that our values and interests will be carried out.

So the idea would have to be this:  even if a candidate doesn’t seem like they share our values, and even if we don’t like the candidate, we might be reasonable voting for them if they belong to a party that we believe shares our values, even over a candidate that seems to share more of our values and is advocating for policies that seem to better fit out interests.  He’s quick to argue that we don’t really do that consciously anyway, but it is in fact at least potentially reasonable.  The reason is that values are, as noted last time, the things that we care about, and so we want a candidate who cares about the same things we care about so that they will make the same decisions that we would make.  The problem with this if the candidate is promising to do things that we want done while the other candidate is promising to do things we don’t want done is that it looks like they aren’t going to make the decisions we would want them to make.  However, if the candidate is part of a party whose values match ours, then even if they don’t agree with us on those specific issues they are likely to have values that match that of the party, and so in the many, many decisions that will arise where they haven’t so far stated their position they will act on the basis of those values that the party, we, and presumably they share.  The counter to that is that their disagreement on those specific policies already indicates a difference in values and in what decisions they’d make, and so you have no reason to think that they will decide things on the basis of the values the party shares with you or on any set of values that they share with you, while the other candidate, if they can be trusted, already has committed to making the same decisions you would.  Even given that, though, it’s not unreasonable to say that if they belong to a certain party, and you share the values of that party, then it’s reasonable to vote for them even if they don’t necessarily seem to share your values.  For a President, they have limited influence over the party itself and so their values won’t necessarily impact their values, but then they act more independently and so their specific values are more important.  For a Prime Minister, as the head of the party — in parliamentary systems, at least — they have a much greater ability to change the values of the party to their own, but anything they do has to come through the party itself and so whatever they do will have to conform to the values of the party and not just their own party. Either way, a case can be made either way.

But the only reason to defend voting on the basis of party affiliation is when someone is going to vote for the party because they’ve always voted for that party regardless of whether they still believe or have looked to see if the values of that party still align with their values.  However, if the party’s values have shifted and no longer align with theirs, and if another party better fits their values, then all of the arguments above about how that can be reasonable go out the window.  If you vote a straight party ticket because that party is the one that best reflects what your values and what you feel your interests are, then that’s reasonable.  If you vote for a party that you may or even do despise because you’ve always voted for that party, then that’s not reasonable and is definitely irrational.

So the only argument that he has left is the argument that this is, in fact, what we actually do:

First, all the evidence suggests that our feelings towards a candidate, particularly from the values that they hold, predict voting behavior better than us sitting down and reasoning. Not that we didn’t use any reasoning at all, but it was the feelings that the candidate triggered in us that made us vote. Even when voters were torn between their reasons and feelings, 80% of them went with their gut.

The problem is that this is, in fact, the naturalistic fallacy.  Gad Saad — and anyone who makes these arguments — are not denying that people do make choices based on emotions or gut feelings or other irrational bases like party affiliation.  They are instead saying that people shouldn’t act on that basis, and that instead we ought to act based on reason and a strong consideration of our interests.  So no one should vote on the basis that they don’t like a candidate, or on the basis of a strong party affiliation.  The counters here, then, don’t address that, as they all involve coming up with reasons why it’s not irrational to make that choice.  If it really was “irrational” to make that choice, then none of those arguments would do anything at all, and if it was rational to make that choice in those circumstances then all they need to do is give those rational reasons instead of trying to come up with a way to justify the action in general, even when those reasons and arguments wouldn’t apply.

As someone who is at least Stoic-leaning, it’s this that drives my insistence on the use of reason over things like emotion.  If I could make a rational argument for why what emotion is telling me to do is the right thing to do in a particular instance, then it seems like I should simply rely on that rational argument instead of on the emotion, because the outcome would be the same.  But if it can ever be the case that I could rationally demonstrate that the emotion is telling me to do the wrong thing — meaning something irrational — then I really, really shouldn’t be taking the advice of the emotion and shouldn’t do what the emotion is saying that I should do.  So in all cases, reason will be right, and the emotion will only be right when it aligns with reason, so we might as well just rely on reason.  The same thing applies here.  The only cases where liking a candidate or party affiliation should determine how we vote are the cases where we can make a specific, rational argument that those things should do that.  So any defense of them in general, and specifically any defense of them in general in opposition to reason cannot work, as all it can do is say that we should do something irrational.  The arguments in this post are pretty much of that kind.

Now, of course, there are some issues in determining what it means to be rational in the first place, as Jonathan notes:

When we say that we vote purely on the issues and separate personalities, it is because we want to convince others that we are rational. Why would we need to do this? Because we have a strong drive to conform with a payoff of approval. But where did this definition of rationality come from? It came from the Enlightenment era which places an emphasis on maximizing our self-interest or, in economics language, “utility”. The Enlightenment era assumed that reason is both conscious and emotion-free.

As someone who is Stoic-leaning, I agree that reason should be conscious and as free from emotion as we can possibly get, mostly because emotion and instinct have an oversized influence on our actions and yet often get things wrong.  So we can’t simply rely on it without checking it consciously.  However, I agree that we’ve tended to get reason wrong by assuming that the only rational action to take is one that maximizes self-interest, specifically simple material interest.  Reason in and of itself doesn’t have or relate to goals, but is just there to tell you how to get to the goals you have.  Simple material self-interest is, of course, one goal, but if we put it that baldly we should all be able to see that that’s not a particularly meaningful goal for humans.  We should want more than simple material self-interest, and so if we should have some kind of deeper goal then it cannot be a defining property of reason that it leads us to that specific goal, only that it would lead us to that goal if that’s the goal we happen to select.  And we can also use reason to determine what goal we should have and, well, anything of importance to us.  We see this error in the associations of Game Theory to morality, which end up concluding that our own simple material self-interest is the driving force behind morality.  But our goals follow from our values, and we can — and should — value things other than simple material self-interest, and it can be argued (as I have done many times in the past) that morality is about those other values.  As for how that relates to emotions, it is not our emotions that create our values but our values that create our emotions.  Our values determine what we care about and our emotions are triggered by what we care about.  But our values can be rationally assessed, and we can change what we value based on rational arguments as well.

Which leads to the complaint about liberals that is being addressed in this post:

A lot of political psychologists and cognitive scientists are claiming that Democrats will continue to be unsuccessful at changing minds because they try to appeal to facts and figures.

This isn’t the problems with Democrats.  Democrats in general appeal to more than facts and figures in making all of their arguments.  The problem with Democrats, as far as I can see, is that they assume that everyone has the same values as they do and so are puzzled when they make their arguments and many people are not moved.  It is, of course, true that simple facts and figures don’t make for convincing arguments, because all arguments need to relate to some kind of end goal and that requires values.  If you say that it’s 30 degrees outside and sunny, that’s not, in and of itself, going to make any kind of argument.  But if you’re talking about whether you should go for a walk or whether it indicates global warming and whether that means that something should be done about that, then we provide a context that includes goals and values and so we can use those facts and figures to make an actual argument.  On the rare occasions that Democrats just give facts and figures, they give them in a presumed context of the values they themselves have, and then are puzzled when those facts and figures don’t have the same import to their opponents as they have to them.  I have seen in the past few years that despite so many of them calling for the use of empathy, they seem to have a complete inability to grasp the values of those who disagree with them and so are unable to understand them, and so cannot forge an argument that can appeal to them.  It seems like Democrats — or at least the strongly progressive ones — are much more upset by certain things than most people are, and cannot understand why most people aren’t equally bothered by that.  But that is indeed because they don’t share the values of their opponents, and are incapable of understanding the values their parents have.

But you can make arguments appealing to values that you yourself do not share.  However, to do that you have to understand them.  So we don’t really need values-infused arguments.  Pretty much any actual argument already is.  We need to be able to understand the values of others and try to craft our arguments from their perspective.  This is where Democrats fail.

Thoughts on “6:45”

July 28, 2022

This is another movie that I was looking forward to, because it promised to be another horror time loop story in the vein of “Happy Death Day”.  Now, while even the sequel to that movie wasn’t actually a good movie, there’s a lot that you can do with such a premise and if you implement it properly you can make an interesting movie, or at least a movie that’s interesting enough to escape the box to get rid of at some point.

This movie didn’t manage to implement the premise that well.

The basic idea is that a couple that has been having some problems — he cheated on her, which is revealed later — goes away to a remote island that the back of the box proclaims has a secret, and where the murder of a young couple happened a few years ago.  As they wander around the island, they themselves get murdered in a similar fashion, but time resets back to 6:45 in the morning — hence the title — and they have to live through the day to hopefully break the loop.

Now, my thought before watching the movie was that this would be a great premise to set up some kind of ritual sacrifice thing like we saw in “Midsommar” or in “Death of Me” (neither of those being all that great either) where the islanders have that ritual to give them some benefit but the two of them manage to foil it in a way that creates the time loop, meaning that they need to find a way to break the loop without it ending with the two of them sacrificed, which would suggest that both of them know what’s going on and have to work together to break it.  Instead, only the boyfriend realizes that it’s a time loop and so he has to figure this out on his own, which means that they don’t take advantage of what could have been a somewhat fresh take on the premise, as usually the one person has to explain the premise to someone every time around to get help but here the two of them could be trying to work together to solve it.  Which at some point could reference the problems they’d been having as they wonder if that could be causing the time loop, and leading to frustrated arguments between them.  As such, it reduces itself to a pretty standard time loop story.

That’s done poorly.  The main thing about a time loop is that things should proceed exactly as normal, and the main character isn’t aware that time is repeating until they hit a couple of loops and realize that the things that are happening again are things that really shouldn’t be repeating, and so the only way that things change is when the main character does things differently, usually to test the theory that things are happening again or to try to break the loop.  Here, at the start of the second loop the main character seems aware that it’s a loop — and they splash a big day counter to let us know that — and without doing anything differently we see different things happening (telling a story about the murders, for example).  This loses the big thing that time loops provide which is the slow build to the realization that the day is repeating which then leads to the main character trying anything they can think of to break the loop.  Here, things change early and often.  Moreover, he builds to the extremely frustrated “blow it all up” stage really early, and then they do what I sometimes do with stories where while it seems like I should have more in there I get bored of it and then just rush to the end.  They jump hundreds of days into the future to resolve the movie, when what we really want to see is that slow build to overall frustration and then to a solution.  Jumping more days in between would have avoided that issue while still giving us the sense that he’s been stuck there for a long time.

Also, the main character isn’t very sympathetic, which it turns out is because of how they wanted to end it, which I have problems with as well.  Eventually, he confesses the affair, she leaves and survives, the loop ends, he returns, and then the movie has him be arrested and implies that before he left he had killed her and so all of those events were some kind of hallucination or delusion.  That’s disappointing, but could be made to work.  Except he denies this to himself claiming that he was a hero and saved her when he didn’t actually do anything to save her, at least not anything heroic.  So all it does is serve to cement him as an abuser, which isn’t going to make us any more sympathetic to him, and his belief that he saved her is pointless and meaningless.  I think it would have worked better for him to have indeed taken a heroic action to save her, have them return and have her go off to talk to her mother who might have been worried when they couldn’t contact her for most of the day (the cell phone ran out of power) and then have him go back to the apartment and be arrested.  Then his protestations would have made some sense and we could wonder if it was all a delusion or if she had been killed by someone else while she was away and he was taking the blame.

As it is, we have an unsympathetic main character, a botched time loop story, and a nonsensical and uninteresting ending.  I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that this one is going into my box of movies to get rid of at some point, the second movie in a row that I was looking forward to that ends up that way.

Thoughts on “King John”

July 27, 2022

The next play is “King John”, which is another dramatic history, this time examining a revolt against King John — of Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood fame — which ultimately leads to King John’s death.  One important character is given the appellation “Bastard”, and is the illegitimate son of Richard the Lion-Hearted, which gets Richard and John’s mother Elinor to support him and get him into the royal household, where he ends up as a commentator on what is going on.  I don’t mind the character and his speeches are among the most clever out of all of them, but ultimately he seems like an overly convenient character, able to advocate for peace or for war as required but without us getting a really clear sense of what his own goals or desires are, and so no clear sense of why he would do that.  He’s also an exceptionally strong warrior who is claimed to turn around an entire battle all on his own, which is a mild annoyance, especially given how unclear the character himself is.

The big flaw, at least for me, in this play is that there is almost no banter and even the conversations occur in speeches, not banter.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the speeches are often long-winded and repetitive.  I find Constance — the mother of the man who is to be put on the throne instead of John — the worst, as she is often given a long speech that basically boils down to “You suck!” only to be followed by another long speech saying the same thing when the person she’s talking to demurs.  If you’re going to do dialogue through speeches the speeches really need to say something important and meaningful.  Style, which Shakespeare has in abundance, doesn’t cut it, and too much of the time that’s all he has here.  Some of them are better, but a lot of them, especially early on, are just boring and, again, repetitive.

I also noted something about the histories vs the more famous dramas, starting from “Romeo and Juliet” and leading on into the ones I most remember, like “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”:  the plot in the histories seems to be nothing more than to give a dramatic retelling of the history, while the others have full-on plots.  Here, all I could say about the play is that it is the telling of an insurrection against King John that leads to his death, but for the others I could summarize their plots in a few sentences and have them sound interesting, such as “The tragedy of two star-crossed lovers from feuding families” for “Romeo and Juliet”, or “A Prince of Denmark attempts to deal with his usurping stepfather” for “Hamlet” or “An ambitious man and his wife murder the king to usurp his crown” for “Macbeth”.  I don’t think I could say that for any of the histories.  I wonder if I’ll feel the same way about “Julius Caesar”, which in premise is probably more a history than a tragic drama, although given that the ones so far are histories of England perhaps the audience knew more and had more of an attachment to it than the others which allowed the history to be presented as a history itself and not as something more.  I hasten to add that there’s nothing wrong with histories, as on that very point they are something that the audience at the time might well enjoy as much if not more than the others.  It’s just that they’d tend to have less universal appeal, which could very well explain why those histories, at least, are not among the more famous of Shakespeare’s plays.

In contrast to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this one returns to the model that inferior Shakespeare is still pretty good.  As I already said, Shakespeare has style in abundance which makes the repetitive speeches tolerable, even if not good.  I didn’t dislike the play, but didn’t find it particularly interesting either.

Up next is “The Taming of the Shrew”, a comedy that I enjoyed in high school but that I might not enjoy now.  Will it be the first Shakespearean comedy that I really liked?  We’ll find out.

Thoughts on “Ghost Whisperer” (Season 4)

July 26, 2022

As you might recall, Season 3 ended with a cliffhanger where there were six people standing around but they only cast five shadows.  I was curious to see what they were going to do with that set-up, which turned out to be … not much at all.  It’s referenced at the beginning of Season 4 as something for them to worry about, but then gets ignored as the professor from the previous seasons leaves to go on a sabbatical which very much upsets Melinda for … some reason, given that when professors take sabbaticals they usually come back after a year or so and while there’s some hint that he might be in danger none of that is referenced again, and it’s only in that arc that the “five shadows” are even mentioned.  Later, when Jim himself actually dies it isn’t raised.  So that entire cliffhanger pretty much just fizzles out.

Although, that might have been due to the change over in the creative staff, as the show creator who was also the head creative person moved out to become a consultant and was replaced, and the show changed significantly as a result.  A lot of the specific horror elements from the previous seasons were dropped, such as whatever was going on in the tunnels under the town (although they are still mentioned) and Melinda’s brother (who isn’t mentioned at all).  Instead, a group of women appear to act as some kind of guides to Melinda, warning her while she’s trying to get pregnant that her interactions with the dead might mean that death can touch her and the people around her, and there’s also an addition/focus on the advisory group called the “Watchers” who have plans of their own.  So it’s almost like another reboot of the show, as I noted it felt like in Season 2.

This is only more pronounced when we turn to the secondary characters.  The expert character of the professor, as already noted, leaves but is replaced with a Psychology professor who after a near-death experience can hear ghosts.  He starts out being in the same sort of jerk mold as the professor, but gets a lot of softening so that he’s just a bit snarky, and Melinda seems in general to be more comfortable with him than she was with the professor.  That being said, he ends up being mostly a sidekick for her and I didn’t think she really needed one, so he often doesn’t get to do much.  And so for the most part I feel that he’s another wasted character, but there are some times when the character really does allow for things to happen that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

Which leads in to what happens with the other characters.  As I noted above, Jim, her husband, dies from a gunshot wound while fighting off a killer, when the police detective helping them shoots him by accident (which his grief over the death of his daughter contributed to, which Melinda has to deal with in the next episode).  This leads to an arc where he doesn’t want to cross over — which was hinted at in earlier seasons — and Melinda wants him to.  Ultimately, he is following her around and someone near them dies, and so he jumps into the body and so “comes back to life” (which they call “stepping in” which the show explicitly notes they had talked about before) but has lost all of his memories of being either Jim or the original guy, which then sets up a long arc with Melinda trying to get him to remember being Jim while his family and other people work to get him to remember being the original person, and also Melinda wanting to let him in on her ghost-seeing ability — especially once they start dating — but his extreme skepticism over that makes it difficult and risks him seeing her as nuts — which he hints at and even explicitly says when she tells him — which, of course, keys into her old wounds of people thinking that she was weird and insane for being able to see ghosts.

Now, when I first started watching this arc, I thought that this was a completely bonkers plot.  And, to be fair, I still think it is.  However, it actually ended up, at least for the length of its run, fixing my issues with the secondary characters of Jim and Delia.  I complained that Jim didn’t have anything to do in the show other than be supportive and worried, and the loss of memory and attempts to recover that and the attempts for them to reconnect give him a lot of things to do, and since he was a ghost that appropriated a new body it’s even attached to the main premise of the show.  And I complained that his role didn’t leave Delia room to be the supportive friend, but the show uses this to convince Delia, at least in part, of the existence of ghosts and eliminate her skepticism when she becomes convinced that this really is Jim and not just Melinda hoping that this is Jim, and since Delia had lost her husband it makes her be a complete advocate for Melinda getting back together with Jim and taking her second chance, which then puts her squarely in the “supportive friend” role, which works really well.  Of course, they ultimately do have him resolve his memory issues, by having him remember being Jim but not remember anything from the time when he was trying to remember who he was, which I think was a bit of a mistake, as having him remember his experiences while dead would give him a unique view that would avoid him falling back into “supportive but worried” in future seasons.  But we’ll have to see how this works in Season 5.

This also is the case where Eli, the guy who can hear but not see ghosts, was actually useful.  As Melinda ran around trying to get Jim to recall his memory, it allowed Eli to take point on the normal ghost issue in the episode, particularly in one episode where she takes a road trip with him to try to get him to remember who he is before he decides to marry the woman that the original guy was going to propose to.  While there are a couple of small ghost incidents as complications for Melinda in her arc, the big ghost arc in that episode is handled by Eli and Delia, which allows for the show to maintain its original focus while still being able to have a mostly non-ghost arc with Melinda and Jim.

Now, this could be an objection to the storyline, as especially when Jim looks for the woman who might have been his fiancee and when the two of them start dating and Melinda keeps trying to hide her ghost abilities from him the plot really starts to be far more soap operaish than the show had been up to that point.  That being said, we’ve had three to three and a half seasons of a show with an empathetic character played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, and so in general we should come in at this point liking her and wanting to see her be happy or at least have her issues be resolved, and so we in general are probably going to be willing to suffer through that because we will ultimately care about what happens to her.  Thus, I noticed that the plot was very soap operaish but found that I didn’t really mind because Jennifer Love Hewitt plays it well and shows the emotions that she’d be going through well, so it was interesting enough, and the show is indeed smart enough to maintain some of the original tone and in general always have a ghost story in each episode, and so we don’t lose what was keeping us watching the show while adding the more personal story that does allow Jim to have an arc that is important, meaningful, and emotional.

Interestingly, what I noticed as the season went on is that while originally it was more of a straight ghost story, by the end it was turning into a show that reminded me a lot of “Charmed”.  A supernatural love story (Melinda and Jim) coupled with ancestral protectors and mysterious supernatural advisors started to feel a lot like “Charmed”.  The end of the season only made that more striking when the advice is that Melinda’s soon-to-be-born son is going to be some sort of powerful force for good that the opposing forces want to stop really reminds me of Piper’s children from “Charmed”, and it moves the show away from the more serious threads that they started with in the previous seasons towards a more direct “good vs evil” plot.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the fifth season.

That being said, it does maintain one thing from the previous seasons where it starts its last arc quite late, usually in the last three episodes.  Here, that involves a book called the “Book of Changes” — which, again, seems a lot like “Charmed” — that records information about Melinda and some important notes about her life, which the Watchers want to protect from a group of opposing people (implied to be evil) who want to get their hands on it.  Eli suddenly reveals that he had a friend/lover that is an expert on the supernatural, and then she is revealed to be interested in the collection that has the book while he is interested in getting back together with her now that he believes in the supernatural (that was apparently the big stumbling block with their relationship), then she gets killed by accident, and then he has to try to get her to cross over but she claims to have something else to do, but she crosses over once he decides to accept being the protector of the book.  This, of course, is handled over the course of three episodes and comes out of nowhere.  At the same time, they need to reveal that Melinda’s baby is going to be important and do that with a misdirection on it being a girl with a claim that “she will be important” but that “she can’t be saved”, which I guess refers to the lover but I’m not at all certain about that.  So this arc is rushed and comes out of nowhere with some references to previous things, so pretty much like the show has been doing up until now.

However, the season doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but instead on dropping threads for the next season, like the issues around Melinda’s son, as well as Eli taking on the role of the protector of the book, which likely means that he will be moving on after this season (they explicitly say that he can’t stay in one place with the book).  Instead of ending on a cliffhanger, then, it ends by resolving the main arc of the season, with Jim-in-new-body remarrying Melinda to make that all legal.   Again, that’s a very “Charmed” way of ending a season, but at least it will avoid them raising something as a cliffhanger and then either resolving it in a perfunctory fashion or not at all, which was an issue with the previous seasons.

So, this season changed things up quite a bit, and in some ways that I, at least, thought were improvements.  However, the next season is the last season of the series, so perhaps those changes didn’t work out so well for the show.  I’ll see how that worked when I watch the last season, Season 5.

Thoughts on “Churchill”

July 25, 2022

So I mentioned in passing that I have been reading some books on history recently.  In fact, I had created two big stacks of history books, some of which were books I wanted to re-read and some of which were books that I’d had for a while and wanted to finally sit down and actually read.  As it stands right now, given the stack that’s remaining — I’ve finished one stack and am working on the second — and my reading pace, I probably have enough history books to take me to the end of the year (which is not a good sign for my normal fairly regular re-read of the “X-Wing” books).

At any rate, the first of the books that I wanted to read for the first time was a biography of Winston Churchill titled, creatively enough, “Churchill”.  It’s written by Andrew Roberts who also wrote “The Storm of War”, which I’ve read a couple of times already.  One of his tics is that he often adds a lot of footnotes, but those footnotes are often complete asides to what is being said.  They’re usually somewhat interesting, but that they are mostly disconnected from what they are attached to can be a bit annoying.  Here, I have to say that, if anything, his footnotes are even more detached from what is being said, but it was less annoying because he has a lot fewer of them in this books than he had in the previous ones, and so they can perform the role that he probably intended they perform:  be an interesting, marginally related aside that tells an interesting historical anecdote that it wouldn’t make sense to put in the actual text itself.

The book covers Churchill’s life from his youth through to the end of his political career and death, although obviously it focuses the most on WWII, as that was the period of Churchill’s life that is the most interesting and is also when he was at the height of his political power.  It examines how Churchill’s respect for his father shaped his entire political outlook, and how that political outlook shaped much of Churchill’s political career, including the times he changed parties in ways that seemed like opportunism but, it can be argued, instead followed from that outlook.  Ultimately, the book itself argues that the combination of Churchill’s upbringing and general and political education left him the ideal candidate for the role that he filled during WWII:  someone with complete faith in the British Empire and its institutions, a strong admiration and even desire for military action, a desire to speak his mind and stand up for what he thinks is the right thing no matter what others say, which made him a stubborn person, and someone with a gift for oratory that would match that same gift from Hitler.  This combination was quite unique, and so it can be argued that he, really, was the only person who could have held Britain together during the dark days of WWII.

That being said, while the quoted reviews of the book say that Roberts is willing to expose Churchill’s weaknesses while praising his strengths, I found that Roberts was probably a bit more forgiving of Churchill than others might have been.  He tends to deny, for example, that Churchill’s outspokenness was motivated by ambition even as other chroniclers — and even those who knew him at the time — believed that his ambition played a significant role in his actions.  He also tends to claim that some of the things that others attribute to Churchill’s racism instead follow from his love of Britain and the Empire, and while at times he can make a case for it sometimes that case is a bit shaky.  Churchill is almost certainly not as racist as some of his critics assert, but Roberts often defends him in cases where indeed simply admitting his faults would have worked better.

Churchill, however, was an interesting person living in interesting times, and Roberts manages to capture that pretty well in the book.  He also manages to capture Churchill’s humour, which at times reveals Churchill to be, well, a bit of a jerk.  As such, for myself — and probably most readers — it’s difficult to see myself really liking Churchill, but instead respecting him and enjoying his jokes when they were less insulting.  I’m not convinced that Churchill was the only person who could have steered Britain through those dark days, but he definitely had the qualities to do so and while he could be a bit of a busybody in dealing with his departments he also had more ability in dealing with them than many of his opponents would allow.

Roberts does a good job of bringing all of this out in the book, and while it’s not a short or easy read — my copy is almost 1000 pages of pretty small print — it’s an interesting one.  I learned quite a bit about the man and the times he lived in, and would definitely read it again at some point.

Reason and Politics

July 22, 2022

I still read some of the posts on the Freethought blogs, and came across this one on the blog Jonathan’s Musings talking about the Trump vs Clinton, at least, election and about how people were deciding who to vote for on the basis of who they liked or who they disliked instead of on the basis of their policies.  Interesting, the post is responding to someone who says that liberals did that when deciding to not vote for Trump.  Even more interestingly, he’s going to oppose that not by arguing that it was indeed Trump’s policies that caused him and others to not vote for Trump but instead by arguing that it’s perfectly valid to refuse to vote for someone because you dislike them even if their policies most aligned with your interests, despite the fact that a number of people argued that they were doing that with respect to Hilary Clinton, whom he certainly would have preferred win over Trump.

He says that he’ll have a couple more posts after this one, and as I write this the second one is up already, but I think that in contrast to what I normally do I’m going to deal with each post separately instead of dealing with them all at once, especially since the third post may not be one that I have much interest in addressing.  Here, in this post, I’m far more interested in addressing the issues around reason and emotion rather than the specifics of the person he’s replying to or the specific issues around the election.

And the start of the post follows from its title, which talks about the Canadian Gad Saad who wrote a book that talks about how liberals are working on emotion instead of reason which causes a lot of their issues, and very quickly he notes that Saad is a libertarian and pretty much goes after him for that and for having conservative ideas.  The first thing that’s of interest to me, though, is this point:

Saad gets it right when he points out that separating rationality from passion gives a false dichotomy. Neuroscience shows that this dichotomy is fiction because we reason with emotion. When it comes to political reasoning, which is moral reasoning, emotions are very pertinent.

I actually came across this a long time ago in one of my philosophy classes.  Even at the time, I was Stoic-leaning, and an argument against them followed on from Hume’s ideas of calm passions that are involved in reasoning.  The idea was that the Stoics argued for extirpating passions, but when they talked about passions they didn’t mean very strong emotions, but instead simple, every day emotions that we constantly felt, which was indeed a fair interpretation of them.  However, the argument went on to not that as per Hume there were calmer emotions involved in all of our reasoning and that formed the basis of our reasoning ability — mostly things like motivation, for example — and so if we extirpated all emotions we’d eliminate them as well, and so would eliminate our ability to reason at all, and so their quest to eliminate all emotions in favour of reason is doomed to fail.  As noted in this quote, there is some neurological evidence for this, as it seems like there is a neural pathway associated with emotion that runs through the neural pathway for reasoning.  Thus, it would seem like one cannot eliminate emotion from reasoned decisions.

The problem is that while the Stoics definitely included calmer emotions in their view of passions, they didn’t include calm passions in their view of passions.  The very basic and calm emotions that are necessary for any reasoning process to get of the ground are not the ones that they wanted to eliminate.  Since we can feel the difference between those cases when we are deciding things on cold reasoning rather than heated passion, we can indeed determine what are the calm passions and what are the not-so-calm passions, and work to act only under the influence of calm rather than warm or hot passions.  So it is no longer an argument against the Stoics that they must, by necessity, kill reasoning if they get their way and kill emotions.  It is at least possible for them to extirpate passions as they seem them while retaining the calm passions needed for reasoning.  At worst, the method they would use to extirpate passions would also extirpate calm passions and so that way lose reasoning and rationality, but if that really was the case the Stoics would focus more on reducing the influence of the passions even if they couldn’t extirpate them entirely, as a lot of their focus was already on reducing their influence and conditioning them to their proper use.  So this, again, wouldn’t in any way suggest that because we can’t get rid of emotions while retaining reason that we should just give up and let emotions run rampant through our decision-making processes.

The biggest challenge to reason-based views like that of the Stoics — which, it should be obvious, is one I favour as well — is related to the very reason the Stoics distrust emotions:  emotions are indeed full judgements that suggest actions to take in response to those judgements.  The reason Stoics distrust them is because they often can be wrong, and a rational assessment of the situation would give a proper judgement and suggest a more appropriate action.  Think about the stupid judgements people can make out of anger or jealousy and the stupid actions they can take in response to that and that should be sufficient reason to distrust emotions.  However, the advantage to emotional judgements is that they tend to be subconscious and fast.  When they’re right, it would be stupid to ignore them.  They’re just wrong often and disastrously enough that we definitely should at least be suspicious of them and double-check their judgements using reason.  So if someone, say, walks into a room and gets a sudden feeling of fear, it might not be rational to run screaming from the room, but it might be rational to take a look around the room and try to figure out what it is about the room that is triggering that, and if they can figure that out decide if the fear is justified or not.

This, then, can filter back into questions about not voting for someone because you have a visceral dislike for them, even if their policies seem to fit with your actual interests, because that dislike might be reflecting something real and relevant or something that is irrelevant.  If, say, someone thinks that Trump seems to be like a used-car salesman, then that would be reason to not vote for him, because even if he talks about having policies that make sense you can’t trust him to tell the the truth about that.  Or if someone dislikes Hilary Clinton because she seems like an upper-class elitist, that might also be a reason to not vote for her even if her policies align with their interests because as President she wouldn’t have respect for their actual economic class and so, ultimately, wouldn’t understand their concerns and in new situations would probably act in ways that didn’t help them.  This is also behind the idea of voting for someone that you’d “have a beer with” on the basis that you think that if the two of you got together you could have a conversation where both of you could understand each other and they could understand your life and concerns, which means that they’ll be more likely to take that into account when making decisions, which means that they are more likely to make better decisions for you.  On the other hand, if you dislike someone because they look like an ex-boyfriend or a teacher you disliked that wouldn’t be reasonable because that’s a dislike based on something not at all relevant to that person or their character.

So we don’t need to ignore emotions entirely.  If we take an immediate dislike to someone, it might well be that our emotions are subconsciously picking up on cues that we haven’t consciously noted yet, and so might be making a proper assessment.  But it’s not good enough to simply presume that it is doing that, and so instead we need to check it with reason to see if that’s valid.  So the dichotomy is not one, not because we can’t reason without emotion, but that emotions can be useful if checked, verified and buttressed by reason.

So now we move on the defense of not voting for Trump:

Saad claims that liberals did not support Trump because of their visceral hate and contempt for him. We did not like his brazen disposition and political incorrectness. Instead, we should have been looking at the facts like his experience as a successful businessman or his stance on issues of importance. Well, that would not have been a fruitful avenue to take. Besides people vote based on their gut feelings on whether they like the candidate or not. This means that Trump’s beliefs, personality, mannerisms, and behaviors did not align with our preferences. It can easily be argued that it is rational to not vote for Trump based on those reasons (i)

The problem with trying to defend it this way is that it is indeed far more likely that liberals didn’t like his policies rather than just not liking him.  The other problem is that people argued the same thing about Hilary Clinton, and in general most liberals argue that not voting for the superior candidate because they didn’t like her personally was a mistake.  Opening up this door means that no one can ever chastise someone for, say, voting Republican because it was against their interests.  In the attempt to justify liberals voting a party ticket and against a Republican that they disliked, he ends up justifying conservatives voting a party ticket and against Democrats that they dislike.  It seems that there would be no way to break the current impasse in American politics if these arguments hold.

The other issue is that this argument is starting to turn into one based on the naturalistic fallacy.  Even if most people vote based on their gut feelings, that doesn’t mean that we ought to vote based on our gut feelings.  The only way to make the argument is to instead claim that we can’t vote except on the basis of our gut feelings, which is obviously false, even if, again, people often do.  So he can’t make an argument that we ought to do that simply because we, in general, do.  Saad’s point would be that yes, we do vote on that basis quite often but that we really shouldn’t, and arguing that we do indeed vote on that basis doesn’t refute the point.

In fact, emotions are so important that voting on values almost always trumps one’s interests [3].

The next post goes into more detail on values, so I’ll talk more about them later.  But this is indeed another false dichotomy, and an obviously false one, because one cannot separate one’s interests from one’s values, because one’s values are the things that one cares about.  One of the bigger problems with how liberals argue is not that they do so on the basis of facts and figures, but instead that they don’t consider what conservatives and centrists actually care about, or else assume that they most care about the same things that the liberals do.  So they either argue on the basis of the things liberals care about — meaning their liberal values — or if/when that fails retreating to simply arguing on the basis of base pragmatics and pragmatic interests, and then get confused when the people give up personal gain to vote for other policies, ignoring that it can be explained when you look at their actual values rather than assuming that they value their own selfish interests above all else.  You cannot separate interests from values because in a real sense values determine what someone’s real interests are, as they will not consider something to be in their interest if they don’t care about it.

Now, some decisions are more cognitive-intense than emotional, but we are talking about political reasoning not which mutual funds to purchase. If rationality is about goal-oriented behavior and how we feel towards a candidate is important to us, then it is completely rational to vote based on preferences-values and not our interests. Although our “interests” are usually framed in terms of pecuniary or quantifiable ends, it can be argued that our values become our interests.

If rationality is about goal-directed behaviour, then you have to pick a goal first.  And it seems unreasonable to think that choosing a candidate should be based on who you like better rather than on who you think will be the best person for the job.  After all, even in a workplace there may be fellow employees that you dislike but it doesn’t make it rational to refuse to give them a job — even a prominent job — that they are the best person for just because you dislike them, or even because you’d hate to see them get ahead from doing that job and getting noticed.  If your goal is to get the job done, then you pick the best person for the job whether you like them or not, or else risk being reasonably called being irrational.  The same thing applies to politics.  I’ve recently read a biography of Winston Churchill, and on reading that there would be plenty of reasons for people to dislike him, but arguably he was the best person to lead Britain through WWII and to deny him that because he wasn’t all that well liked would have been a shame and possibly would have been disastrous.  Because politics has serious consequences, the goal has to be the pick the best person for the job, and that means ignoring personal feelings and impressions — except when relevant, as noted above — and voting on the basis of those logical and rational considerations.  Prom King and Queen can be a simple popularity contest, but President really should not be.

There is a common misunderstanding about truth and facts. We already unraveled the role of feelings in interpreting facts and reasoning. But what about “it’s all relative”? Conservatives hate this statement. Presumably, it delegitimizes their beliefs which they want to be absolute facts. Saad and scientists want to believe that absolute objective facts exist so they can make predictions. Objective facts exist, but they must be relative to the interpreter. So there are only relative objective facts and not absolute objective facts. Saad is not giving “it’s all relative” the proper treatment. Think about how ideologies frame abortion. Conservatives frame it as “a baby”. Liberals frame it as “a cluster of cells”. Therefore, abortion is immoral for conservatives and moral for liberals within their respective frameworks. Both statements are matters of fact. Both worldviews are right.

The thing is, the only reason he can say that both of these worldviews are right is by eliding the actual context of their statements that highlights what the real disagreement between the sides is.  The only reason that he can say that both statements are matters of fact is that, yes, the foetus is a cluster of cells, but also a born baby is technically a cluster of cells and even human adults are a cluster of cells.  But the liberal “frame” is that the foetus is only a cluster of cells, as opposed to a real baby or an adult.  So they insist that it is not a baby, but is only a cluster of cells, and the conservatives argue that it really is a baby and not merely a cluster of cells.  Given this, the worldviews are contradictory because they explicitly deny the conviction of the other side, and from that comes their disagreements.  So since the worldviews are contradictory they cannot both be right, not matter how he wants to “frame” it.

Now, there is a consideration here, tying back to values, that facts on and of themselves don’t necessarily mean things but might have to be interpreted based on context.  For example, whether or not it is raining outside is a simple fact, but whether that’s desirable or not is not, in fact, a simple fact.  If you are a farmer suffering from a drought or someone who wants their garden to grow, it might be quite desirable, but if you want to go hiking it likely isn’t.  So facts have implications, and some of those implications depend on human understanding and considerations to suss out.  If there is any sense to idea that any truths are relative, this is it.  And even this is something that we ought to be able suss out simply by knowing facts and values without having to rely on any gut feelings.

Anyway, that’s the first post.  Next time, I’ll look at the second post which does talk more about values.

Thoughts on “13 Fanboy”

July 21, 2022

I probably should just stop anticipating things.  When I saw this movie, having liked the original movie, I was looking forward to seeing what they did with it, as it presented itself as linking back to the original movies through the original actresses (and one of the original actors for Jason himself).  That they were able to assemble these characters into one movie should really have been a boon for it as, well, where else were you going to get that?  All they had to do was come up with a decent story to tie all of this together and they’d have a pretty good movie.  Unfortunately, that’s what they failed to do.

The movie starts off pretty well, as it focuses on someone who wasn’t in the original movies but is set up as the daughter of one of the original actresses.  Her mother was killed by a strange stalker when she was a child, who threatened her mother and grandmother as well, before seemingly being killed by the grandmother.  Now, the daughter is being stalked by someone, and that stalker is also going after some of the original actresses, which then includes the grandmother.

This is where the movie loses it for me, because the last half of the movie focuses on the grandmother who is a much less interesting character than the daughter, and who also has a much less interesting connection to the original murders.  About the only interesting thing about her is that she has a more direct connection to Friday the 13th, but it turns out that she doesn’t have a personal connection to the killer, as it is revealed towards the end that the stalker and killer was the boyfriend of the daughter.  Or, at least, I think that’s what happened, because it’s dark, his face is different and, oh, yeah, the daughter doesn’t really react to it despite him trying to kill her!  In a movie where the daughter was the focus, this would have been a very dramatic and emotional event even if there was another killer (as there is).  But the shift to the grandmother makes this scene pretty much perfunctory.

I could have forgiven that if the link to the final killer was more interesting, but it wasn’t.  The ultimate killer is another actress from the movies who, I guess, wants to revive her own career and feels jealous of the others for getting more attention.  Her motivations actually aren’t all that clear, which makes sense because her being a killer and involved comes completely out of nowhere and isn’t hinted at except for perhaps one scene with Kane, who is her lover, that doesn’t really indicate anything because we don’t have much reason to think that Kane was involved as well, although maybe he was.  At any rate, it comes completely out of nowhere and so isn’t an interesting reveal in any way.  Now, you can point out that one of the things that I liked about the original movie was that the reveal of the killer came out of nowhere, but that was not because that reveal came out of nowhere but instead because the movie spent most of its runtime being studiously unconcerned with any of that.  No one really bothered to speculate about who the killer might be.  The hints and red herrings weren’t drawn attention to or even paid attention to for the most part.  That movie spent most of its time making it so that no one really thought about or cared about who the murderer is, so when it was someone completely unexpected we didn’t think “Nice twist!” or, given the evidence in the movie, “Huh?”.  We just accepted it and rolled with it in line with what the movie itself seemed to want us to do.  Here, the identity of the killer is the main plot and so to resolve in this way is, as usual disappointing.

I liked the daughter character, but disliked the grandmother character who gets the focus for most of the movie.  Add that to the twist ending that comes out of nowhere and isn’t properly developed, and this is a movie that I will not watch again, and so it goes into my box of movies to get rid of at some point.  It’s a shame, because given the premise and the fact that they managed to sign on so many actors and actresses from the original movies one would have liked them to be attached to a better movie.

Thoughts on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

July 20, 2022

So after being somewhat disappointed in the Shakespeare I had been reading, I enjoyed “Love’s Labour’s Lost” a bit more than the other comedies and then moved on to the genuinely enjoyable “Romeo and Juliet”, and so had some mild optimism going into another of the better known plays in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, despite having some trepidation about it given that it is another comedy and so far I haven’t enjoyed the comedies all that much.

As it turns out, I didn’t like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at all.

The basic premise is indeed a basic one of comedy, where due to a mysterious herb Oberon tries to win the services of a page that Titania has and he desires by making her fall in love with some strange beast or the like so that he can trade curing her for the page.  He also comes across Demetrius being pursued by Helena, who loves him but Demetrius used to be in love with her but is now in love with Hermia, who is not in love with him but instead loves Lysander, who actually does love her.  Oberon tells Puck to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena to resolve that issue, but through an error of vagueness Puck instead makes Lysander fall in love with Helena instead, and then later he corrects his error but this leaves both Lysander and Demetrius in love with Helena and no one in love with Hermia.  Also, a group of players has arrived in the forest where this takes place and Puck turns one of them into someone with a donkey’s head and then gets Titania to fall in love with him, satisfying that plot, which does work out for Oberon.

One of the main issues here, at least for me, is that there are too many different groups here that are only tangentially related.  The issues for Helena and Hermia only come about because of a whim of Oberon’s, and the players are only there by accident and it doesn’t seem like Puck transforms the player in order to give something horrible to get Titania to fall in love with to advance Oberon’s plan.  So these are all loosely connected but it makes the play seem a bit overstuffed, at least to me.  This is especially the case since like in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” the play ends with the players putting on a play and the principals commenting on it, but it’s even more irrelevant here and the commenting isn’t even all that funny.  Again, on thinking about it, it would have been better to have put the play early on and have Puck explicitly transform the player as part of Oberon’s plan, reacting to a comment that the player’s playing made him seem like an ass, which would at least have better connected the two.  I also think it would have been nice if Oberon and Titania were actually trying to resolve the situation of the lovers — possibly because it was a problem for Theseus and Hippolyta and they were both inclined towards at least one of them — and chose different solutions to the problem causing the confusion, as again that would have connected the various elements more and so made the play seem more coherent and less like a bunch of things tossed together.  Also, if the play had to be at the end, it would have been better for it to be the player relating his dream and so a play based on the play itself rather than an inferior — deliberately, it seems — version of “Romeo and Juliet”.

While the “potion or the like that makes people fall in love with the wrong person” trope is indeed a common one in comedy, I disliked how it was used here.  What we’ve seen in most modern interpretations is that the potion never really produces a simple love triangle like we see here — with two men in love with the same woman — but instead a love chain.  So here, what we’d be more likely to see is almost what we started with, with Helena in love with Demetrius, who loves Hermia, who loves Lysander, who loves Helena.  With them rejecting and being annoyed by the advances of the admirer they don’t favour, there would be plenty of opportunities for banter and, of course, for each of them to be trying to avoid one suitor while trying to get the one they are pursuing alone so that they can make much woo.  But that’s not what happens here.  Instead, what we get is a situation where Demetrius and Lysander remain rivals for the same love interest, and most of the speeches are about Helena believing that these two gents who were not at all interested in her are playing a joke on her at Hermia’s behest, while Hermia accuses Helena of doing something to win her love away.  This is far too serious and far too reasonable a set of complaints to really work as being funny in and of themselves, so the dialogue itself is going to have to carry the humour.

Which is another weakness here.  When it comes to humour, Shakespeare’s gift is in banter.  He really does do banter well, being very clever at wordplay which adds to his normal sense of timing in creating an interesting back and forth.  Here, though, there is almost no banter, and even the conversations are more speeches than short, witty, back and forth, which plays against his strengths.  The speeches from “Love’s Labour’s Lost” with Berowne worked because the premise was inherently humourous, as he was trying to talk his way out of commitments that he had but didn’t want to fulfill.  Here, as noted, what they are talking about isn’t inherently funny and that makes it very difficult to make the conversations funny, especially if we don’t have clever banter.  So all we have is the inherent ridiculousness of the situation, which as many a sitcom writer has discovered we need more than to make a really strong comedic work.

That being said, this is probably a play that works better being performed than in being read.  Seeing the donkey-headed player would spawn some laughs in and of itself, and we would definitely get some humour out of actually hearing the players butcher the play, thus justifying the criticisms of it.  Reading it loses these clues that would provide a more visceral experience.  Still, the lack of clever banter and the potions simply switching the love triangle around do indeed seem to leave the play behind the 8-ball in becoming a classic comedy.

So, my disappointment in the comedies continues, and this is probably the first of his plays that I actually disliked.  The next play up is “King John”, which for now I will assume is not a comedy.

Further Thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet”

July 19, 2022

So at the risk of doing precisely what I said that I wasn’t going to do — provide deep commentaries on Shakespeare — malcolmthecynic made a comment about this statement of mine in my first set of thoughts on the play:

Also, there’s a subplot where Romeo was in love with another woman first before meeting Juliet, but this doesn’t add much to the play and only makes us wonder if Romeo’s love of Juliet was more hormones than real love considering how quickly he shifts from one to the other.

His reply was as follows:

I will argue here that you are making the classic error. Romeo and Juliet’s love was NOT “cosmic true love”, was not MEANT to be “cosmic true love”, and it was in fact incredibly shallow.

This was the point. This is what the play is driven around. Romeo is a hopeless romantic and Juliet is a naive kid, and the follies of two youths who think their feelings are more important than the problems around them leads to tragedy.

I replied myself with some additional comments, and malcolmthecynic replied as well, at which point I realized that there was a lot more to talk about and examine here than I could reasonably do in a comment, and so I decided to take the time and write a post about it.  So let me summarize what I think are the differences in our positions here.  I definitely take what is the classic and typical interpretation of the play, which is that Romeo and Juliet were each others’ true loves and it was the feud between their families that ultimately and primarily caused the tragic outcome of the play.  Malcolmthecynic, on the other hand, seems to feel that they were reckless young people overcome by their emotions into a terribly ill-advised relationship and marriage and ultimately that’s what causes the tragic outcome of the play.  Malcolmthecynic has specifically noted that the feud played a role in the outcome, and I will concede here that Romeo and Juliet did indeed act recklessly at times and too quickly, so the main debate is over what is more responsible for the tragedy:  the heated and bitter feud between the families or the young couple’s reckless insistence that that didn’t matter.  Note that we also need to tie this back to my original comment, which is that the play would have been better if they had left out Romeo’s original love interest and that that didn’t actually add anything, which I will claim can be true even if malcolmthecynic is right about the issues being more about the couple than about the families.

One thing to clear off the decks first, which is this comment about Romeo and Juliet from the second comment:

Right, but that’s part of the issue – Romeo and Juliet fall for each other without knowing anything about the other EXCEPT that they are from the one group of people they absolutely can’t marry.

But as I noted in my comment they actually fall in love with each other at first sight, when they didn’t know who the other person was.  Considering that it was at a banquet for the members of her family, there was no reason for Juliet to think that Romeo was from the other family until she was told and was already interested in him, and Romeo didn’t know who she was either, and could have expected that it was someone from another family and not the daughter of the greatest enemy of his family.  Why I raise this is that this comment can imply that a big part of the attraction was that they were the “unattainable fruit” because of the feud, and I don’t think this is the intention, especially since Shakespeare immediately has them deny it by talking about giving up their family names to be together.  So whatever they were feeling, it wasn’t just aiming at what they couldn’t or shouldn’t have.  They were feeling that in spite of them being from feuding families, not because of it.

Now, I think I agree, on reflection, that Shakespeare is subverting the typical story here, but I don’t think I agree that he’s subverting it in the way malcolmthecynic thinks it is, which is that these were naive kids ignoring the real world in search of romantic ideals that probably don’t exist.  The first reason I think this is that the typical way to show that would be for the two of them to think that if they got married in the eyes of God their families would have to accept that and that it would solve the problems, and then once they announce their wedding they would discover that, no, the families don’t have to accept it and it solves no problems, which would then lead to the other options being taken, which would lead to the tragic outcome.  But here they don’t even get to announce the wedding before things go sour, and they go sour from the actions of others (mostly) with Romeo actually being somewhat thoughtful and trying to avoid an incident that might mean that the families could not unite over their wedding, which ultimately gets Mercutio killed and leads to the cousin’s death at Romeo’s hand.  This isn’t something that follows from the wedding or relationship itself, but is mostly unrelated to it (I think it is implied that the cousin at one point has heard about Romeo’s designs on Juliet and is going after Romeo for that reason, but it is also made clear that that cousin, in particular, is looking for an excuse to attack and he doesn’t know about the wedding yet).  So the first step that could be taken to show that it is their naive view that is causing the issue is one that Shakespeare neatly sidesteps.

The other issue is that the more reckless actions that are taken — like the whole plot to fake Juliet’s death — are caused by events completely outside of the marriage itself and are suggested and supported by people who arguably would be the ones to know better.  The friar himself suggests the plan to fake Juliet’s death, and puts it into action, which is the same person who said that he thought this would end in tragedy.  To return to the original comment, he also doesn’t call out Romeo on being inconstant in his affections and is willing to rush to marry the two despite the fact that, at the time, there is no reason to rush the wedding, and again they don’t announce it for another day or two.  The friar could certainly have told Romeo to wait given how fraught that marriage would be with peril but he doesn’t even try.  So we don’t get the impression from him or from the nurse that the two are rushing into something that isn’t valid or that they shouldn’t rush into, which leads me to feel that we are expected to feel that whatever they have for each other, it’s a valid love for people of that age in that time, the sort of love that could, indeed, lead to a long and happy marriage in those times.  So we definitely shouldn’t think that the two should just never get married, and likely that the relationship should be something that they should have the freedom to explore except for the feud between their families.

Another issue here is that what gets in the way of their relationship are not things that follow from them being reckless, but from things outside of their control.  The feud between their families started long before they were born.  Them being able to announce the wedding would have certainly changed things, but Romeo killing the cousin means they can’t do that.  Even the plot to fake Juliet’s death was foiled by a sudden plague that prevented the monk from delivering the letter to Romeo before he heard of Juliet’s death, which leads to him discovering her seemingly lifeless body and deciding to kill himself because of that.  It isn’t unreasonable for him to return to see if she is really dead when he hears about the news, despite being exiled, and while one can argue that committing suicide over one’s lost love is more unreasonable, it’s also incredibly standard in drama, and so if Shakespeare was trying to subvert that he would have definitely needed to make it far more obvious that in this case, at least, it was unreasonable.  But the two of them act like the typical lovers you see in drama, and the tragedy seems to come about from things that aren’t related to their actions.  Their actions only set the stage for the tragedy, but it is things unrelated to their actions that ultimately cause it.

Which is where I think Shakespeare is subverting the normal rules of tragedy.  As I’ve noted before, tragedy often tends to follow the same structure as the Batman Gambit:  we in the audience can see how their tendencies and actions cause the tragic outcome, and sometimes even the main characters can see that, but they must be true to themselves and so walk, willingly or unwillingly, to their tragic doom.  For example, it’s easy to argue that Hamlet’s indecisiveness causes his downfall, unwilling to commit to taking direct action against the usurper until it is too late.  Here, though, other than falling into dramatically romantic love with each other what Romeo and Juliet do isn’t directly responsible for the consequences and no one reasonable could have seen that things would turn out that way.  Other tragic ways, perhaps, but not these ways.  And so it does seem like the idea of them being “star-crossed lovers” seems to fit, as it really does seem like Destiny itself was out to get them.  Their families are not only feuding, but violently feuding, so much so that the ruler of the city has to take harsh measures to get them to tone it down.  Before they can announce their marriage, a cousin instigates an incident that causes more hard feelings between the families and gets Romeo exiled by that very ruler of the city.  The plan to reunite them in exile fails due to a sudden — and it seems somewhat short-lived — plague.  None of these were things that they or those helping them could have foreseen.

So in some sense I think that the key is what Shakespeare spoils at the beginning and returns to at the end, with the statements of the chorus:  their love and their deaths was the only thing that could end the feud between the families, and so Destiny itself set them down that path and kept them on it precisely to do that.  In much the same sense as the one that Jolee Bindo talked about in Knights of the Old Republic, of the Jedi who thought he had a great destiny and set out to do a great deed, and was unceremoniously killed by being tossed down an exhaust hatch, which caused the engines to explode and did bring peace to that area, and thus did a great deed.  While theirs is a more serious situation, while in general we’d think that the destiny of these lovers is to be together, it turns out that their destiny is to bring the families together and get them to end their feud.

In order to do that, we don’t need the two of them to have a genuine true love (although, again, the chorus strongly implies that).  All we need is for them to have something legitimate that we would think that, under normal conditions, they should have the chance to explore.  As Londo Mollari said about another such couple, they are children and children should be allowed to dance, and the feud tragically takes that away from them.  Thus, even if we are supposed to feel that their love is not at all smart, adding in the love interest for Romeo doesn’t add anything to that.  The “love at first sight with the enemy of my family” would work well-enough, and implying that she didn’t feel the same way about Romeo only works against malcolmthecynic’s comment that he’s charismatic and a bit of a bad boy, which is why Juliet likes him.  If this was followed up on, then it could have worked, but it still would add nothing to the idea that they should at least have been able to try this out to see if their relationship could have worked out and it was the feud that got in the way of that, which is necessary for the two families to reconcile instead of blaming each other for their deaths (the Montagues have a very good case against the Capulets to argue that the cousin’s instigation was responsible for the exile and their rush to marry Juliet off was responsible for the outcome).

So, to me, Shakespeare subverts the story not by taking a realist take against the romanticism of the lovers, but instead by subverting the idea that such loves are destined and the lovers are destined to be together, and that Destiny will work as hard as it can to achieve that.  Here, Destiny works to end the love tragically in service of reconciling the families, leaving their love as merely a means to a very different end.

I will end here by addressing malcolmthecynic’s comment that part of what supports his interpretation is how comedic the rest of the play is.  While given my opinions of the other comedies I’m probably not the right person to say this, but I didn’t find the rest of the play comedic as opposed to just being light, and I see the lightness as having very different purposes.  The light banter of the two retainers at the beginning is necessary to contrast with the street brawl that almost breaks out immediately after.  The light conversation between Romeo and Mercutio and the other one is to build up that relationship, which is important later when Romeo’s attempt to keep the peace gets Mercutio killed.  This is also important to making Romeo likeable, so that we can find his and Juliet’s deaths tragic.  We have to like the characters or else we don’t find their deaths tragic and emotional — especially given how their families feel about them — and so while we might not have wanted to see them die we aren’t moved by them either.  There’s also, of course, something to be said for lightening the mood so that we don’t get tension and drama overload and exhaust ourselves.  I, personally, don’t see it as being anything more than light and mildly humourous conversations that we see in other dramas (Babylon 5 is a good example of these sorts of conversations) that establish characters and relationships and provide an emotional break before the real drama begins, but again as I said given my opinion of Shakespeare’s comedies so far I am likely not the best judge of that.  Then again, the banter is less comedic than I’ve seen from him so far and from what I recall seeing in his more famous comedies, so I might well be on the right track.

Anyway, that’s my take on “Romeo and Juliet”.  As already noted, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is up next which is, perhaps sadly, another comedy that I may not be qualified to judge.

Welcome to Space Crusade

July 18, 2022

So as I noted back in June, I decided to try out a new gaming schedule … which I ended up shuffling a bit for other reasons.  But the one thing that I did manage to mostly stick with was playing the old Amiga version of “Space Crusade”.  Now, this was actually a game that I most remember playing with some friends from high school, and then later one of those friends sent me a bunch of emulated games were, surprise, surprise, this game was included.  I poked around with it a little bit and still enjoyed it, but other games and distractions replaced it and so I never really did anything more with it than that quick exploration.  So when I redid my gaming schedule, I decided to just go through all of the missions and essentially “complete” it.

“Space Crusade” is a “Warhammer 40K” game, where a player can take on up to three squads of Space Marines in a mission against Chaos forces.  The game is turn-based, so each squad acts in turn and then the Chaos forces act, which means that one player can take on three squads or up to three different players can play hotseat, in a mostly co-operative fashion to see who can get the most points (there is one mission where a virus was released and so the squads are encouraged to wipe out the other squads since only one of them can receive the antidote).  The squad with the most points — if they exceed the mission minimum score — gets medals and awards and squads that do really badly end up being stripped of all medals.  I suspect that you can assign these medals to your squad to improve things but have never actually tried it to see.

Each squad member uses a different weapon.  The Commander can only engage in melee, but comes equipped with a sword and also has multiple hit points, which means that he can survive successful attacks from the Chaos forces whereas the others cannot.  If Soulsucker appears — a powerful melee combatant — you really want your Commander to take the brunt of that attack.  There’s also a disintegrator weapon that fires in a straight line but applies its attack roll to everything in that line at least until it hits a wall.  I haven’t really tested if it will stop at enemies that survive the attack, but it can take out a lot of enemies if they happen to be lined up (I’ve picked off three or four at a time in the last mission).  Then there’s a rocket launcher type weapon that kills everything in a 2×2 square, and a smart gun type weapon where if the first target is killed by it any leftover power from the rolls — all attacks are made by rolling dice — can be applied to other targets until it runs out.  The last marine just gets a standard gun, but it tends to have a melee weapon which I think makes fighting in melee easier, and also the other weapons have a weight penalty to them so the marines that have them move slower.

The Chaos forces get a movement phase, but there’s also an event phase at the end of the turn where things can happen, and most of the time they aren’t good things for the marines, like attacks by traps or auto-defenses — I had a trap wipe out about half a squad once — or spawns of Soulsuckers and Chaos Marines.  However, sometimes good things can happen like Master Controls being given to one of the squads, which allows them to open and close doors anywhere on the ship that the mission is taking place on.  This is really useful because it turns out that you can kill enemies by closing doors on them.  In one mission, the squad that got it killed two androids — enemies with a lot of dice they can roll — and a Dreadnought — very big robot enemy with a lot of attacks — through this, and in the three missions I’ve played I’ve faced three Dreadnoughts — one in each mission — and killed two of the three through closing a door on them.  The bad thing is that it looks like if you close a door on something you don’t get credit for killing it and so no points from that, which hurts all the more when it’s a secondary objective to the mission.

The game can be pretty deadly.  In the first mission I tried, one squad managed to lose all but two marines in the first five moves, and as mentioned the booby trap killed an entire squad at one point.  If even weak enemies get good rolls they can take out a lot of marines in a hurry, and they tend to target marines instead of targeting the Commander, even if the Commander is closer to them.  On the flip side of that, however, if the enemies get bad rolls and the marines get good ones you can avoid losses and come through mostly unscathed.  However, the game makes you walk through the ship and then back to your starting point, and while walking back events almost always cause complications for you.  I had one squad that was mostly at full strength but then had one succumb to the Lure of Chaos which converts them to a Chaos Marine, who then immediately got a turn and killed another marine.  Another Soulsucker attack and I think only the Commander survived that one.

This feature is what makes me only able to play one mission at a time, even though a mission takes about an hour or so and I usually have the time to play more than one mission in that time block.  Walking out and walking back, even when fighting, can be a bit ponderous and so I end up being tired of the micromanagement by the end of a mission.  I enjoy the missions and enjoy thinking about good attacks I’ve made or devastating attacks from the enemies, but after an hour or so am not anxious to do another session of moving marines slowly across the map to the objective and back again, especially since the ones with the special weapons move so very, very slowly.

Still, I definitely enjoy the game and it’s a lot of fun.  Unless time constraints or difficulty bites me, I should be able to play through the missions and so “finish” the game.