Archive for November, 2022

Thoughts on “King Lear”

November 30, 2022

This is another play that I happened to study in an English class at some point, probably in high school.  I recalled enjoying it, so it was another play that I was somewhat looking forward to.  And it’s a tragedy, which certainly is a point in its favour.

The basic premise is that King Lear is aging and is probably even entering into his dotage — and is probably a little senile — and so he decides to divide up England among his three daughters.  But before he does so, he asks them how much they love him.  The two older ones — Goneril and Regan — praise him profusely and talk about how great their love for him is, but the youngest — Cordelia — says that she cannot declare that she loves him more than anyone else ever.  This enrages him and he cuts her off from her inheritance over the objections of his closest advisor, and doing so almost scuppers the proposed marriages that he was considering for her, but the King of France maintains his suit in spite of not receiving a dowry and in the face of Lear’s displeasure and marries her, taking her away to France.  Lear also turns his anger on his advisor and exiles him.  Lear is supposed to spend his time staying with his two daughters, but while staying with Goneril he causes her some trouble both with his actions and with his sizeable retinue, which she wants to reduce.  When he refuses, she insists and he attempts to go stay with Regan, but she is on Goneril’s side and they insist that he reduce his retinue and moderate his behaviour to a degree that he considers unacceptable.   Ultimately, they lock him out in a storm, which seems to badly impact his mental state as he slips into insanity.  Meanwhile, his advisor has disguised himself and returned to England, and he supports him.  At the same time, another noble is trying to take his brother’s inheritance and contrives a charge against him that is false, and then wrangles his way into Goneril and Regan’s good graces, which causes them to want to ditch their existing husbands and marry him instead.  Goneril’s husband is reasonable and opposes their general aims and treatment of their father, but Regan’s husband is as cruel as they are.  Cordelia eventually returns with an army from France and they find Lear, but lose the subsequent battle and the other noble orders Cordelia killed while being taken into custody, which is the last straw for Lear’s sanity and he dies as well, while Regan’s husband was killed earlier which causes the two of them to kill each other to try to land the noble, and then of course the noble is executed as well.

For a good tragedy, we should be able to see the tragic events coming but note that the personalities involved will make it so that they can’t avoid those outcomes.  But here that doesn’t seem to be the case.  There was no reason for Cordelia to respond to Lear’s question about how much she loves him the way she did, as she goes over and above simply saying that she wouldn’t flatter him to trying to make rather specious arguments about how she’d have to spare some love for her husband and so on and so forth.  Once she finds out about Lear’s condition, there’s no real reason for her to invade as opposed to simply trying to bring Lear back to France, especially once she finds Lear and can return with him.  The play doesn’t establish that she and her husband — who returned to France and so wasn’t with them to be captured — were really trying to re-establish her legacy or restore Lear’s, and there seemed to be little reason for them to do so.  And yet, that’s the precise event that leads to Cordelia being captured and ultimately killed, which is the real tragic event that we’re supposed to focus on, but it ultimately ends up being nonsensical, which hampers the tragedy.

A big part of this, though, is that we don’t get to know Cordelia very much throughout the play, and so we have a hard time discerning her motives.  She is far too outspoken early on in the play, but we can feel a little happy for her when the King of France wants to marry her anyway, and it would have been nice if she had been able to keep that.  But then we don’t hear much of anything from her for pretty much the entire rest of the play, which leaves her motives in returning with an army unclear.  And as noted above, since that’s what ultimately costs her her happy ending we really need to understand what her motives are.  So we think that she was unfairly treated but could have happiness with the King of France, all of which is tossed away for an invasion that she didn’t need to do and that we are given no reason for.  So it isn’t the case that the tragedy follows from who she and Lear are, because we don’t really know who she is and we have to think that she should have been smart enough to avoid it, which makes it an inferior tragedy.

The tragedy also suffers from portraying the other sisters inconsistently.  They seem to have a point in arguing that Lear’s retinue is too large and too rowdy for them to support, that Lear himself can’t seem to control them, and that Lear in fact can’t even seem to control himself as he acts out against their servants and commits violence upon them.  Since they aren’t his servants, it seems like they’d have a point that he should treat them better and given the slip in his mentality it’s also reasonable to think that he’s doing that unreasonably and so when they didn’t deserve it.  But the play then quickly moves to make them almost cartoonishly villainous, locking him out in a raging storm and then immediately contriving to throw over their husbands for the other noble and contriving to kill their husbands and each other.  The shift from them being flatterers but seemingly committed to looking after their father and only reconsidering because he’s causing so much problems to people who would commit such crimes and care not one whit for their father is way too quick and moves them from being interesting antagonists to boring ones, so it cannot be a tragedy that the entire family dies, but their deaths also aren’t a relief or give us a sense that they received justice or a sense of irony that they ultimately destroyed each other.  Perhaps if the noble was a more compelling character it could be seen as the result of his schemes, but he isn’t and so really the only feeling their deaths instilled in me was relief that at least Goneril’s husband lived.

But I think the big issue here is that there isn’t really enough plot here to fill the number of pages this play has.  “Macbeth” covers 27 pages in my edition, while “King Lear” covers 39.  But “King Lear” certainly does not have a more involved plot than “Macbeth” does, and in fact it’s a pretty simple one at its base:  elderly King hands his property over to his children on the basis of flattery and exiles the one that wouldn’t flatter him, but it turns out that the only one who was truly loyal to and loved him was the one he exiled.  Yes, I outline a lot of things happening in the plot above, but they are mostly disconnected at least in terms of the characters — a theme of family members betraying family members and elderly nobles being fooled by words in lieu of deeds — and so there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening in the plot, and yet it seems to be spending a lot of time doing it.  As such, at times I found myself bored while reading it, which is not something I’m used to having happen in one of Shakespeare’s dramas/tragedies.

And ultimately, at the end of the play, I didn’t have a sense of tragedy like I did in “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet”, but instead felt, well, depressed.  I would really have liked Cordelia to survive and live in France, and felt her death was pointless, along with pretty much all of the other deaths.  It didn’t follow from the characters as written in the play because the play doesn’t really establish their characters in the play, and so it wasn’t a tragedy that they could have avoided but wouldn’t because of who they are, but instead seems more like them making stupid mistakes and unnecessary moves that led to their downfall.  That’s depressing, not tragic.

That being said, Shakespeare does manage to get us to care about Cordelia, which is why the ending was depressing, and his writing is indeed on form here and so the speeches and dialogue still works.  So it’s still a well-written play.  However, that I was ultimately so depressed by it means that it won’t be one of my favourites.  Still, it’s better than most of his comedies and most of his historicals.  It’s just, in my opinion, an inferior tragedy.

Up next is the sequel to “Julius Caesar” in “Antony and Cleopatra”.

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

November 29, 2022

This isn’t a movie that I picked up to start watching to get into the holiday spirit.  No, I actually watched this movie many months ago when I watched “The Fifth Element” and had a rough plan to watch that stack of Sci-Fi movies that I have (and never got around to doing that).  As I’ve wound down watching TV shows, it’s a good time to clear the stacks of things that I want to talk about and so finish off the two Sci-Fi movies that I had watched and never written about in preparation to watch some more Sci-Fi movies and write about them.  Maybe.

As it turns out, I wasn’t really sure how to classify this movie anyway.  The basic premise is that it’s Christmas and a strange storm has been brewing around the world that causes people to be infected with some kind of disease that kills them rather quickly.  It’s just about it hit the U.K., and the citizens have been given suicide pills so that they can kill themselves before it hits and they die horribly.  So they are spending their one last Christmas trying to get in one last gasp of frivolity and togetherness before the end.

Now, this could easily be a horror plot, except that the actual plague isn’t shown much at all (there are a couple of scenes with it).  It could be a straight drama, but the premise seems to be at least slightly futuristic given that it tracks events that might follow from what we’ve been doing to the world but that no one expects to actually happen, at least not that way, right now.  So I think it works better as a science fiction movie.  One thing that is clear, though, is that it’s meant to be a black comedy, with the plague hovering over them and the somewhat goofy events that happen as they try to ignore it for their own last gasp of happiness.

Which makes it a shame, then, that it’s not all that funny.  They did try, however, by contriving all sorts of situations where the preparations for the holiday and for the suicide go wrong in somewhat slapstick ways.  The best part is at the end when one family is preparing to down their pills and the kids are complaining that they were promised a full can of soda apiece and that it’s warm and the father has to run around trying to put all of this together.  But scenes like this are few and far between, which means that for the most part the humour is them sniping at each other which isn’t followed up on or them acting like idiots and dancing around which in a movie like this is more drama than it is comedy.  There’s just not enough humour in the movie for this to work as a great black comedy.

The movie does take the time to add some political commentary, with one girl talking about how this was caused by Russia when it wasn’t and with a couple of other characters talking about how the government didn’t get the pills to illegal immigrants and things like that.  This isn’t actually a bad thing in a movie like this, but what it is supposed to do is get a bunch of people together with radically different political views to spend their time together trying desperately to ignore that in light of the fact that they’re all going to be dead by New Year’s.  But outside of the dinner scene with the comment on the Russians that doesn’t happen, and it seems like we’re supposed to accept that the things they say are correct (except for the Russian thing), which means that it can’t be used as simply a thing they disagree on that they are trying to suppress but instead comes across as more like the writer winking at the audience about the things we obviously all know and agree on, right?

So without the comedy, we have to evaluate the dramatic moments, and the movie flubs that by making the drama nonsensical and yet correct anyway.  The big drama is that the one boy thinks that they could survive the plague, and in the one couple the woman is pregnant and starts to think that maybe she should stay alive to have the baby.  The boy ends up invented and seems to die, which then settles it for everyone and they all decide to take the pill and die, but then the boy wakes up later proving that in theory some people can live through it.  This should be triumphant on his part and cause us to feel that the deaths of everyone else was a tragedy … except that the way the story is structured even with that we know that in-universe the boy got luck and out-of-universe the writers contrived the story to produce that outcome.  As the movie establishes, the storm hit other parts of the world first, such as Africa if I recall correctly, and they would therefore have had lots of time to study it and see if there was any kind of reasonable survival rate, and since they decided to go with the suicide pill option they had to conclude that there wasn’t.  Also, we know that in any kind of plague like this some people will have natural immunity or fight it off so that he manages to survive doesn’t mean that he was right that there’s any reasonable chance of surviving.  And if the pregnant woman had tried to live, perhaps the baby would have lived but she wouldn’t have and then it would die anyway since no one would take care of it.  Even their own political statements work against them here since while they say that the Queen and some others are hiding in a bunker until it passes by the fact that the kills are being given to citizens and not immigrants means that the sort of government that would deny that to immigrants clearly thinks that the better option is to die peacefully from the pills than from the storm, and that they don’t expect anyone to survive the storm since they’d want their citizens to survive and not the immigrants.  And, again, they had lots of time to study its effect in other areas so that they could put this plan into place and decided that the suicide option was the better one.

So the boy surviving isn’t triumphant and isn’t proof that he was right.  He was still wrong but in-universe got lucky and out-of-universe benefited from writer fiat and contrivance.  So the ending is stupid and meaningless, but is trying to seem meaningful and important.  Any work where that happens leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the audience, and yeah, for me one of my main takeaways is that it had a really, really stupid ending.

Given all of that, this isn’t a movie that I want to watch again.  It had its moments, but not enough of them to redeem its ridiculous ending that contradicts its own story.  So, yeah, it goes in the box to possibly sell if I get a chance.

Trunk Diary: Belsavis

November 28, 2022

Is anyone surprised that the Republic has turned an entire planet into some kind of super-secret prison for their worst prisoners? No?  Then is anyone surprised that to save money they built it on top of and around an existing super-secret prison filled with technology and prisoners that they didn’t know about and don’t understand?

While the Empire is stupid enough, the Republic is stupid in a really, really strange way.  See, the Empire would probably do the same thing, but they’d do it so that the Sith could get access to those technologies and Dark Side power and whatever and have ready made facilities and labour to help with it.  It doesn’t look like the Republic thought of that.  They found this secret planet with facilities here already and said “Hey, instead of building the things ourselves that we understand, let’s just use this!  What could go wrong?”

Well, the Empire could figure out that you’re keeping some powerful Sith here in stasis and use all of that stuff you don’t understand against you, figuring that they could always leave if things got too out of hand, for one.

That’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t at all bothered by helping Commander Callum, a member of the Imperial Guard, rescue the Dread Masters, even though it meant going directly against the Republic Warden and his lawman … superior, I guess.  They weren’t much of a threat, but I let the Warden live at the end of it all, but killed the lawman to show that I was indeed a threat.  Plus, his arrogance really bugged me, and once someone has tried to kill you and there’s no real reason to keep them alive a true Sith can indulge themselves on occasion.

The other reason is that I figured that the Dread Masters were arrogant and powerful enough to chafe at being revived just to help win a war, and so they’d want to get their hands on real power.  The people who had that power now obviously weren’t going to want to give that up, and so it would destabilize the power base and hurt the Sith.  I didn’t really want the Dread Masters to win because they relied on fear and to try to win loyalty purely through fear sounds insane to me, but I didn’t think that for all of their power they’d actually be able to take over the Sith and so would end up being disposed of once they’d served their purpose.

As for me, there was supposed to be some kind of ancient healing device here that would fix my body, if not my mind.  It turns out that the machine was sentient and had been imprisoned here by the things it had created so that it couldn’t oppose them, I guess.  It offered to fix me completely if I freed it.  Now, I wasn’t sure that it was telling the truth and I’ve seen enough powerful things that were lying about things like that in order to get free and take over, but it really did seem like it was only interested in creating things and could be limited to Belsavis, and it’s not like the things that imprisoned it were some kind of paragons of virtue, so I decided to free it.  Maybe that will bite someone at some point, but given that this thing thinks in terms of centuries it’s not likely to be me.

Anyway, it kept its word, and now my body is back in shape after the damage I did to it with the ghosts’ power.  Now it’s off to Voss to try to heal my splintered mind.

“How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes”

November 25, 2022

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is actually “The Curious Case of the Controversial Canon” by Ivan Wolfe, but I’m not going to talk about that one since all it really does is talk about what importance an official canon has, point out that the official canon for Sherlock Holmes is mostly what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes, note that the French version of the complete works adds a couple of stories, and notes that even some things that Doyle writes aren’t included in the canon.  I don’t really have anything to say about that, so I’m going to skip it to talk about “How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes” by Amy Kind.  Which, rather ironically, actually has a relation to canon, since it talks about Sherlock Holmes’ marriage to Mary Russell, which never occurred in the canon and so was only ever captured in a series of books by Laurie R. King, which is meant to focus on Russell herself and not on Holmes.  The importance of canon is to established a baseline of Holmes and his world and characters so that fans can have a more or less consistent idea of the character and world to discuss, and so given that the work where he marries Russell is non-canon all we could glean from discussing how that marriage changed him is the view of Holmes that King herself imagined.  We might end up arguing that it is consistent with the character, but we might just as easily argue that it isn’t and even that he would never have married someone like Russell in the first place.  Thus, the dangers of relying on non-canon works.

While I haven’t read the works — I hadn’t even heard about the series until this essay — Kind’s description of King’s heroine makes me wonder if her first name of “Mary” is actually incredibly apropos.  Mary catches Holmes’ eye at a young age, and is explicitly called his equal in intelligence and observational skills, and meets him in a “meet cute” type of event where she doesn’t manage to observe him well enough to avoid almost running into him, but then immediately impresses him with her observational skills.  She also manages to catch Holmes, who was a confirmed bachelor in Doyle’s works and had only been impressed by one woman, Irene Adler.  Thus, the works do come across from this description as being author insert fan fiction and so it isn’t at all clear how examining this “marriage” would help us see how marriage changed Holmes himself.  It’d always be too easy to argue that any such changes were out of character for Holmes, given that the the marriage itself might be out of character for him.

So I’m not going to bother with that.  Instead, I’m going to focus on Kind’s discussion of love that takes as its inspiration the speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium.  The story that he tells is one where we were originally one being, but have been cleaved into two, and the purpose of love — and presumably marriage — is to reunite those two selves into a whole once more.  Now, when I first read that, my very first thought was that the story would imply that we should find not the person who is most like ourselves, but instead the person who has those parts of us that we lack, like the Captain Kirk we find in “The Enemy Within”, with the two halves split from each other and quite different from each other but also with them being unable to survive on their own.  Thus, it would seem like perhaps the best marital companion for him would be someone like Watson, who has the qualities he lacks and could thus help Holmes fill in the gaps in his personality, at least.

Kind is explicit, however, that Holmes could never have married someone like Watson because they were never really equals in their relationship and so could never have been partners, which is required for the sort of love that Aristophanes talks about.  Watson is no where near Holmes’ intellectual equal, whereas Russell is, and so she can be a partner to him in a way that Watson couldn’t.  While that idea of love does insist that the two married partners retain their own identity — Russell, for example, maintains her study of theology despite the fact that Holmes has a strong distaste for it, at least in part to establish that as something she has for herself — the idea here is that Russell is a good match for Holmes because she is quite a bit like Holmes, and a match that was more like Watson wouldn’t be because that match would be more complementary to Holmes instead of being like him.

It seems to me that both views have some merit.  In forming any kind of partnership, the best ones are ones where the two partners are indeed more complementary.  They both bring different things to the table and are masters of at least the two if not more different spheres that people would encounter in the world.  If the partners were too much alike, then they’d have the same weaknesses and wouldn’t be able to help each other overcome their struggles in the world.  We saw this in the idea of the masculine/feminine spheres that were covered traditionally by the male/female marital tradition, and we also see it in the idea that “opposites attract”.  It does seem like we might, in some way, be attracted to people who provide for and are more comfortable in the areas that we ourselves aren’t that good at, that can negotiate and can help us negotiate those areas that we would like to be in, at least at times, but aren’t really capable of moving in.

On the other hand, “opposites attract” rarely seems to extend to true opposites.  We really do seem to want to have things and important things in common with the people we are attracted to.  If we didn’t have any of the same interests or moved in any of the same circles or had any of the same abilities, we wouldn’t be attracted to them at all, perhaps even as friends.  In the case of Holmes, it’s a good point that someone whose intellect lagged his too much wouldn’t be of interest to him.  He might be able to survive someone who was more supportive to his work and took care of his pragmatic needs and managed his emotions and boredom appropriately, but it does seem more credible that if he was ever to fall in love it would be with someone like Russell or Adler whose intellects matched and could challenge his own.  Perhaps she wouldn’t have to be a consulting detective, but her having some knowledge and interest in the facets that make that up would have to be a boon.  They’d have to have something in common.

But, perhaps harkening back to that comment about identity, we have to concede that the person would certainly have to have some interests in common, but would have to have her own interests as well.  No one wants to be married to someone who is exactly like themselves.  Which leads us away from complementary partners or identical partners to the idea of compatible partners, which would argue that the person we are looking for is like us in the important ways but is different enough from us to also work as a complementary partner.  They share our interests so that the two of us can share those activities and grow closer through them, but have enough of their own interests and, importantly, do not share enough of our interests that we can go off and do our own thing at times, retain our own identity, and have something that we maintain as ours and ours alone as opposed to something the two of us share.

Is Russell’s love of theology enough to make her different enough from Holmes to work as his ideal mate, given their similarities.  I can’t say.  I can’t even say if this analysis of love is correct.  But this is a way for us to be split as per Aristophanes:  in some cases, we possess two halves of the same thing, and in some cases we each possess things that the other lacks.  Considering those things is what, then, ultimately reunites us as a complete whole and thus allows us to find our “soul mate”.

Thoughts on “Slapface”

November 24, 2022

So this is another Shudder exclusive, and the basic plot revolves around a young boy and his older brother, who is trying to raise him alone because their parents died in a car accident.  One ritual that they have is a game called “Slapface”, where they slap each other in an attempt to work their frustrations out on each other.  The young boy is also being bullied by a group of young girls, one of which — Mariah — seems to like him but since the other girls dislike him she participates in the bullying.  The young boy is also obsessed with a local monster called the “Virago” who is supposed to live in an old insane asylum.  On a dare from the bullies, he goes inside and ends up awakening the monster, who then starts defending him from things like a dog that was sicced on him and some other threats.  At the same time, the older brother starts dating a woman named Anna, who starts to get concerned about the young boy.  It also turns out that the young boy has gotten in trouble with the law which has the Sheriff on their case.  Eventually, the Virago kills Anna and then the young boy is being chased by the young girls and the Virago ends up attacking Mariah for taunting and puts her in the hospital, which ends up getting the young boy put in jail.  Later, he wakes up and finds everyone slaughtered in there, and returns to his house, where he ends up confronting his brother and the Virago attacks the brother as well, ultimately killing him, but after the young boy seemingly kills the Virago the creature disappears, implying that maybe it never really existed in the first place.

The big problem with this movie is that it seems to be aiming at making a point, which is about bullying, as that’s the message it displays at the end of the movie, calling out bullying and noting that it can come from family members as well.  That seems to be why we have the ambiguity at the end where it tries to imply that the young boy was doing all the things himself, and that’s actually not a bad way to present the issue (it’s also not an uncommon tack to take, with the monster actually being the repressed rage of the main character).  But the way it is presented doesn’t work here.  First, the way they set things up makes it unlikely that the young boy is actually the killer.  Mariah seems to see the monster before she is attacked, and it seems unlikely that the young boy could have killed everyone in the police station on his own.  Given that, it isn’t all that credible that there wasn’t really a monster, and if that’s not the case then the bullying point falls a bit flat, as while he would be being bullied the monster’s reactions would indeed be over the top.

This is only compounded by the fact that while the bullying is indeed generally bullying it’s pretty weak as bullying and the points would work better as family drama points rather than anti-bullying points.  While you can make a point about the bullying of the young boy and Mariah’s falling into line and being mean to him to avoid being bullied herself, it works better as an issue for him to deal with and a rather strange relationship and friendship than as something focused on as a bullying plot.  Also, the movie tries to present the game of “Slapface” as terrible bullying — mostly by having Anna be incredibly bothered by it — but while it could be interpreted that way it could also be interpreted as a creative way for the two of them to work out their issues with each other, yet one that’s tragic because it’s one that isn’t particularly healthy, and only reflects that neither of them really know how to cope with the loss of their parents.  So as an anti-bullying message the girls are bullies but he could in general avoid them and the impact it has on his relationship with Mariah works more as a drama plot than as a bullying plot, while the case of the brother is generally more a case of attempting to cope with the situation and maybe failing than as bullying.  For a movie that clearly wants to be a message about bullying, it doesn’t establish the bullying enough to work as a message movie.

Beyond that message, there isn’t really much to the movie.  We don’t really find out what the purported motive of the Virago is and don’t even know if it’s real, and most of the movie is spent on the relationships instead of the horror.  But they reveal the “monster” way too early to return to and settle into normal domestic issues after we know that there’s a violent monster out there, which colours the entire rest of the movie.  There might be some interesting domestic issues here, but we can’t really focus on them while we are trying to figure out what the deal is with the monster and when it will strike again.  So the horror is revealed too early for us to go back to the simple domestic issues that the move wants to explore, but those issues run for too long afterwards and so sideline the monster plot that was already established.

As you might expect, I didn’t care for this movie.  The structure doesn’t work for either the horror or dramatic parts of the movie, and the anti-bullying message doesn’t work for the plot and structure of the movie.  I’m not going to watch this movie again.

Thoughts on “Macbeth”

November 23, 2022

“Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, being less than 30 pages in the collection I’m reading — most are between 30 and 40 pages — and only taking me about an hour to read.  It’s also a play that I read in high school and wrote a couple of essays on, one that cast Banquo as a mostly noble person and not one wracked by ambition, and another that compared “Macbeth” to Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” series noting that in “Macbeth” people trusted too much and that caused the issues while in the “Amber” series people trusted too little and that caused the issues.  At any rate, this is a play that I’m pretty familiar with and that I probably had a rosier view of than most people do.  So I came in expecting to like it and so there really shouldn’t be any surprises here.

Anyway, the basic plot is that Macbeth and his lieutenant Banquo have just heroically won a major battle against an invasion force supported by some traitors against huge odds.  As they are returning to meet their king, Duncan, they encounter some witches who say that Macbeth will get additional lands and will eventually become king, while Banquo’s sons will be king (interestingly, I’m currently also rewatching “Babylon 5” and the similarities between this prophecy and the prophecy that both Londo and Vir will become Emperor, one becoming Emperor after the other is dead are striking).  When they meet the king, it turns out that he has given Macbeth those lands because of his heroism and because the previous owner was actually the traitor who allowed for the invasion in the first place, thus confirming the prophecy of the witches.  Given this, Macbeth and his wife start to believe that he will become king, but that is hampered by the fact that Duncan soon afterwards elevates his son to the position that would normally spawn the next king.  Macbeth and his wife hatch a plan to kill Duncan and frame Malcolm for the deed, leaving the throne open for Macbeth.  Macbeth is hesitant, but his wife pushes him into doing that, and it succeeds.  But Macbeth starts to worry about potential opposition, first wanting to try to break the prophecy of Banquo’s sons becoming king by killing Banquo and his son.  Lady Macbeth actually demurs at this, but in a shift Macbeth is now more ambitious and active and says that he’ll handle it.  He manages to kill Banquo with hired murderers but they don’t manage to kill his son.  Soon after, Banquo’s ghost starts to appear to Macbeth, and Macbeth’s reaction to that causes Macduff to be suspicious of Macbeth, and he leaves to join up with the exiled Malcolm.  In response, Macbeth kills Macduff’s family.  After being assured that he is invulnerable unless a couple of rather impossible things occur, he ends up setting off to fight the army of Malcolm and Macduff, while Lady Macbeth seems to have been driven insane by her guilt over her role in things.  Circumstances then conspire for those impossible things to happen, and Macduff manages to kill Macbeth and return Malcolm to the throne.

Now, back in high school I was also asked to help someone from a lower grade with her Macbeth essay, and she took the exact opposite tack with Banquo, focusing on him being in it for ambition, which I couldn’t really grasp.  I suspect that one of the reasons that she didn’t ask me to follow up with that — whereas my friend managed to have his charge ask him to follow up later — was because at the time I wasn’t as good at dealing with arguments that opposed mine and likely argued too much for my own opinion instead of simply assessing whether or not her own argument worked (something that philosophy has certainly helped with).  And re-reading it this time, I did manage to see how Banquo could be seen as someone who was primarily ambitious and only not ratting Macbeth out in the hopes of having his sons become king.  The reasons for seeing Banquo as that ambitious is that he is quick to ask the witches if he will gain anything in the future, and after musing that Macbeth has paid most foully for his kingship wonders if the prophecy will thus also come true for him like it did for Macbeth.  The reasons against that is that he does indeed say that Macbeth paid foully for his role and that the others definitely see him as being trustworthy.  Yes, that other characters see him as trustworthy even if they start to suspect Macbeth doesn’t mean much since he could be fooling them, but Shakespeare very much likes to throw in asides and speeches after everyone leaves to highlight this, and we don’t have that for Banquo.  A lot of the interpretation, it seems to me, will come down to how one presents Banquo’s question to the witches early in the play.  If the presentation is one where he seems to asking out of a sense of trying to make sure that he gets what he deserves or with overt curiosity, then that would lean towards him being ambitious, but if the presentation is more him mocking the idea of prophecy and making light of it then that would lean to him not being ambitious at all.  But, yeah, it is more ambiguous than I thought way, way back then.

The other impression that I had of the play is that the witches were more passive than they actually were.  I had remembered them simply making the prophecies, but here the Wyrd Sisters deliberately seek out Macbeth to tell him that, and Hecate is angry that they did that and tells Macbeth about his “invulnerability” to in some way correct the mistake they made.  This has interesting implications for the idea of Destiny wrt the play.  The play presents it as though the prophecies were going to come true, and they both do come true.  But if Hecate needed to “fix” things, then that suggested that what the Wyrd Sisters’ action changed something that Hecate didn’t want changed.  So if their prophecy was going to be correct, Macbeth was going to become king, but something about his becoming king because of the prophecy led to some kind of result that Hecate didn’t like.  So this suggests that maybe the endpoints were fixed — Macbeth would become king and Banquo’s sons would become king — but how that happened could change.  Which suggests that if Macbeth had been more patient, he might have become king in a more stable way and avoided the end that he came to at the end, and that instead of seeing Banquo’s sons as displacing his own perhaps a more stable way for that could have happened as well, with perhaps one of Banquo’s sons marrying a daughter of Macbeth and taking the throne that way.  The tragedy, then, would be that Macbeth’s approach to achieving his ambitions was the one that would lead to the worst possible outcome for him … and if he hadn’t done it he would have achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to what struck me about Macbeth, which is that out of all of Shakespeare’s plays that I’ve read it’s the one that has the least direct musings on philosophical and thematic points while having as part of it the most philosophical and thematic implications.  In addition to the ones above, we have the nature of ambition itself, the interesting reversal between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth when it comes to directly satisfying their ambitions and the impact attempting to do that has on their sanity, along with issues over trust and the ambiguity of numerous characters.  If I look at plays like “Hamlet”, Hamlet muses a lot about the various issues but they only come up in those musings and it’s not the case that they just fall out from the situations themselves.  Yes, deeper themes are there as well, but it seems to me like you have to go looking for them more than you have to in “Macbeth”, where they are more natural consequences and considerations from what actually happens.

Now, given my experience with the play, I was always going to like “Macbeth”.  And despite the ambiguity over one of my favourite characters, I still like it, and like it even more now that I’ve seen some of the other thematic and philosophical implications of the play.  It’s probably my favourite of the plays so far.

Up next, one that I also read as part of an English class in “King Lear”.

Thoughts on “The Fifth Element”

November 22, 2022

It’s been a while since I said I’d talk about this movie.  About five months, to be exact.  I had lots of other things to talk about and so this fell out of the schedule, but with my catching up with all of my other movies and video games and TV shows it really seems like it’s time to finally talk about it.

The basic plot of this is that an alien race has set up a defense against another alien race in ancient times and then left, leaving behind an order to preserve it.  In the future, the enemy aliens finally arrive and one female alien from the defending race (played by Milla Jovovich) arrives on Earth to activate the device, with the one remaining member of the order seeking her out.  Meanwhile, a former special forces agent (played by Bruce Willis) who now drives a cab ends up getting caught up in all of this when she tries to escape from the government agents that revived her and ends up in his cab, which spawns a long adventure to save the day.

Now, from what I understand this movie wasn’t that well-received when it launched but has become a cult classic to some.  The reason for this, I think, is that this movie doesn’t at all do what you’d expect from this movie.  I don’t mean that it deliberately tries to subvert expectations, because it doesn’t seem like it’s actually trying to subvert expectations.  Or, at least, if it is it’s not setting these things up to be things that we expect and then subverting them.  Instead, it really seems like it just isn’t doing what you’d expect not only from such a movie but also from what the movie itself sets up.   For example, when the alien shows up in Willis’ cab, what we’d expect from such a situation is that he’d join her then and just go along with her on her mission.  However, he ends up making a pass at her which ticks her off, and so he ends up having to leave.  And so you’d think that he’d be convinced by her mission — and his attraction to her — and so push his way back into her mission.  Except he seems content to leave things as is until he is recruited by the government to check this all out, which is the first time that we really understand what his role was with the government, who then arrange for him to win a contest to get onto the exclusive resort that they need to get to to get what they need, at which point the alien and her keeper push their way into his win so that they can all do that together.

You would have expected that the first part where he meets her would have been skipped entirely and he would have met her on the resort and joined her then, or that as noted above that he would meet her in his cab and then use his government influence to get them both there.  Instead, both plots are used as the first one is started, dropped, and then the second plot picks up the slack.  It’s not a problem, per se, but it does come across as a bit convoluted, and again because it goes against what we’d expect given how the plot was structured it can be a bit disconcerting.

More minor and yet amazingly more of a problem is a comment that Willis’ character needs to be careful with the alien because she’s not as strong as she seems.  Given that he was attracted to her and wanted some kind of relationship with her, and that she had up until that point shown incredibly strong physical prowess, this would seem to imply that she is weaker mentally and that his pushing her for the relationship might cause problems or that she’ll need emotional support on this mission, but soon after she gets shot and ends up being physically weak.  That’s the only weakness she shows and what forces him to do the action heavy-lifting in the rest of the movie, and there is no hint of any mental or emotional weakness that belied her physical powers.  It’s more minor because it’s not a main element of the plot and we can easily ignore it, but it’s more of a problem because it sets something up that it either tries to pay off against expectations or else simply drops.

I also found Chris Rock’s character quite annoying.  Well, he’s supposed to be since he’s a bit of comedy relief in the typical Chris Rock style, but that’s not why I found him annoying.  No, I found him annoying because he’s pointlessly annoying.  He doesn’t do anything except let Chris Rock be a motormouth and act annoying in some of the big action scenes.  He’s not a real sidekick.  He’s not someone who was supporting the enemy unwittingly who converts.  He doesn’t do anything of any importance.  He, well, doesn’t do anything.  So he’s just there to hopefully make us laugh a bit, and since he’s doing that in the serious action scenes or in the tense lead up to the big mission he’s actually doing that at the worst possible time.  If he was more prominent in the movie or had less time when he does appear, he would have been better, but the movie focuses too much on him when he arrives on the scene for us to ignore him but then we also can’t ignore that for all the time spent on his character the character, ultimately, plays no important role in the plot at all.  Essentially, he’s a “Please laugh!” character and is only the more annoying because of that.

So, ultimately, what did I think of the movie?  I think that how it doesn’t do what either the genre or what its own plot would have us expect does hurt the plot since it leads to things being more convoluted and we can’t help but think that it would have been easier if it had just stuck to what it had outlined originally or to the standard plot, and Chris Rock’s character’s annoyances can’t be ignored.  Beyond that, it’s a fairly serviceable sci-fi movie with some good moments, but not enough to redeem the rest of it.  I don’t hate it and didn’t hate watching it, but I can’t imagine myself rewatching it on a regular basis, although I can indeed see myself rewatching it at some point, as it’s definitely entertaining enough for me to give it another shot at some point.  So it goes into the box of things to maybe rewatch at some point.  It’s not a bad movie, but has just enough flaws that I would generally rather watch lots of other things than it.

Trunk Diary: Round One

November 21, 2022

Having gathered up what I thought were enough ghosts to take on Thanaton and with their voices in my head getting a bit disturbing, I headed off the Dromund Kaas to confront him.  I really should have been careful not to get overconfident and to make sure I understood more about what was happening before I tried to use it.

On the plus side, I did beat Thanaton.  He had a flunky confront me beforehand and after I took him down easily I unleashed my ghosts on him and he ended up blasted across the room and into the wall before he could do anything.  So that part worked.  The bad part was that doing that left me in even worse shape than it left him.

See, it turns out that what the ghosts didn’t mention is that controlling and unleashing the power of these ghosts is really draining, especially since none of them really want to be there, even the ones that I pacified instead of forced.  So I didn’t have the power and control to keep all this in line and focused, which is why I ended up hurling Thanaton against the wall, and trying that knocked me out.  Because of that, Thanaton was able to get away and stay a threat to me.

That’d be bad enough, but it isn’t the worst of it.  The strain on the body is so intense that at this point, well, it’s breaking down my entire body.  If it isn’t fixed, it is going to kill me, probably in a horrible way.  So not only can’t I use that power, it’s going to kill me whether I use it or not.  At this point, I have to wonder if it’s even worth it.

Of course, right now the choices are that either I master it or I die, and I didn’t fight my way out of slavery to die.  Fortunately, a couple of other Sith had tried to master this before and faced the same problem, and so set out to try to cure themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s not clear if they managed to succeed or not.  But beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m going to have to follow their path and hope that at the end of it there’s a solution.

Zash also noted that the records of one of them had a duplicated section right where the information on where to go next was.  It seemed like it had been done by Thanaton to prevent someone from trying, well, exactly what I wanted to try.  So I broke into his vault by using Force Persuade on his guard.  It was a surprise that it would work because you’d think that someone like Thanaton would know better than to use guards who are so weak-willed that they fall for that.  I almost wonder if he was setting me up, but I did get the information I wanted.  It turns out that there might be some kind of healing technology on Belsavis, and the the mystics on Voss might be able to fix me up entirely.  I need some extra clearances to land on Voss, so it’s off to Belsavis first.  Hopefully it can at least keep me alive long enough to find a true cure.


November 18, 2022

So, I came across the idea of “Antinatalism” from this post by Richard Carrier.  As you can tell from the title, he’s opposed to it, not just because he thinks that it relies on incorrect premises, but also because it is itself completely incoherent and cannot fail to be incoherent.  I don’t agree with antintalism either, as it turns out, but think that it isn’t necessarily incoherent and while some arguments seem to be based on false premises the underlying issue with it is an incorrect idea of suffering and our moral commitments wrt suffering.  So relying mostly on Carrier’s post — which might be dangerous, since he has a tendency, especially in philosophy, to interpret the things he criticizes incorrectly — I’m going to examine antinatalism and show where it works in ways that Carrier doesn’t seem to see and so is a more interesting philosophical challenge than it might seem if you only read his post, but also show how it, ultimately, doesn’t seem to work.

The big reason Carrier thinks that antinatalism is incoherent is because he thinks that it entails killing off everyone, because its main argument is that the people who are living experience enough suffering that it would have been better if they had never been born than to live in such a condition.  Carrier notes that this suggests that they would be better off dead than alive and so killing everyone off — or everyone committing suicide — would be the only rational choice, despite the protests of antinatalists that this is not true:

Antinatalism holds that being alive causes suffering, such that not being alive is better. This entails killing everyone, and yourself. To try and avoid this consequence, as antinatalists do, with an equivocation fallacy, like “suicide and murdering billions causes suffering; therefore we ought not commit suicide or exterminate people,” only proves the point. They are contradicting themselves. If becoming dead is suffering, then how can being dead be better than being alive? The only reason one can ever coherently be against mass suicide is to admit that staying alive is better than being dead. But that renounces the entire premise that antinatalism is built on. What we are left with is incoherent nonsense.

As it turns out, because Carrier relies heavily on an overall utility argument — being alive is worse than being dead — this isn’t what they actually hold, but we can already see a lot of holes in his argument.  As noted in a comment — that I don’t feel Carrier really managed to address — it is proper to interpret antinatalists as insisting that one cannot cause or be responsible for suffering, and there is no way to kill people without causing at least some suffering.  Thus, while they may think that everyone should commit suicide, their own reasons for wanting that — those people suffer — mean that they themselves cannot cause or be responsible for the suffering that would be required to kill everyone off.  The same thing would actually apply to mass suicide, since that would be those people causing suffering to themselves which wouldn’t be allowed.  The original commenter Fred B-C says that a better question would be if one could simply “snap” everyone out of existence like Thanos did would the antinatalist support it.  However, as seen in the movie, his “snap” was not devoid of suffering, as the people who were snapped out of existence didn’t just suddenly cease to exist, but instead faded away and so were aware of — and horrified by — the fact that they were fading out of existence, and thus experienced great mental anguish.

But if it really was devoid of all suffering, would it be something that the antinatalist need support?  Fred himself notes that deontologically there is a duty not to harm, but if being alive is worse than being dead and one can kill everyone without adding more suffering to them, then under utilitarianism that should be allowable (although again they dodge the utility argument, as I’ll talk about later) and so it would only be deontological views that could oppose it … which they can, especially if one follows Kant.  One of Kant’s maxims is that one must always treat everyone — including yourself — always as an end in themselves and not merely as a means.  If someone doesn’t agree — for whatever reason, including that they just haven’t heard the argument yet — that they should die then doing it for them would violate that, as you would be using them as a means to an end, the end of people — them, in particular — not suffering as much, and you are not allowed to use them as merely a means to anything, including what you see as their own benefit or what is considered right morally.  As long as them choosing to remain alive is not in and of itself morally wrong, you can’t force them to not remain alive without violating their consent and so their status as ends in themselves.  Carrier does try to respond to that in that comment thread linked above:

It also can’t work on a consent model, because admitting someone isn’t giving you consent entails admitting they prefer being alive to being dead, which entails a refutation of their own premise. Whereas arguing that people aren’t competent to have a correct assessment entails concluding they aren’t competent to make decisions for themselves, an exception to consent mores widely accepted (we compel the incompetent to treatments all the time, and even deem it morally necessary).

But we could never declare someone incompetent simply for not agreeing with us.  They are allowed to be wrong, even about important things, without being incompetent to manage their own affairs.  That is, in fact, the only reason consent ever matters, and why we cannot simply decide things for everyone else based on our purportedly superior rationality.  Even if they prefer being alive to being dead, that doesn’t mean they are right about that and the antinatalist wrong, but is sufficient to stop us from simply killing them off without their consent.  We cannot simply make choices for others, especially when we ourselves aren’t impacted one way or another.

Okay, but then would it mandate mass suicide?  By Kant, again this wouldn’t work, because we must also treat ourselves as ends in ourselves, and despite Carrier’s previous comments on Kant Kant himself does not allow someone to take an action merely to give themselves pleasure or remove suffering from themselves.  This was his major objection to masturbation, after all, that it was us using ourselves as merely a means to the end of pleasure and not as ends in ourselves.  Even if one objects to that — likely on the grounds that surgery to correct a knee or hip problem that is causing pain might be immoral under that strict an interpretation — it turns out that it’s trivially easy under pretty much any moral system to justify a rule that you don’t kill other people or even yourself even if that would be in your own self-interest.  Once you have that, killing anyone in the cause of antinatalism is right out, and suicide is out as well without the idea of when suicide is morally justified (and for many deontological and virtue theories, it’s only allowed as a way to avoid doing immoral things, not just to make your life better or avoid some suffering).  So it turns out that declaring it incoherent on these grounds is no where near as secure a move as Carrier thinks it is.

It also turns out that Carrier’s expression of the antinatalist argument is also incorrect in a subtle but important way.  Their actual argument is not that we would be better off dead than alive, but that we would be better off if we had never existed than alive.  This allows them to draw a clear demarcation between agents that have never existed and ones that have existed and exist right now, which allows them to argue that we have no moral obligations towards agents or beings that have never existed, but do have moral obligations towards agents or beings that now exist.  Thus, it is trivially easy for them to argue that once these beings exist I cannot kill them for any reason, even their own benefit, but that that doesn’t apply to the beings that have never existed.  The beings that have never existed don’t need to be killed, and the beings that do exist cannot ever be morally killed (or, at least, not for such reasons).  For the individual themselves, again it isn’t difficult to come up with a rule against committing suicide, and argue that it only applies to people who exist.  If a person has never existed, there is no need for them to commit suicide, and if they do exist, they are again not allowed to commit suicide (at least for these reasons) morally.  Thus, it turns out that Carrier is equivocating here, lumping both “has never existed” and “has existed, but was killed” under “dead” and then insisting that one cannot treat the two cases differently.  But as noted, from the perspective of morality it is clear that the cases are different (and many abortion arguments could not get off the ground if there wasn’t a distinction here).

And again, as it turns out, antinatalists have another argument that follows on from this that allows them to make that distinction.  You can find it in Carrier’s sources, and it’s known as the “Asymmetry Argument”.  What it argues is that there’s an asymmetry in the moral obligations in these cases that supports antinatalism.  We have no moral obligation towards persons that have never existed, and so cannot have a moral obligation to bring them into the world, even if they would have a life that has more pleasures than sufferings.  Thus, I can never be said to be not fulfilling my moral obligations to that person who will never exist if I choose to not bring them into existence.  However, if I do choose to bring them into existence, then I have moral obligations towards them.  And the other part of the “Asymmetry Argument” points out that while I have no moral obligation to give people pleasures, I do have a moral obligation to avoid causing or being responsible for them suffering.  And for every child that I cause to come into existence by procreating, I cause them at least some suffering.  So I am morally responsible for their suffering once born and have no moral obligation to bring them into existence.  Why, then, doesn’t the moral obligation to not be responsible for suffering mean that I shouldn’t bring them into existence at all?  And if that does work, then that justifies antinatalism and dodges any utility arguments, like Carrier’s argument about the odds:

The argument of “possible outcomes opposite intention” applies to literally every act and choice every human will ever make (up to and including literally just breathing); consequently, it refutes itself. Game Theory, again. If you have two options, one leads to no positive sum outcomes, and the other leads very probably to positive sum outcomes and only improbably to negative sum outcomes, the only rational move is the second. All life consists of risk. If you are scared of all risk no matter how small or mitigable, then yeah, maybe you’d be better off dead. But the rest of us aren’t that stupid. The correct solution (as in the rational solution) to risk is not “the avoidance of all conceivable risk”; it’s taking steps to reduce or mitigate that risk. “I might die if I go outside, therefore I should never go outside” is the voice of an idiot (or literally the insane); “I might die if I go outside, therefore I should cooperate with society in making that as safe as we can” is the voice of the rational and sane.

But the question would be raised by the antinatalist:  why is it moral for you to gamble with someone else’s life and suffering, so that it is possible that they will end up in one of those cases where life is not worth living and have a negative sum outcome that they cannot escape?  Even if the odds are good, would it really be moral for Carrier to, say, start a machine that has even a 10% chance of causing everyone to spent eternity in complete agony on the grounds that 90% of the time most people will instead get their favourite dessert?  Carrier can argue that the odds of having a good life are better, but the antinatalist doesn’t argue over those odds.  Instead they note that no one has a moral obligation to bring someone into the world and if the odds are such that that person might have a life not worth living and might have to commit suicide to escape it what moral obligation can Carrier point to to justify taking that chance with someone else’s life?  He can’t use any obligations to keeping society going because that would be driven entirely by self-interest and so cannot be used to justify taking a chance with someone else’s happiness or suffering, so how can he justify taking the risk with someone else’s life?

This is a good time to bring in the thought experiment from Christopher Belshaw (I’m going to ignore the argument from animals since it seems clear that animals can have a life worth living):

Imagine we look at creatures on a distant planet. They live for ten years in agony, and thereafter sixty years in bliss. And there are no important psychological connections over this period. We probably think it better if these creatures never come to be, though of course after ten years there’s no reason at all to kill them, or wish them dead. This is, I’ve argued, more or less the picture with human lives.

Carrier, it seems to me, interprets this argument incorrectly, but in line with his mistake above, as his main objection is this:

Dude. No moral human being would think this way. What the fuck is wrong with Belshaw? Is he a sociopath? If we found a society of Martians who lived ten years in agony and sixty years in bliss, our thought would not be, “Get rid of them! Forced sterilizations!” We’d be moral monsters—and idiots. We’re neither. So that is not at all how 98% of human beings would react to this discovery, or how 100% of sane and rational human beings would. Not a single one would say “it would be better they never existed.” We’d say, “that’s a rough start they have to put up with, but it’s clearly worth it in the end.” And we’d say that because those Martians who actually live through it would say that. And that’s how empathy works.

He jumps to the idea of empathy and talks about Belshaw being a sociopath, seemingly influenced by the idea that everyone in that species would have to commit suicide or be killed, even though it’s obvious that antinatalists would at least argue that those past those ten years could stay alive, which is what he uses to try to argue that while babies are in the same situation as this species it wouldn’t justify killing off adults.  I think the flaw — as Carrier does not — is that it’s wrong to think that babies only have suffering and don’t have more pleasures than sufferings and so the thought experiment doesn’t really apply.  It seems to me, though, that Carrier’s moral outrage means that he misses the more interesting philosophical issue here by never really asking why people would say that it was worth it and how the thought experiment can be tweaked to make it more in line with the antinatalist argument and a more interesting discussion.

I believe that most people who would answer that those ten years of agony are worth it to get those sixty years of bliss are seeing it in a specific way.  I believe that they see those ten years as the cost they have to pay in order to get those sixty years of bliss, and most people would see the utility calculation working out in their favour.  So they are willing to pay that cost to get that outcome.  And this is actually a stronger objection to the antinatalists here than “Don’t you have any empathy?!?” because antinatalists cannot argue that taking a hit to acquire something to make one’s life better is necessarily morally wrong.  After all, that’s the entire notion of any kind of commerce or trade, so we indeed need to be able to morally pay in order to get things that we want.  The antinatalist can argue that we morally ought not take suffering on ourselves in exchange for less suffering later, but this would mean that we cannot morally take university courses and degrees because studying and taking exams definitely causes suffering but can improve our lives (or, as I found when I was taking courses, can be a wonderful source of entertainment).  We couldn’t diet to lose weight to improve our looks or health since being hungry is definitely suffering.  We couldn’t train for a marathon to get that sense of accomplishment after achieving it.  Heck, we couldn’t even work to get money since work usually causes some sort of suffering and using the money to get food and shelter couldn’t justify that.  Yes, antinatalists could bite the bullet and accept that but it does start to get so ridiculous as it would end up with everyone starving to death anyway with such a strict moral code.

As it turns out, the antinatalist doesn’t have to do that, and we can see that if we tweak the experiment slightly.  Instead of imaging there existing a species like this created by natural selection, imagine that what we have is a scientist creating a new species in his lab.  He is ecstatic that he can create this new species that will have sixty years of bliss, but only after suffering ten years of complete agony.  I think that a lot of people would feel that given that perhaps the scientists ought not create that species, at least not until he can reduce the agony, either in degree or in duration.  Even if he insists that there is no other way to get a species with sixty years of bliss we might still think it better that he not create the species.  Once the species exists we can see that the agony is outweighed by the bliss, and yet when thinking about creating the species we likely would balk at creating a species that has ten years of agony, no matter how much “bliss” they get in return.  From this, the antinatalist can argue that this is exactly what we do when we have children:  we create beings that will suffer, and we cannot morally say that the fact that they might and even are likely to have more happiness or pleasure in their lives can make up for us doing that.  We are responsible for their suffering and have no obligation to create them, just as the scientist has no obligation to create that species.  So just as the scientist shouldn’t create that species, we ourselves should not create children.

The real weakness in the antinatalist argument is around our moral obligations towards suffering, but viewing suffering itself as something that is necessarily a bad thing in a moral sense.  While this follows more from my Stoic leanings than from other moral systems, as we’ve seen above suffering isn’t always a bad thing.  Pointless suffering is, obviously, but while we think it morally wrong to cause needless suffering to someone else it’s not because suffering is in and of itself morally wrong (even if it’s always unpleasant).  Under pretty much any moral code, we are allowed to cause suffering to others if morality dictates that.  So we can deprive someone of something if they have acquired it unjustly, and injure and even kill someone if that is required to stop them from killing and injuring other people.  Thus, our moral obligation to not cause suffering to others follows from our morality and is not in and of itself morally wrong.  Thus, being morally responsible for bringing someone into existence who suffers is not, in and of itself, morally wrong.  Thus, we do not have a moral obligation to not create any person just because they might suffer.  We can, then, take the considerations of how likely it is that they will suffer unnecessarily primarily because of our personal decision to bring them into existence — like with agonizing genetic conditions that they could not be cured off — and decide on that basis whether or not to reproduce, but we are not responsible for the suffering that nature and life itself causes them nor for the suffering that other people might cause for them, intentionally or not.  Given this, and the fact that most people will have lives with more pleasures than suffering, the utility argument is back on the table and, in my opinion, antinatalism falls.

Antinatalism, contra Carrier, is actually an argument that is — or can be, since there is no argument in existence that is always stated in a logically coherent way — coherent but that depends entirely on the idea that it is always morally wrong to be responsible for someone else suffering.  That idea is clearly incorrect, and so it falls on the basis of it being contrafactual — and, importantly, on the basis that it contravenes moral facts as opposed to empirical ones — as opposed to be incoherent.  Once we better understand what it says, we can see that it is more interesting than it might have seemed at first, and also see where it fails to justify our strong intuitions that it is, indeed, incorrect.

Thoughts on “The Seed”

November 17, 2022

“The Seed” is another Shudder exclusive, that I hesitated on buying the first time I saw it but ended up buying it anyway.  The main reason is that from the cover it seems like it would be at least trying to mimic the old exploitation type of alien pregnancy type movies, where you have some kind of creature using strange powers to seduce women sexually where that’s the main horror.  While I’m not really opposed to that sort of thing, it didn’t sound like it would make for all that interesting a movie and in these times a lot of the charm of those sorts of movies — their openly admitting that the main reason for the movie is indeed the sexual fanservice, for one — would be lost since, well, they would have to try to fit into the new model of that sort of thing.  Even with that, I couldn’t expect much of a plot, and without that there wouldn’t even be its ridiculous campiness to play along with.  So the movie would likely just be bad instead of being so bad it’s good.  But it was cheap and a Shudder exclusive so I decided to give it a try.

The plot, as it turns out, is indeed that sort of alien seduction type of movie, although it oddly tries to mix a bit of an action alien invasion plot in as well.  Three comely young women go out to a secluded mansion to shoot a photoshoot for the one’s social media page, and also to watch what is supposed to be an impressive meteor shower.  The meteor shower seems spectacular, but at least one meteor seemed to zip around in the sky oddly and crashes into their pool.  They fish it out and find that it’s some kind of creature that seems to be dead.  The next day, they find that it has moved, but still seems dead (and rather smelly, as they note).  They encourage a local boy who is taking care of the place — for his brother, who is sick — to take it away by paying him lots of money and having the most conservative of them — who is also an animal lover — give him a kiss.  This seems to cause the creature to wake up and it ends up scaring the boy away.  They try to drag it away themselves but that doesn’t work as it’s too heavy.  Later that night, the animal lover goes out and brings it in after hearing it cry, and feeds it.  This does not please either of the others, but again they can’t move it.  They don’t have cell phone service anymore and so two of them head out to find a neighbour — who, it turns out, has disappeared — while the other stays behind.  She wants to confront and kill the creature, but it somehow hypnotizes her and she changes her tune entirely.  That night, the other woman whose parents own the house heads down in the middle of the night and sees the creature using a whole host of tentacles to bring the first woman under its lower body to sexually stimulate her, and then hypnotizes her as well so she joins in.  The animal lover, of course, is quite puzzled by their change in attitude but goes off to find the neighbour again or at least the keys to her truck, and finds that she has been killed (possibly by suicide).  When she returns, they have moved the creature into a bedroom and are lounging around unconcerned by any of this.  When the animal lover goes into the room, the creature tries to hypnotize her but she breaks free, and when she confronts the other two they argue over it until the other two transform with black liquid coming out of their eyes and the like and also becoming very pregnant.  The animal lover tries to attack the creature, but it calls the other two in who knock her out.  When she regains consciousness, the other two have run off and she does manage to kill the creature, and sets out after them.  She kills the one girl and then gets into a fight with the other, but a local sees them and shoots the animal lover thinking that she was trying to kill the other girl.  Of course, that girl kills him but the animal lover recovers — she was shot in the shoulder — and shoots the other girl before she can finish giving birth … and then looks up to see a host of meteors heading towards the Earth.

There are two basic ideas you can have for an alien invasion story:  a subversive invasion or an overwhelming force invasion.  You can try to bridge the two — the original miniseries “V” did that and moved from one to the other — but in general they rely on different things and can almost be different genres.  The overwhelming force invasion works well for action-packed stories, and ultimately “V” ended up there, while something like, say, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” works well for horror as it ramps up the paranoia and delivers most of its horror not from the gore of an overwhelmingly physical attacker, but instead from the idea that people are acting strangely and so something is happening to them, but we know not what.  You don’t need to have multiple aliens for the former, as “Alien” and “Predator” showed.  In those, you have a strong physical presence stalking the crew and picking them off one-by-one.  If you go for the latter, then you don’t need a physically imposing alien, and it actually works better if you don’t have one so that it can stay hidden longer.

The ending as I relate it above is the sort of ending that works for an overwhelming force alien invasion in the mold of “Alien” or “Predator”:  the woman has just spent a lot of time gruesomely killing the alien and her friends, she’s bloodied and injured, and she looks up to see a host of other aliens arriving.  That sort of ending is supposed to invoke a feeling of “It took this much effort to kill one of them, and now we have to face hundreds or more?!?“.  The problem here is that it didn’t really take that much effort for her to do that because the alien is not physically imposing.  Once she gets a free shot at the alien, she kills it rather easily and it doesn’t even seem to be able to move to stop her.  She tracks down her friends rather easily, and while it might be implied that they are given a strength boost from their alien pregnancy they are slow-moving and awkward and the strength boost isn’t sufficient that she can’t, all on her own, overcome it.  Her worst injury comes from the idiot local who despite being able to see the other girl attack the animal lover shoots her anyway.  The alien and its thralls are in no way a physical threat, so seeing a lot of them arrive is not going to invoke that “Oh, crap!” feeling.

Especially since the movie breaks away from the infiltration aspects which is what the movie really should have focused on.  The alien seems to be quite manipulative and given its weak physical state is going to have to be to make any of this work.  Converting the two girls from people who hated it and, in one case, wanted to kill it to unconcerned thralls is genuinely creepy and that sort of quiet subversion works really well.  However, when the movie has the animal lover break its hypnotic spell without explaining why she was able to do that and when it never tries to hypnotize her after that, we have to wonder how easy it is to resist it.  There is never any indication that it can hypnotize men, so that would strike against a successful bulk invasion, as the men would notice the changes and be able to act against it.  It’s physically weak, and the movie already established that one of the girls wanted to kill it outright, which will be repeated across the country and the world, especially if they land in bulk.  And the argument that happens between them talks about the one girl suddenly wanting to make money off it and and then the two of them being shocked at their transformation, implying that they were not fully under its control at that point.  Given all of this, it really doesn’t seem like such an invasion could work out.

If they wanted that kind of ending, what they really should have done was show the last girl giving birth to an alien and the animal lover killing both, but then when she left showing that there wasn’t just one birth but two, and that creature is still alive and moving on to try to reproduce on its own.  This would give the decided image that this is not over yet while continuing the idea that the main threat is subversion, not an overwhelming invasion.  Yes, there still would have been some of the issues raised above, but they could have been ignored more since if the alien was sneaky enough and chose its victims carefully enough it would be able to succeed for quite some time.

The sad thing is that when the movie is focusing on the subversion angle, it’s actually pretty good.  The changes in personality are pretty creepy and would have worked to build an interesting mystery if they were focused on more.  Another thing the movie does really well is set things up to pay them off later.  They set up the cricket bat as a weapon that the animal lover uses at the end to fight the other two.  In the argument, the one girl accuses the animal lover of not having the killer instinct and at the end she kills the two of them off (and the movie is clever enough not to have her comment on that and let the audience get that themselves).  About the only thing they don’t pay off is that the animal lover is a bit too into being kissed by the local boy which doesn’t get followed up on.  But there are a lot of these little moments which are quite nice.

So, would I watch this one again?  This is a question that I’ve gone back and forth on for quite a while.  There are enough good things in this movie to consider putting it into my closet of movies that I would rewatch again, but then keep reminding myself about how it messes up the subversion which would make a rewatch less interesting.  Then I note that there are worse things in that closet, but then I note that most of those are comedies which I can be more forgiving off than this.  Ultimately, I’m going to stick it in my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point.  As I said, there are enough good things in it to rewatch it but it not paying off its best element of the subversive alien means that rewatching it can’t be a regular occurrence.