Mailvox: Spelling it out slowly

James S doesn’t realize that it isn’t necessary to deal with the “meat of an argument” when the point that it is trying to defend is irrelevant. He wrote, and I quote in full:

“How can you possibly say this isn’t a moral argument? It feels like you are purposefully muddying the issue by making a distinction between ‘attributing’ the decline of genre to it’s amorality and the moral judgment that would be necessary to make the aforementioned attribution. This seems to be done to escape having to admit that the argument turns on morals (for it would then collapse) and turning it into one of literary aesthetics instead (which it is anything but as the crux of the argument rests on the ‘moral vacuity’ of the literature you claim is a symptom of a declining society). The distinctions are self-serving and at best contrived and artificial. This posting proves to me that you are indeed the moral coward Bakker claims you are.”

First, while Bakker is by all accounts an entertaining writer, in making the accusation of “moral cowardice” he has also shown himself to be an ignoramus who is attempting to spin words and concepts that he does not, by his own admission, understand. To claim that I am a moral coward because I am directly and openly calling out the genre’s authors on what I believe to be their literary failures without also calling them out on their supposed moral failures is simply nonsensical. It is obvious that James S, Bakker, and other putative Preachers of Death desperately want me to make a moral argument so they can preen in their juvenile transgressivism, attack the argument in relativistic terms, and thereby avoid dealing with the problematic matter of the material literary incompetence of modern fantasy. This is why people keep trying to insist that I am making an argument that I have repeatedly and correctly informed them I am not making.

If I was to make a moral argument for the decline of SF/F literature, I would first define the moral standard to which I was holding the literature accountable, then compile comparative lists of transgressions against that standard committed by two sets of fantasy authors, those writing from 1930 to 1960 and from 1980 to 2010. If significantly more transgressions were committed by the latter, my point would be supported. If not, my point would fail. While critics could certainly debate the question of whether the selected moral standard was relevant or not, no one, myself included, could dispute that the argument was an intrinsically moral one. Of course, I have done absolutely nothing of the sort for the obvious reason that I have not presented a moral argument… note that my critics can’t even tell what moral standard I am supposedly utilizing as the basis for this nonexistent moral argument.

James appears to suspect on some level that the case he presents here is an invalid one. Which is, in fact, the case. Note the weaselly approach as he attempts to derive a “proves” from a “seems” plus a “feels”. When I correctly dealt with the actual question posed – How can you say this isn’t a moral argument? Because it demonstrably is not. – he tried to claim that I was avoiding the core of his argument. But it is not necessary to address an argument that is based on nothing more than James’s feelings and perceptions.

Of course, since I, too, have my share of character flaws and take an amount of unseemly and sadistic pleasure in rubbing my intellectual supremacy in the face of those who are unwise enough to directly challenge me on it, I will first correct James’s argument by transforming it into one that is not dependent upon his feelings. Then I will show why his argument is incorrect, even when presented in a relevant form.

I paraphrase his argument thusly: How can you say the decline of the SF/F genre isn’t a moral argument? I believe you are purposefully muddying the issue by making a distinction between attributing the decline of genre to its amorality and the moral judgment that is required to make this attribution. You are making this distinction in order to escape having to admit that the argument turns on morals and turning it into one of literary aesthetics instead because you cannot successfully make the moral argument. The distinction between the attribution and the moral judgement are contrived, artificial, and self-serving and the fact that you are unwilling to make the moral argument directly proves you are a moral coward.

1. I can say the decline of the SF/F genre is not a moral argument because morality is only one of many possible metrics in which decline of the genre can be measured. Decline can be measured in book sales, in real dollar revenue corrected for inflation, in failure to abide by traditional moral standards, in historical accuracy, in logical consistency, in scope of ambition, or in literary quality, just to name a few possible metrics. My argument happens to be focused on what I perceive to be the decline in literary quality, although I am certain one could make a convincing argument with regards to the genre’s increasing failure to abide by conventional moral standards if one so chose. I may even do so one day, primarily for the purposes of demonstrating to the dim-witted or insufficiently imaginative that it can be done. But the fact that one can make the moral argument does not indicate that one must do so in the course of making any of the other arguments.

2. I did not invent the distinction between “‘attributing’ the decline of genre to it’s amorality” and “the moral judgment that is required to make this attribution”. It is, quite clearly, a distinction that is absolutely necessary in order to determine if the observation is correct or not based on the chosen metric. Being necessary, it is neither artificial nor contrived, and it is only self-serving for me in this case because my argument happens to be correct. Were my observations not correctly in line with the metric selected, it would not be self-serving. If I had attributed the decline of the genre to the lengths of the books published, would anyone be dumb enough to assert that this attribution was not distinct from the knowledge of book lengths required to make it?

To underline how absurd James’s attempted elimination of the distinction is, let us return to the technological example. As with the book lengths, there is an obvious distinction between “attributing the decline of genre to its technological incongruency” and “the technological judgment that is required to make this attribution”? There has to be a distinction, there always will be, because the former is an act and the latter is a capacity. While it is true that it is necessary to be sufficiently technologically (morally) aware to perceive a potential decline in literary quality due to technological incongruency (amorality), the ability to make an informed judgment cannot possibly be equated with the judgment itself. The distinction is both real and necessary.

3. James should note that it is not at all necessary to subscribe to a moral standard to a) have the capability to make a judgment concerning whether something abides by that moral standard or not and b) determine that something does or does not abide by that standard or not. I am not a Muslim, nor do I subscribe to Islamic moral standards, but I know enough about Islam to be able to determine if a book is respectful of Islamic morals or not. What this discussion has revealed quite clearly is that many fans of the genre lack both the moral knowledge and intellectual capacity to participate in a rational discussion of the subject. This is why their arguments in attempted defense of the state of the genre have been so uniformly irrelevant; lacking the ability to see color, they have nothing to offer in a discussion of whether the painter would have done better to consider using a different color palette.

4. The irrelevance of the moral argument obviously removes the foundation for the accusation of moral cowardice.

5. James wrote in a subsequent comment: “If my argument (and it is one out of many issues I have with this post) is so obviously wrong, then show me. A decline to do so reads as an inability to do so, however you dress it up as disinterest with my ability to comprehend your obvious superiority. Again, quote my argument and dismember it. If you can prove me wrong I think I could admit it, but all you have done is again and again in different ways call me names and assert your intellectual superiority. I would ask you to stop embarrassing yourself but you seem hellbent on proving yourself superior (in any way possible), and in doing so you have only proven your need to feel superior. Quote the argument!” Once more, it should be clear to all and sundry that I have no need to feel intellectually superior, since it happens to be an observable fact that I can demonstrate at will. The fact that I often don’t bother to address an invalid or irrelevant argument should never be confused with an inability to do so. I trust James will feel entirely satisfied that his argument has been quoted in full and dismembered, as per his request.

Taxes and diversity

Newsflash: people don’t like them:

St. Louis is losing residents, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday, and the population decline goes deeper than being another blow to the proud city’s image.
The drop will mean a financial loss that could cost the already cash-strapped Gateway City millions of dollars. Figures from the 2010 census were a bitter disappointment, as the city’s population dipped to 319,294. That’s down more than 29,000 – a staggering 8 percent – from 2000.

The social planners can show multiracial socializing on every commercial, television show, and music video they like, but that’s never going to overcome basic biological preferences. As times get harder, the need for tight-knit communities will spring to the fore and that’s when the forced vibrancy will start to turn increasingly ugly. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the French were drowning Algerians in the Seine. And the people most responsible for the bloodshed won’t be those fighting it out, but those who consciously encouraged the creation of the multi-ethnic societies in full knowledge of the historical record.

Modern chivalry is dead

And a good riddance to it. Guy Ritchie is an early nominee for Man of the Year.

When a man sees a woman in trouble it is usually polite to help her out but for one English gent his manners seemed to have failed him last night. As Guy Ritchie was leaving Claridges hotel a woman stumbled on a plant pot and tumbled to the ground, but the director did little but smile at her plight. In fact, although the woman fell directly in front of him, he failed to help her out and merely pointed towards her with a grin before walking around her and carrying on his way home.

Chivalry in the modern sense presumes that women are of intrinsically more value to men. This was true when most Western women were serious about fulfilling their primary role as propagators of mankind. But since women have by and large abandoned that role and given priority to their self-esteem, education, and occupation instead, there is no longer any justification for chivalric behavior applied broadly to the female sex in general. Each woman must be judged worthy or unworthy of such treatment on her own merits, and in the absence of any information, the assumption must be that she is unworthy.

My habit is to treat women as they wish to be treated. If a woman insists that she is equal to me, then I will show her no more favor or mercy than I would show a man. Pay for yourself, defend yourself, and get your own damn door. If, on the other hand, a woman indicates that she subscribes to traditional and unequal standards, I am pleased to show her with all the conventional courtesy that was previously provided to all the members of the erstwhile “fair sex”. Barring any indications to the contrary, I assume that a woman I don’t know is an equalitarian and treat her accordingly.

In the days of yore, the correct response to a woman in minor distress was to go to her assistance. These days, the proper response is to simply proceed with the mission. With a snort of amused contempt, of course, if you feel so moved.

Where is the depression?

Occasionally economically ignorant critics attempt to nip at my ankles by making reference to the apparent absence of the global economic contraction that I believe is happening and predicted would start to become widely recognized by the end of 2010. But the failure of the Great Depression 2.0 to be recognized in the conventional macroeconomic statistics yet doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because the map is not the territory. And, as I demonstrate in the chapter entitled “No One Knows Anything”, those statistics cannot be trusted in the least. Keep in mind that the National Association of Realtors is having to revise its numbers to account for the 3.1 million home sales that were reported by its statistical model in 2009 and 2010 but cannot be found in any real-world recording process; a similar correction to GDP would indicate a 30 percent decline from $14,870 billion to $10,306 billion. It’s interesting to see how this is roughly in line with the confidential Goldman Sachs report cited by the Market Ticker.

What have I been saying? That the only thing keeping us from recognizing a full-on economic depression was government deficit spending? Spending that, at present levels, cannot possibly continue.

Worse, there’s no way out of the box. Raise taxes and you subtract directly from private spending. Refuse to raise taxes and you are forced to continue to borrow. Extrapolate out the $1.7 trillion from calendar 2010 and removing that would result in a decrease of twenty-eight times Goldman’s estimate, or some fifty percent of GDP.

Were you sitting down when you read that? Did you have an incontinent moment? If you didn’t then you don’t believe Goldman’s confidential report. If you do believe it you now know what’s going to happen. Not might, will.

One way or another, the artificial support to GDP that is embedded in our insane deficit spending will stop. It mathematically must stop. And when it does stop, if you believe Goldman’s analysis, even if we only cut deficit spending in half GDP will fall by 25%. If we eliminate it? GDP is halved.

And there, my dear critics, is precisely where your missing depression is. I don’t mind admitting that the Fed has been able to keep the situation strung together with string and chewing gum longer than I thought they could, but it doesn’t matter if they manage to keep it up for another five years. The end result will still be the same. Although it’s not quite correct to say that it doesn’t matter, as the longer they manage to postpone the inevitable, the more painful it is going to be.

Socionomics told us 10 years ago that there we were going to be seeing a huge increase in violent political upheaval around the world. That’s exactly what we’re seeing now across the Middle East, but don’t think that it is going to end there. Once the desperation spending stops, it’s going to spread across the East and West as well. We’re not talking cannibalism in the streets, but we’re also not talking about a stroll in the park either. But just so we’re clear, I expect at least one more round of stimulus, and probably two, before the Keynesians throw in the towel. This indicates that Republicans will eventually cave on the debt ceiling; given their strong rhetoric there will have to be some sort of crisis that will excuse the abandonment of their position.

Progressive projection and the Dynamic Law

One of the things I have continued to find interesting about discussing the topic of morality with those who believe that Man is capable of collective moral progression is their frequent reference to the supposed self-righteousness of those who subscribe to more conventional and traditional moral standards. Consider Ludovici’s notes on Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which are at the end of the book in the Common translation available at Project Gutenberg.

“‘[T]he good and just,’ throughout the book, is the expression used in referring to the self-righteous of modern times, those who are quite sure that they know all that is to be known concerning good and evil, and are satisfied that the values their little world of tradition has handed down to them, are destined to rule mankind as long as it lasts.”

But what is intriguing about this nineteenth century attitude, (which is shared by many of today’s moral progressives under the false impression that it is something new), is that it is not only morally blind and philosophically ignorant, it is also logically backward. Setting aside the obvious ignorance of the basic concept of Natural Law it entails, the idea of the “self-righteous moral traditionalist” doesn’t even begin to make sense.

Think about it. If a moral tradition has been handed down from previous generations, then it quite clearly is not a subjective standard. If a man is deemed, by himself or others, to be righteous when measured against that traditional standard, he cannot reasonably be described as “self-righteous” because the standard is wholly external to the man. It is particularly absurd to attempt to claim that a Christian is “self-righteous” given that one of the primary tenets of the Christian faith is that righteousness comes only through the grace of God and the person of Jesus Christ.

A “self-righteous Christian” is an intrinsic contradiction in terms. One can reasonably call the self-righteous individual’s Christianity into account, but one cannot reasonably describe the Christian’s adherence to Christian standards as being self-righteous in any way.

Moreover, logic dictates that the accusation of self-righteousness not only can be directed, but must be directed at those who a) subscribe to a subjective moral standard of their own device by selecting bits and pieces from existing moral standards, or b) subscribe to what Bakker described as “naive moral relativism”. Their righteousness, to the extent it can even be said to exist, is entirely based on their own self-references. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the accusation of “self-righteousness” so often directed at those who subscribe to traditional moral standards by those who do not is little more than an obvious case of psychological projection. Just as liars believe everyone else is lying, those who deem themselves to be good by virtue of their own subjective moral standards believe everyone else must be self-righteous too.

As for the question of what standard of morality will rule mankind as long as it lasts, one’s opinion will depend upon whether one believes in the concept of an underlying Natural Law that can be discovered through reason, an arbitrary Divine Law that may or may not be amenable to being discovered through reason and observation, or a Dynamic Law that is created by Man, is enforced by Man’s might, and is therefore intrinsically mutable.

The logical incoherence of the moral progressives can be seen in their adherence to the Dynamic Law concept, forgetting that while its dynamic nature means it will be always changing, the direction of the change is innately indeterminate. In the end, what we see is that what the moral progressive actually means by “self-righteous” is daring to hold another individual accountable to a moral standard. But even if we resort to this practical definition, we can see that the moral progressive is always guilty of self-righteousness.

Future Cat Ladies of America

I have read that it is possible to determine if a child will end up psychopathic as early as the age of three. This video appears to suggest that spinsterhood can be detected as early as five:

The video comes by way of Susan Walsh, who wryly anticipates the need to talk some sense into the girl in 15 years, even at the risk of costing humanity some very special Powerpoint slideshows. But the soliloquy does serve as a helpful reminder of the childish nature of the idea that women can do anything more useful, special, or important than that minor matter of perpetuating the human race.

Let’s try this one more time

One of the things I always find amusing about a discussion on the Internet is the reaction of the more dim-witted fans of one or both of the interlocutors. For example, in his second response, RS Bakker twice admits that he doesn’t understand what I’ve written, but doesn’t let this prevent him from spiraling downward into tangents wherein he attempts to engage in some minor psychoanalysis, demonstrates that he has not, in fact, understood what I’ve written, and finally reaches the conclusion that my argument (and Grin’s) could serve as proof to many modern fantasists that they are doing something right. It was not surprising that this nimble performance elicited the following comment, presumably from a Bakker fan: “What a trouncing! Bakker, you’re quite skilled in argument!” Can you imagine how impressed that fan would have been if Bakker had actually managed to indicate that he understood anything relevant to the issue at hand?

Now, I have absolutely nothing personal against Bakker. I haven’t read his novels, (which are apparently pretty good), and I don’t take exception to his opinion regarding my perceived moral cowardice, sense of moral superiority, or superlative sophistry. (NB: I don’t have a sense of moral superiority, I have a sense of intellectual superiority. Important difference there.) Political columnists tend to be rather more familiar with criticism than the average published author since it tends to come with the territory. After 10 years of receiving email from angry readers performing detailed exegeses of every weekly column, I barely even consider it criticism anymore if the nominal critic doesn’t see fit to threaten a) physical attack, or b) to not have sex with me.

Now, I was initially at somewhat of a loss regarding how I could better explain what I considered to be a pretty uncomplicated analogy, but a snarky little comment from another reader at Bakker’s place provided useful inspiration. To wit: “Monochrome photography is photography where the image produced has a single hue, rather than recording the colours of the object that was photographed.” In other words, the other hues simply are not there. Now, by way of example, please tell me the color of the dilapidated house in this photo. Is it brown? Is it white? Is it that faded blue-grey that you often see in half-collapsed houses out in the country?

Not only is it impossible to say what color it is, but just making a reasonable guess requires the viewer to draw upon his own experiences which are external to the photograph if he is even to begin formulating an opinion. And it is not a value judgment, but a straightforward statement of fact, to observe that color information is missing from the image and therefore the ability of the viewer to formulate an opinion on the color of the object is severely handicapped.

So much for amorality. Now on to alternative moral standards. Consider this picture. Discerning art critics can certainly disagree on the aesthetic value of the image, but it would be very difficult to reasonably argue that it offers a more accurate or realistic picture of a historical automobile than a more conventional image that respects traditional color schemes.

It’s not difficult to demonstrate that Bakker has no idea what he’s talking about when he theorizes that I am committing a Consensus Fallacy in observing the literary decline of modern fantasy. The Romance Writers of America report that the SF/F genre sold $554 million last year, of which a significant proportion were Harry Potter and Twilight books. (Twilight books appear to be listed as Fantasy bestsellers, not Romance, based on a review of the RWA’s historical lists.) Religion/inspirational sold $770 million. Now, obviously not all books in the religious/inspirational category will reflect precisely the same moral standard, but it is sufficient evidence of a general belief in moral standards among the book-buying public to indicate that my case is not at all dependent upon the specific moral standards to which I happen to subscribe.

Furthermore, I didn’t say “that moral conflict requires “two immutable poles and two immutable poles only…”. Nor did I imply it or assume it; I used the phrase “at least two moral poles” because that is the minimum number required to generate moral conflict. Bakker is either being disingenuous or suffering from serious reading comprehension problems here to attempt summarizing the section on the requirements for moral conflict so inaccurately.

Finally, Bakker’s claim that he pressed my nose against the “imperative” of “art unconstrained by moral or religious prejudice” by emphasizing the way moral concerns marble my arguments against modern fantasy is downright laughable. This is little more than a predictable, outdated and juvenile justification for artistic coprophagy that underlines my points about the literary decline of the genre. This is the very transgressive mentality to which I referred in my original post. I certainly don’t deny that I am making a value judgment about modern fantasy, what Bakker simply can’t seem to grasp is that I am expressing a literary judgment and not a moral one. The fact that one of the causes of the genre’s literary decline can quite logically be attributed to observable moral color-blindness on the part of many modern fantasy authors does not make the observation a moral judgment, anymore than attributing the decline to historical ignorance would make it a historical judgment.

This isn’t double-talk or moral cowardice. I am about as genuinely disinterested as it is possible to be and still be cognizant of the matter. I have read everything from Nietzsche and Stalin to Keynes and Onfray without it ruffling my feathers so I’m not inclined to be perturbed by mere fictitious monsters. If I was concerned that Joe or anyone else was “leading innocent souls to potential damnation” through nihilistic genre literature, my track record of publishing highly controversial opinions strongly suggests that I would not hesitate to say so. The fact is that I simply don’t believe the writers of modern fantasy matter all that much, in part due to the literary decline of the genre. As I stated before, they are a symptom of the greater societal decline, they are not a cause.

Of course no one likes to hear that their work can be reasonably compared to colorblind children producing monochromatic fingerpaintings. Nor do they have to listen to such cricism. I, for one, won’t mind in the least if the likes of Messrs. Bakker and Abercrombie ignore my opinion and continue basking in the critical acclaim for their moral vacuity, historically incoherent settings, and cardboard characterizations. That is exactly what I expect them to do. I am not writing for their benefit, but for the benefit of the generation of upcoming authors who are capable of learning from the mistakes of those who have gone before and wish to avoid reproducing them.

If the modern fantasists genuinely believe that more blood and titties is literary progress, by all means, let them write more. Let a hundred nihilistic anti-heroes blossom into the murderous child rapists of their creators’ moralblind fantasies. Just don’t expect me, or the large number of intelligent readers capable of noticing what John O’Neill described as “lost magic”, to be favorably impressed with the result.

Despite my mild distaste for Ursula Le Guin’s work, I thought J.S. Bangs had an intelligent perspective on the matter in his amusingly titled post:

On the one hand: it’s possible that the “new gritty” is meant as a reaction against old narratives that have lost their power. But if that’s what those authors are trying to do, then I think they’re doing an awfully poor job of it, because—look, you can question conventional narratives or whatever without sliding into nihilism and madness. What you might do, instead, is offer an alternate model of heroism, an alternate view of goodness. If you do this well you can wind up with something that is compelling, inspiring, and life-changing in much the way that Tolkein and the classical heroic narratives are, but which compels people in a direction that you find more salutory. If you don’t think this can be done, I refer you to the entire oeurve of Ursula K. LeGuin, especially the Earthsea novels and her recent Annals of the Western Shore books. These books repudiate conventional heroic tropes in a variety of ways, but the result is not a demoralizing darkness, but the calm and confident demonstration that there is another way.

Of course, we can’t all be Ursula K. LeGuin. (Oh, but what if we could?) Still, if we grant that the foundations of reactionary fantasy are rotten (not something I agree with, but for the sake of argument), then a lot of the dark, gritty fantasy that I’ve sampled seems like it’s just kicking in the creaky old doors and drawing obscene graffiti in the entrance hall. If the literary building is decrepit, who cares? But this doesn’t impress me. Better you build something beautiful in the ruins.

Of course, they don’t because they won’t and they won’t because they know they can’t. If you can’t draw, you can still scribble. If you can’t create, you can still deconstruct. If you can’t build, you can still destroy. And if you can’t argue, at least you can still mock. None of this is new or even the least bit innovative. I happened to have finished a book last night which makes it clear that the core concept is a tediously old one, older than Tolkien or even Howard. The Preachers of Death call themselves creators, but they create only corpses. Fortunately, in this case, the corpses are only imaginary.

To allure many from the herd—for that purpose have I come. The people and the herd must be angry with me: a robber shall Zarathustra be called by the herdsmen.

Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the good and just. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the believers in the orthodox belief.

Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker:—he, however, is the creator.

Behold the believers of all beliefs! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker—he, however, is the creator.

Companions, the creator seeketh, not corpses—and not herds or believers either. Fellow-creators the creator seeketh—those who grave new values on new tables.

Companions, the creator seeketh, and fellow-reapers: for everything is ripe for the harvest with him. But he lacketh the hundred sickles: so he plucketh the ears of corn and is vexed.

Companions, the creator seeketh, and such as know how to whet their sickles. Destroyers, will they be called, and despisers of good and evil. But they are the reapers and rejoicers.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, IX

Jakob Schmidt had an interesting comment there which I also thought was worth addressing:

Now, Theo’s color metaphor seems to imply that he deems ethical relativism to be somehow “too difficult” a concept to master for most writers. In other words, if a fantasy author doesn’t write from the clear cut notion that, e.g., “honorable conduct” (red) is fundamentally good and that “betraying your king” (blue) is inherently bad, the result will most probably be a muddled and ugly grey mess. What he doesn’t seem to take into account is the idea that a writer could write about moral values that are problematic to us, to allow a reader to react to them in an ethical way.

No, I specifically allowed for that possibility, hence the analogy to the prospective ability of the master painter to paint without color and still achieve a superlative color effect. But Jakob is correct, as given the observable inability of modern fantasy authors to competently portray historical religions and philosophies with any degree of versimilitude, the ethical relativism he described is without even the smallest modicum of doubt far, far beyond the literary and intellectual abilities of the average modern fantasy author.