Friday, August 28, 2015

A song. It may even be my favorite song. It is written and song by a Roman Catholic, and it is about Social Justice.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

J.C. Wright Always Lies

Footnote 1

My introduction last time around didn’t, I now see, capture the full absurdity of the situation. I said that we needed to imagine an organization so secret that its own members don’t know it exists; so powerful that it controls the Vatican and the scientific community; whose only aim is to lie about everything at all times.

What we actually need to imagine is a second organization whose only unifying principal is a belief in the existence of the first organisation.

J.C Wright is not, so far as I can tell, actually for anything. He is against a thing he calls P.C or S.J.W. But P.C. and S.J.W. don’t, so far as I can tell, have any characteristics apart from the fact that they control everything and everyone and always lie.

Puppy: A person who believes in a thing called an Essjaydoubleyoo.

Essjaydoublyoo: A thing which a Puppy believe in.  .

Footnote 2

We can tell that the feminists have taken over the Hugo Awards because in the olden days before they did Ursula Le Guin kept on winning prizes.

Footnote 3

One of the things which genuinely upsets me is other people being illogical. Other people being stupid and being wrong I can cope with.

I think it goes back to school. There was a thing which went on which I think the teaching profession would now recognize as “inverse bullying”, where a group of little kids would select a big kid to torment, sometimes physically, mostly psychologically. It might, for example, involve following him around repeating the same word, pretty much any word, say “haircut” [irrespective of whether or not the mark had recently had his hair cut] over and over again, every lunch break and play-time, sometimes for months at a time. The intention was to induce what we would now call "a meltdown" - to make the mark lose his temper or throw a tantrum. When this happened, a member of the mob would shout "look, Miss, he's bullying me" at the first available authority figure. Although this happened regularly, the authority figures were always taken in. (I suppose that most of the school teachers were former bullies themselves: in those days it was a natural career progression.)
If, before we got to this point, the target went to an adult and explained the situation, the adult would without exception say “you don't need to ask me for help, you are, what, twice his size" but if the target retaliated and took matters into his own hands in any way, the adult would say “how dare you retaliate or take matters into your own hands, you are, what, twice his size."

C.S. Lewis remarks that the theory that bullies are always cowards comes from a radical misunderstanding of the idea that brave men are always chivalrous. [*]

A rather more insidious version of the game, best played in the lower school years, was the reverse insult game, which went, if I remember correctly, like this.

“You are Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“No, I’m not, I have light coloured skin and unlike you actually go to Sunday School. Not that it would matter if I was, of course.”

“Anyone who says they aren’t Jewish / gay / a P*ki is Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“Very well then, I am Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“He admits he’s Jewish / gay / a P*ki! He admits he’s Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“Only because he had previously established that anyone who admits being Jewish / Gay / a P*ki is not one, and anyone who denies it, is. And in any case, you can see that I am not, say, by skin colour and the fact that I don’t have to leave early on a Friday”

“Anyone who denies being Jewish / gay / a Paki is Jewish/ gay / a Paki. You said you weren't, so you are"

"Very well, I am..."

And so on, again, sometimes for months. 

It might have been a joke or a game. Or it might have been intended to induce “meltdowns” in people with a tendency to be too logical. Or it might just be that absolutely everything that happens when you are ten seems awfully important in retrospect.

At any rate: I experienced literally those same feelings of anger and frustration and the wish to lash out reading Mr Wright and fellow sufferers from the essjaydoubleyoo delusion explaining that they were pleased that no-one had voted for them in the end of term prize giving; that they hadn't wanted anyone to vote for them in the end of term prize giving; and the fact that they had lost proved that they had won and this was exactly what they had wanted all along. 

"Would you have said it was a crushing defeat if you'd won all the prizes?"
"Ha-ha that’s what essjaydoubleyoos always say. That proves we are right." 

In the days when I still read Dave Sim’s encyclicals I never once felt like that. Bemused, yes; disgusted, sometimes; pitying, possibly; but more often a sort of intellectual joy at discovering a particularly wonderful specimen. And Sim, obviously, had already earned the right to my attention by producing the best single issue of any comic book ever. [Terms and conditions apply] And his crazy was at least interesting crazy.

If not for their gate crashing of an award ceremony that I don't even specially care about, there is now reason at all for me to be interested in the Doggies. They don't even do bigotry particularly well.

Truthfully: if tomorrow, Wright announced to the world that he was a left wing atheist, had always been a left wing atheist; that he had been deliberately writing terrible books with terrible arguments in them to make Catholics look silly; and the fact that I had taken the trouble to show why his arguments and writing were terrible proves that he, J.C Wright, had fooled me and was much cleverer than me and had won the game, would anyone be ever a little bit surprised?

In fact, now I’ve said, I almost expect it to happen. I might even place money on it.

The other thing that the teachers — the same teachers who would threaten to hang, draw and quarter children for what they called “cheek” — used to say if you complained about psychological or reverse bullying is “Just ignore them and they will go away.” I don’t expect the Doggies to go away, but I do think we should probably go back to ignoring them.

[*] Brave men are not always chivalrous; brave men are in fact likely to be bullies. The Western tradition, in an attempt to make war less awful; invented the idea that brave men ought to be chivalrous; and for a long time many of the brave men believed in it.  See also: sportsmanship.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Rilstone Reads a Puppy

I was gratified to learn that a Christian writer, J.C Wright, who explicitly acknowledges his debt to C.S Lewis, has been nominated for a total of six Hugo awards. As a Christian and an admirer of C.S. Lewis, I decided that I ought to have a look at him. I approached his collection of essays Transhuman and Subhuman with an completely open mind...

Please may I have a Hugo award?

On Coffee and Clangers

1: What does Sean Connery eat when he goes on holiday in Cornwall?
Wright's rhetoric.

2: Back to Back, Belly to Belly
Wright's politics and theology.

3: G.R.O.S.S
Wright's sexual politics

Appendix: It's John C. Wright Gone Mad, I Tell You
Liars and conspiracy theories.

John C. Wright always lies.

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It's John C Wright Gone Mad, I Tell You

NOTE: Conversation with some of my fan base has made me wonder if I over-edited the last couple of pieces. So if this is even more long, more incoherent, and more boring than usual, you know who to blame.

1: The Plot

Imagine an organization so secret that even its own members don’t know it exists. 

Imagine an organization so secret that none of its members (who don’t know they are members) know what its aims and objectives are. 

Imagine an organization so powerful that it counts presidents and prime ministers among its members. None of the presidents and prime ministers know that they are members, but they still do its will, although they don't know what its will is, obviously. 

Imagine an organization so powerful that it controls all the world’s scientists; to the extent that they cannot see, or pretend that they cannot see, errors in their work so simple and so obvious that they can be easily spotted by amateurs with no scientific training at all. 

Imagine that this is all going on in a world where all authority has been abdicated to something called the magisterium which alone can infallibly distinguish right from wrong in any specific case. And the imagine that the secret organization has infiltrated the magisterium itself — although obviously the magisterium doesn’t know this.

This is not a fictitious world. 

This is a literal description of the world we live in. 

Do you think it sounds like the plot of a novel by Philip K Dick?

Indeed it does. Only a Dick could possibly believe in it.

2: What is Political Correctness 

(1972) Orthodoxy 

Rather delightfully, the earliest reference to Political Correctness that I can discover on Google occurs in a 1972 Rolling Stone essay about Pete Seeger:

For on the lower levels of any committed political movement there are always doctrinaire sorts, eager for lengthy and nit-picking debate over the political "correctness" of every line of every song, of every public act, of every casual statement.

The quotation marks are lovely: it’s like reading an old SF novel in which the word computor is placed in italics, or a war story which still spells radar as R.A.D.A.R.

One might say that the latter definitions of the term are latently present in this article. When Seeger changed the line "it’s the song about the love between all of my brothers" to "it’s the song about the love between my brothers and my sisters" he was not only making the song politically "correct": he was also making it Politically Correct. (Another folksinger thought the change was "silly" and suggested that "the song about the love between all of my siblings" would be better;  but we are not told that he thought that anything had gone mad.) In 1972 the term is not yet particularly pejorative; nor confined specifically to the Left. Nit-picking arguments about doctrine are seen as something which affects "any committed political movement."

(1992) Inclusive Language

The most widely used definition of Political Correctness is "the use of inclusive language" or (since the term is only ever used pejoratively) "the unnecessary use of inclusive language". It's a definition that people default to, in my experience: most of you are going to read to the end of this very long essay and say "Well, that's all very well Andrew, but they totally did take the gollys off the marmalade."

A book called The Politically Correct Handbook, first published in 1992, seems to have been instrumental in yoking together the two ideas that "P.C means the use of inclusive language" and "the use of inclusive language is ridiculous". According to Google NGram (above) it was around 1992 that the phrase first came into common usage. Nigel Rees published his Politically Correct Phrasebook ("what they say you can and cannot say in the 1990s") a year later.

The Handbook was only ever intended to be satirical, and expressions like follicly challenged, botanical companion and person of stupor were pure inventions. So too were the stories in the right-wing press about councils spending millions on pink bin-bags (because black bin-bags were racist) and the perennial fib (first attested six years earlier) about a nursery school teacher prohibiting the singing of Baa Baa Black Sheep in her classroom in case it offends people of colour.

Nigel Rees, who is sufficiently geeky to quote sources, does come up with actual examples of companies giving very grandiose names to very menial jobs ambulant stock replenishment operative for shelf stacker seems to be a real example. This doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with inclusive language and he acknowledges that bookies have been claiming to be turf accountants and rat catchers to be sanitation officers or pest controllers for decades. But he is part of a general ambiance which says that Political Correctness has something to do with vagueness, indirectness, or circumlocution. 

The line from 1972 to 1992 is fairly easy to draw. One of the things that the seekers after orthodoxy, particularly on the left, were concerned about was inclusivity, so inclusivity came to be the thing which political "correctness" mostly meant.

It is true that certain words and phrases that were in common use in, say, 1965, had dropped out of use by, say, 1985. When I was growing up spastic was in common use both as a medical term and as a term of low abuse. It's now almost totally taboo: the Spastics Society is known as Scope and sufferers from the condition are referred to as people with cerebral palsy. Of, course, this stuff doesn't happen logically or consistently: language change never does. I remember when hearing impaired children were referred to as deaf and dumb, where we would now say deaf and mute or a person who can’t hear or speak or most likely a sign language user. We mostly don’t have a problem with saying that something is a dumb idea, although we would think it pretty lame if someone used spastic as an insult.

If you want to call this sort of thing Political Correctness, I can't stop you. But Political Correctness includes both the idea that there are some things which we used to say that we don't say any more and the idea that the whole concept of inclusiveness is silly. If calling someone follicly challenged instead of bald and calling someone a person of colour rather than a n****r are both examples of Political Correctness, and if saying follicly challenged is ridiculous then it follows (in some peoples eyes) that Political Correctness is ridiculous and if you want to avoid sounding ridiculous you'd better carry on saying n****r.

It is astonishing how many articles still assure us that the BBC was guilty of Political Correctness (in a perjorative sense) when they decided, as late as 1980 to, er, stop showing black face minstrel shows.

(2000) Cultural Marxism

In or about 2000, an American academic named Bill Lind wrote an essay entitled On the Origins of Political Correctness. Lind’s essays comes after the use of Political Correctness in the 1992 sense is well established. Indeed his opening salvo specifically defines P.C as meaning inclusive language (and takes it for granted that inclusiveness is a Bad Thing):

For the first time in our history, Americans have to be fearful of what they say, of what they write, and of what they think. They have to be afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic.

The essay amounts to an informal (very informal) history of Marxism in the second half of the 20th century, some of which may, for all I know, be accurate and some of which is pretty obviously silly. It may very well be true that Marxist ideas had a lot of influence on universities in the 60s and 70s, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was down to the influence of Marcuse and his buddies in the Frankfurt School. It was certainly never true that "critical theory" or "deconstruction" involved changing the meanings of literary texts so that they meant whatever the reader wanted them to mean, as a glance at any text book would confirm.

Lind asserts that Political Correctness "is" Cultural Marxism, or else that the Cultural Marxists created Political Correctness, without indicating any process by which either thing could have come about. There really is a huge leap in the essay: Marxism and Political Correctness are both  Bad Things; there was an awful lot of Marxism about in the 60s and 70s; and suddenly, Political Correctness and Cultural Marxism are one and the same.

Political Correctness in the 1992 sense functions as a magic talisman ("the herb moly" as Mr Lewis would have said) for petty racists. If you don’t really see why you shouldn’t carry on insulting your Indian neighbors, you only have to mutter Political Correctness under your breath and corner shop becomes comically absurd and paki shop the normal, straight-forward thing to say.

Political Correctness in Lind's sense has similar properties. It doesn’t matter that Lind never explains how he gets from “there are lots of Marxist thinkers in American universities” to “The use of inclusive language and cultural Marxist are the same thing”; or what kind of mechanism would enable a group of Jewish intellectuals in Frankfurt to stop everyone from saying mong and make them start saying person with Down’s syndrome instead.

Most of the people who have been influenced by the essay have presumably never read it. If you already believe that inclusive language is silly, this essay gives you permission to think that it has been forced on us by commies as part of a plot to destroy America. Once you believe that, you aren't merely permitted to say paki shop: you are morally obliged to do so.

(2005) All pervasive conspiracy against common sense

Somewhere around 2004, someone called Laura Midgely started an organisation called The Campaign Against Political Correctness, ostensibly to prevent anyone bestowing equal rights on homosexual goldfish. This was about the time that the World Wide Web started to be widely used. There are numerous websites dating from about the same time with names like Political Correctness: The Awful Truth and Political Correctness Watch.

Where Lind may only have intended to say that inclusive language has been imposed on us by Cultural Marxists, people like the Midgelys see a conspiracy behind anything vaguely left-wing, progressive or even modern. Health and safety law; any form of affirmative action or positive discrimination; the idea that adults shouldn't hit children and latterly the theory of man-made climate changed are all designated Politically Correct and blamed on Cultural Marxism. So is more outre stuff like putting modesty screens in swimming pools; removing unintentional innuendos from children's books; lowering the pass-marks for A levels and prohibiting the hunting of wild mammals with dogs. The Awful Truth website lists 25 areas where Political Correctness has replaced British Politics and Common Sense, including Phone Masts, Immigration and Speed Cameras. None of them have any obvious connection to inclusiveness or indeed nit-picking left-wing orthodoxy. The writer goes so far as to "define" Political Correctness as "Doing the reverse of what common sense would suggest" "Doing exactly the opposite of what you preach" and "Doing ridiculous things just for a political reason".  If it is annoying me this morning, it's Politically Correct.

A gardener calls any plant that he doesn’t want in his garden a weed. There is no point in analyzing the plant in question to try to establish what the essence of weediness is. A plant might be a weed if you found it in your vegetable patch; the same plant might be exactly what you were trying to cultivate in your wild-flower display. We use different words — execution, slaughter, murder — for different kinds of killing, depending on whether or not we approve of them. Saying that a murdering murderer who murders a murderer is just as much a murderer as the murderer he is murdering doesn’t actually tell us very much, except that the speaker doesn’t approve of capital punishment.

It is tempting to say that Political Correctness is simply a term that the Right use for things they don't approve of, signifying nothing more than "left-wing nonsense." God knows, the Left have plenty of pejorative terms of their own. But post-2000, calling something Politically Correct doesn't just mean "I don't like it": it means "I don't like it, and it is part of a plot." 

Not everyone who thinks that wind farms, phone masts and speed cameras are Political Correctness Gone Mad has heard of Bill Lind or the Frankfurt Group; but they probably do have some sense that there is something out there called The Political Correctness Brigade.

Most of us feel from time to time that some bureaucrat or jobsworth is deliberately trying to spoil our day; but if you can persuade yourself that the residents-only parking scheme or the rule that says you can only take out a library book if you have a library card is part of a communist conspiracy, then it's literally true. 

If the 1992 version of Political Correctness was a talisman that allowed you to think of yourself as "charmingly un-PC" rather than "racist"; the 2005 version is a magic ring that turns everyday irritation into a skirmish in the culture war. 

3: The Cult

The Hugo Nominated John C Wright doesn't believe in Man Made Climate Change. He uses words like lie, hoax and fraud to describe the idea.

But why, ask some of us naive souls, if it is a lie, a hoax and a fraud — and if anyone can easily see, without any special scientific training, that it's not happening — why does every scientist on the planet think that it is?

Easy, says the Hugo-nominated Wright. Because Political Correctness.

The Hugo-nominated Wright's version of Political Correctness goes way beyond that of Lind, or even of the Midgelys. I suspect that he is cleverer than Bill Lind and much cleverer than the it's Political Correctness gone mad I tell you websites. I think that he can see that Lind provides no convincing link between "there were Marxist intellectuals in some colleges in the 60s" and "you can't even call a queer a sodomite nowadays." I think he can also see that the connection between "you're not allowed to hit your children, at any rate not with sticks" and "we'd like to erect a wind-farm near your pretty village" is far from obvious.

So he offers us a magnificent new version of Political Correctness which explains everything. If Laura Midgely's version is like a magic ring, Hugo-nominee Wright's is the One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Let him loose with it for five minutes and the Rhine will flood, Valhalla will burn, and the fat lady will sing.

Political Correctness is now a cult although — it is also, at the same time, merely a shared world-view. It is no-longer defined by the use of inclusive language — or even the wish to destroy western civilization. It's now about lying. The Hugo-nominated writer is a little obscure here: it isn't quite clear whether he thinks that members of the cult lie in order to further some larger aim; or whether the cult is based on a series of claims which are themselves lies; or if lying is an end in itself. When he says:

everyone outside the cult (who cares to look) knows political correctness is a lie. It is a lie about… everything

then this sounds as if he thinks that Political Correctness has some underlying belief system or philosophical claim, but that that claim isn't true. When he says:

When a member of the cult enters the legal profession, he lies. When he enters the sciences, he lies. When he enters the journalistic professions, he lies. If he becomes a teacher, he lies. He lies and lies and lies. This is because his worldview, his philosophy of life on a primary, fundamental, and emotional level rejects the truth as unfair…

it sounds much more as if he believes that Political Correctness treats lying as an end in itself. My overall impression is that he thinks that Political Correctness lies because lying is what it does and what it is for.

Showing the truth is the one and central thing Political Correctness abhors. The reason why the philosophy of Political Correctness was invented was to smother the truth. That is how these people live. It is what they are.

It's all a very long way from wondering whether post-person isn't a bit of a silly term; and thinking that maybe the world won't end if I carry on saying that my path has crazy-paving or even thinking that the bit where the Major says the n-word to Basil Fawlty is probably quite harmless in context.

I can see how you might possibly think that all the scientists in the world are wrong. There was a time when all the most intelligent people honestly thought the sun went round the earth. I can see how you might possibly think that all the scientists in the world were interpreting facts wrongly because of their beliefs. Beliefs can act as a filter on what we see and how we understand it. But the Hugo-nominated Wright thinks that scientists (and everyone else) are saying something which is wrong, and something which they know is wrong, because they belong to a cult that believes that you should say wrong things, because...I give it up.

It doesn't even work on its own terms. Even if you think that "Because every scientist in the world belongs to a cult that believes in lying" is a good answer to the question "If climate change is not happening, why does every scientist in the world thinks that it is?" you still have to answer the question "Why does every scientist in the world belong to this particular cult?"

And how is it that the lying cult only compels scientists to lie with respect to climate change? They find ways of extending the lives of people with cancer and AIDS; they design computers that would have seemed like science fiction twenty five years ago; they send rockets to Pluto and land probes on comets; they perform heart surgery on desperately ill Hugo-nominees. Why does their need to lie about everything only kick in when they start looking at temperature graphs?

And this doesn't only apply to scientists. It applies to me. (And you, I imagine.) I am not actively plotting to overthrow western civilization, but I'm very much a believer in inclusiveness. There are certain words I won't say or write, regardless of context. (The other day I said to a customer  "We have that copy of  Benjamin Zephaniah’s Chants of a Homesick N-Word that you were waiting for.") If Hugo-nominee John C Wright is right, this was a lie. I don't really think that inclusive language is a good thing. I don't really think that the N-word is too offensive for a white person ever to say. I decided to lie because I belong to a cult that tells me to lie because lying is what it tells people to do. And presumably, I'm lying about that as well.

....Oh, the candidate's a dodger, yes a well-known dodger, oh the candidate’s a dodger, yes, and I’m a dodger too...

The Pope believes in man made climate change. I wonder how the more-Catholic-than-thou Wright deals with that?

If you can twist your head into this mindset — the mindset in which nearly everyone in the whole wide world is a lying liar who belongs to the lying liars club — then you can probably achieve a sort of zen clarity: a state of mind where you are right about everything and everyone else is wrong about everything and you never need to think about anything ever again. The kind of mental gymnastics that would achieve that kind of serenity might be very well be worth the effort.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


People have argued for many years about whether women can Morris dance. Since they do, you’d think that would have finished the argument.
            Sid Kipper

Lastly and reluctantly we turn to the Hugo nominated J.C Wright’s sexual politics. 

We need to maintain a certain sense of proportion here. The Hugo-nominated Wright is nowhere near as loopy as the multiple Eisner and Kirby award winning Dave Sim, and nowhere near as toxic as fellow Hugo-nominee Vox Day. It is necessary to separate content from presentation. The substantive content is merely reactionary or old fashioned. The presentation, as ever,  is deranged.

EDIT: What follows is an attempt to "steelman" Wright's arguments -- to produce the best version of his case that I can, and criticize that. I have talked about the style and presentation of his arguments in the last two essays. 

Hugo-nominee Wright thinks that boys are different from girls. He thinks that men are outward looking and task-orientated, and women are concerned with feelings, motives, and internal states. A man may think that the sergeant is an asshole, but he still salutes him; he may think that the sergeant’s orders are stupid, but he still obeys them. What matters is that the new trench is dug before sundown, not how everyone feels about it. A woman, on the other hand, doesn’t want you to do the dishes; she wants you to want to do the dishes. She doesn’t want you to tidy your room, she wants you to be happy about tidying your room. A man barks out an instruction to a subordinate; a woman creates an atmosphere in which someone will volunteer. Dad makes the children do the right thing by punishing them when they do the wrong thing; Mum encourages the children to do the right thing by helping them see that doing the wrong thing makes other people sad. Neither outlook is wrong: soldiers really do need to be task-orientated if we are going to win wars; mothers really do need to worry about people’s feelings if there are going be happy families and harmonious neighborhoods. 

Does anyone seriously, honestly think that a goals-oriented approach is always superior to the personality-oriented approach? Does anyone seriously think that we can treat squadmates like children or children like squadmates? 

The Hugo nominated Wright has the pulp novelists eye for the broad delineation of character. (No-one is interested in the subtle delineation of character apart from girls and literati, and they don’t count.) And as broad generalizations go, this one is quite funny and pretty well observed and not blatantly untrue. If you accept that man is synonymous with soldier and that woman is synonymous with mother, it works passably well. The minute it occurs to you that a man might very well be house-painter, a librarian, or a jazz violinist and a woman might very well be… well, come to think of it, a house-painter, a librarian or a jazz violinist it all falls apart. You could, I suppose, say that there is a distinctly male way of making music (“we’re playing this number like this and if you don’t like it go and join a different band”) and a distinctly female way of making music (”Let’s all jam together until we get a sound that everyone likes”) but it is not true that (I’m sorry) musicians with willies will necessarily prefer the first method, and (I’m sorry) musicians with tits will necessarily prefer the second. Call the direct approach masculine and the indirect approach feminine if you must; but there is no necessary connection between having a male body shape and a masculine approach to digging ditches. It may be that people with willies are more likely be have masculine personalities, but “more likely” is not the same as natural law. I had a lady teacher who used to threaten to hit boys backsides with a gym-shoe if they were bad; and I had a man teacher whose preferred approach to discipline was to raise one eyebrow and say "Are you quite sure that’s what you want to do, laddie?"

"Ah, but that’s because the female teacher was trying to be a man, and the male teacher had been feminized by post-structuralists. If she’d been a true woman, she’d have used persuasion. If he’d been a real man, he’d have punished you. No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge." 


The Hugo-nominated Wright accuses The Left of being “nominalists” who believe that words have the power to mold thought. The whole of Marxism turns out to be about thinking up nasty names like capitalism for obviously nice things like free markets. But Wright himself subscribes to an extreme etymological determinacy in which words have a “real” or “original” meanings. Most of us use the word sex to refer to body shape and reserve the word gender to refer to masculine and feminine social roles. (We understand what is meant when someone talks about a male or female sockets although some of us are still childish enough to giggle about it.) Wright objects to the use of gender in this sense because he thinks that it “really” means the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns in languages like French. He also thinks that homophobia is “a noise word whose meaning evaporates on closer inspection”. (He doesn’t say whether he’s in the “ha-ha it really means being scared of things that are the same” or “ha-ha we aren’t scared of homos we just think they are going to hell” camp.) And he pretends not to understand what is meant by “sexism”:

Few stupider words exist in the modern lexicon. One would think “sexism” would be rule by copulation, an inventive form of government yet to be tried?

This seems to be willful stupidity. Thatcherism doesn’t mean rule by Thatchers any more than cannibalism means rule by cannibals. I agree that, over the last 50 years, there has been a linguistic drift so that racialism, which meant a system of beliefs based on racial superiority was shorted to racism and racism came to mean simply the belief in racial superiority. I was taught that South Africa was racialist but Mr Smith down the pub who thought that black people smelled funny was a racist. But few people ever bothered with that distinction. (In 1968 the white lady invented by Enoch Powell said that her black neighbors kept accusing her of being a racialist.) It’s true that sexist is a relatively recent coinage (since about 1970) and that it was specifically made up to “rhyme” with racism. But I should have thought that sex still primarily meant the anatomical difference between boys and girls. ("What sex is that puppy” “Oh, she’s a female”). Again, I was taught that sex was rather a vulgar neologism for what boys and girls do in bed with the lights out. In The Rotters Club (a novel set in the 1970s) schoolboys still say things like “Do you think he has had sexual intercourse with her?” So if racism means prejudice on the grounds of race; paying attention to someones race when it doesn’t make any difference, sexism means prejudice on the grounds of sex; paying attention to someone’s sex when it doesn’t make any difference. 

Rule by copulation would be something like erotocracy, wouldn’t it?


Twenty two pages into a sixty page rant, the crazy kicks in. Up to this point he has been describing, interestingly and even wittily, how “men” (i.e the military) do stuff differently from “women” (i.e the domestic).

By the way, gentlemen, this is why women talk more than men and talk about more trivial things. The act of talking is attempting to form a bond and open a channel of communication, which the woman can use to deduce information vital to her approach about your personality and moods and your character. She is trying to see behind the mask all too many of us wear as a matter of convenience. She is trying to cure us of our hidden pain. 

I see your point. I think you could get an amusing romantic comedy out of illustrating it. 

By the way, ladies, this is why we guys don’t talk about important things and never open up and share our feelings. We don’t have any, not what you call feelings. We have tactics and goals. Anything outside the goal is a distraction. We do not care about how we ‘feel.’ Feelings pass. Pain is endured, not cured.

Did you get that bit?

Men — people with willies — don’t have feelings. 

Or at any rate people with willies don’t care about their feelings. 

Or, at best people with willies and people with tits mean something entirely different by “feelings”.

Once you’ve said that, a lot of the other shit falls into place. 

By Science Fiction the Hugo-nominated Wright appears to mean stories in which competent men solve problems; although he also likes swashbuckling tales of action. John Carter and Hari Seldon both equally solve a problem head on, the one with a sword, the other by inventing Wikipedia twenty thousand years too late. 

It’s not a barking mad definition. Asimov thought that science fiction was about stuff and that putting characterization into it was a distraction from all the stuff. C.S. Lewis thought that you have no business setting your story in the future if stuff is going to happen which could just as well have happened in the present. He got very cross with a writer named Kris Neville for allowing a human interest story to intrude into a narrative about settlers on Mars. (The human interest story was about a tart with a heart. Just saying.) 

There are definitely stories which fit that definition; and there are definitely people who like stories which fit that definition; and it may even by true that more of the people who like stories which fit that definition are guys than gals. You can call stories which fit Wright’s definition masculine stories and stories which don't feminine stories if you absolutely insist. 

If anything involving feelings is feminine then science fiction, thus defined, is a masculine genre. Putting strong female characters into science fiction stories is therefore a contradiction in terms. Either the strong female characters are just girls doing boy's jobs — lady soldiers, lady pirates, lady assassins — which is just plain unrealistic. Or else they go around having emotions and talking about their feelings, which isn’t what science fiction is. You are just pasting one kind of thing into the middle of an entirely different thing — like in old time radio where a jazz band suddenly pops up in the middle of a comedy show. If it’s all about feelings, then it’s not science fiction at all. If it’s only partly about feelings then it’s science fiction with a dollop of something irrelevant in the middle of it. 

So why are there increasingly strong female characters in science fiction? Because feminists. 

Well, why are science fiction writers increasingly doing what the feminists want? Because political correctness. 

And why are these books often popular and sometimes awarded Hugos? Because political correctness, again.

And also because of a mysterious group called the Culterati which seems to have absolute control over what people read. The Culterati have decided that mainstream fiction must be primarily about feelings; or else descriptions of ordinary people doing ordinary things in a clever "style". No-one actually likes mainstream fiction, but the Culterati have ensured that everyone reads it. (In the same way that in the 1960s, no-one actually liked the Beatles, but everyone pretended to.) Wright treats mainstream fiction and literary fiction as synonymous.  

But why does Political Correctness even care what happens in science fiction books? Because The Left is a cult, which has only one belief: that it, The Left, should control everything. They don’t put feminist propaganda into science fiction because they want to make science fiction readers feminists; they pretend that they support feminism because it gives them a pretext to take control of the content of science fiction. 

It is all very logical.

In fact, it is so logical that one is very tempted to think that the Hugo-nominated Wright retrofitted his premises (people with willies are goal-orientated; science fiction is about achieving goals) in order to arrive at the conclusion he wanted. 

But none of it has any point of connection with the real world.

Men do have feelings. I am a man, and I do. If Mr Wright does not then I feel sorry for him. But he is a logical person. At least one man does not have feelings doesn’t prove the proposition No man has feelings. But At least one man does have feelings is sufficient to disprove the proposition. It may, for all I know, be true that some men do not have feelings; if Wright is telling the truth then it is certainly true that at least one man does not having feelings. But some men do not have feelings is not a sufficiently strong claim to support the proposition that women should get the hell out of our tree house.

In the end, it's the most circular of circular arguments. "SF’s for boys", they bellow til we’re deaf / "But girls read this" / "Well then, it’s not SF."

Ten hundred books could I write you about her
Because I felt if I could know her
I would know all women
And they've not been any too well known
For brains and planning and organized thinking
But I'm sure the women are equal
And they may be ahead of the men

Yet I wouldn't spread such a rumor around
Because one organizes the other
And some times the most lost and wasted
Attract the most balanced and sane
And the wild and the reckless take up
With the clocked and the timed
And the mixture is all of us
And we're still mixing...

And all creeds and kinds and colors
Of us are blending
Till I suppose ten million years from now
We'll all be just alike
Same color, same size, working together
And maybe we'll have all the fascists
Out of the way by then
Maybe so.
        Woody Guthrie

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Back to Back; Belly to Belly

To one of the charges he makes.…I must with shame plead guilty. He has caught me using the word "literally" where I did not really mean it, a vile journalistic cliché which he cannot reprobate more severely than I now do myself.
C.S Lewis

C.S Lewis never won a Hugo award, although he has been retrospectively nominated for two. He was offered a C.B.E. by Sir Winston Churchill but turned it down. His sermon, The Weight of Glory, engages in some fairly rarefied conjecture about the nature of heaven and the afterlife. He speculates that, in heaven, the feeling that the human race has had since the Fall of being alienated from the natural world may be overcome. Perhaps we won’t just admire the beauty of the sunset, but actually be a part of it? 

What is the point of such theorizing? Lewis draws a moving and edifying moral: 

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses…

J.C Wright’s essay on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is clearly influenced by Lewis’s sermon. He asks the vaguely interesting question "Why do the woodland animals help Snow White with her household chores?" and proposes the vaguely interesting answer "Because friendship between humans and animals evokes the innocence of the Garden of Eden." 

In the middle of the essay, he goes off on a tangent:

No doubt by now some readers are puzzled at my repeated use of the words "virgin"and "maiden", and if those readers went to public school instead of getting an education, they are not only puzzled but offended... Much as it appalls the brain dead zombies indoctrinated by public schools, innocence is better than the cynicism or shared guilt or victimology [1] taught by modern thought, and if we place faith in the account Moses told the Children of Israel about Eden, it was lack of innocence that drove the parents of mankind out of paradise. Even more appalling to the zombies, the perfect symbol and image of innocence is virginity…

C.S Lewis once told a child that the secret of good writing was to know exactly what you want to say, and to say exactly that. Don’t say infinite if you mean big or you’ll be stuck for a word when you want to talk about something infinite; don’t say sadism if you mean cruelty or you won’t have a word left when you want to talk about an actual sadist. I think that Lewis would have admitted that there could be such a thing as hyperbole and poetic exaggeration. When a schoolgirl says "My piano teacher is like literally a thousand years old" she knows perfectly well that her piano teacher is not literally a thousand years old. That’s what makes the remark funny. I read in the Guardian that Boris Johnson is popular in London because "London…is solely inhabited by millions of braying, espadrilled berks [2] who communicate exclusively in emojis". Obviously this isn’t literally true, but we get the joke. "People in London communicate exclusively in emojis" is a funny way of saying "Many Londoners spend far too much time on their mobile phones". 

It isn’t literally true that people who went to public-school [3] are brain-dead; a term we'd normally only use to describe someone in an inoperable coma; and it certainly isn’t literally true that they are corpses that have been animated by a voodoo priest. Brain-dead might simply be hyperbole for stupid. The Hugo-nominated Wright thinks that people who went to public school are uneducated, which is hyperbole for poorly educated;  but poorly educated and stupid are not at all the same thing. And in what sense are they poorly educated? Is the complaint that the teaching is rather inadequate — so not very much of what is taught is understood or remembered? Or is the problem that public school children are being taught the wrong things: that they are learning about political and economic geography when they should be learning about fairy tales and flogging (see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)?

The allegation relevant to the subject at hand is that a public school education coarsens people, or is morally deficient. People who went to public school either literally don't know what a virgin is, or else they don't understand why someone might think that virginity was a Good Thing. But how you get from "they have a loose standard of sexual morality" to "they don’t have brains" and "they are like the walking dead" I have no idea.

In the UK sending a kid to a private school costs about £18k per child per year. The average worker earns £26k per year; the legal minimum wage is around £13k. (And if we obey the Pope, sorry, the magesterium, and only use natural birth control, we are going to have to find school fees for an awful lot of kids.) "People who went to public school instead of getting an education" essentially means poor people, where "poor" is defined as anyone whose parents are taking home less than, say, eighty grand. In other words, about 93% of the population. 

The right wing press depicts foreigners as an impersonal blob. Dark skinned people are always pouring and surging into our white and pleasant land in tides and floods and waves. It seems to me that the Hugo-nominated Wright thinks of the poor as an ever-expanding depersonalized hoard that will eventually overwhelm us; carriers of an infection which will eventually destroy us. 

And while we are at it: innocence. A child who doesn't know where babies come from is innocent in one sense; an adult who knows perfectly well but doesn’t believe in sex before marriage is innocent in a different sense. The innocence which is the opposite of cynicism is different again; and obviously all are different from the person who maintains their innocence in a court of law. It is simply wrong to say that "lack of innocence drove Adam and Eve from Eden". In the story, Satan tricks Eve into disobeying God; and God kicks them out as a punishment for disobeying him. It is true that, before they sinned, Adam and Eve are said to have been, like very small children, indifferent to nudity. But no-one proposes that because Snow White was innocent, she would have been just fine joining the dwarfs in the boys' showers after a hard day down the mine. Just the opposite: that kind of innocence implies exceptional modesty. (The Hugo-nominated Wright rightly mocks the idea in some 60s science fiction that future-humans will be naturists.) Isn’t the theological consensus that if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, they would still have had sex, and sex would still have been brilliant, but they would only have wanted as much of it as was necessary for making a sensible number of babies? Which, by an astonishing coincidence, is exactly how the Eldar function in Middle-earth. I digress. 

This kind of thing keeps happening. We are in the middle of a perfectly reasonable point, and suddenly shoot off at right angles into a massively bizarre piece of hate speech. And the more one pokes and scratches, the harder it is to work out what the Hugo-nominated Wright is actually trying to say. 

Two more examples will be more than enough. 

The Glory Game is a novel by the Hugo-nominated Keith Laumer about a military hero manfully avoiding being morally compromised by the political realities of war. (The writing style is "masculine, muscular, brief" apparently.) Hugo-nominated J.C Wright thinks that it illustrates Plato’s question about whether it is better to be good (even though everyone thinks you are wicked) or to be thought of as good (even though you are wicked in reality). Which I daresay it does. It is not to be confused with Hunter Davies’ book about Spurs football club. 

In the middle of the essay, we go off in the following random direction: 

In one glaringly anachronistic scene, a newsman actually asks him for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and reports it. That scene would be laugh out loud funny if someone tried to write it about newsmen of this day and age. Can you imagine a newsman actually being interested in the truth? It is like a whore being interested in chaste romance.

What? Where did that remark come from? 

There has been some bad stuff in England over the last few years about journalists spying on members of the public to get salacious stories. And lots of us are worried about billionaire newspaper owners encouraging their staff to spin stories to fit in with their own political beliefs. On the other hand, we’ve had campaigning journalists uncovering details of MPs dodgy financial dealings, the (ahem) Daily Mail doggedly pursuing the Steven Lawrence case; not to mention hundreds and hundreds of jobbing local reporters diligently reporting what the Mayor said about allotments on the Gloucester road and what the Magistrate said to the guy who exposed himself to a lady on the Downs. Some journalists are honest and some journalists are dishonest. The idea that anyone would find the idea of an honest journalist funny is laughable. 

And there are lots of stories about prostitutes who want chaste romance. Les Miserables for one. La Traviata for another. It's so common that "tart with a heart" is a byword for a literary cliche. No-one finds the idea particularly funny. Because, get this: a prostitute is not an alien life form with different kinds of feelings from everybody else. A prostitute is someone’s daughter and someone's sister and very probably someone's mother, a human being for whom Christ died, who at a particular point in her life (and very probably not at another) has decided to let men have sex with her in return for money. [4]

The Hugo-nominated writer doesn’t think a great deal of The Left — or indeed Marxists, Liberals, Post-Modernists and Feminists. He uses the terms pretty interchangeably. It’s all equally a lot of P.C nonsense, along with climate change and quantum physics. At one point he blurts out:

The demand made by these subhuman genetically defective control freaks is that you, the reader, stop liking the books and stories you like… and start liking the books and stories which these genetically defective control freaks demand you should like, in the name of the glorious cause of whatever the glorious cause is this week.

The control freak bit I get. He thinks that The Left are not really interested in the causes they espouse: the idea that they actually care is like the idea of a prostitute with human feelings, simply funny. According to him, The Left uses the idea of racial equality and women’s rights and environmentalism as a pretext to tell other people what to do. In a certain light, you can see what he has in mind. 

The subhuman part takes more work. I get that he doesn’t think that you can stop people from being racist by preventing them from saying the N-word and that you can't make men and women equal by making people say paramedic and firefighter instead of ambulanceman and fireman. I get that he thinks that the idea that you can amounts to a superstition. I even get, up to a point, that he thinks that those of us who prefer to use inclusive language have been bamboozled by commies. But how on earth do you get from gravely mistaken to subhuman?

Our mutual friend C.S. Lewis more or less defined humanity as "having a concept of right and wrong". His extended essay the Abolition of Man is a reductio ad absurdium against a school text book which apparently taught that all values whatsoever were subjective and should be debunked. Lewis imagines what would happen if that way of thinking won the day. He pictures a distant future in which mankind has evolved into a race of super-intelligent relativists: a species who believe that morality is purely a construct, and who are capable of constructing new moral values and instilling them into the next generation. He says that if that ever occurred, it would amount to the end of the humanity — the abolition of man. 

I think that this is what Wright has in mind. But where Lewis envisaged a master generation at some remote point in the future, Wright thinks that any liberal — anyone who believes in any kind of cultural relativism; anyone who is skeptical about any aspect of traditional morality; almost anyone whose opinions differ from J.C Wright and the Pope — has already stopped being human. Liberals, like prostitutes, are by definition an alien Other.

Asimov, who was a Liberal, had no understanding of what morality was or what it was for, so it never appears in his stories...

Which sounds very like nonsense.

But even if we accept that liberals and post-modernists have no concept of morality whatsoever, how do we get from sub-human to genetically defective? The Hugo-nominated Wright hasn’t argued for this. I don’t know what kind of genetic defect he envisages which might cause someone to think it’s okay for two guys to fall in love with each other or think that we ought to avoid words which demean people or believe that slightly higher taxes and fewer guns in private hands would be a good idea. But if liberal beliefs are the result of genetic defect, then I can only suppose that the Hugo-nominated Wright thinks that liberalism is part of one's essential nature; hard-coded into one's DNA. But isn't "I’m not a free moral agent, my genes made me do it" precisely the sort of thing that he would denounce as victimology if it were being taught to poor people in a public school?

Lewis’s theological speculations lead him to a renewed love of his fellow-man. Wright’s arguments lead him to a renewed hatred of…practically everybody. The political left are sub-human; prostitutes can never fall in love; news reporters can never tell the truth. It is true that Lewis thought that some human beings might, apart from the grace of God, become nightmarish creatures; and that certain bad philosophical ideas might, if extended out to infinity and beyond, cause the human race to lose its humanity. But for Wright, this has already happened. 

There is a parable in the New Testament about a farmer who found that he had planted wheat and thorns in the same field. There was nothing for it but to let the wheat and the thorns grow up together — but come harvest, the thorns could be separated from the wheat and burned. But thorns are thorns and wheat is wheat and a thorn can't become a wheat however much it wants to or tries. Some of the crop is predestined to be burned come harvest time. If the Hugo-nominated Wright didn’t proclaim his Catholicism on every page, I would suspect him of being a hyper-Calvinist.


1: Logos means word  or reason and -logy usually means the study of: sociology, the study of society; anthropology, the study of human beings; psychology, the study of the mind. For all I know, American state schools may teach victimology, the study of victims, which might be a very interesting subject. (How do courts in different jurisdictions treat victims of crime? How do victims deal with and recover from their experiences?) But I think that when he says that modern education teaches victimology the Hugo-nominated Wright means the modern education teaches children to be, or to think of themselves as, victims (rather than taking personal responsibility for their lives.) I wouldn’t be bothered by this sort of thing if the Hugo-nominated Wright wasn’t so pedantic about neologisms which aren’t to his personal taste.

2: Berk was originally cockney rhyming slang: Berkshire Hunt = cunt. But the word has acquired a much weaker and less obscene connotation — fool and specifically upper class fool. Language is like that sometimes. 

3: Public School in American English is equivalent to State School in British English — a free school paid for by taxation. It probably has connotations like the British Comprehensive School — "the most ordinary or generic kind of education". (c.f Tony Blair’s bog standard comp.). A Public School in British English is equivalent to a Private School in American English. Did I mention that language is sometimes like that? 

4: In the essay After Priggery, What? the aforementioned C.S. Lewis riffs on the idea that the social status of a dishonest journalist ought to be lower than that of a prostitute.("He gives his customers a baser pleasure; he infects them with more dangerous diseases.") I rather suspect that the Hugo-nominated Wright has this passage at the back of his mind, but hasn’t quire remembered what Lewis’s point was.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

What does Sean Connery eat when he goes on holiday to Cornwall?

On page 279 of the Hugo-nominated collection of essays Transhuman and Subhuman, John C. Wright writes the following:

Now, it must also be clear that men have free will, and can train themselves either to fulfill their nature or oppose their nature. Merely because we have a natural inclination toward something tells us nothing about whether we ought to do or avoid that impulse. I have an impulse to be kind to children with big eyes, which I think I should indulge, and I have an impulse to stab my rivals through the eye and into the brain pan with my sword cane, which is an impulse I think I should suppress, not the least because my blade is dull and I am past the age when one can face the gallows with dignity. 

As a matter of fact I agree with Hugo-nominee J.C Wright’s point. You can’t get from an “is” to an “ought”. You can’t make gut-feeling the arbiter of morality. You should sometimes suppress your urge to be kind to cute children, say, because this particular cute child is a Skrull agrent; or because giving that one more chocolate will make him sick and rot his teeth. 

But what a bizarre way this Hugo-nominated writer has of expressing himself! Why talk of stabbing someone with a sword-cane, when you are a citizen of the United States and could legally obtain a hand-gun if you wanted to? And why talk about “facing the gallows” when your home state carries out executions (by gas and lethal injection, not hanging) only about once a decade, and then only for the most grotesque and heinous multiple murders? Why not write “I have an impulse to shoot my rivals, which is an impulse I think I should suppress, because I’m a rotten shot and I shouldn’t think I would cope very well with jail?”

And it really true that the main reasons for not murdering people are that you you don’t have an appropriate weapon and that you are afraid of the punishment? Isn’t the main reason that you think that a higher authority than your own gut-feelings — God or the Tao or natural law — says that murder is wrong? And doesn’t that same morality tell you that you should not only be kind to cute children, but ugly ones as well?

At the end of an essay about Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Hugo-nominated Wright muses that it is possible to imagine angels telling stories or writing poems, but not to imagine them telling fairy tales. Fairy tales speak to our sense that, since the Fall, we humans don’t quite belong in the natural world, so angels wouldn’t have any reason to make them up. This is a perfectly decent point. It’s a perfectly decent point derived from Tolkien’s Essay on Fairy Stories and C.S. Lewis's Weight of Glory, but none the worse for that. Good writers borrow; great writer’s steal, as the fellow said.

The Hugo-nominated essay concludes: 

Why should they daydream, and not do? No youth sighs over his beloved's picture when she is in the bridal bower and demurely shedding her veil.

In the bridal what? Demurely shedding her what? Why this sudden lapse into archaism? Wouldn’t “No young man drools over his girlfriend’s photo when she is already undressing in front of him” have made the point better? I should have been inclined to write “No-one surfs for porn while they’re having sex with an actual human being” but I probably go too far in my preference for plain speaking. 

Having said that, this Hugo-nominated author writes very well. Many of the essays in this volume are worth reading, even if they don’t exactly push the boat out in terms of radical or challenging subject matter. Why do science fiction stories so often imagine future wars being conducted with swords? Because swords evoke an older, more chivalrous, version of war. Who were the great writers of the Golden Age? Heinlein, Asimov and (unjustly neglected) Van Vogt. Is it better to be regarded as good, or to actually be good regardless of what anyone thinks of you? Better to be good. What characterized classic science fiction? Competent men solving problems by gumption, ingenuity and intelligence. What is the secret of great writing? Show, don't tell; tell the truth; fulfill your promises to your readers. Was Arthur C. Clarke's critique of religion a bit naive? Yes. Was the Desolation of Smaug very good? Er... No. His pen has a habit of running away with itself, but he has the knack of summing up a train of thought in a forceful paragraph.

Here he is on the fact that science fiction readers — as opposed to mundanes, or, as he amusingly calls them, muggles —  positively like to be confused or baffled by a setting. In return, the science fiction writer — like the traditional detective story writer — has an obligation to play fair. He has to understand how his world works, and he has to give the reader reasonable clues so he stands a chance of working it out for himself. But:

This willingness to be lost tends not to work across genre boundaries. The reason why a collective groan of disbelief rose up to heaven from the massed fans of Star Wars was because of one line in one scene from the Phantom Menace, when the Jedi say Jedi powers are based, not on a mystical energy field binding the galaxy together, but due to microscopic bodies in the bloodstream. The groan was because the genre boundary had been crossed. 

I couldn't have put it better myself, and indeed didn’t. Unless…maybe that crossing back and forth between genre was part of the point of Star Wars to begin with? Maybe a mystical energy field which is also a side effect of telepathic micro-organisms is very much the same thing as an old-fashioned sword which is also a high tech piece of hardware? But let's not press that point. He's dead right that making Obi-Wan "a crazy old wizard" is a different proposition from making him "a student of mind science" even if the super-powers are the same either way.

He thinks that science fiction is more about mythology than prediction, and defines mythology thus:

A mythology is an explanation by means of concrete images of the abstractions and passions of the age; myth speaks in a vocabulary of anthropomorphoized figures.

Very well put: that’s just what mythology is, and it would be worth running the definition past the kinds of people who think that the Bible (for example) is either the LITERAL HISTORICAL TRUTH or else a PACK OF LIES. In fact, he's rather good —  if a little verbose and shrill —  on the whole idea of science and religion being necessarily at odds: 

With apologies to my fundamentalist brethren in Christ, all that happened is that one small group in schism with the Roman Catholic Church, militant fundamentalist Christians who reject the authority of the Magisterium to interpret and teach scripture, has decided on a literal interpretation of Genesis, and insist on a six-day timeline of creation that does not fit geological, astronomical, or biological evidence......

Meanwhile, another small group in schism with the Roman Catholic Church, militant fundamentalist atheists who reject the authority of science to say what is and what is not science, has decided on a mystical, Shavian, Hegelian or Marxist misinterpretation of Darwin’s Origin of Species....

These two groups, neither of whom represents mainstream Christianity or mainstream scientific thinking, have decided that there is a war going on between science and Christianity....

I mean, it's a bit of a stretch to see fundamentalists as schismatic Catholics and a big stretch to see Dawkins' lot that way, but the idea that "religion vs science" is not a clash of two mighty ideologies by a quarrel between too tiny sub-groups is really very well played. 

And he’s pretty good even when he’s being deliberately contentious. He is very annoyed with Hell is the Absence of God, a satirical short story by three-times Hugo award winner Ted Chiang, because (he thinks) it sets up a straw-man version of Christianity instead of engaging with what Christians actually believe. The Hugo-nominated Wright claims to have been an atheist when he first read the book, and says that even then his reaction was “doesn’t Ted Chiang know any Christians?”

The major charge of honest atheists is that the claims of the Christian religion are false…. When asked politely if they can see the Wizard, the atheists are told that no one can see the Wizard, not nobody not no how. Small wonder the atheists are skeptical. You do not undercut this fairytale by saying that The Wizard is an evil bunny-killing tyrant and that the Wicked Witch of the West is merely a soulful and misunderstood victim of circumstance. 

This is a good analogy. I shall probably steal it at some point. It's the flip side Ford Prefect's "isn't it enough that the garden is beautiful without believing that there are fairies are the bottom of it?" Can't you say that you don't believe in fairies without lying about what the fairy tale is about? 

But in the same essay, the pen of Hugo-nominated J.C Wright demonstrates its tendency to run out of control: 

The major objection honest atheists must level is that religion is false; that even if true, it has no claim on our loyalty; that the reason of man, being reason, cannot be bound by dogma; and that the claims, true or false, are repellent to the dignity of free and rational beings. 

Well, no. Those are not arguments that an honest atheist must put forward. These are four different arguments that four different kinds of people might possibly have for rejecting religion. 

1: Religion is false

2: Religion has no claim on our loyalty

3: Humans can’t be bound by dogma

4: The claims of religion are repellent

I think what the Hugo-nominated writer is trying to get at here is that you might plain and simple not believe in God. On the other hand, you might be far from sure that God does not exist, but very sure indeed that there is no need to worship him even if he does. Or again, you might be agnostic about God's existence but still have a problem with the absolute claims of some churches. You might even say that religion is so horrible that you don't care whether or not it is true. It obviously isn't the case that an honest atheist must say that the claims of religion are repellent. Lots of honest atheists say "It's a lovely story. I can see why you want it to be true. But I don't believe it is." Perhaps the Hugo-nominated Wright means to say "an honest atheist must level one or more of the following claims against religion"? But that doesn't work either —  only the first claim is strictly atheistic, and there are many more than four reasons for rejecting religion.

The sentence is a muddle because one word, religion, is being pressed into service to mean

a: Theism, the belief in God

b: Religion, the practice and worship of a particular God

c: Catholicism, a particular version of a particular religion.

And a single word, atheism, is being treated as "the opposite of religion" so it covers “people who don’t think there is a God”; “people who don’t practice any religion” and “people who aren’t Catholics.” It doesn't help that dogma has a technical theological meaning and a popular, colloquial one and that it isn't clear in which sense it is being used.

The Hugo-nominated Wright likes to present himself as a bit of a donnish pedant, worrying about the proper meanings of words and distinguishing between Aritstotle's four different ways of answering a "why?" question. But he actually writes quite carelessly, particularly when he's affecting to be annoyed about something. And he has a habit of saying the same things over and over in different words. (He is also addicted to reiterating statements using various synonyms.)


There is a certain kind of modern art where the idea is more important than the object. It is quite funny to know that a Frenchman once put a toilet in an art gallery and labeled it “Fountain”; it’s not so necessary to go and see the actual loo in question.

Similarly, the idea of a book is sometimes more important than the book itself. It is quite funny to know that someone once translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin, or photographed every public lavatory in London, but once you know that they have done so, you do not necessarily need to read the books.

The Hugo-nominated Transhuman and Subhuman is best thought of as a conceptual book. All the talk about sword-canes and hangings and bridal bowers is a bit of literary cos-play. The book is an homage: a pastiche. It has a point  — an obnoxious point, but still a point — but it makes that point by existing, not by arguing any particularly compelling case. People who agree with the point will own a copy; and quite possibly vote for it in the 2015 Hugo Awards. But they will not necessarily read it; at any rate, not right to the end. (The last two extended essays defeated me, and I'm the sort of person who is good at struggling through difficult books.) 

This is a Hugo-nominated essay collection that is trying, very hard, to sound as if it comes from 1920s England, not 2015 California. The rhetoric, and many of the actual arguments, sound like something out of C.S. Lewis. It keeps lapsing into flowery archaic language, and sometimes pretends not to understand modern vocabulary. It doesn’t reference any philosopher more recent than Aristotle. Its science fiction reference-points are books that I was reading at school: A Princess of Mars, The Foundation Trilogy, Childhood’s End, the Lensman series, classic Star Trek, the original Star Wars. Not insignificantly, the author appears to deliberately dress like G.K. Chesterton.

The medium is the message. You don’t need to read any modern science fiction to know that it's all awful. You don’t need to read modern philosophy to know that it’s all codswallop. The Golden Age is past: schools no longer educate children; journalists no longer tell the truth; and science fiction has turned away from the one true way of John W. Campbell. 

So the thing to do is to huddle together writing very old fashioned essays on very old fashioned books in very old fashioned language, and wait for an intellectual savior in an old fashioned hat, and old fashioned frock coat, armed with an old fashioned sword cane to stab the dragons of modernity through the eye (and into the brain pan) on our behalf. 


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