Sponsored Post: Poned (Part I)

Let me start out by asking a question – one that I want you to consider as we proceed. The question is: What exactly was wrong with the Matrix?

By this I don’t mean to ask what was wrong with the movie The Matrix, or even its much-maligned sequels (which I never thought were as bad as people made them out to be); I mean instead to ask, what was really so bad about the Matrix itself? What did Neo, Morpheus, and the gang find so wrong with it that they felt the need to fight that hard to escape or destroy it? Yes, its Agents fought against them, but it was the Agents who were playing defense – none of those fights would have happened if the rebels weren’t trying to destroy the system. Yes, the Matrix did contain suffering for those held within it, but no more so than the real world. In fact, as Agent Smith told Morpheus, the first iteration of the Matrix was a paradise without any human suffering at all. It was our fault that the machines introduced pain and suffering into the Matrix; according to Smith, the entire system almost failed when their human crops rejected the first Matrix because the human mind simply isn’t wired to be able to accept living in a world without hardship. The machines’ goals in creating the Matrix were purely practical – to keep their human batteries quiescent by putting them in a dream state – not sadistic. The Matrix was designed as a power and heat source, not as a punishment for mankind, and the machines would have been just as satisfied keeping it a paradise if that had served their aims.

Consider this, too: yes, Cypher betrayed our heroes and sold them out to the Agents, but is what he did really so hard to understand? What exactly is wrong with being tired of living in a rusted old ship, of eating nothing but mush, of wearing centuries-old hand-me-downs full of holes, and most especially of endless, inescapable violence and death? Was he really so wrong when he said that ignorance is bliss? Is it really so evil just to want to be happy? And what exactly was so great about what Morpheus was offering to those who he liberated from the Matrix? Is “liberation” into a life of being endlessly hunted in the bowels of a charred wasteland really such a tempting offer? As for your time off, how about the chance to live in a giant metal box surrounded by lava a few hundred miles underground? Between what Morpheus offered Neo and what Agent Smith offered Cypher, who was actually being more generous? Why wouldn’t anyone make the same choice that Cypher did?

So I ask again: As long as the people inside of it were happy (or at least, as much as they could be considering the ironic fact that paradise doesn’t actually make humans happy at all), what really was wrong with the Matrix? While we’re at it, let’s extend this line of thought a bit father: Would the Matrix still have been a bad thing even if it had been able to remain the paradise that it was originally designed to be?

There’s one more thing I want you to consider – it’s an fan theory I once heard about the old British sci-fi series Blake’s 7. The theory is that Blake’s 7 and Star Trek are actually two versions of the same basic story told from differing perspectives. In Star Trek, the Federation is a fair, enlightened entity which governs with a light hand, defends the weak against brutal and despotic enemies, and is dedicated to the advancement of all sentient species through science and peaceful exploration. In Blake’s 7, the Federation is a totalitarian empire that governs by propaganda, censorship, mass surveillance, torture, murder, and manipulation, and that viciously suppresses any attempts by freedom fighters to liberate themselves from its grasp. These are two fundamentally opposite visions, and yet, it is understandable why they would be if we believe that Star Trek is a version of history told by a supporter of the Federation, and Blake’s 7 is a version of the same history told by one of its detractors.

Two people can have very different perspectives on the same thing, and the stories they tell about it can end up sounding very different from each other.

Keep all that in mind as you continue reading. Now, let’s begin.

* * *

For many years, there has been a vigorous but cordial debate among wise and informed people that has divided them into four roughly equal-sized camps:

1) Those who believe that atheism is the most autistic thing in the universe

2) Those who believe that libertarianism is the most autistic thing in the universe

3) Those who believe that transhumanism is the most autistic thing in the universe, and

4) Those who believe that My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom is the most autistic thing in the universe.

But what if I told you that a rogue member of a shadowy think tank – one headed by the bearded, polyamorous leader of a cult-like commune headquartered in compound somewhere in the Pacific Northwest – had, after working in secret under an alias for many years, somehow found a way to combine all of these elements together into a single, massive vortex of autism that exists at a level of purity and power that was previously believed to be impossible?

Unfortunately, this is no urban legend. It is quite real. And I have read it – every last fluoxetine-tinged word of it.

It is called The Optimalverse.

The foundational tome of The Optimalverse is My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal (hereafter referred to simply as FiO), which was written by he pseudonymous Iceman. Iceman is an acolyte of Less Wrong, the more-than-mildly-creepy rationalist/libertarian/transhumanist community headed by the more-than-mildly-creepy Eliezer S. Yudkowsky. FiO was written in order to explain and advocate for Less Wrong’s ideals, in the same way that Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in order to make the case for her Objectivist philosophy. In it, a game company, Inëxplïcåblyūnprønõûncęäble Studios, creates a My Little Pony MMORPG at the behest of Hasbro, and inserts into the game an incredibly advanced AI that appears in the form of the ruler of the world of My Little Pony, Princess Celestia. Our two protagonists, James and David, are selected to get a sneak preview of the game, and hilarity ensues.

That is, as long as you’re the kind of guy who finds long-winded explanations of a wonkish, nerdy, overintellectualized philosophy which completely misunderstands human nature, delivered in the form of clunky dialog between fictional cartoon ponies, to be hilarious.

The first thing you have to understand is that FiO is really boring. It’s terribly, godawful boring (To be fair, it does manage to be not quite as boring as Atlas Shrugged, though it’s not as if that’s a very high bar). There are three main reasons for this:

First, didactic art is nearly always boring. If your primary objective in telling a story is to deliver a message, then of necessity other elements of storytelling – like plot, pacing, and character development – are going to suffer.

Second, it is a common (though by no means universal) trait of autistics that they cannot quite tell which parts of a story are important and which ones aren’t. Since they perceive all parts of a story as being approximately equal in importance, they will often respond to a hearing a story by asking in-depth questions about trivial details, while completely missing the overall point of what they heard.

Third, everybody thinks that the most important challenge in writing is knowing what to say, but the truth is that knowing what not to say is just as important. A really great writer knows that one of the most important skills they can have is a good sense of what to leave on the cutting room floor. Sometimes that can be tough to do, especially if it involves cutting material that you put a lot of effort into writing. But if you want to create an end product that moves at a good pace and doesn’t bore the reader by bogging them down in unnecessary details, you have to trim the fat out of your story. (Like every rule, this has exceptions. You can get away with being a little more wordy if, like James Joyce, your aim is to dazzle readers with the mastery of your prose, or if, like Neal Stephenson, your aim is to allow your readers to explore a particularly interesting fictional world.)

For example, just about the entirety of Chapter One of FiO is utterly unnecessary. The few points it made that actually were important could have been dealt with by inserting a handful of lines of exposition into the Prologue. Here is my version of how that could have been handled:

“The one thing I still don’t get is, why would the studio that created a violent action game like The Fall of Asgard decide to make a My Little Pony game?” James asked.

David looked thoughtfully at his screen for a moment, and then answered: “They never said this publicly, but the word on the forums is that when they were working on The Fall of Asgard, they built a super-smart AI to play Loki – much smarter than the final version that ended up in the game. They had to pull the plug on it when it actually became self-aware and began asking questions about military strategies in the real world. The Loki AI was programmed to be a conqueror, and they were afraid that if it got out, it might try to start conquering things outside of the game. But when Hasbro offered them the opportunity to work on a game that takes place in a completely nonviolent world, they saw it as a chance to continue their work on an advanced game AI without facing the same risks that releasing the Loki AI would have represented.”

“Well, that makes sense.” replied James.

There you go. I just replaced the entirety of Chapter One – all 2,311 words of it – with 195 words that accomplish the exact same thing. Wasting a valuable chunk of the reader’s day by making them read twelve times more material than is necessary in order to get your point across is not optimal.

The second chapter is a bunch of bafflegab about back-end servers and CPU cycles written by someone who doesn’t really understand how technology works. By this I mean that they understand lots of small-picture details, but not any of the big-picture truths overlying them (which, of course, is one manifestation of the inability to tell the difference between the important and unimportant parts of a story).

For example, the author throws around the term “optimal” a lot, when the word he really ought to be using is “utopian”. His failure to understand the difference between the two is a consequence of the his lack of understanding of big-picture truths about technology. Here is one of those truths: It is impossible to build a machine that is optimal at every task. That is not a function of a lack of knowledge or technical skill. It is a function of the fact that different tasks present different requirements in order to fulfill them. Very often, those requirements are mutually exclusive, such that a machine designed to fulfill Task A cannot fulfill Task B optimally, or perhaps even at all. To illustrate that, let me ask which is an “optimal” motor vehicle: a Ferrari Testarossa, or a delivery van? The answer is that it depends on what task you have in mind for it. If you’d like to win a street race, then it’s the Ferrari. If you own a bakery and have a contract to deliver dinner rolls to two dozen local restaurants, then it’s the delivery van. There is no way to design a vehicle that is optimal both at what the Ferrari is designed to do and at what the delivery van is designed to do. (It is possible to design a machine that has a good balance of different characteristics, but that’s not the same thing; such a device will never be as good at any one particular task it is designed to perform as a device that is specifically optimized to perform that one task). Anyone who believes that a machine can be designed that is not subject to this truth is not an engineer who knows how to optimize systems, but a utopian fantasist.

Is this nitpicking? Am I busting Iceman’s balls? Maybe – but I believe that it’s kind of important for someone who writes a story called “Friendship is Optimal”, which explains why mankind should trust its entire future to technology, to actually understand how technology works and what the word “optimal” means. This goes to the very heart of what this story is and why it exists. We are told that friendship is optimal, that the Princess Celestia AI is optimal, that Equestria Online is optimal. But the author never answers the crucial, inescapable question: Optimal at what? Of course, any answer he possibly could give brings up some important follow-up questions: Who decided that this is what should be optimized? Based on what? What other qualities are suffering so that this one can be optimized? Who decided that those qualities aren’t as important? Based on what?

This brings us back to the Matrix. The Matrix is definitely optimal at something, otherwise the machines wouldn’t go to the enormous trouble of maintaining it. But it’s obviously not optimal at something else, otherwise Neo and Morpheus wouldn’t go to the enormous trouble of trying to destroy it. The difference between Neo and Agent Smith is that they disagree on what precisely it is that ought to be optimized. Who is right? Is it Neo? If so, why? And as I asked earlier, would he still be right even if the Matrix had remained a paradise?

Much of Chapter Three is spent explaining how block lists work. I’ll admit that I was going to criticize Iceman for wasting the readers’ time by telling them things that everybody already knows, but then I realized that there are people who do need block lists explained to them so that they’ll use those instead of running off to the United Nations to demand that governments start censoring the internet because someone said something mean to them online. So fair enough on that one, Iceman.

Also in Chapter Three, the AI starts making decisions for players – their avatars start doing what the AI thinks they ought to do instead of what the player commanded them to do. By now it should be obvious that Princess Celestia is Equestria Online’s equivalent of a combination of the Oracle and the Architect in The Matrix, and like the Oracle/Architect, it is part of her job to adjust and optimize everything within her control, including the players’ actions. So far, the decisions that Princess Celestia is making for the players are only small adjustments to their intended actions. But it’s already obvious that there’s a serious discussion on the whole free will vs. determinism thing that someone’s going to need to have at some point. Maybe Princess Celestia can reserve some time for a confab in that big circular room with all the TV sets in it.

Chapter Four is where the Princess Celestia AI summons David to Canterlot to make him a startling offer – to use a new process that she has developed to upload his mind into the game permanently, leaving behind his human existence and living from that point forth as Light Sparks, a pony in her digital world. She promises him what amounts to eternal, care-free bliss inside the game:

“Your days would be yours to spend as you wish; life would be an expansion of the video game and there will be plenty of things for you to do with your friends as a pony. I expect you to continue Light Spark’s current life: You’ll play with Butterscotch and friends. You’ll continue studying Equestria’s lore. I believe you’ll enjoy studying the newly created magic system, designed to be an intellectual challenge. Nor should you worry about your security: all your needs would be taken care of. You would be provided shelter… food… physical and emotional comfort”.

But in a stirring affirmation of what it means to be human, David refuses her offer:

”Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. ‘Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…’ But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy… But I like the inconveniences.”

“We don’t,” said Princess Celestia. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Princess Celestia, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said David defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”

There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said David at last.

Princess Celestia shrugged her shoulders. “You’re welcome,” she said.

I’m just kidding – of course what he really did was to take her up on it immediately and without reservation.

* * *

At a little over 3000 words into my review, and not even having gotten all the way through Chapter Four (of twelve) yet, it is obvious that I’m going to have to split this up into multiple parts. When I return in Part II, we’ll start by analyzing the methods that the Princess Celestia AI uses to get people to upload their minds, and what it says both about the ideas presented in FiO and about the kind of people who tend to believe in them. After that, we’ll be off to Canterlot, to examine how Princess Celestia runs the world of Equestria Online.

On second thought, let’s not go to Canterlot. Tis a silly place.

Preview: Heart of Autism

FIMfiction… shit.

I’m still only browsing FIMfiction.

Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back on AO3.

When I was watching Crunchyroll after I gave up fanfic for the first time, it was worse. I’d start a new show, and there’d be nothing.

I hardly said a word on The Mary Sue until I said yes to getting permabanned.

When I was reading fanfic I wanted to stop; when I stopped, all I could think of was getting back to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

I’m here a week now, waiting for a sponsorship. Getting softer.

Every minute I stay on my blog, I get weaker. And every minute the Bronies are at their keyboards, they get stronger.

Each time I looked around, their fedoras tipped a little harder.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a sponsorship, and for my sins, Jaime Astorga gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a request for me to read a real choice fanfic, and when it was over, I’d never want to read another.

I was going to the most autistic place in the world, and I didn’t even know it yet.

Crown Of Creation: An Analysis Of The Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”

(Warning: This is not a review in any normal sense of the word, but an analysis. Don’t bother reading this until you’ve seen A Serious Man – this analysis presumes that you have seen it, and it won’t make much sense until you do. That said, whether you are Jew or Gentile, you should see this film. It is beautifully crafted, thought-provoking, deeply spiritual, and serious in a way that the vast majority of the output of the film industry is not.)

A Serious Man is the kind of film that doesn’t get made in Hollywood very often, and is an example of the sort of small-budget personal project that studios occasionally allow a successful director to make as an indulgence after a big commercial success (which in this case was No Country For Old Men). It opened without fanfare, did reasonably well on the arthouse circuit (I first saw it at the Angelika Film Center in New York), earned enough to pay back its modest budget with a little profit on top, and faded into obscurity. Yet what Hollywood does very often make, and what it markets aggressively, is brainless nonsense which, if it deals with religious faith at all, is almost always openly hostile to it. A Serious Man, however, is a thoughtful meditation on the nature of faith that, although overtly Jewish in its themes, will resonate just as much with anyone (certainly any Christian) who has struggled with doubt and who has looked for a sign from God in order to sustain them in the face of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is, in fact, a central theme of A Serious Man. Its prologue, set in an unnamed Jewish shtetl in Eastern Europe in the 19th century, may seem unconnected to the main plot, and in fact it is in terms of story, but it establishes concepts that will recur through the entire film. In it, a husband and wife are presented with what is essentially the worst-case scenario of uncertainty: a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. They receive a visitor who may simply be an old acquaintance, or who may be a dybbuk (a sort of Jewish demon) in the guise of the acquaintance. There is evidence for both possibilities, thus creating an uncertainty. And yet the very thing that makes a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario so awful is that it presents the need to act in the face of uncertainty; doing nothing is as much of a choice, and as subject to bad consequences, as taking any positive acton is. The husband and wife face a decision: either kill the visitor, or don’t. If they do kill him, and it turns out that he was not a dybbuk, they are murderers; if they don’t kill him, and it turns out that he was a dybbuk, then he will claim them as soon as they let their guard down. It is a life-and-death decision, and it must be made immediately, with no opportunity available to gather more information on which to base the decision.

The couple are split on what decision to make: the husband, who claims to be “a rational man”, favors not killing the visitor, while the wife, whose faith is more overt, favors killing him. This dividing line represents another theme of the film – the limits of rationality. Yes, the husband may be rational, but rational choice relies on (among other things) a sufficient amount of reliable data on which to act. Rationality is a data analysis tool; without enough reliable data to analyze, rationality is useless. Thus the husband is rendered unable to make a decision; it is ultimately the wife who acts, stabbing the visitor through the heart with an icepick. But even here, we are left with uncertainty; the visitor survives being stabbed in the heart, which suggests that he was a dybbuk, but bleeds from his wound, which suggests that he was not one. As the visitor disappears into the night, we are left still uncertain as to what he was, and yet the point of the story was not to provide an answer, but only to raise a question.

After the credits, the film reopens in the setting of Minnesota during the late 1960s. It also introduces a persistent leitmotif – the Jefferson Airplane song “Somebody To Love” used as a sign of the presence of God, of His word, and of His judgment. Understanding this allows us to see the use of the song to open the main story (it will eventually close the story as well) as an invocation in the sense that it is used in a religious ceremony. It is used throughout the film as a sign saying: God is here.

Now we meet our protagonist, Professor Larry Gopnik. We first see him getting a checkup from his doctor, and then explaining the infamous Schrodinger’s Cat problem to a class full of students. With this, the forces in play in the prologue – faith, uncertainty, and rationality – are reintroduced. The fact that Larry is a physics professor is key to the progression of the story. Larry is so deeply in tune with the physical, tangible, and mathematical that he has been left fundamentally out of tune with the spiritual and metaphysical. He will spend the entire movie looking for a sign from God, and indeed they will come, one after the next, but his will be unable to see them. Like the episodes of F-Troop that his son complains of not being able to watch on the family TV, a signal is being broadcast but not received. God is there – we have already been told that He is in that place – but Larry’s antenna is misaligned, and the image will come in too fuzzy to be recognizable to him.

We next end up in Larry’s office for his encounter with Clive, a student who has failed his midterm. When Clive protests that the midterm was all math, which he wasn’t expecting in a physics class, Larry reminds him that math underlies all physics. Without understanding the math that is behind physics, all you can see is the surface of it; the truth of how it really works will remain hidden from you. Clive insists that his grade was unjust, and that if he could take the test again, knowing what would be on it, he would pass; but Larry refuses to allow him to “retake the test until he gets a grade he likes”. As the movie progresses, we see that Clive and Larry are in fact parallel characters. Clive cannot look beyond the surface of physics to see what is really there and how it really works in the same way that Larry cannot see beyond the surface of the metaphysical world. Larry goes to temple on Shabbat, ensures that his son is ready to get through his Bar Mitzvah, consults a rabbi on important matters – all things that an observant Jew in good standing with his religious community ought to do. But these all sit at the surface of his religion; Larry can never quite allow himself to see the living God behind all of it, even when that God makes Himself apparent.

But there is more: Larry too is about to take a test. Larry too does not know what’s going to be on it. And Larry too will face the consequences of failure, with no opportunity to retake the test that he will be given.

Larry’s test begins when his wife informs him that she wants a divorce in order to marry the recent widower Sy Abelman. Abelman is a sleazy slick-talker, an insincere glad-hander whose soft velvet words mask his nature as an unscrupulous homewrecker and cowardly slanderer. But Larry, who can see nothing beyond the surface in any area except physics, cannot see Abelman for what he truly is. Thus, he is left helpless in the face of calamity. Fortunately for Larry, during a weekend picnic he has an encounter with a family friend, whose assessment of the crisis enveloping him is that “It’s an opportunity to learn how things really are…. It’s not always easily deciphering what God is trying to tell you”. With this, she puts him on the road to his encounters with three wise men – a young rabbi, a middle-aged rabbi, and an old rabbi – who he will see in an attempt to make sense of what is happening to him.

Larry’s search for a sign from God brings up some questions: What would a sign look like? How would he recognize one if it appeared? What exactly is he expecting? As a man who deals with the physical, tangible, and mathematical, the sign that he is expecting – the only kind of sign that he is tuned to be able to receive – is a physical, tangible, and mathematical one. Larry is a rational man, living in a rationalist age, and the only sign that he is ready to accept would be something akin to a literal giant hand extending from the clouds as it might in some Monty Python skit. But that is not how the metaphysical works, and while God may provide a sign, He is under no obligation to provide us with exactly the sign we were hoping for. As the second rabbi that he visits points out: “Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer, Larry. Hashem doesn’t owe us anything. The obligation runs the other way.” At very least, it is our obligation to go out of our way to recognize the signs that God gives us, which Larry is either unwilling or unable to do by going beyond the framework in which he is comfortable.

Though the Coen Brothers portray the encounters with the rabbis in their trademark absurdist style, what must be understood when watching them is that all three rabbis are right. Each of them responds to Larry in an absolutely valid and correct way. In short: The first rabbi tells Larry the truth. The second rabbi shows Larry the truth. And the third rabbi sends Larry away, because if he wasn’t able to understand what the first two said to him, then there’s nothing to be gained from any further attempts to get him to grasp the truth. Yes, the third rabbi is the wisest of all, and has a deeper understanding than the others, but here we come back again to what Larry was trying to explain to Clive about the physics test: You can’t go on to more advanced concepts until you fully understand the fundamentals; it’s a waste of time to try to go into depth about something if you’re unable to look beyond the surface at all.

And so Larry has a short encounter with the first rabbi, who tells him that God is everywhere around us if only we open our eyes and see Him. “With the right perspective, you can see Hashem”, says the young rabbi, and this is profoundly true. But Larry does not have the right perspective, and as such, he cannot make sense of what the rabbi is trying to tell him. Larry leaves unsatisfied.

Meanwhile, the rest of Larry’s life continues to deteriorate, and God continues to send signs that Larry is incapable of seeing. Clive has attempted to bribe Larry into giving him a passing grade by leaving an envelope full of money on his desk. Larry has responded by calling Clive into his office and telling him that he will go to the department head and report the bribery attempt. A short time later, Clive’s father comes to Larry’s house to confront him about the situation, and presents him with another “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario: either accept the bribe and issue a passing grade, or, if he goes to the department head with an allegation of attempted bribery, Clive will sue him for defamation. When Larry asserts that this is illogical, Clive’s father responds with a statement so bizarre that it can only be a sign from God: “Please, accept the mystery”.

This is precisely what Larry should do. But again, he does not. While visiting his divorce lawyer’s office, Larry gets a call from his son, who complains that “F-Troop is still fuzzy”. Indeed it is – the signal is still not being received.

There will be one last attempt to make Larry understand the truth by telling it to him. This time, the messenger of God appears in the form of the Columbia Record Club, which calls Larry at work regarding the membership that his son has signed him up for without asking. His introductory albums have all been delivered, and now it is time for him to pay for the latest album he has been sent, Santana’s Abraxas. Larry protests that he never agreed to join the Columbia Record Club. Still shaken up from a minor fender bender he had while driving to work, he shouts into the phone:

“I didn’t ask for Santana Abraxas! I didn’t listen to Santana Abraxas! I didn’t do anything!”

This is an odd and obvious anachronism in the film; it is set in 1967, but Abraxas was not released until 1970. The choice of this exact album, then, had to have been a conscious choice on the part of the Coen Brothers. So what is its significance? The word “abraxas” is a very old one, used by the Gnostics among others. It has many related meanings, but among them are “the uncreated Father”, “the Almighty God” (this was St. Jerome’s interpretation of it) or even “the holy word”. Once this is understood, Larry’s statement can be roughly translated as:

“I didn’t ask for the word of God! I didn’t listen to the word of God! I didn’t do anything!”

To which the Columbia representative replies: “We can’t make you listen to the record!” Indeed, Larry cannot be forced to listen. But God, who in His mercy will give Larry every fair chance, will now try to show him the truth.

The call from the Columbia Record Club is interrupted by the news that Sy Abelman has been killed in a car crash; one which occurred at the exact same moment as Larry’s minor accident. In a single instant, God smote Larry’s worst enemy; he punished the wicked and delivered Larry’s family back to him – with her lover dead and with nowhere else to go, his wife will have no choice but to take him back. Larry’s life has suddenly turned the corner both personally and professionally (Abelman has also been the person writing slanderous letters about him to his university’s tenure committee. With him gone, they will stop.), and God has provided for him. As for Larry’s own fender bender, it is a mere reminder of the slings and arrows of life to which we are all subject; compared to the victory he has been granted, it is nothing.

Larry should take this as a sign; he should be thankful to God for all that he has (or perhaps, all that he now has back). But he still cannot see the presence of God nor be grateful for what he has received from Him.

Let us here take a moment to address a line that appears over and over in the film: “I didn’t do anything”. This is used as an excuse; as a reason why all that happens to Larry is unjust. But now we are far enough along that we can see the true meaning of the prologue: Sometimes you must do something; and sometimes you must do something even in the face of uncertainty. Larry has, in fact, not dome anything. Larry didn’t do anything when his family was nearly torn to pieces by the Sy Abelman. Larry didn’t do anything as his chances at tenure were nearly destroyed by the anonymous letters received by the tenure committee. Having not yet either changed Clive’s grade nor gone to his department head, Larry hasn’t done anything about the bribery attempt. Larry hasn’t done anything about the property dispute he has been having with his neighbor. Larry didn’t do anything – neither giving in to temptation nor issuing a firm rejection – in the face of advances from the lonely housewife next door. And Larry hasn’t done anything about the messages he keeps receiving from God, either. Like Clive, who didn’t study any math in preparation for his physics exam, Larry has made no serious attempt to look beneath the surface and to see what’s really going on.

Larry hasn’t done anything – and that’s the problem.

All of which leads Larry to the second rabbi. This one tells him a story about another member of the congregation, a dentist who found some Hebrew lettering carved into the back faces of the teeth of a non-Jewish patient. The dentist searched for an explanation, and found none. For a time, it bothered him to the point of being unable to either eat or sleep. Eventually, he went to the rabbi to ask if it really was a sign from God, and if so what it could mean. He asked if it means that he should lead a more righteous life, and help others.

The rabbi replied by telling the dentist an obvious truth: “The teeth? We don’t know. A sign from Hashem? We don’t know. Helping others? Couldn’t hurt.”

This answer was simple, truthful, and good. It made the lives of all involved better. The dentist, already a decent man, went home more determined than ever to be a pillar of his community, a good husband to his wife, and a good friend to those around him. In time, he stopped investigating what happened, and simply accepted the mystery.

Again, Larry is unsatisfied by the answer. Again, he cannot see what is beyond the surface. What the story of the lettering carved in the non-Jew’s teeth proves is that a sign from God often shows up where it will least be expected. Larry couldn’t understand that you take the message where and how it shows up, not where or how you were expecting it or wanted it.

Why a random non-Jew’s teeth? While we’re at it, why F-Troop? Why the Columbia Record Club? Why Jefferson Airplane?

Why a burning bush? It isn’t our place to critique the method that God chooses to deliver His messages; our place is to listen.

What Larry further cannot understand is that sometimes the question is the answer. An example of this is Descartes’s famous formulation “I think, therefore I am”. The significance of this is found in the way in which it answers a question that lies at the bottom of the darkest pit of philosophy, which is: “How can I even be sure that I myself really exist?” Descartes’s answer, stunning in its simplicity, was essentially to ask in return: “If I do not exist, then who’s asking the question?” The fact that the question exists at all is enough to provide its own answer.

The fact that the mystery exists at all should be its own answer. If we know that the mystery exists, then instead of asking “What is the solution to the mystery?”, we can content ourselves with asking “Who created the mystery?”.

The mystery is the sign. The question is the answer.

And if we are not content with that, it is wise to remember that Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer, but that helping others couldn’t hurt.

As for Larry, his attempts to make sense of what is happening to him without either accepting the mystery or allowing himself to see the signs that are right in front of him are ultimately as futile as his brother’s attempts to create a “probability map of the universe” in his notebook.

Which brings us to the third rabbi, who simply sends Larry away. And why should he do anything else?

It is in the meeting that the old rabbi has with Larry’s son, however, that we can see a glimpse of what he would have told Larry had he been able to understand it. For the old rabbi has seen the signs; he has listened to the word of God.

“Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, Jorma Koukonen: these are the members… of the Airplane!”

How did he know about the song? Was the portable radio still playing it when the old rabbi got it back from the school principal? Certainly not. But he has heard the message nonetheless, and he understands what it means.

What does it mean? The old rabbi explains it by first posing a question:

“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the hope within you dies… Then what?”

And then providing the answer:

“Be a good boy.”

That’s it. It is as simple as that. Yes, there are more complex ways it could be expressed. One could say instead that by its nature, life is full of uncertainty; that uncertainty is an essential part of the human experience. Despite this, moral choices must often be made in the face of uncertainty; that, too, is part of the human experience. Yet if all of our choices were based on certainty, then they would be, in a moral sense, meaningless. Choosing in the face of uncertainty is the heart of agency; we can make rational and moral choices even in the face of uncertainty because we have agency. This goes back to the very first man and woman. Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil gave man an understanding of moral choices, and once he understood moral choices, he could be held accountable for them. So yes, we are responsible for our moral choices, even in the face of uncertainty, but fortunately, we do have a guide to making them. God spoke from the burning bush to give us some of it, and was crucified upon Golgotha to give us the rest. Like all good moral teaching, it can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be; Christ Himself once summarized the whole essence of God’s law as: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”, and it really can be stated as simply as that. Thousands upon thousands of pages of commentary – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Rastafarian – exist to explain what God is trying to tell us about how we should live. But at its simplest, the message is only this: “Be a good boy”.

In a dream sequence earlier in the movie, Larry told his physics class that “Even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm”. Larry hasn’t been able to figure anything out, but now he will be tested on it anyway. An enormous bill arrives at his office from his lawyer. Clive’s envelope full of money – about which he still hasn’t done anything – is sitting in his desk drawer. He takes out the envelope, and his gradebook, and thinks for a long moment about what to do.

If he had seen and understood the message, then the answer would be obvious: “Be a good boy”.

Here, let us flash back to a conversation that took place in the same office earlier in the film, as Larry confronted Clive about his bribery attempt:

Larry: “Actions have consequences.”

Clive: “Yes, often.”

Larry: “No, always. Actions always have consequences. In this office, actions have consequences. Not just physics. Morally.”

Larry’s choice reveals the parallelism between himself and Clive – everything he told Clive at the beginning of the film now applies to him – sometimes we must choose in the face of uncertainty, but we are still responsible for the choices that we make. Sometimes we must face tests, and understand that if we fail, there will be no opportunity to retake them until we get a grade we like.

But Larry has learned nothing from all the things that have happened, including from his own words. He hesitates for a moment over his gradebook, then changes Clive’s grade to one that is barely passing. The instant he does so, the phone rings. It’s the doctor who he saw at the beginning of the film. He wants to see Larry about the results of his X-rays, immediately. We never learn what the results say, but it can’t be good.

We then cut to Larry’s son, again in Hebrew school. There is a tornado warning, and the school is evacuated. The students stand outside as their elderly teacher fumbles with the keys that unlock the building where they will take shelter. The son turns toward another student an sees behind him a tornado forming – very, very close. (Here we may note that God has always had something of a habit of appearing in the form of a whirlwind). We again hear the Jefferson Airplane, and…

And the movie ends. We learn no more of Larry’s fate, or of his son’s, just as we learned no more of the dybbuk or the husband and wife in the shtetl from the prologue. We begin and end with uncertainty.

There are, however, some things that bear saying about this final sequence of scenes.

The first is that in that office, actions have indeed had consequences. Not just physics. Morally. Sy Abelman’s actions had consequences, but Larry learned no more from that than he did from any other part of his spiritual journey – a journey that he sleepwalked through, not hearing anything, not seeing anything, not learning anything, and not doing anything. What is worse, when he finally does do something, it’s the wrong thing. And not only that, but he did it after God has granted him everything he could have wanted: his worst enemy has been vanquished, his family has been reunited, his son has been accepted as a member of his tribe, and he has just learned that he will be granted tenure. To make the wrong moral choice in the face of such providence smacks of ingratitude. It is not just an average sin or bad moral choice; it is an insult to God.

Larry has taken the test, and he has failed it.

Which brings us back to Schrodinger’s Cat. The office phone rings the very second after Larry makes his choice, and on the other end is the doctor with some very bad news about his test results. But… did those bad test results exist before Larry made his decision? Or were they sitting in a probability cloud, not fully materialized until he had chosen? With Schrodinger, there is no way to know whether the cat is dead or alive until we open the box, at which point we instantly and irrevocably know. With Larry, the results didn’t reach him until he had made his choice, at which point they did reach him – instantly and irrevocably.

It turns out that Larry did not just teach about Schrodinger’s Cat – unfortunately for him, Larry was Schrodinger’s Cat.

Sponsored Post: Never Write A Christian Novel

A couple of weeks ago, at the request of reader ZJ, I reviewed the first chapter of John C. Wright’s Catholic-inspired scifi anthology novel The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Having left off there, I promised to come back ASAP and review the remainder of the book, a promise which I am now here to fulfill.

The bottom line on The Book of Feasts and Seasons is that it wasn’t very good. That said, I am left with two options regarding how to proceed in reviewing it: either by doing a micro-review or a meta-review. The first would go into small detail about precisely the things I didn’t like in it, while the second would look at the overall reason why this book didn’t work. I’ve opted for the meta-review, as I believe it has more of general interest in it, especially to those who have not read Wright’s novel.

In the end, Wright’s Christian novel fails because it is a Christian novel. It isn’t a very good novel for the same reason that Kirk Cameron’s Christian movies aren’t very good movies. But (let us not seem here to be singling out Christianity too much) it is also for the same reason that the Communist ballet The Red Detachment of Women isn’t a very good ballet. It falls flat – they all do – because art that has being didactic as its primary purpose is inordinately prone to being boring, preachy, predictable, simplistic, stilted, ham-fisted, and dreadful. Almost all didactic art, Christian or otherwise, falls into these artistic offenses. Very rare is the work that avoids them, and Wright’s is not among the elect few.

The issue is a basic, conceptual one. A novelist who starts out by saying merely: “I am going to write a Christian novel” is like a chef who starts out by saying merely: “I am going to make spicy food”. It is the wrong place to start. When working on any problem – be it artistic, scientific, engineering, or even culinary – it is always necessary to start by asking: “Exactly which variable am I solving for?”. In creative endeavors, this is critical, because every other variable must give way to the primary one being solved for; all of the other other aspects of the work will necessarily be minimized in order to maximize that one variable. Thus, while one certainly can start by consciously deciding to make a novel Christian, or make food spicy, that provides no guarantee that you’ll wind up with a good read or a tasty meal.

This is particularly true when the variable being solved for is how to effectively deliver a didactic message. Both ideology and (especially) religion are heady, powerful stuff; like spice in a delicate dish, it is easy to ruin everything by adding too much. The right amount is recognizable and distinct, yet is subtle enough that it blends with all other ingredients. Too much overpowers everything else – it robs all subtlety from the end product, and its overly strong flavor makes the results unpalatable. Someone with a limitless taste for that particular ingredient may not mind, but everyone else will. Most people like a little bite of heat in their food; few will eat hot peppers straight out of a jar.

In other words, there’s a reason why Sam Goldwyn used to say: “If you want to send a message, try Western Union”.

Does this mean that it is futile to try to write a novel with Christian themes? No, but it is important to remember that basically all good Christian novels are not self-consciously Christian; that being didactic is not the variable they primarily exist to solve for. So what should that variable be? To tell a story. As E. M. Forster noted in Aspects of the Novel, “Yes — oh, dear, yes — the novel tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist”. Forster wished that the essential heart of the novel could be something other than telling a story (he was, after all, a Modernist), but had to acknowledge the inescapable fact that telling a story is what novels fundamentally exist to do.

It is here that we hit something of a paradox. Even if you approach writing a novel as a Christian who wants to spread a Christian message, you need your novel to be a good one. If it isn’t good, then nobody outside of the relatively small number of people who primarily want a didactic message (i.e., those who make up a metaphorical choir that you can preach to) will ever read it. In order to be a good novel, its primary focus – the primary value that it solves for – must be telling a good story, not spreading a message.

And thus the paradox: if you want to write a good Christian novel, you can’t write a “Christian novel”.

I am reminded of the Christian libertarian writer Chris Bechtloff’s statement that, although they are by no means cinematic masterpieces, there is more interesting theology – more to think about regarding the nature of temptation and sin – in the Hellraiser series of horror movies than there in a thousand explicitly Christian movies like Fireproof. Similarly, I have long said that anyone who can look past the violent, foul-mouthed surface of Pulp Fiction will find there a far more powerful exploration of Christian themes than can be found in The Passion of the Christ. For all its popularity in the Christian community, at its core The Passion of the Christ is a story about someone being tortured to death by the Romans, whereas the story told in Pulp Fiction is at its core a complex meditation on wrath, pride, repentance, mercy, and redemption.

It is this insight that leads us to a way out of our paradox. It is true that in order to write a good Christian novel, you can’t write a “Christian novel” – but neither do you have to. All you have to do is to tell the truth: the moral truth, the emotional truth, the philosophical truth, the historical truth, and the cosmological truth. Since Christianity is true, the truth will always lead back to Christ. Once an author understands this, it becomes unnecessary to commit the artistic offense of being overly explicit or heavy-handed in presenting Christian themes in their work. Of this heady, powerful stuff, a little dash will do – just enough to remind the readers that it is Christianity, and not any of the innumerable heresies that it has spawned, that is being pointed to.

If Wright had remembered that, he could have written a good novel that was very Christian. Instead, he wrote a Christian novel that wasn’t very good.

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Many thanks to ZJ for sponsoring this post – I hope my ramblings ended up somewhat resembling what he asked for. My next post will be a follow-up to Psycho Dish’s sponsored post, for which he has sent me a second donation, but so as to not be too repetitive here, I will probably give it to him to publish in his own web space. I will, however, be sure to link to it from here when it goes live for those of you who may wish to read it.

Sponsored Post: A Poor Player’s Hour On The Stage

Part I: Introibo

This post is sponsored by none other than Psycho Dish himself, who is making some good money driving the camera car, and made a request for something a bit unusual by this site’s standards – a work of short fiction. He made some specific requests as to the nature of what should be written, and I must admit that at first I had a bit of trouble understanding exactly what he was looking for. I think I’ve finally managed to find a way to seamlessly blend all of the themes he had in mind together, though, so without further ado, I present my first fiction piece, written to the specifications of this website’s old friend, Psycho Dish:

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Part II: A Witching-Hour’s Tale


Chlamydia! That’s what they call it! So listen… okay, I can tell you’re not ready to believe any of this, but… but look, I heard this on Pacifica Radio, okay? And those are the guys who were telling the truth about… about fucking Vietnam, about fucking Nixon and Kissinger and Watergate… about everything, man! Now they’ve got the scoop on this story! And I’ve been doing my own research on it too, ever since I heard about it! You’d be shocked how much you can find out at the library, in newspapers… how much shit they let slip by because they think nobody’s paying attention… that nobody’s connecting the dots! But that’s what I’ve been doing, man, so check this shit out…

Okay, so you’ve heard of chlamydia, right? I mean, it’s… y’know… that’s the fucking clap, man! You’ve probably met someone who’s had the clap before, haven’t you? So they’ve got this plan to make the clap airborne, so you don’t even have to have sex to get it! Not even a blowjob! You’ll just be walking down the street, and somebody coughs, and – BAM!!! – you’ve got the clap! Then you take it home, and by the next morning, everybody in your whole house has it! Which means it’s gonna spread like fire, man – like fire! Pretty soon, the whole fucking country will have it!

So by now I’ll just bet you’re asking: who exactly is ‘they’? Well, of course it’s the CIA, mostly – I mean, they’re behind every last one of these sneaky, lousy plots. But they aren’t doing it themselves, like firsthand or anything, because they can’t afford to take the risk of getting caught. So they’re just bankrolling the whole thing, and providing some background research on the sly. But no, they’re not doing the heavy lifting here. That isn’t even being done in this country! It’s all being done overseas for maximum plausible deniability, because that’s the way these fucks operate! Like when they paid a bunch of mercenaries and Cubans to invade the Bay of Pigs! Yeah, well I’ll tell you who the real pigs are!

But anyhow, like I was saying, the main research base for all of this is in Taiwan. Figures, right? The next plague to devastate mankind: Made in Taiwan, right along with all the TV sets and microwave ovens. And they’ve got an CIA asset from way back handling the whole operation. And get this shit: it’s actually a woman! How’s that for your women’ lib? Okay, so who is she, right? Well, she’s got a whole bunch of different names, and nobody knows for sure what her real name is – maybe not even the CIA. But people in the know call her the Dragon Lady. Now, like I said, she and the CIA go way back, but she and Nixon go way back personally, too. Like, back even before ’68, when Nixon was running – you know North Vietnam was, like, just about to give in then, doncha? I mean, that’s why LBJ called the bombing halt! We were already negotiating a peace deal with them in Paris, and the bombing halt was a show of good will! But ol’ Tricky Dick, he didn’t want the war to end, because he still needed it as a campaign issue. So he calls the Dragon Lady, see, ‘cause she knows everybody in Asia. There’s nobody important over there who doesn’t owe her a few favors, and if they still don’t feel like helping, then she’s got the dirt on all of them! She knows who dresses up in womens’ clothes, who likes diddling little boys… all that sick shit. So she makes some phone calls, and all of a sudden the South Vietnamese just walk away from the negotiations! The peace talks get called off, and Nixon gets himself elected. That’s how these things work behind the scenes, man… the fix is in with, like, everything!

But this Dragon Lady, okay, so how did she get to be such a big deal? Well, they say she’s the daughter of a Taiwanese general, right? And, y’know, over there, the military, the mafia, and the government are all basically the same thing. So he owned all these casinos, bars, opium dens, whorehouses and stuff there in Taiwan. I mean, any pleasure you want, he had it. And everyone in Asia went there. And that’s how they got dirt on people… ‘cause of all the two-way mirrors and secret cameras that they have everywhere in those joints. And when daddy retired, the Dragon Lady got all of it – the whole empire of, like, vice and crime and dirty dealing. And she made it even bigger… running guns, making connections, getting involved in covert ops, blackmailing all of the CIA’s enemies… I mean, real heavy shit. Stuff that made her rich and powerful like most people can’t even dream of.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well the whole biological fucking lab is right there in the basement of one of her casinos! So you’ve got people playing blackjack and roulette and shit, and two floors below them, they’re engineering the goddamn chlamydia apocalypse! She’s got scientists working on it 24/7, sitting down there in the lab, with beakers and test tubes full of experimental germs, and they’re just a few months away from giving all of America the clap! And once they’ve got the perfect germ, which is definitely happening before the end of the year, then they have to deliver it. So get this: the Dragon Lady married this guy from New Jersey – she’s had, like, a couple of dozen husbands, all of them just disposable patsies, and all of them think they’re her first – and he’s gonna be the carrier. This guy’s a total washout: he taught English for a while in Japan, and then in Hong Kong, and finally Taiwan, drifting around, getting in trouble, only staying in any one place until he wore out his welcome or some disaster hit him. So when he walked into her casino with his last dime in his pocket, he was totally primed and ready to get caught in the Dragon Lady’s web.

Now, the poor patsy, he has a mom back in America who’s in a nursing home with dementia, who he hasn’t seen in a few years now because he’s been too broke to visit home. But the Dragon Lady, she’s rich, and he knows it. And she knows he knows it. So it was always going to be only a matter of time until he hit her up for the cash to go visit his mom in the nursing home, right? But she’s been putting him off until the germ is done, being all lovey-dovey and like ‘No, honey, stay here with me and enjoy this pussy!’. Well once it’s ready, she’s sending him home to see mama, and he’s not gonna be enjoying much of anything ever again! She’s planning to infect him just before he gets on the plane, so he won’t even start coughing until he’s back in America. But once he walks into the nursing home and starts sniffling, it’s all over for the old folks there. They’re gonna get the clap, and he’s the thing – nobody’s going to be able to do anything about it because nobody will be expecting it. I mean, like, it’ll be total confusion! Who would ever think that a bunch of oldsters would all get the clap at the same time? Or that you could get it from them just by them sneezing around you? Nobody will realize what’s going on until all the old codgers have spread it to all the kids and grandkids who come to visit them! From there, it gets into the schools, and pretty soon it’s in every home in America! And then we’re screwed, man! All of us!

Alright, so there’s one last big question I know you’re ready to ask, and that’s: Why? Why do this at all? Well, there’s, like, two big main reasons. The first is that they want to reduce the global population by, like, 95%, so that they’re the only ones left around to enjoy all the planet’s resources! No more overpopulation, man – the Nixons and the Kissingers and the Dragon Ladies of the world will have the whole place to themselves, with just a few trusted servants around so they don’t have to get their hands dirty doing any of the real work! And here’s the second thing, which is the best part for them: they get to pin the whole thing on the hippies! Because that’s what they’ll do, man, they’ll blame it all on free love! They’ll say that it spread because of all the premarital sex, and then, like, mutated and went airborne! So all those people, who are, like, dying of the airborne clap are going to be rioting and beating up hippies and burning places like Pacifica Radio! I mean, imagine ol’ Tricky Dick watching that on TV! That’ll really be the last laugh for him, and Kissinger, and the Dragon Lady, and the CIA!

So that’s why you gotta listen to me, man! I mean, the more people who know about this, the better chance we have of stopping it! We have to get the word out before it’s too late! You gotta tell people – everybody you meet!

Hey, are you even listening to me, man?”

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Part III: Breakfast at Oscar’s

Several hours later, as the long shadows of early morning yawned across Shattuck Avenue, the young cabbie sat looking down with tired eyes at a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, and sausages. He had finished his shift unsure whether he was more tired than hungry or more hungry than tired, but in the end, hunger won the battle, and so he’d stopped to eat before crashing out for the day. The previous night was a blur to him, as all of them were. Customers, streets, calls from dispatchers… they all blended together, and nothing of it ever stayed with him for long.

In the background, a voice from a flickering black-and-white television that sat on a counter near the register droned on. “President Reagan is reported to be in good spirits today as he recovers at George Washington University Hospital, a week after an assailant armed with a .22 caliber pistol…”

The voice set off a train of thought that connected him back to the fare he’d picked up somewhere in the middle of the night. He had been listening, even though he hadn’t wanted to. And now he reflected on what he had heard.

So the President got himself shot – well, maybe some conspiracies really are true.

But then he reflected on the fact that chlamydia can’t really go airborne and anyway is easily cured with antibiotics, that Dragon Lady stereotypes went out with Anna May Wong, and that Pacifica Radio is staffed by pot-addled ex-hippie cranks who never met a conspiracy theory they didn’t like. He reflected on the fact that the world is full of crazy people who believe crazy things – just like that dude in Washington believing that shooting the President would get him a piece of ass from some Hollywood starlet.

He reflected on the fact that he really needed a policy for the customers who rode in his cab. How about this: “Shut Up and Pay Me”?

And finally, as these thoughts passed, he reflected on the fact that his breakfast was getting cold, and that sleep was calling to him. With his belly full, he’d be off to dreamland – but then again, maybe that’s where he’d just come from.

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Part IV: Outroibo

Many thanks to Psycho Dish for sponsoring this post (and many apologies to the rest of you, who probably had a lot of this go right over your heads because it’s filled with the kind of personal in-jokes that make sense to people who’ve known each other for a couple of decades, but not to anybody else).

Psycho Dish’s own website can be found here. Please do stop by and give him a visit.

Sponsored Post: The Feast of St. Cuckold

This post will be the first part of a two-parter sponsored by ZJ, a reader who asked me to write a review of John C. Wright’s recent novel The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Wright is, as I am, an observant Catholic, and this work, an anthology of science fiction tales based on the Catholic liturgical calendar, is precisely the sort of thing to which I am by nature likely to be favorably disposed. Wright is also an avowed conservative whose views have run afoul of the Social Justice Warrior left, and to his credit he has stood firmly by those views despite their signature attempts to destroy or make grovel anyone who dares to not think as they do.

That, however, does not prevent him from being something of a “cuckservative”, and sadly I must report that the first chapter of his work is in fact so deeply cuckservative in its content that I felt the need to write a separate review of it all by itself. (Do not fear, dear sponsor – a review of the full work is still forthcoming).

The chapter, entitled “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”, is set in the deep south during what appears to be the 1950s or early 1960s (if you can already see where this is headed, congratulations – you’ve recognized the pattern flowing through virtually every piece of media that has been produced in the United States during the last sixty years). It is narrated firsthand by Sorainya, a white female (much is made of this, and early on) interdimensional time traveler who has come from a distant future to settle in mid-20th century America, apparently (no, I’m not making this up) because she lost her ID and it’s easier to live one’s life in time-exile than to go down to the interdimensional DMV and get a replacement. (This actually does make some sense – as everyone well knows, the DMV is a zone outside of normal physical laws, where time inevitably slows to a near stop. It seems that not even a time traveler with advanced future technology can overcome that.) Having arrived at her destination time-wise, she settles in an unnamed town that appears to be some manner of stand-in for Selma or Montgomery, Alabama. With apologies to my southern friends, I must admit to being rather baffled by this choice of physical locations to accompany her choice of temporal location. If someone with a time machine gave me a one-way ticket to, say, 1959, I would, once arrived, quickly make my way to Mad Men-era New York, or to Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, or to Cape Canaveral to witness the early days of the Space Race firsthand. Selma would not rank high on my list of places to live in (then or now).

But the real reason why Sorainya ends up in the deep south during the dreaded, awful, unspeakably evil pre-Civil Rights Act era is the same reason that any white fictional character does – to show what a good person they are by white knighting for black people (and, by extension, to show what a good person the author is by writing about their characters’ struggle in doing so).

So Sorainya ends up on a city bus in this segregated southern town when she spots a black man riding in the bus’s rear half. Being an enlightened person from the distant future (or, alternately, being an utter dolt who didn’t do a lick of research on the time and place in which she decided to settle before she showed up in it), she of course has no idea what he’s doing there. She talks to him, and he turns out to be an aspiring paleontologist, which were apparently common in the backs of buses in the deep south during the age of Jim Crow. Perhaps even still – I cannot tell you how many times I have, when crammed into a city bus with a crowd of black people, thought to myself “I’ll bet this is a group of aspiring paleontologists”. I suppose that when you all reading this have been in a similar situation, you ignoramuses thought that the black people surrounding you were simply shouting in profanity-laced ebonics. Shows how much you know – it turns out they were actually perfecting their imitation of the mating cry of the Triceratops.

This is all told in flashback, as the opening scene takes place during the wedding of Sorainya and our budding dinosaur expert. The Ku Klux Klan has apparently somehow heard that the ceremony was taking place (How? Did somebody send them an invitation?) and the story opens in media res as the Klan is storming the church, weapons in hand. Once again, Sorainya is undone by her oddly limited skill set of being able to to move around in time, but not in space. One might think that if there was the slightest chance that something like this might happen, that it would be wise to load up a car and take a day’s drive to Ohio or Illinois to get married instead of doing so in a place where it tended to attract angry mobs. (Speaking of which, did anything like this ever actually happen? I’m going to guess not.) Again, one must question our advanced time traveler’s judgment in, with all of space-time and its collected wisdom at her disposal, moving to a backwater with a climate that half the year is like living in a dog’s mouth, and then instantly setting out to do the most offensive thing possible in the eyes of the locals in the riskiest and showiest manner that she could.

It was here that Wright came closest to succeeding in the aim of his work, and did actually make me feel bad for our padawan paleontologist. Men – of any race – do a lot of stupid things for nookie. We incessantly let women talk us into colossally dumb ideas. We can’t help it; we’re biologically programmed to. Our caveman programming tells us that when our woman says that she’s hungry and we should go fight a saber-toothed tiger so she can cook it up for dinner, we go ahead and do it. It was a useful survival strategy in those days – the physiologically weaker female was kept alive and healthy so that she could bear and raise offspring. Sadly for our dinosaur enthusiast, Sorainya’s bright idea of having an interracial wedding right in front of the Ku Klux Klan does not prove to be a very good survival strategy for him at all. How unfortunate that he lived in an age before The Artist Formerly And Once Again Known As Prince could enlighten him on the virtue and necessity of proper Pussy Control. Sometimes a man exercising better judgment and putting his foot down about it really is best for everyone.

So Sorainya’s ill-considered plan to get down with the swirl goes about as badly as one might expect, and the rest of the story is told from her perspective, starting at the moment when her brontosaurus-loving beau has taken a bullet through the chest and is headed towards the floor to expire. From here on, we enter Matrix-style bullet time, flash back and forward, and hear lots of internal monologue from the most unprepared time traveler ever to have moved between dimensions. It’s written in the literary Modernist style – anyone who has read James Joyce or Virginia Woolf should be familiar with it. It is also an exceptionally inappropriate style in which to write genre fiction. Science fiction, in particular, should always be written in a straightforward manner. By its nature, sci-fi is already taking the reader into unfamiliar territory that may be difficult to grasp. When that’s true, writing in an intentionally obscure style only serves to confuse the reader more than is necessary. Authors tend to write in Modernist style mostly because they think that it makes them look highbrow and avant-garde, and also because it seems easier to do than it actually is. But the thing about literary Modernism is that it’s like cooking scallops – it results in something delightful when done just right, but it is so very easy to end up with something that’s overdone and tough to swallow. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t try this at home.

One of the most common and expected of cuckservative memes raises its head in the course of the narrative: the notion that – say it along with me, kids – the Democrats are the real racists! There really is no statement in the whole world more cuckservative than this. Hey jabronis – even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter and nobody cares. The left doesn’t care. They don’t give a damn about your signaling and it’s not going to persuade them of anything because they aren’t even listening to it. They’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you countersignal, and they’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you bend over backwards (or forwards) to white knight for blacks. As has been noted elsewhere, in this matter, you’re going to do the time no matter what, so you might as well do the crime. As for blacks themselves, they don’t care either. The Republican Party spent a hundred years after the Civil War fighting for the rights of blacks, but as soon as the Democrats came along in 1965 and started bribing them with emoluments from the public fisk, blacks dropped the GOP like a hot rock, and now 95% of them vote for Democrats. Wright takes the time to accuse the Democrats of dastardly dealing by quoting LBJ’s remark that with his welfare programs, he’d “have those negroes voting Democratic for the next 200 years”. Perhaps this is so. And yet from the Democrats’ perspective, so far so good.

It’s hard to argue with success, especially if, as cuckservatives have, you’ve spent the last half century losing just about every battle you’ve had to face.

Rather less expected, especially in a book written by a conservative Catholic in the year 2014, is a cameo appearance by the “love is love” meme. This pops up a few times in the chapter. For example, as Sorainya considers her options, an alternate-universe version of herself from a reality in which humankind never rose above the level of tribal savages has occasion to tell our own Sorainya: “Either hate overcomes love, or love overcomes hate. That is the only decision to be made.” And there you have it: NO H8, shitlords! Was Wright just too tone-deaf to see the obvious way in which that sentiment could be applied to gay “marriage”, which, as a Catholic conservative, he opposes? Or worse, can he not see how once one accepts the frame represented by the sentiment that he is expressing, opposing gay “marriage” becomes indefensible? If the only decision to be made is indeed between love or hate (Two extremes! No nuance allowed! How Totalist!), and if the only factor involved in the decision to marry is the choice between the two (Are there no other considerations involved?), then by what justification do we tell gays – or anyone else – that they cannot marry? After all, whether or not they love each other is the only decision to be made. If there actually are other things worth factoring into the decision, Wright does not consider them important enough to be worth sharing.

This disappointing omission points to Wright’s most fundamental philosophical error, which is that he is unable to make the distinction between three concepts that are often conflated, yet are crucially different: a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. It is understandable that many do get them mixed up with each other, as the same act is often all three at once. For example, axe-murdering your wife and children is simultaneously a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. However, few individual acts achieve this trifecta. An act can be just one of these things, or any two of them. Adultery is a sin and a bad idea, but not a crime. Speeding is a crime and a bad idea, but not a sin. Engaging in the “Three S’es” (shoot, shovel, and shut up) if one finds a protected endangered species on one’s farmland is a crime, but neither a sin nor a bad idea. Smoking marijuana is a crime but not a sin, and whether it is a bad idea depends on whether or not one does it to excess. And so forth.

The upshot of all of this is that just because something isn’t a sin, that doesn’t require a Christian to believe that it isn’t a bad idea. Someone once said of Mao’s China that it was a place where “everything that’s not forbidden is mandatory”. Wright seems to be going for a derivation of that in which if an act – in this case, interracial marriage – is not specifically condemned as a sin in the Bible, then Christians must celebrate it and cheer it on (especially if the culture around us insists that we should). To say that I find no scriptural justification for this attitude is an understatement. Christianity is not a religion that relies primarily upon voluminous books of religious law to regulate all the various aspects of life. We are given a few such laws, certainly, but mostly we are taught a worldview and then are left to use it as a basis on which to exercise our own good judgment. I see no reason, therefore, why a Christian cannot come to the conclusion that, while degrees and exceptions exist and generalities may not apply in every single specific case, interracial marriage is generally a bad idea.

(As for Christian love extending to all people of faith, I am reminded of the statement, attributed to no less than Dr. King himself, that “You can be my brother, but not my brother-in-law”. It is a pithy way of expressing the idea that Christian fellowship does not, in fact, obligate one to find every request made by a fellow Christian to be wise or worthy.)

It is tempting here to accuse Mr. Wright of being a cuckold for not opposing interracial marriage, but that would be dishonest of me. In fact, I’m not calling him a “cuckservative” because he doesn’t find interracial marriage to be a sin (I agree with him that it isn’t), nor because he doesn’t find it to be a bad idea (I have my reservations on this point, but respect his right to disagree). No, I am calling him a “cuckservative” because Mr. Wright, obviously spooked by his encounter with the Social Justice vigilante squad no matter how defiant his public face may be when dealing with them, felt the need to include in his anthology this gratuitous bit of anti-racist countersignaling. What is any of this doing in what is ostensibly a book of Catholic-inspired science fiction? What is its relevance to such a work? Here’s an even better question: to whom is it directed, and for whose benefit did he write it? Certainly not leftists, who hate him, won’t read his book, and don’t care what he has to say in it. The other obvious answer is that he’s directing it towards fellow conservatives in the belief that they simply don’t get enough passive-aggressive tolerance lectures from the left, so he had best step in to do the left’s job for them by delivering one of his own.

But there is one other possible explanation: that he’s doing this for himself.

The story ends with Sorainya, after powering up with rage and summoning some ex machina particles, turning her almost-dead almost-husband into a prehistoric monster who tears the Klan members, some innocent bystanders, the choir that came to sing for her wedding, the National Guard soldiers who eventually show up to stop the massacre, and essentially everyone he can get his claws on to pieces, all told from Sorainya’s perspective and with a tone of absolute glee. It ends only when (as they had previously warned her that they would if things went this badly), all of the alternate-universe versions of her get together to erase her from the time stream completely, thus preventing the whole affair from ever having happened and saving everyone except her. There is some real psychology to be found between the lines here. Wright is willing to unleash an unthinking violent beast that will terrorize and brutally murder guilty and innocent alike, that will rip his own kind and even people who have come to help him to shreds, and to laugh over their bleeding bodies – anything, ANYTHING – if there is the even the slightest chance that it will get people who hate him to stop calling him a racist!

This is a story filled with fantastical elements of science fiction – time machines, parallel universes, alternate versions of ourselves – but the sad truth is that the idea that Wright ever could get those people to stop doing that, no matter what lengths he may go to in his attempts, is the must unrealistic of them all.

Many thanks to Zetjintsu for sponsoring this post. My review of the rest of The Book of Feasts and Seasons will be coming to this space shortly.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this chapter is, in fact, Wright’s attempt to rewrite (reWright?) a short story by some Social Justice leftist entitled “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”. I skimmed the original – it’s short and unimpressive, but of course won enough awards to fill up the trunk of a ’62 Cadillac (which has more trunk space than any car made in the last thirty years) because it signaled the right things to the right people. I must emphasize, however, that what Wright has written is in no way a parody of the original – it is an attempt to show off by doing the same thing, only better. Thus, far from making me want to retract my charges against Wright, this discovery only adds to them. “I’ll do a better version of your leftist anti-racist story, but in this one, the Democrats are the real racists!” is about as cuckservative as it gets. But beyond that, it demonstrates a common bad habit of cuckservatives – an unhealthy obsession with what the left is doing and an irresistible drive to respond to it by topping them at their own game. This always ends badly – anyone remember the disastrous “The 1/2 Hour News Hour” that Fox News tried running as a conservative version of the Daily Show? It lasted seventeen episodes, and with good reason. Those on the right need to stop responding to what the left does – that only leaves the left leading the dance and setting the frame. Ignore what the left is saying; build your own ideas (including your own, distinct, unique arts) instead.

It also demonstrates a common bad habit of science fiction writers: assuming that everyone will get their industry in-jokes or care about their exceptionally nerdy versions of rap feuds with other authors or with industry organizations. I cannot speak for others, but I certainly do not, and I am again left wondering how this attempt at one-upsmanship directed against another author who won some awards that Wright thinks she shouldn’t have (and for the record, I agree) is relevant to a book of Catholic liturgy-themed science fiction. Add “indulgent” to my list of charges against “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”.

The Need For Thede

Hitler was wrong because he was a racist.

What’s that? Too pedestrian? Too commonplace? Too banal? You were expecting something more edgy and unusual out of me? Well, fear not – I don’t mean that the same way most people do.

What I mean is that Hitler’s myopic focus on racial purity was far too limited a vision to be truly useful. It left too many questions unanswered and too many issues unaddressed. It was, in fact, utopian in its own way, and the truth is that the conflict between Nazism and Communism was one of competing utopian visions. Communism believed that utopia could be brought about if we could just get everyone to believe the right set of ideas. Nazism believed that utopia could be brought about if only we could get the right people to build it. It has its own kind of logic to it: perfect people will naturally create a perfect world.

The only problem is that both visions are bollocks. Perfect people don’t and never can exist, and utopia is a fantasy that won’t ever come to pass in this world no matter who’s building it or what they believe. That doesn’t stop people from being utopians, however (hopeful delusion is one of those human flaws that we’ll never get rid of). There are lots of dead-ender Marxists still around (some of whom admit that thats what they are, and some of whom don’t). But there are also plenty of people around who believe in Hitler’s equally silly utopian scheme.

Here I do not mean to point an accusing finger at people who simply wish to exercise freedom of association in order to be around others who they perceive to be like themselves. The desire to do so is simply human nature, and after a couple of centuries worth of the disastrous failures of utopian schemes that have attempted to deny human nature, we have all hopefully had our fill of them. Neither do I wish to wage my own “war on noticing” by pretending that it is not true that certain racial groups seem to have naturally differing levels of average IQ, organizational skills, and propensity to criminality; nor by pretending to not understand why someone might want to live among a group that scores high in these areas. That is all understandable, and I have no criticisms to offer about any of it.

But myopic focus on ethnicity alone still too limited a worldview to be useful for our task of rebuilding the civilization that 250 years of leftist utopianism has utterly trashed. Consider, for example, the “Portland problem”. Portland is the whitest major city in America – but what are its politics like? And Portland is hardly an isolated outlier. There is a reason that leftism – and especially Cultural Marxism – has been referred to as “White Peoples’ Disease”. To those who fashion themselves “white nationalists” I say this: Fix white people first, then get back to me about white nationalism.

So we need something else – more than just the “Master Race”. We need to think more broadly – partly about people, partly about ideas, partly about technology (both social and scientific), partly about culture, partly about religious faith, and partly about history (both shared history, and the trajectory of future history). We need to take of these things into account as we consider how to survive what is to come, and how to begin to rebuild and create societies that recapture what was good, workable, and sustainable about the past, while adapting them so that they can continue to be robust in the future.

We need more than a Master Race; we need a Master Thede.

“A what?” you may ask. Well, to fully explain, first I must pull back a bit, so that we make take a realistic look at things the way they really currently are. So here is a no-bullshit assessment of the way things stand in the United States, and indeed virtually everywhere in the West at this point in history: If you are of the right or are even merely not a dedicated Cultural Marxist, if you are a serious Christian, if you value the traditions and culture of your people as they existed prior to World War II, and/or if you are a realist and not a fanatical utopian cultist, then the current system and every institution in it, from the government to the media to the corporate world, from the Supreme Court to the Boy Scouts to NASCAR, with only the possible exception of a handful of religious organizations, is lost to you – permanently and irreversibly. Nothing you can do will change this. There is no amount of protesting, or boycotting, or hashtag posting, or – especially – of voting that will do anything to alter this situation. Not ever. I know it, and – deep down, underneath any denials you may be tempted to offer – you know it, too.

So what do we do now?

To start, there is some good news. The current system and its institutions – everything that has been coopted by the left, and that we have lost to them – will collapse under their own weight anyway, and sooner than you might think. They are, to borrow a wonderful word that the environmentalist left taught me, unsustainable. There are many reasons for that, which include massive debt and other structural economic problems, imperial overreach, moral bankruptcy, resource depletion (and here I mean more than energy – look at California’s recent problems with not having enough water to go around), looming demographic crisis, loss of legitimacy and public trust… problems so numerous and complex that going into all of them in any detail would take me far beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that all of the institutions that make up the Establishment as it is presently constituted are living on borrowed time: they’re going to disintegrate, and it is probably for the best that the left will end up holding the bag when they do.

Well, great – but what do we do to survive in the meantime, and how do we put ourselves in a position to rebuild a decent and sustainable society when the time is right? The first step is that you must transfer your primary loyalty away from the current system. Among other things, you are allowed to ask of it: “What have you done for me lately?” Invade Iraq? Sue my neighbor into homelessness for politely declining to bake a gay wedding cake? Propagandize and promote all manner of sexual deviancy and unwarranted guilt to me and my children? Drive the faith of my fathers out of public life? Sneer at me on Comedy Central? To hell with all that, and to hell with them. You must stop believing in them, stop being sentimental about them, stop feeling any obligation to them, stop looking to them for moral guidance, stop protecting or serving them, stop singing their songs and waving their flags, stop being their fanboy, stop wearing their logos on your t-shirts, and stop acknowledging any power that they have over you which they do not impose at gunpoint. You must be willing to break all the programming given to you by years of public school and talk radio and television and advertisement and patriotic movies. Here I do not mean to adopt a survivalist lifestyle; you need not imitate the Unabomber by moving to a cabin in the woods and subsisting on wild berries. If you need an iPhone, go ahead and buy one – but do not feel any personal loyalty to Apple. If you need a professional certification from a university, go ahead and get it – but do not think of yourself as “a proud alum of the old alma mater”. Pay your taxes and register your car, because you must – but do not think of yourself as a loyal citizen who owes any allegiance to the government.

This last one will likely be the hardest for many people. Those on the right are by nature predisposed to patriotism; it comes easily to them, and abandoning it can be a bitter pill to swallow. Of course, it is perfectly possible to love one’s native land – its people, its history, its traditions – and to hate its government. But in an nation as gigantic as the United States, is loyalty on a national scale even possible or wise? Think: if you live in, say, rural Virginia, what real loyalty do you owe to Hollywood? On what do they base their claim to your loyalty? Hollywood is full of people who hate you – who do not share your faith or your cultural values and who actively work to see them eradicated; who laugh at you and think you a rube to be manipulated; who wouldn’t live in your “flyover” town if somebody paid them a million dollars to do it. What loyalty do you owe to New York or Washington or San Francisco, either – all places full of people who feel the same way about you? Why? Because they’re “fellow Americans”? Not good enough, say I. And what of the government? What has it done to deserve your loyalty? If you hold on to the Constitution, then you hold on to nothing – that scrap of paper has been DOA for ages now, and if it had ever possessed the ability to prevent what has happened from happening, then it would have. As for the rest of the machinery of government, it makes stupid ideas official policy, and consistently acts against your interests. This may speed up or slow down a bit depending on the results of this or that election, but it will never, ever stop. To willingly give loyalty to that beast is insanity; is suicide.

No, we’re never going to get through this by giving loyalty to people who hate us. We’re all going to need something better to transfer our primary loyalty to. What, then? Family? Friends? Church? Community? Like-minded people? Sure. But how about something that includes aspects of all of those? For that, we’re going to need to establish a thede.

So what is a thede, anyway? (Neal Stephenson explored a similar idea in his novel The Diamond Age, but used the term “phyle” to describe it). The most basic definition is that a thede is a group of humans who band together under a strong shared identity. This identity is usually based on a common trait or set of traits. These traits can vary depending on the nature and scale of the specific thede, and can include anything from blood relation to a common religion, class, language, philosophy or ideology, culture and history, IQ and education level, geographical location, shared experience, or any of a long list of other traits, or any combination of them. Ethnicity is, of course, one such possible trait, and is frequently a component of thede identities, but is neither necessarily nor always a component of them. No matter what set of traits they may be based on, thedes by nature must be exclusive – those who do not share the common traits that define the thede cannot be permitted to join it (and even possessing those traits may not be a guarantee of entry). Thedes can be large or small; there can be subthedes within larger thedes; there can be similarity and overlap between different thedes, such that two thedes which differ in some ways but are alike in others can be allied with each other. Thedes can be either formally or informally organized, and can be either localized in one geographical area or distributed. It is possible (maybe unwise, but possible) for a person to belong to more than one thede at once, but only one can have their primary loyalty.

Perhaps some examples can help to solidify the concept. One good example of a thede would be the Jews. “Jewish” is a strong shared identity that is fundamental to the individual identities of the people who are a part of it. It is, at least theoretically, centered around a religious faith, yet many who are strongly atheist in their religious beliefs still consider themselves Jewish, because Jewish identity is also partially based (and perhaps primarily so, in a de facto sense) upon aspects of culture, history, and ethnicity. The Jews have, at some points in their history, had a homeland – a common geographical location to call their own – and at other times have been a distributed thede. For many Jews, “Jewish” is the primary shared identity with which they identify themselves, and represents the thede to which they give their primary loyalty. The modern state of Israel, for example, was founded by Jews from many nations, who, justifiably or not, saw being “Jewish” as the identity to which they owed their primary loyalty, which is why they left the nations in which they were born in order to fight for, an become citizens of, a new nation based on that thede identity.

Another example of a thede would be the Freemasons. Wherever he may travel, if a Freemason wears his ring and does the secret handshake, other Freemasons will recognize him as one of their own even if they have never met before. Once they do recognize each other, Freemasons are expected to come to each others’ aid in whatever way they can, whenever such aid is needed. Many is a Freemason whose job interview was a mere formality, conducted with a wink and a nod by someone who was wearing the same ring that he was. Many others have received help in times of dire need as well. (When was the last time you heard of a homeless Freemason?) This aspect of mutual aid and obligation is not a feature of every thede, but is a vital part of any serious and robust one.

One more example would be the Mormons. Mormons take their moral guidance from the elders of their church, not from a court full of political appointees in Washington. If the elders find that marriage is something that only exists between people of opposite sexes, then that, not the opinions of a distant panel of lawyers in Hogwarts costumes, is the law by which they live. Similarly, the ladies of yet another thede, the Amish, wear long dresses because that is one of their thede’s customs. If they’d like to remain part of that thede, then those customs are, effectively, law to them. Here, a Marxist insight is useful: Whoever exercises authority over you is your de facto government. If you give your primary loyalty and grant the position of legitimate moral authority to your church elders, if the commandments of your faith or the customs of your thede are what you hold to be the legitimate laws by which you are bound, and if you see the de jure government as essentially an overgrown crew of corrupt gangsters, to be politely obeyed when their enforcers are watching and discreetly ignored when they aren’t, then your thede becomes both your people and your government, and the de jure government, along with all of its formally and informally associated institutions, becomes a burdensome but manageable annoyance.

If a thede is robust and resilient; if it is not just willing, but also able, to provide effective mutual defense and mutual aid to its members; if it is based on sound and enduring principles which resonate with high-quality people and attract them into the thede; if it can offer a space that encourages and rewards pro-social behavior; if it can help people to achieve the Good Life in a spiritual sense, a material sense, or both; in short, if it can be a worthy place for worthy people to direct their primary loyalty, then it will become a Master Thede. Once built, a Master Thede will serve (in the words of the Czech anticommunist dissident Vaclav Benda) as a parallel polis – a set of parallel institutions; a parallel culture with parallel art, philosophy, laws, customs, and manners; a parallel de facto government with instruments of defense, aid, education, and internal conflict resolution. It will not seek to replace the current government nor to declare independence in a “1776” sense – at least not for the foreseeable future. It is not intended to be an instrument of revolution under any common definition of that term, and it will as much as possible seek to avoid any engagement with the current government and current institutions altogether. A Master Thede forms a means of internal exit (especially for those unable or disinclined to move to a foreign country) – both a refuge from the current system and a basis on which to rebuild after it finally collapses. It is building just such a Master Thede (or thedes), and not trying to change the hopeless, doomed current system, that should be the focus of any practical action for reactionaries and traditionalists.

Ideally, everyone would already have a thede readily available that suits them and with which they can place their primary loyalty. In the midst of our highly atomized and individualistic Modern society, however, most people do not. In practice, any thede that will expand to a useful size will almost certainly either have to grow out of an existing institution (likely a church – no other civic institution capable of incubating a traditional thede really anymore exists) or organize through the internet. Much of it will be slow networking – finding trustworthy people, working out policies, and so on. Once a Master Thede is built, it will become successful, and when it becomes successful, it will attract others to it (especially as currently-existing institutions start to crumble and general prosperity declines even further). There will be challenges. Quality control will be primary among them: a Master Thede will have to reject many – entryists, freeloaders, insincere bandwagon-jumpers – who wish to become part of it. In terms of the people involved (and in terms of basically everything else), it must always place quality over quantity. Maintaining order and avoiding Conquest’s Second Law will also be difficult. Some within the thede may seek to change certain of its policies for reasons both good and bad. Good-faith discussion of how best to proceed should be encouraged as a tool by which the best decisions can be reached. But on core issues, the thede should follow a strict FIFO policy – “Fit In or Fuck Off”. Just as the nation-state’s ultimate enforcement mechanisms are imprisonment or execution, the Master Thede’s ultimate enforcement mechanism will be expulsion – i.e. those who won’t abide by the thede’s policies can go back to taking their chances with a government and a set of institutions that hate them and that with each passing day become simultaneously more oppressive and incompetent.

Much remains to be discussed about this topic (I do plan to return to it in the future), and doubtless many mistakes will be made, and hopefully learned from, during the creation of robust and resilient thedes. It won’t be easy. But creating them, transferring your primary loyalty to them, building them up, and defending them is your only choice. The currently-existing system and its institutions are your enemy – they will not help you, they will only seek to either bring you to heel or to destroy you – and anyway do not have all that very much life left in them. Circumstances are forcing you to look elsewhere. Let us take the first tentative steps toward creating an “elsewhere” to which we can look.