Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Drawing Faulty Conclusions of Causality

This morning I read an article in the SMH about two girls who committed suicide. I don’t know the girls. I don’t know why they did what they did. However, to quote from the article:

On the site Jodie and Stephanie talked about their fascination with the brooding "emo" subculture. With roots in the goth movement, emo is short for "emotional" and is known for its angst-ridden music and moody introspection.

This quote is taken from quite early in the article and demonstrates a cunning tactic of saying something without saying something. The implication is that there is some connection between their death and their interest in emo music. Although the SMH will probably deny that they’re drawing this conclusion (and grammatically, they’ve not actually said that they are), it is clear that they want the reader to think that the connection is strong.

However, the logic does not follow. It’s roughly the same as writing, “On April 24, Mary shot her neighbour’s dog. On April 24, Mary was wearing black shoes. Therefore, wearing black shoes is a contributing factor to Mary’s choice to shoot the neighbour’s dog.” The two statements are true, but there is no causation. Michael Moore makes these kinds of connections all the time and gets ridiculed for them.

This is a beat-up to stir the fires of moral panic in the community in order to sell more newspapers (or advertising clicks; your choice). “Drive out the emo from among you at once!” they say. “Look under every rock and hiding place for people who are ‘angst-ridden and introspective’ – they are a blight on the community! They’ll make you depressed. They’ll only kill themselves!” The logic of this is that if only people would stop listening to emo music, they’ll be safe from committing suicide. What should they listen to instead; The Seekers?

There are other groups within the Australian communities who are vulnerable to suicide. Many middle-aged men who feel that they have failed their families because they cannot provide for them (low pay, redundancies, high expectations for living standard, etc.) believe that they are unworthy to continue in the family and take their own lives. Does this therefore mean that we should stop people from becoming fathers? Folly.

Please, journalists and editors, take a moment to think about logical consistency before you write your articles. This is the kind of scaremongering that has happened with video games and roleplaying games - all of which is baseless. See beyond the next circulation figures and the associated advertising dollar.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The Virginia Tech Massacre is Collectively Insignificant

So it seems that someone has decided to shoot at fellow human beings and then take his own life. Have we seen this before? Yes, many times. We’ve seen it at Coumbine, at Port Arthur, in Jerusalem, in Iraq, in wars, and so on. What’s so special about this one?

Perhaps there is nothing special about it. On the contrary, this event already occupies a place in our consciousness. The event is covered in history, television, movies and in humour. Although it is a sad event, it is not alien to us. It has happened before and will happen again.

The reason that this event is not significant is that it will not change anything about our society. No large scale changes will be made as a result and therefore, this event is as significant as any other.

Suppose you were to argue with me and suggest that it is a significant event for the families of those killed or wounded by it. I would agree. This is as significant for them as it is for the families of people killed in war, or for the families of those killed by others in traffic accidents. But it is not significant for society as a whole. In fact, I argue that the net effect of this shooting at Virginia Tech is one of collective insignificance because nothing will change as a consequence. Gun manufacturers will not stop selling guns. People will not sell their guns for scrap metal because someone else has misused a weapon. The sword will not be beaten into the plow as a result of the Virginia Tech massacre and therefore it is an insignificant event.

Do you think that the size of the massacre makes a difference? Suppose we look at the number of violent deaths in Iraq this week. 200 from car bombs alone. Suppose we look at the violence in Darfur: hundreds of thousands killed and maimed. How about Rwanda? Millions. Have any of these resulted in collective change for humanity? No. Such violence has no effect and we, as a species, will continue to treat it as insignificant.

Prove me wrong. Beat your swords into plows. Pull your gun to pieces, run a grinder through them all and sell the leftovers for scrap. You won’t. No one will. That is why the Virginia Tech massacre is collectively insignificant.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Divine What?

“Therefore, the exact transcendent nature of God's being is speculation and beside the point. The point is, how does God interact with a cosmos of self-interest in order to effect a change in that cosmos? God interacts as an interruption to it, as a disturbance in the normal flow of experience-interpret-decide-act, existing as something that does not fit within the natural order of things. To say it in the language of psychoanalysis, God is like a trauma that will not assimilate; disturbing the “common sense” understanding of reality, insisting that the normal flow of evaluative human action be replaced by pre-emptive love. God's immanent existence is actualised by obedient acts of pre-emptive love that come from the command to love; a command which (like God) does not integrate within normal cosmic existence, but which is no less than a divine trauma.

Although I run the risk that my lecturer will choose to search the web to find out whether I've plagiarised anything, I liked this paragraph. Richard, if you're reading this – it's a copy and paste from the essay that you have.

This may also explain the hush from the blog this week. I've been clacking away at this dinky keyboard.

But back to the trauma. This is the background to the name of this blog. God is not just another human being. God is not just like me. I, for one, am selfish and act out of an epistemological process that treats other subjects as objects. As a consequence, I do not love from this epistemology. However, the command of God is to love. Love first. Love always. Love recklessly and unconditionally. This does not fit within the conventional approach to the universe. It does not even allow the encounter to take place without first asserting love. Now, because this does not fit, God is traumatic to the natural order. Love, and therefore God, is a divine trauma.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Supanova

I’m going to Supanova this weekend. Looks like a hoot. The very idea of the convention for games, comics and anime could be viewed suspiciously as little more than a revenue-raising exercise… OK, forget “could be.” It is. However, I don’t see a problem with people who have put their labour into something creative (software for a game, inks for a page) getting paid for it. Uncle Karl would agree. And he and I would be just as annoyed that the owners of those game companies were still skimming their exploitative profits from the top. Still, I’m mostly going for the Madman stall. Kudos to them for bringing Ghost In The Shell to Australia. Kudos to me for having seen that amazing story.

See you at Supanova, Madman.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Parallax Gap between Agapē and Altruism

We’re all victims of the last book we read. I, for one, am plugging my way through Zizek’s Parallax Gap at the moment and am interested in his idea of the parallax in perspective, situation and function for a thing. In some ways, it’s similar to the idea of Danto’s method of indiscernibles. For Danto, something like Warhol’s Brillo cartons is indiscernible from the cartons actually used to store and ship Brillo pads. Despite the differences of material (cardboard is replaced by wood, mass printing is replaced by hand-printing) the box is still fundamentally the same box. It looks the same and without prior knowledge of the construction technique, the casual observer will find the difference between the two indiscernible.

Zizek tries something similar from the other side. That is, an thing is just a thing in all circumstances, but the thing is quite a different thing when located in different contexts. The breast, in one context, is the mechanism for feeding an infant, but in another context it is an object of sexual desire. The thing has not changed, but it is nonetheless plastic as a consequence of circumstance, location and perspective.

Apply this now to a single act of kindness. To the casual observer, this act is identical if performed by a secular humanist as it would be by a nun. However, the secular humanist will be thinking of the greater good for humanity, the responsibility of one sentient to another and even perhaps considering this to be an altruistic act, given that it might occur with some measure of personal sacrifice. For the nun, the thoughts are likely to be centred around the divine, the co-location of the needy person with Christ and considering this an act of agapē, the act of unconditional love.

The two acts appear indiscernible, but are nonetheless different. One is most certainly divine, but the other is not. And yet, the effect is the same. If, halfway through the act, the nun reconsidered her faith and became a secular humanist, did God cease to exist there and then, being forced to exist in some other act? Yes. And likewise, should the secular humanist find faith in the middle of the act, does God emerge into existence in that act? Yes.

Subtly, God is the difference between agapē and altruism. God’s existence in this world depends entirely on it.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

The Meaning of a Particular Death

Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet that was executed at Passover time, died a significant death. He had planned it for some time, telling his disciples that he meant to die and through his death would come salvation for all people. Today I’m not writing about the kind of salvation that has been rammed down our throats since Augustine. The salvation is salvation from ourselves.

After telling them that he meant to die, he set about arranging it. He made controversial political and religious statements so as to enrage his enemies at the same time as he wanted to make a point. He evoked the image of the Hebrew messiah by riding into the capital on a donkey (“Behold, Jerusalem, your king is coming on a donkey”). It’s likely that he even asked Judas to help him meet his fate by asking him to hand him over (only interpreted as ‘betray’ in the Biblical Greek) to the authorities. After denying the position of political messiah for so long, why evoke it now? In order to die.

Jesus intentionally went to the cross to die as a failed messiah. He took on the image of a messiah so that he could be tried and executed as a political leader. This death is the death of Israel – and of all nationalists. It is the symbol that seeking nationhood is not what God wants. Rather, Jesus’ death was the symbol of the death of government and nationhood.

But from this death comes birth. In the death of the nation comes the birth of the community. With the death of identity that could be gained from lines on a map or ethnicity or citizenship test… with this there was a new identity – a Jesus follower, a Christian. This community was meant to supersede the nation, a concept that could fall by the wayside.

Jesus died as a failed political leader and emerged as a successful founder of a community who would live on in imitation of him. Let us not forget this message and instead of falling into rank beside each other and behind the barrel of a gun, let us instead form a community of people who want to live in the peace of God’s community; living as imitators of Jesus.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Nobles

NOTE: Gaming topics have been moved to Tabletop Manifesto.

This is a project of mine that is currently in playtest. I wanted to create a game that could be played by two people but it turns out that it scales very nicely to three or more as well.

Because it’s currently in playtest, I won’t post the rules yet. However, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a giveaway. No charge. All you need are some ordinary playing cards and two six-sided dice.

More news on Nobles coming soon!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Heretic!

Heresy: n. opinion contrary to doctrine of Christian Church or to accepted doctrine on any subject. (Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary)

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a heretic. I was raised in the Anglican Communion, left it to go to the Assemblies of God for five years and who is now on the prowl for a new Christian community to join. Somewhere along the way I began postgraduate studies in theology and put all my childhood beliefs in the dock and prosecuted them. I called as my witnesses such luminaries as Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Zizek, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Satre, Eberhard, NT Wright, Marcus Borg, David Chalmers, Tom Searl and Scott Stephens.

The verdict was not in favour of the accused. My childhood beliefs were found guilty and sentenced to ridicule. In fact, it’s now good fun for me to critique what I once believed. Almost a kind of intellectual sport.

But in their place must come another ideology; another framework for viewing the world. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all. So now I have a new framework that stands up to the aforementioned witnesses reasonably well. I wouldn’t say it was watertight (can you get an IP rating for an ideology?) but it’s certainly more robust.

The trouble with it is that it now stands over against the communities in which I now move. From the pulpit comes a statement that is poorly conceived and terribly argued. I am neither moved nor convinced by them. Consequently, I am increasingly under the impression that my opinions are now contrary to doctrine of the mainstream Christian Churches, but not contrary to Christ.

I am, therefore, a heretic.

Perhaps I should get it printed on a T-shirt.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The Jedi Inquisition

Within the Star Wars world, the Jedi are treated as heroes of the Republic. They are portrayed as guardians of a kind of order in the universe, the embodiment of the Light side of the Force. However, with some closer examination, it becomes apparent that the Jedi themselves have a dark side.

Take, for instance, the connection between the Jedi and the Republic itself. It is clear that the Jedi are deeply connected with the Republic. The ideals, statutes and laws of the Republic are not only upheld by standard law enforcement but when the situation becomes too difficult or powerful for such law enforcement, the Jedi are called in. They send a Knight or a Master to deal with the breach.

Now let us put this situation next to the Inquisition from the Middle Ages of Europe. People were ruled by a feudal system that ultimately derived its power from the clergy. Kings could only be appointed by bishops. Bishops could only be appointed by the Pope.
Popes claimed their authority from an elect lineage selected by the Son of God. The entire system of government derived its mandate from divine right. The king is the king because God wills it to be so.

Even more importantly, when there were breaches in the peace, local authorities (lords, knights, princes, etc.) were charged with restoring order in the region. And yet, when more lofty matters (heresy, witchcraft) arose, the response was to send in the Inquisitors. The goal of the Inquisitor was to return people to the good faith, but if the people in their care refused, all authority of the state (the Republic) and the church (the Jedi Order) was granted to deal out punishment, even capital punishment. This authority was completely discretionary. The Inquisitor (Jedi) was judge, jury and executioner; on the spot elimination of the breach to the One True Way.

To paraphrase Monty Python, “Nobody expects the Jedi Inquisition.”

See now the dark story hidden within Star Wars. The Jedi Order, firmly entrenched within the Republic, becomes threatened by - not an army of Dark Jedi - but by two heretics. They send out the Inquisitors to deal with the heresy and are defeated. The tyrannical reign of the Jedi, hiding behind the facade of an ineffectual democracy, is soon exposed as a complacent and oppressive regime. Their chief weapon, the fear they instilled in their opponents, is foiled as soon as others have sufficient power to stand up against them. And then they crumble and are driven into hiding, to be hunted down as heretics by the new regime.

So, the story of Star Wars is not so much connected to the Force as it is connected to the political ebb and flow of two competing religious orders, each seeking to be established within the systems of government. These religious bodies wish to be the violence inherent in the system, the violence that is the guarantor of the political system, each claiming divine right all the way. How different is this to our current understanding of the world? What is this, if not the real reason that the Star Wars story resonates so deeply within all of us? It is the expression of a longing to turn our own moral code into a universal code. It is a story of global conquest; the triumph of divine right over terrorists and heretics.