Thursday, October 31, 2013

20 Spooky/Spiritual Thoughts for Halloween

1. Nothing says Halloween like an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu ski mask (h/t Jeremy “release the” Kareken).

2. But this beaver is instead dressed as a bee (h/t Rebecka Heise).  I guess you could say he’s a bee-ver.

3. Yesterday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and as hoaxing/trolling/punking/pranking (for good or ill) becomes an ever larger part of media culture, he deserves new respect as a forebear.

4. This year’s also the seventy-fifth anniversary of Superman, who inspired an online debate among friends of mine about whether he’s more Christian or Nietzschean in tone.  For today, let us just agree he’s not Satanic.

5. Superman might yet save us from the scary NSA -- or at least from the DC Comics version of the NSA (or at least of S.H.I.E.L.D.), the group A.R.G.U.S., implicitly criticized in this scene along with Obama (the very first time I have ever seen Obama criticized instead of lionized in a comic book).

I believe Captain America will face similar doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D. in April’s Captain America sequel movie (it will also depict French villain Batroc the Leaper doing parkour, which sounds logical to me -- I just hope he won’t be wearing those annoying toe shoes you see lately).  I’ll have far more to say about liberty themes in comics in a few weeks, by the way (stay tuned). 

6. The scariest superhero news this week is that DC Comics is moving from New York City to Burbank, likely taking a few of my acquaintances including Scott Nybakken westward in the process. 

If they go, here’s hoping they all end up with the same “rich and famous” contract that Kermit signed with Orson Welles upon arrival in Hollywood in the great original Muppet Movie.

7. As I noted on the Facebook recently, I saw a headline announcing “Website Tells You If Anyone Has Died in Your House,” and I’m so materialist/science-oriented, I thought it just sounded like a needlessly convoluted medical-alert system.  Then I remembered some people actually care whether their home might have ghosts in it.  (It doesn’t.)

8. St. Francis, Aquinas, and of course Jesus himself would all have disagreed with my certainty on that point, as would Dawn Eden, who was nice enough to send me a volume collecting G.K. Chesterton’s book-length musings on each of those men. 

One of Chesterton’s (always-amusing, warmhearted) complaints this time around is that (even 100 years ago) moderns admire St. Francis but would like to reduce his love of all creation (and its implied Creator) to a mere fondness for animals or the poor, when in fact there’s more going on there.  

(Dawn also sent a link to these parodies of bad atheist arguments, though I must say they sound more like bad arguments Aquinas would make than like atheist arguments I routinely encounter.  Aquinas’s “proofs” of God are so weak that even 800 years later, there remains disagreement among both his critics and his supporters about whether Aquinas was himself joking in the proofs, whether he was parodying bad theological arguments, parodying bad rationalist arguments, or perhaps just going through the motions of confirming God’s existence to reassure religious folk his philosophizing needn’t lead to blasphemy.)

9. The Francis section of that Chesterton anthology has an intro by Manhattan’s own Father Rutler, who as many here know is an amusing character fond of pushing free-associative, ironic observations about historical coincidences almost to the point of engaging in conspiracy theory -- or the somewhat heretical view that God’s plan is such a comedic one that He had some reason for having Al Gore born on the same day as the Roswell UFO crash (which I also don’t believe in -- though I’m keen to see the documentary Mirage Men alleging that the government likes to leave the public wondering about UFOs, to distract us from thinking about stealth aircraft and drones).

10. I take it Pope Francis has been retracing the footsteps of his namesake this month, and he remains an interesting character.

11. Much as I might wish I could completely ignore religion,
it of course shapes how many of the people around me think -- so much so that I (belatedly) realized that if you move in conservative circles, half the time when people talk about the distinction between “trads” and “neos,” they aren’t (just) talking about eras of the conservative movement but are (also) in a veiled way talking about (roughly) the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II factions of Catholics (as if politics isn’t complicated enough when people stick to a single definition for a term and stick to coping with earthly problems). 

On top of that, recent years saw a sometimes-creepy variation on the trads, mostly made up of young folk with a nasty ironic streak, occasionally referred to (or loosely affiliated with) a “Dark Enlightenment” or “neo-reaction” movement -- in turn praised, I notice, by at least one blog from an environmentalist “dark ecology” movement, which basically, I think, is rooted in the idea that preserving nature shouldn’t entail glossing over its brutality, danger, and ugliness. 

That jibes somewhat with the way the darker young trads relish embracing even the manifestly-barbarous, blatantly retrograde, and unjust elements of the past, as part of the beautiful larger cultural tapestry -- a little like William Blake admiring both God and Satan, as opposed to just plain being a jerk. 

(Those darker young trads arguably include one I used to date who has lightened up quite a bit since, thank goodness, and was even nice -- and some would say forgiving -- enough to recommend me when American Spectator needed someone to write this obit for Lou Reed this week.  It’s a messy but interesting world.)

12. I was reminded of the Catholics (and the ex) again this week when I had the hip-yet-traditional experience of seeing that Jeffrey Lewis will be appearing at the bar Half King, initially assuming it was the funny young folk rocker who sings here about seeing another folk rocker near Williamsburg but then realizing it’s the older Jeffrey Lewis from Yale who has written novels about Catholicism and meritocracy.  Again, it’s all good. 

13. Even Jeffrey Friedman, editor of the libertarian-leaning political philosophy journal Critical Review, displays a soft spot for theology in the latest issue, noting that centuries later, libertarianism and liberalism still grapple with some questions about the value of freedom as a thing unto itself that trace back to old theological arguments about the nature of God’s own freedom of action (can He will something that is evil if He wants to or would that defy natural law and his perfectly good nature?).

Friedman, like me, is a consequentialist, so he’s keen to suggest we value freedom because it yields good results, not “just because it’s inherently awesome” (as some suggest when constructing strawman libertarians -- or in some cases when being strawman libertarians, though I don’t think they’re as common as critics, including some within the movement, imagine). 

Another piece in the issue suggests that John Stuart Mill’s rule utilitarianism (roughly my own philosophy) can be seen as an attempt to find a compromise between Kant and Bentham: between strong moral rules and checking results.  We can do both without everything unraveling. 

14. Google’s seasteads floating off the U.S. coasts in various locations are a bit scary, but if they’re step one in the Cyber-Coup, maybe it’ll all be for the best.

15. Combining the themes of the prior two items, I see Seasteading Institute founder Patri Friedman recommends a great lecture, perhaps scary to some libertarians, in which his dad, David Friedman, is clearly thinking (and thinking clearly) like a nearly-utilitarian consequentialist in addressing some potential ambiguities within libertarian theory, ambiguities that some more Kantian/Randian types might prefer to pretend don’t exist.

16. In much the same way that I think virtually all superstitious beliefs are a mere byproduct of humans instinctively searching for humanoid motivations in nature to explain all things (animism, God, ghosts, you name it), Bretigne Shaffer (though no strict materialist herself) and pals have been batting around the useful idea that we need a good term for another common human mental error: attributing individual will to collectives (e.g., “but America has decided to do this”).  It really is a stupid thing to do, when you think about it.  Your faith in democracy should be gone by the end of this paragraph, by the way. 

17. Faith notoriously led Mormon sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card to vocally oppose gay marriage before finally conceding defeat on the issue recently.  Starting tomorrow, people can theorize about whether that whole controversy has affected ticket sales for the film adaptation of his very popular novel Ender’s Game. 

My fear is that it’s not going to be great, which is a shame because, politics notwithstanding, it’s a case of an already-existing sci-fi franchise about teens that wasn’t simply written with teens or young adults in mind.  The novel is brainy, classic sci-fi.  We’ll soon see what the film is.

18. I wonder if neo-pagans, by contrast, fear how their gods will come across in next week’s Thor: The Dark World.  When the prior Thor film came out, I admit I invited New York City Councilman (and neo-pagan and ostensible libertarian) Dan Halloran to join my posse to see it, but since he’s been arrested for soliciting bribes since then, it may be just as well we never bonded.  Some left-leaning neo-pagans also fear that he (like some who idolize Norse gods and Norsemen) might be some sort of crypto-racist, but perhaps he won’t be on the public stage much longer to embarrass any faction. 

Or maybe he’ll emerge smelling like a rose and become president.  This town nearly resuscitated Weiner and Spitzer, after all, and we’re about to have a literal Sandinista liberation-theology social democrat as mayor in the form of Bill de Blasio, despite poor Joe Lhota’s seemingly futile efforts to stop him (Lhota was losing about 23 to 68 in the last poll I saw, since New York is insane).

19. Atheist Alain de Botton is here interviewed about trying to replicate some of the best aspects of religion within atheist communities, obviously a risky endeavor from a traditionalist perspective but perhaps necessary.  Maybe we’ll all be something like Unitarians one day.  I confess I’d prefer that to becoming a neo-pagan (never mind some sort of crazy Satanist), but we still have a long way to go before the Kumbaya, hyper-liberal, eco-animist, and wannabe elements of these sorts of humanist efforts are weeded out.  (That interview was pointed out by Dave Whitney, who was also one of several friends influencing my Lou Reed obit linked above.)

20. Remember that themes of faith and fear will combine again on Nov. 11 (8pm), when I moderate a debate about who the most troublesome faction of modern Puritans is.  Join us at Muchmore’s that day -- or be sacrificed to DIONYSUS!


Jake said...

I haven't read beyond the headlines. What's scary about Google's floating data centers?

Todd Seavey said...

I just jokily mean people aren't entirely sure what they're up to. Nothing too sinister, I'm sure.