Know what I think is annoying as all hell? Anyone who complains about us having too many labels and about how labels are so divisive and awful and why can’t we just be people?
Putting a word to something doesn’t destroy it, it makes that thing a concept that can be communicated- it means that you can talk about it. And every word, in every language, code, cipher, or other message ever conceived, is a label for something that a person either imagined or which does or did exist at some point.
Where would biology be if taxonomy didn’t help divide organisms into distinct branches and let us map out an evolutionary tree? Where would writing be if we couldn’t compile a dictionary or an encyclopedia? And how many people would still consider themselves broken, wrong, or unnatural if they hadn’t found the right word for their identity, and found others who shared in it? How many more suicides and dead-eyed people would we have in a world where “asexual” and “transgender” weren’t words?
But there are so many labels for people and they don’t fit into an easy system! No, of course not, because they were all made by different people and then society as a whole grabbed them and started fitting them into different models. This is a postmodern world we live in- plenty of people doubt that there is any one true model of the world. That said, words like “bigender” and “demisexual” don’t have a lot of meanings, and whether or not the words are well-organized has little effect on whether or not you understand them.
Oh, but it destroys our sense of wonder at the unknown to put it all in little boxes- no. We are able to determine what we do and don’t know. We can look at a field and recognize the questions we haven’t answered, and come up with prospective answers, and hopefully work our way towards the actual answer. In many cases, we’ve already done this, and we ended up understanding those things that were unknown.
And, let’s be honest here, people who say this aren’t actually against labels, they’re against the things that labels are for. They don’t want new words that better describe the world, because it’s inconvenient to them to learn those new words. They shun new knowledge and new language, and they shy away from understanding, and they’re perfectly content to live in a world which remains motionless so they don’t have to stress their learning centers for five minutes. It’s an egocentric, small-minded philosophy for the sort of people who would rather burn books and live in caves than try to make the world a better place.
I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.— Teju Cole (via sambwmn)
Another great moment in Reamde: one scene ends with gunshots that make you think a character is about to start a gunfight when we next roll around to them. Then, in the next scene, we start a minute or two before and have that character come up with a convoluted reason to fire their weapons in exactly the way that it happens at the end of that last scene, but is interrupted from this plan when a fight suddenly breaks out and he has to start shooting.
I love double-fakeouts.
McGann hasn’t aged because somewhere in his attic is the original reel of the TV Movie, aging.
Fun fact: I can’t visualize things. I’ve tried, and I can’t actually see things at will with my mind’s eye. I can have vivid dreams if I wake up at night and then go back to sleep, but I can’t see things when I close my eyes. I seriously wish I could, though.
Being single is cool, but sometimes you just want someone you can
Given that Cryptonomicon’s audiobook has the same narrator as Anathem, I assume Erasmas wrote about Earth’s history while on the Dodecahedron, silly voices and all. After all, it sounds like something a member of the Mathic World would take an interest in.
Some things I say seem a lot nerdier in hindsight.
Fun fact: the French writer Voltaire had several of his writings burned. One of them was a philosophical document burned for being against the ideals of pre-revolutionary France. His Dictionary of Philosophy was burned upon its publication. The pamphlet “A Man With Forty Crowns” was so bad that…
I’ve only read Candide, but I loved it with all my heart.
I read Candide last year as part of an English class. I found a lot of it hilarious in a way I didn’t think I’d get, a lot of it disgusting in a way I was surprised I wasn’t desensitized to, and the last section very interesting from a philosophical point of view.
For anyone who hasn’t read it or been in an English class about it, I was taught that it was apparently written as a response to An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, which proposed the idea of philosophical optimism, the attempted solution to the Problem of Evil that out of all of the worlds that the Abrahamic god could’ve possibly created, this was the best, so all of the bad things you see in the world are inevitable parts of a greater whole.
Of course, this viewpoint is parodied through Pangloss, a man who rambles a lot using vaguely-impressive philosophical terms and who gets largely ignored throughout the story as an annoyance. Even his name is basically Latin for “lots of talk”. And, of course, this is perfectly lampooned by the next-to-last paragraph of the story:
"There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your [magnificent and golden] sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."
Pangloss is actually a parody of Gottfried Leibniz, who argued in his Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil that this is the best of all possible worlds.
Voltaire was definitely influenced by Pope (and later turned against him) but Pangloss has far more of Leibniz than of Pope in him.
That’s right. In fact, I discovered that myself while taking a moment to fact-check what I had written. Hence why I said that Pangloss parodied the viewpoint and not Pope.
Incidentally, I don’t know terribly much about Leibniz, apart from a short discussion in Philosophy 101, which is sadly the only philosophy course at my university. I know that he invented the concept of monads, and basically believed that we are ideas, of a kind, in the mind of a deity. Unfortunately, because I learned about the two very close to each other, I have a big conceptual pudding in my head made up of both him and Spinoza, and it’s nigh impossible to separate the two even though, by all rights, they shouldn’t be locked together in the first place.
And from what I’ve learned from the class, I’m mostly content with Socrates, Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Nietzsche. And maybe Anaximander, for his name. With frequent checks to 4chan’s /lit/ board I’m bulking up on more obscure philosophers than the ones my textbook feels like listing to me. In fact, just this morning I listened to some passages from Max Stirner on egoism.
I usually have weird nightmares if I wake up at night and then go back to sleep at the wrong time. I disregarded that last night, and I ended up being exactly right. I dreamt that I’d somehow fallen into an alternate universe (using powerful futuristic technology), where everything was somehow dog-themed.
I was in the company of, and probably belonged to, the emperor-god-king of the world, a very proud and egotistical man who looked a bit like Napoleon Bonaparte and wore a kind of naval outfit. The dream was vivid, but I can’t recollect all of it, except that I think I was going to be freed at some point or really bad things would happen to me, and there was a big room full of foodstuffs laid out like my local gas station, and a policeman-security-guard-person came in and grabbed two donuts while I got something I think was strange, unappetizing and inside of a soda can.
And there was a weird EPSNesque broadcast I picked up a bit of on TV (the alternate universe didn’t have computers and I had to hide mine), where the newscasters said that they were disappointed that the king didn’t spend some time with his wife before going to some event that I can’t remember.
I was treated like a dog, kind of, and fed like one, but I didn’t really mind at the time. The weird part was that when we (me, king, the security guy and someone who might’ve been my love interest, and some other random people) were all heading for Dogworld Air Force One, the ruler of the world decided to pay his wife a visit.
I never got to see her, but she was in a cage set into the wall, like she was in the pound. They had sex- again, I couldn’t see, and I didn’t try to- but part of the way through he started complaining, and he eventually shot her through the head. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of his problem was that she’d winked at him while stripping and done other things (probably like speaking) that broke the spell and made it seem like she was human instead of a dog.
He quickly had a replacement wife from the background characters show up, and she agreed that she’d do her best not to get bored in the cage or go mad or make noises or wink.
I think that’s about the time that I woke up. But eugh. I wish I had vivid dreams that weren’t seriously fucked up sojourns into absurdist cosmi.
The best stories are ones where the protagonist and the antagonist (if it’s even clear enough to have such characters) are savvy geniuses.
Any story can have a good guy who succeeds because luck is on his side, or he was at the right time at the right place, or he’s destined to come out on top or he just has a last minute ace in the hole. (Or, in the case of Harry Potter, all of these at once.) But this is a childish kind of hero. They win because that’s their role in the story, or because the greater forces of the world have deemed them worthy, or because they mastered some singular skill or ability over the course of the story. They win, essentially, because the story is an allegory or a morality tale, and it all only makes sense if they come out on top. They’re really no different from fairy tale characters.
Now, there are some stories where the hero loses, but these aren’t satisfying. There’s not much fun to be had if the hero you’re so invested in gives up at the end or gets beaten. But what does improve it, since we know that the protagonist will win, is making their victory interesting.
That’s where geniuses, masterminds, chess-players and the like come in. If the main character knows how to manipulate the world around him, he’s no longer the plucky protagonist with the special ability or heritage, or the everyman pulled from normal society and thrust into new circumstances who solves problems by being perfectly normal. He is not a child, but an adult, who can shape the landscape around him to suit his needs, and who can take responsibility for far-reaching actions.
They don’t need to be serious, or flawless, or perfect examples of some ideal of maturity. But they do need to have some better grasp of the world they live in, and an understanding of the others they share it with. Whether they’re quick-witted, patient thinkers, idiot savants, or stressed characters who can barely get their thoughts to flow, they have to be able to make plans and work towards goals.
That’s what I always prefer in stories, at least. It should always be plan vs. plan, not man vs. man. The clever and guile survive, while the brutish and virtuous fall, one after the other.