Category Archives: Philosophy

Banking on the Future

Iain (M.) Banks announced yesterday that he has terminal bladder cancer and has less than a year to live. In less than a day 3800 people (including me) signed his guest book/condolence page. Had he announced three days ago during April Fools Day, I would have had a chuckle and rubbed my hands in anticipation of the many more novels he would gift to us.  Sadly that joke was not to be.

I finished Against a Dark Background in February, and The Hydrogen Sonata shortly after it came out in October of last year. These two novels brought the number of his books I have read to eleven, which is probably the most of any other author I have read.  By far it is his Culture novels I adore.

For me, his Culture novels describe a post-scarcity anarcho-communist society where everyone can choose his, her or its own purpose and is able to live a full, rich life of play.  A short fan video directed by Jon Rennie goes far in describing what that life is like:

In our current world of violence, austerity and inequality, the future the Culture offers is immensely liberating.

Certainly the Culture is guided by its Minds, the god-like artificial intelligences (AI) who are fond of their generally mentally and logically inferior pan-human and drone fellow citizens and wish to keep such “interesting companions” around.  One cannot ignore the Culture’s (or is it the Mind’s) propensity to meddle in the affairs of other societies less technologically advanced than they are either overtly or covertly via its Special Circumstances adhoc grouping.  All for the good of course.

That the Culture has contradictions and problems is evident in his novels and certainly what makes them interesting stories.  Banks has not crafted a perfect utopia, even if it is a desirable one.

Sadly no one has adaptated any of Banks’ science fiction novels for film or tv, though some have talked of it.  The complexity of the stories and their many characters make it difficult to adapt, certainly. His first two Culture novels, Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games are probably the ones that could be most easily adapted. Perhaps some enterprising person will write a screen play for them and ask for funding on Kickstarter.  I would certainly give to such an endeavor.

Banks’ impending demise will prevent us from reading future books from his pen.  Yet there is no reason others should not be allowed to create in his sandbox.  Let his wife and family have the books he created for the next seventy years (the term of copyright in the US).  By opening up the worlds and galaxies he created for others to use and adapt, he would give us a truly wonderful gift.

What not to wear, or our desire to make people conform

Dave Policar cited this post which I rather like and thought I would repost as well:

Today, as usual, $name_radacted got up and dressed herself in a frilly
purple dress, a delicate purple knitted sweater, and blue fleece pants
with hearts on them. Then she came downstairs and did gymnastics for a
while and then we went to daycare and tried to do chin-ups on the adult
tables. I love that. You love it. Everyone loves it. Later in life she
will face unfairness and they will tell her she can't do the rings in
gymnastics and she'll learn that women's hockey is different and that
women's uniforms are skimpy and she'll watch Olympic volleyball players
sliding across the sand in bikinis, but right now she is in a perfect
halcyon moment of freedom and joy.

Here is how it is for boys.
Boys are policed for dress and behavior at two, three years old. I left
a local parent's email list because people kept writing in for advice
on how to stop their three-year-old sons from wearing dresses. It was
couched in this vile language of "I worry about him at school" but
there was not even a breath of "how can I help my son be okay at
school" or "how can I support my son's choices even if school doesn't
allow it." No. It was all "how can I make him stop." In other words:
"Help me enforce the repression I assume will come from his classmates.
Help it come from me."

Let me be blunt: you must never do this.
Never. Parenting styles are different and families are different and
children are different but on this point there can be no negotiation:
you must never do this. You must never do it to your own children, to
your friends's children, to children at the park. You must never
sympathize with other parents who do it. It should be melodrama and
hysteria to say this kills children but we know, right now, that
it's not.

I know it's not easy. I know it's ingrained. I know
it's uncomfortable. I know it's habit. I know other people judge. We
can talk about how and when and practice and flinching away from
conflict. Those are fine. But we are adults. It is hideous and insane
and unbearable that the stakes are this high, but we do not let
children pay our debts just because we can't believe anyone agreed to
those terms. Our embarassment is not more important than a child's

The comments are pretty interesting, but then that is what I expect of people posting on Dave's blog.

Still, the post above reminded me of one of my favorite XKCD cartoons:


A quote that made me laugh

"I laugh when I hear the humanists whining about the reduction of people
to ciphers. What makes them think the destruction of men complete with
tricked-up names is any less inhuman than their destruction as a set of
numbers? I have already said that the obscure antagonism between the
would-be progressives and the reactionaries boils down to this: should
people be smashed by punishments or by rewards? As for the reward of
celebrity, thanks for nothing!" – Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, Chapter 15 (Roles), Section 5.

More seriously:

"When people are overtaken by joie de vivre they are lost to leadership
and stage management of any kind. Only by starving the revolutionary
masses of joy can one become their master: uncontained, collective
pleasure can only go from victory to victory." – same as above, Section 6.

Noble lies or Glad we got that out in the open

Irving Kristol, "godfather of neoconservatism", died on the 18th.  A friend blogged about this quote from Kristol:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people.
There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate
for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and
truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion
that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a
modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

Here he is expounding on the need for "Noble lies".  Glad we got that cleared up.  Nice to know the "grandfather of neoconservatism" thought it was ok for elites to lie to us lowly citizens.  Its for our own good after all.

Considering the last eight years of lies: Iraq has WMDs, we need to bail out the fat cats on wall street who save the economy, the planet isn't warming because of our emissions of CO2, housing prices will keep going up, the rich deserve their wealth, I'd rather some truth please.

The Reason magazine article, don't worry they are libertarians, that reports the previous quote has this little Kristol gem as well:

"If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the
majority of men cannot live without…let men believe in the lies of
religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of
sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among
themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the
philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded,
esoteric doctrine–for if the illusions of religion were to be
discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized,
with what uncontrollable anguish." (cite).

Seems to me that the Golden Rule of "do to others what you would like to be done to you" is pretty universal.  Whether given from a god, gods, or just something we developed in our long evolution, it doesn't much matter.  However, Kristol seems to believe "he who has the gold makes the rules".  How very Machiavellian of him.  I'll leave out the Dante reference.

Thoughts of the week

Perhaps life is like a balloon. The more you squeeze on one end, the
more another end will pop out in an unexpected way. So, marshal your
energies, stay in balance, don't overextend. Love those who love you,
because to the universe we are no more significant than an individual
star or a particular ant.