Monday, April 23, 2012

Bill Leeb, where have you gone?

Recently, in pursuit of Bruederschaft's "Return", I picked up a compilation of electronic music from 2008. Now, I've been a follower of various forms of industrial and electro (darkwave, coldwave, dark electro, hellectro, powernoise, acid house, trip hop, psychadelic sleaze... seriously, this sub-genre labelling nonsense has to stop) pretty much since these genres were codified. I was shocked all of a sudden to discover that there is a thriving strain of synthpop and electropop. I was even more astonished to discover that this new breed of synthpop and electropop (and the distinction between the two is somehow very important, although I'll be buggered if I can see it) is just as vapid, trivial, and bubblegum as pop music has always been.

Now, I understand that groganards like me should freely pass the torch to a new generation, who can do with the music as they please. But what happened to the meaning? To the focus? To the impact? When Funker Vogt wrote "This world is made of battlefields", one felt the horror of the devestation of total war in way that hippie ballads could never convey (almost as if it were Tom Clancy's conscience speaking in the dead of night). "Suffer the Flesh" stripped away pretensions of love, and even of lust and desire, to reveal, raw, consuming, self-abnegating need.

Sasha's burned out, Jourgensen has lost his way, Reznor has lost his anger. Faderhead has the look and the sound, but hasn't found the vision yet. Andy has been creating almost a caricature of himself. Ronan remembers every now and then that he used to be angry ("Automatic" is a beautiful piece of work that contains the fire of his early work) Mssrs. Leeb, DeMarco, and More, where did you go?

OTOH, Rotersand and Seabound are still doing inspirational work (including Rotersand showing us all how dubstep can be done right.) The bright (dark?) spot here is that Android Lust is working on a new album, one that threatens to go back to her roots and the magnificent "Resolution". Here's to her efforts...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lessons from the Front Lines

- One can tell the truth, or one can have friends.  Never both.

- The more "honest" someone claims they are, the more they are hiding from themselves.

- A good deed has a half-life measured in minutes; a mis-spoken phrase festers and lingers.

- When someone else is pissed off, especially if one can't repair or atone for it, the only thing to do is to vanish.

When you realize that no one would miss you,
and the knife has the most genuine and gentle smile,
when your obituary is more readily greeted
than a 2:00 AM phone call.
Then, you are free to speak your mind.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Someone is Still not Getting It

Yesterday, I caught a radio show extolling one of the same old arguments against secular Darwinism.  Said argument is essentially this: anyone purporting a theory of biological evolution removes God from human life.  Without God, there is no foundation for moral behavior, and thus people will become amoral, ruthless killers.  Further, he purports that accepting theories of biological evolution, especially human biological evolution, leads to eugenics and institutional racism, and all of the atrocious excesses that go with them.  Then, of course, he proceeded to Godwin himself, asserting that atheism perforce leads to Nazism and the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, he makes several fallacies in the process, and his argument doesn't really hold water (as much as it holds another substance useful for the fertilization of crops).  Let's go through it.

As we have covered before[1][2], humans are social animals, much like chimpanzees, crows, or wolves.  We organize into bands, clans, and tribes.  The social organizations we form all have rules: behaviors that are co-operative and pro-group survival are encouraged, those that are unco-operative or anti-group survival are discouraged.  Our morals do not require an outside, abstract entity for their basis and enforcement; we are capable of getting along all by ourselves.  There is no reason at all why a lack of a God-figure[3] would reduce us to antisocial stealing, raping, and killing.  And if the belief in a God is the only restraint on a person, something has gone very wrong for them.

Secondly, eugenics is not specifically tied to theories of biological evolution, Darwinian or otherwise.  One of the fundamental  breakthroughs  popularized by The Origin of Species is natural selection.  This is the observation that organisms that are not well suited by their environments tend to be culled, while organisms that are better suited tend to survive and reproduce.  This concept of natural selection did not develop in a vacuum, it is a direct counterpart to the principle of artificial selection.  Artificial selection is the principle that humans can select for certain traits in domesticated plants and animals.  For instance, by allowing only the fastest racehorses to breed, over multiple generations racehorses tend to become faster.  The fruits of artificial selection are all around us: domesticated sheep are docile, domesticated cattle give more milk, domesticated grasses produce many large seeds and have stiffer stalks (according to Diamond, one of the motivators for the adoption of agriculture in the Near East).

Artificial selection has been with us for 40,000 years, ever since humans learned to tame animals and plants and breed them for desirable traits.  Eugenics is simply artificial selection extended to human beings.  Autocratic regimes and classes believe that they own stocks of human beings, and can breed desirable traits into or out of the species that way.  Darwin isn't needed: this is artificial selection at work.

The most fundamental fallacy at work here is argumentam ad consequentiam.  Even if Darwinism or a theory of biological evolution were a sufficient condition for Nazism, they are not a necessary condition.  At the same time, even if they led somehow inevitably to Nazism, doing so would not invalidate either as scientific theories.  Scientific theories gain that status because they provide a description for processes occuring in the natural universe.  That one does not like the possible consequences of a scientific theory is not proof against it; I dislike the fact that things break when I drop them, but that is not proof against any given theory of gravity or the field of materials science.  Scientific theories do not require belief to be true (for some value of 'true').  That is the nature of science.


The insinuation that secularism is somehow responsible for atrocities is a pretty blatant post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Sure, I'll grant you that many of the atrocities of the 20th century were at the hands of secularists; previous to the twentieth century, they were at the hands of those who profess to be religious.  I'll see your Hitler and raise you a Richelieu, a Torquemada, a Charlemagne, and an Amaury.  Any ideologiy can be used as a justification for atrocity, and no ideology is immune.  Even today, I know of many devout theists that would burn the heretics and stone the sodomites if they could get away with it.  It is not secularims that leads to atrocity, but ambition, tribalism, and human nature.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Language and Social Order in Spartacus

Somewhat unexpectedly, the previous post on Latin conventions in Spartacus has garnered quite a readership.  Vox Populi, I guess.  Poking around the web has uncovered some other criticisms of the show that might be relevant.

There are those that object to some of the vulgarities.  One commenter elsewhere suggested that words like f***, s***, and c*** were inappropriate for characters who, on the other side of the translation convention, should be speaking Latin.  It's true, those particular words have Germanic roots, but it's not like classical spoken Latin would have been entirely without local equivalents.  A long enough immersion in colloquial Italian would uncover a range of colorful invective, metaphorical imagery, interjections and curses.  There's no reason to expect that the language of classical-period Capua would lack such things.  We don't find a lot of evidence for it in the extant Latin literature, but those works were written in a deliberate formal style for an upper-class audience.  The invective of the streets would naturally be filtered out.

There is further criticism of the show, in that some of the characters speak in accents.  This is the result of a long standing trope (known to as The Queen's Latin).  We as viewers are accustomed to upper-class Romans speaking English in RP.  Meanwhile, the lower class slaves speak in a motley assortment of accents, reinforcing the concept that they come from many places within and without the Republic.  That the cast is multinational only helps reinforce this convention.

The characters portrayed in the series are not (with a few exceptions) Roman aristocracy.  All of the gladiators we see are slaves.  They carry infamia.  They are non-persons, and standard Roman dignities would not apply to them.  Further, they live communally in an all-male, testosterone-fueled environment.  Modern concepts of privacy and modesty don't apply to them.  They would, by necessity, become accustomed to bathing, eating, sleeping, and performing other activities in each others presence.  It is almost inconceivable that they would watch their language.  A modern equivelant is to look at modern soldiers, sailors, or marines living with one another in the field.  To 'swear like a sailor' is already a truisim in our culture.

Despite the infamia, these gladiators are also celebrities (this is one of the contradictions of the gladitorial games).  It's sometimes helpful to think of them as some combination of modern professional wrestlers, professional athletes, and rock stars.  Extant graffiti uncovered in Pompeii reveals adulation of  popular gladiators, much of it quite vulgar.  Reinforcing the image was the popular perception of gladiators as "beasts in human form", full of barely suppressed fury and violence.  The Freudian and Jungian associations between violence, gore, and sex should be obvious to most modern viewers.  The blatant sexual displays seen at the gladiatorial games is unlikely to be out of place.  Many modern stadium rock stars experience similar skin exposure, and some revel in 'groupies' attempting to take advantage of their reputations for sexual prowess.

Beyond that, this is a protrayal of pre-Christian Greco-Roman culture.  One could realistically expect more open portrayal of sex and sexual characteristics.  While one would not expect naked sexual behavior to be openly desplayed, there is little cultural repression of sex and sexuality in Roman culture.  Fecundity, fertility, and virility are celebrated traits, to the point where sculpture openly displays such attributes.

The behavior of Batiatus and his wife is a little more unexpected, but not entirely out of place.  Batiatus is portrayed as a middle-class Roman, pater familia of a gladiatorial ludus, but with social ambitions.  His profession is not illegal, but isn't considered quite in keeping with the propriety of an aristocrat.  His position might be roughly equivelant to a modern owner of a football team or gentleman's club.  Further, he's removed from the political and cultural center at Rome.  Thus, it's not entirely unquestionable that he would use his property (villa, slaves, and gladiators) as a mechanism to secure favor and patronage.  Being removed from Rome allows visiting aristocrats to engage in licentious behaviors without the reprobation or negative reputation they might gain from public exposure.  They thus preserve a veneer of respectability, and Batiatus hopes to gain from protecting it.

The language and behavior thus shown in Spartacus is not entirely out of the question, and such criticisms levelled against the show are not entirely merited.  While there is not a concrete historical record in support of the things the creators have chosen to show us, such tropes are not entirely unlikely.

I gotta be me

"You cannot go against nature, because when you do
 go against nature, that's part of nature too."
-Love and Rockets, "No New Tale to Tell"

"I just have to be who I am."  Who else would you be?  The people who we choose to be at any given time are part of who we are.  So is the person we aspire to be.  Many roles, same actor.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Even now, two thousand years later, I'm gripped with the suggestion that underneath all of the dogmatic structure, abstract theology, and socio-political manuevering, there lies within the heart of Catholicism a Hellenistic syncretic mystery religion struggling to get free.

Maybe that's why it fascinates me so.

There is some criticism laid against the christian tradition, criticism that is often vehmently denied:

The dead and resurrected god figure: Dionysus, Osiris, Orpheus, Persephone, Mithras (?), Enki.

The hidden king: Moses, Oedipus, Sargon.

The semi-divine birth: Gilgamesh, Perseus, Theseus, Herakles.

The divine mother: Ashterath, Innana, Mary, Isis.

Why not embrace being part of a Near Eastern tradition that goes back millenia, rather than trying to deny your roots?