Tag Archives: us vs them

Who gets to choose, anyway?

I play on a hockey team called the Killer Rabbits. No swooning, please – we’re old people so we play on foot with a ball (dek hockey), and we’re not all that great even on this humble level. But we have fun, and that’s why we do it.

As a result, we have certain teams we enjoy playing who are in it for the fun as well. Sure we like to win, but if not, we still shake hands with those guys and part as friends who share a common love. If we’re not playing against each other we’re usually talking shop about the game. But there are others that take it way too seriously. Hockey isn’t the point anymore, it’s winning at something, or (for a few whose games it is my unpleasant duty to referee*) the freedom to clobber people with sticks without legal consequence. And frequently, it’s those who have lost the good who are the most obsessed with the rulebook – not because they want to actually follow anything therein, but merely as a tool to start pointless debates with us referees, trying to justify their mayhem or blame us for errors, real and imagined.

* I ref the games of teams in the other divisions. Again, let me stress that this is a really low-level rec league, and the normal considerations of conflict of interest don’t apply. Someone’s gotta do it or there’s no league, and besides, in 20 years I’ve played on nearly every long-established team at one time or another, even if just filling in as a goalie. (Nobody carries a backup so if your guy’s hurt, it’s quite common to grab someone coming off the rink or waiting to go on.) The bottom line is: if you’re carrying a grudge against a dek hockey team based on your own games, and can’t ref them fairly as a result, then your temperament is not really suited for the job.

Which gets me to the would-be gatekeepers of true sci-fi fandom. I observe that when these stooges say that others aren’t real fans and therefore are disqualified, they’re lying on two levels: first, about the actual facts (who is a fan, what makes a fan); second, about their motives. They don’t care about who’s really a fan because they don’t care about the genre. They care only about being a gatekeeper, about the power to confer some coveted status that they’ve invented for the occasion. Love of the thing has been lost entirely; a true love would rejoice to find more people to truly share it, but they want to restrict and hoard. They can’t possibly compete with a true love, so they disqualify the lovers on some spurious grounds: not socially-conscious, too cis-whateverist, not really a fan.

And they do it because it so often works. Those who love a real thing dislike having to waste all their time justifying it, or protecting it (and themselves) from such Busybody Bossypants. It’s not worth the trouble to constantly argue about nonsense to get to the fun. The BBs don’t care because the argument is the big thing for them – especially winning it. That’ll show them!

Like the miscreants I send to the box, they lie; like them, they have no point; and like them, the gatekeepers dream that they are in fact referees and not fellow players. They don’t even care enough about the game to learn to play it, much less win, so they try to change the rules – that’s the skillset they’ve mastered and they use it. But soon they inevitably reach the point where nobody will play their game with them any more and they will be alone with the thing they truly love – their superiority – while we are rewarded with what we truly love. For where our treasure lies, there our heart is as well. All get what they desire; not all will enjoy the bargain.

What they never realize until too late is that such groups always tear themselves apart. It’s simple to see why: if all one loves superiority, then one will always wish to be the supreme superior boffin of whatever fiefdom one has invaded: all else are rivals. Excuses will be found to restrict the rewards to an ever-narrower inner circle, and to turn the punishments on an ever-wider general public. The innocent jokes told to friends today will be People’s Glorious Exhibit A in your show trial tomorrow.

The machine must run.

A brief observation on the rule of law, courtesy of CS Lewis

It is disheartening, to say the least, to have our President have to constantly reassure the citizens who elected him that he is not an emperor. It’s more disheartening to realize why the questions keep coming up. Obama is wont to order around the Congress, browbeat the lapdog press when they remember their bark, scold people who insist on their rights of free speech and self-defense, and demagogue the most successful members of the society for their incomes.

This last holds a particular sticking point. Obama either ignores or scoffs at any suggestion that his own lavish vacations and 1% perks are a problem. Normally, you’d notice if the guy calling you to the ramparts of the class struggle was well back of the front lines… all the way back at a luxury resort, golfing, and then issuing a denunciation of “millionaire and billionaire corporate jet owners” from the steps of his own private jumbo jet. It should be even more glaring that, unlike the big wigs, the President does all of this on the public’s nickel.

And now we have the latest, that the President-who-is-not-an-emperor nevertheless holds himself to have the authority to order the deaths of American citizens on American soil via drone strikes, without due process or even probable cause. The Constitutional prohibitions on this sort of thing are numerous and stringent. The thing that really gobsmacks me on this is the lack of reaction among the same folks who, ten years ago, saw the hobnailed boot of fascism in every step of the prior President. There was a long and protracted argument about this at the time, I recall… and the debate centered on whether the measures taken then were actual violations, and why. But now we don’t even get the courtesy of that debate, because dissent is no longer the highest (or any) form of patriotism.

How is this even possible? People are not so foolish to hold such wildly different standards based just on the letter behind the politician’s name, are they? And honestly, I don’t think they are. In fact, I don’t think  that thinking has much to do with it. The standard isn’t reasonable, in the sense that it doesn’t involve reason at all. The standard is emotional. One group is the Other, and the first group is all that stands against them and all their foul works. So the same exact action (jet-setting to lavish vacations, questioning the motives and actions of the Government) is simultaneously the most shameless of deeds and not a big deal. The standard is not Right vs. Wrong, or Lawful vs. Illegal, but US vs. THEM.

It’s no way to run things. And I don’t think that this is a controversial position. Rule of Law isn’t always popular, but most of the time, most of us from both sides of the political divide agree to it, because the alternative is disastrous. And yet, there’s that us vs. them thing that kicks in when it’s “our guy” getting dinged for acting like a komissar. There’s a list of excuses like “Your side did it first” and “It’s necessary for progress” and “But there’s a crisis.”

And some people just dispense altogether with excuses and do it because They Know Better. And that gets us to CS Lewis, and The Magician’s Nephew. The Magician in question explains to said Nephew that “Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

Digory saw through Uncle Andrew, of course. Quoting the entire exchange would not fall under Fair Use, I’m afraid, but it’s the second chapter, and much of it will sound all too familiar to the reader.

A season for all men

Margaret: Father, have him arrested!

More: On what charge?

Margaret: He’s a bad man.

More: There’s no law against that.

Margaret: Yes there is – God’s law!

More: Then God can arrest him.  … He shall go free, were he the Devil himself, unless he broke the law.

Roper: So now you would give the Devil the shelter of the law?

More: And what would you do, Roper? Cut a great road through the law to reach him? … And when he turned on you, Roper, where would you hide, now that the law’s flat?  The country’s planted thick with laws, Roper – man’s laws, not God’s.  If you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, could you stand upright in the winds that would then blow?  I give the Devil the safety of the law, for my own safety’s sake.

That is from the magnificent movie (and play before that) A Man for All Seasons.  You’ll forgive the paraphrase, I hope, as my copy of neither source is nearby.  It’s somewhat a long lead into the topic, too, and I’ll hope you find it worth it, because this is a very big topic.    It’s been building for a long time, too.

You’ll have noticed that one of the most popular TV shows today is “Person of Interest,” J.J. Abrams’ general apology to the world for the Star Trek reboot and “Lost” finale.  It’s really a great show, too, almost in spite of itself: the premise of an all-seeing surveillance network quietly ferreting out terrorist plots and other impending crimes is enormously troublesome, and under poor stewardship, could easily devolve into a too-blunt critique of society, both badly-aimed and badly-executed.

As it is, they ask some fantastic questions, and all from the perspective of the characters, arising naturally from their interactions.  It’s masterful work, actually, and any aspiring storyteller would be well-advised to observe and emulate the approach.  That’s reason enough for it to become a popular program, but I think there’s more.  Plenty of well-crafted shows die on the vine because they can’t find an audience.  “Person of Interest” got through, because in its way it deals with exactly what Sir Thomas More was talking about 450 years ago.  The more things change…

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We’re only ordinary men

I cheated this time: I wrote this as a comment, and decided to steal it from myself for a post.

It began as it usually does: the simplest question, WHY?  When I read a description such as this, I immediately wonder why someone gets trapped into thinking in such terms.  Something has gone out of whack, clearly.

Think of it as a balance of impulses and desires, all sitting heavier or lighter on a large platter, and a fulcrum upon which they pivot.  That fulcrum is the will of each person.  I have a desire to be bold and daring, and a desire to keep from being hurt.  Given an event – think of it like a pebble dropped on the surface – I tilt towards reacting boldly or cautiously.  And since we’re all “weighted” differently, and face different tugs and forces upon us, and seek a different balancing point for all of this, we all wind up quite different people, and thank goodness for it.

Now, what I’m looking at in Morgan’s description is not balance, however, but failure of balance.  Something’s gone wrong and the platter has tipped way over.  No matter what drops onto that person’s plate, it’s going to roll and tumble its way down to the low end, and get the exact same reaction, no matter where it initially came in.  The normal metaphor is that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Everything that hits an unbalanced mind becomes a confirmation (or a victim) of this bias in one direction, exacerbates it, and sooner or later the platter tips into the dirt and everything tumbles right off.

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