This Guy Gets It

I’ve long been convinced that the central problem in the contemporary Church is our weakness and willingness to compromise in enforcing discipline, unity of doctrine, and devotional practices. This guy explains why that is.

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The Land Before Time and the Proper Approach to Prejudice

Over the weekend I posted my first video review, of The Land Before Time. I discovered how time-consuming such things are to make, and so I wasn’t able to address everything I wanted to. In particular, I glanced over the film’s approach to prejudice, partly because it’s actually kind of a minor theme compared to its dealings of faith and love (Cera’s the only character who evinces any real bigotry), and partly because it’s not a subject that really interests me that much. Everyone and their dog talks about the evils of prejudice these days; that and global warming constituted the main bulk of my public school education. It’s gotten to the point where I think it actually does more harm than good: people are so sick of being lectured about the evils of racism that they actually start to wonder whether the racists have a point. At least, that’s my experience.

(And for  the record, no, the racists don’t have a point. In the first place, a cursory knowledge of history shows that virtue and excellence are to be found in every race under Heaven. In the second, the Christian faith is clear both in Scripture and Tradition that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are the children of one God, made in His image and likeness. And finally, any differences in accomplishment observable between the children of Europe and the rest of the world are explicable culturally and vanish to the extent that that culture is expanded. That Christendom was long limited to Europe and hence to ‘white people’ is a historical accident brought about by the Muslim conquests).

Anyway, I oppose racism, but I also oppose our chosen method of combating it, which is to view everything through the lens of race and insist that some races are naturally racist and need to own that fact, which will somehow lead to racial harmony. In other words, we fight racism with racism. Call me crazy, but I always thought that would backfire.

(By the way, if whites are ‘born racist’ wouldn’t that, by LGBT logic, mean that racism is okay? I mean, if they can’t help the way they feel, that means there’s nothing morally wrong with it, right?)

What I would propose instead is something more like what’s shown in The Land Before Time, and was a popular notion before critical race theory became the order of the day. Cera’s an unrepentant bigot for most of the film. Littlefoot responds by trying to make friends with her. He doesn’t demand she change before he’ll have anything to do with her; he just tries to be as nice to her as he can, partly because that’s just the kind of person he is, and partly because he recognizes they’re in the same boat together. Even when she’s being a complete jerk, he still shows her kindness, as when she refuses the food they’ve gathered in favor of trying to get her own, and he just tosses her down some anyway.

I’ve always been of the opinion that prejudice and bigotry ought to be met with good-will and, well, tolerance. People don’t change their convictions overnight, and they’re not likely to change if you just arbitrarily demand they do so while constantly insulting them. Instead, it’s best to prove them wrong by your own actions. What changes Cera in the end is the fact that her friends do show her great kindness despite her bad attitude. She sees for herself that she was wrong because her friends have proven her wrong; that they’ll be there for her when she needs them, even if she won’t be there for them.

The point is that you can’t just demand someone change: you have to give them a reason to. Constantly telling someone he’s a horrible person who can never change is unlikely to inspire him to reform.

Doctor Who and Swiping Male Characters

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You know, I’m not really a big ‘Doctor Who’ fan. I’ve watched several episodes from both the classic and the modern series (Tom Baker’s my favorite), and enjoyed them, but I just haven’t really gotten into it.

That said, I do have an opinion of this ‘making the Doctor a woman’ gimmick. And make no mistake, that’s what it is: a gimmick. It’s not a groundbreaking development, nor a brilliant twist of storytelling, and certainly not an kind of (ugh) great step forward. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple; a way to grab attention, and try to shore up their feminist credentials so that the right kind of people won’t turn on them.

I will say, in their defense, that given the nature of the Doctor, this one makes a little more sense than, say, making Thor a woman (not making that up, by the way; they actually did it) or, God forbid, making James Bond a woman (more on that below). The Doctor of course periodically regenerates into a new body and personality, so you could argue this works given the rules of the story. But…no. Even with a character like the Doctor you need some continuity of personality, so suddenly switching him to being a woman just doesn’t work. You can’t fundamentally alter a character in that way, even one like the Doctor and expect people to be happy about it, especially when it’s accompanied by insulting accusations of misogyny (because the only way the Left knows how to argue is ad hominem).

It’s a similar problem to Ghostbusters: on paper, a new all-female team of Ghostbusters actually isn’t a bad idea. But one, it was so obvious they were doing it as a ‘statement’ rather than because they actually cared about the characters, and two, the execution was horrible beyond belief.

The real problem with this practice of switching a character’s sex in an attempt to be ‘relevant’ or whatever the current term is, is that it’s basically the equivalent of swiping one kid’s toy because another kid is crying that she wants more, when the obvious thing to do would be to just buy her some toys of her own rather than stealing someone else’s. To the fans of the Doctor who have stuck by him all these long years, having him drastically altered in this way to appease non-fans must seem like a complete slap in the face. Now, if they came up with a really cool female Time Lord and gave her a spin-off show, and did it well (that’s really the key to any story: doing it well), the fans would eat it up. It has nothing to do with misogyny: it has everything to do with seeing a beloved character twisted to score political points.

It’s even more galling when you consider that the other kid has lots of toys of her own, but keeps menacing her brother’s.

The days (assuming such days existed: this topic invites selective blindness like few others) of a lack of female heroes is long over. Women headline about half the shows on TV. Wonder Woman just came out and was fantastic. Marvel fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years. The last two Star Wars films were headed by women. There’s obviously a huge market for well-done female leads, so there’s absolutely no need to co-opt existing male characters.

The only reason, as far as I can see, for trying to swipe male characters and turn them female is because they generally have better name recognition. So, certain people think “everyone knows who James Bond is, so if we turned him into a woman (Jean Bond?) we’d have a ready-made super-popular female icon!”

Except it doesn’t work that way, since male and female characters are typically written and characterized very differently. One of the reason Wonder Woman was such a good film is that she was written as a very feminine character. Yes, she could throw tanks around and engage a dozen men at once, but she was also warm-hearted, kind, and nurturing. Black Widow is an engaging character because she’s not just a deadly spy, but she’s also the nurturing heart of the team; the one who gives them pep talks and warm hugs when they’re feeling down. The contrast between her cold-hearted behavior on the battlefield and her warm-hearted behavior off it is what makes her so much fun to watch.

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Well, that and the…obvious reasons.

If you tried to write James Bond as a woman, it would be grotesque. No one except an obsessive feminist would want to see a woman act the way Bond acts. He’s fundamentally a male fantasy figure: the cool man of action who sleeps with every beautiful woman he meets, kills bad guys left and right, and defends king and country with his wits and sheer badassery. He works because he speaks to the male psyche. Make him a woman doing more or less the exact same thing, and it would be unbearable. Most women don’t fantasize about acting that way, and most men don’t like seeing women act like that.

Now, if they wanted to make a female equivalent of Bond: a super-competent and alluring female spy who defends queen and country with wit and moxie, and (once again) if they did a good job of it, that would be great. Female spies can be a lot of fun: just think of Honey West, Emma Peel, or, again, Black Widow to name a few. But there’s no need to coopt male characters out of a misguided feminist urge. There are already lots of good female protagonists running around, and nothing at all preventing anyone from making more. But leave established and beloved male characters alone if you don’t mind.

 

On Being the Prodigal

Our Lord doesn’t specify how long the prodigal son was away in His parable, but one must imagine it to be a fairly long time, given that he had the chance to spend all his money, enjoy the company of harlots, live lavishly, and so on. I bring it up because I think that parable applies aptly, not just to us as individual sinners, but to the civilization formerly known as Christendom in general.

Like the prodigal son, the last few generations have taken our inheritance (the wealth, grandeur, and security that our fathers labored to produce), told our ‘Father’ to go to Hell, and set about spending every cent we have on lavish living, fondly imagining the security and wealth piled up before we were born will last forever without our having to do anything about it. Thus, we declare anything inconvenient to our chosen lifestyle to be ‘outdated,’ imagining that the results will continue even after the cause is removed. We toss off the family, free enterprise, hard work, letters, tradition, and the most basic ideas of culture in favor of a ‘do what you want, welcome everyone’ attitude. We think nothing of tearing up the basic foundations of society, like marriage, the church, and the community, because we fondly imagine the stability they created will continue without them. We preach multiculturalism because we assume that the results of our cultural norms are permanent and will endure if the culture changes.

In short, we squander our inheritance.

The sin of the prodigal came in dishonoring his father by taking his inheritance for granted as a right rather than a responsibility. Whatever he had from his father, he threw away because he assumed he didn’t have to do anything to maintain it and it was simply his to do with as he liked. We moderns do the same with the rich inheritance of the west, assuming that the relative peace, security, and wealth that we enjoy is ours by right, rather than the hard-earned product of labor which is our responsibility to maintain.

I can picture the prodigal son at his lavish parties telling his new friends all about his father and brother; how his father was a senile old fool and his brother a stuck-up hypocrite, much as we treat our forefathers with contempt and ridicule even as we enjoy the fruits of their labor and despise our ‘brothers’ who actually try to live up to their responsibilities.

Now, as you know, this isn’t to say the ‘elder brother’ is model to follow: he has his own failures and temptations. Perhaps, in the end, it is better to be the prodigal, but only after the prodigal returns. At the moment, we’re still living it up, though there are signs that the great famine is coming, where we’ll long to eat the husks that are given to the pigs. Perhaps after that we’ll come to our senses and seek forgiveness, and maybe then we’ll be in a position to criticize the behavior of the elder brother.

At the moment, though, we’re not in much of a position to criticize anyone.

New Federalist Essay

My latest piece is up at The Federalist, using King Kong and Godzilla to describe the human condition. Because I do that sort of thing.

Sample:

I say an anti-war message doesn’t suit Kong because, especially as depicted in this film, Kong is a warrior, and really doesn’t have the option to not fight. His presence is the only thing that allows the island’s natives to live in a cartoony utopia (that, for some reason, doesn’t include smiling) and possibly prevents the rest of the world from being threatened. Godzilla was in much the same position in the previous film, as the only thing standing between humanity and destruction by the electricity-draining MUTOs.

In either case, the image is of a world that is only allowed to continue in whatever state of peace or safety it has because there’s a ferocious warrior standing guard, ready to push back the things that threaten to destroy it. “Godzilla” made this link explicit by casting soldiers as its human leads (in fact, “Godzilla “was the closest thing to a pro-war, or at least pro-warrior, movie I’ve seen in a long time), while “Kong” has its chief human warrior character as an Ahab-like antagonist.

The good news is that “Kong” has more than enough sheer creativity and enthusiasm for the material that makes it worth sitting through tired anti-Vietnam agitprop. Also, the medium undermines the would-be message. The very nature of a kaiju film like this forbids any kind of triumphant humanism. In a world where monsters the size of buildings stand guard against creatures that can shut down a city with a single move, there really is no room to hope that mankind has the wherewithal to end the perennial ills of the human condition.

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Phineas, Ferb, and Feminism

It’s a fairly familiar scenario: there’s a major female character in a predominantly male cast. She feels constantly overshadowed by the male characters, who by contrast seem to have all the advantages that she lacks; they can get away with anything, do anything they like, and receive almost universal praise, while she has to struggle and fight to achieve her goals, which seem always cruelly beyond her reach. Feeling frustrated and ignored, she sets out to prove that she is every bit as good as the men around her.

As I say, a pretty standard set up…except that, in this case, the girl is the antagonist and her attempts to one-up the male characters are presented as wrong-headed and ridiculous.

I hope everyone’s familiar with the show Phineas and Ferb, which aired on Disney from 2007 to 2015. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much: weird-looking kids perform wacky stunts in their backyard while their bratty older sister tries to tattle on them to their parents and their secret-agent pet platypus battles an evil scientist. It seems at once too weird, too generic and thoroughly childish, especially when you learn that practically every episode features a musical number.

But first impressions can be deceiving. In truth, it’s a smart, hilarious, and heartwarming piece of work, bursting with creativity and endless goodwill. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, since there’s actually a lot of meat under the cheery surface, but today I want to focus on what I see as the hilariously countercultural message of Candace’s character arc.

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Candace is Phineas and Ferb’s teenage sister, whose role in the story is to endlessly attempt to reveal the boys’ activities to their mother, only to inevitably fail at the last second (their mother is basically the only person in town who doesn’t know what they’ve been up to and dismisses Candace’s stories as resulting from an over-active imagination). This is one of many running gags that are endlessly played with throughout the series.

Her reason for continually trying to get her brothers in trouble is, more or less, because she’s jealous. Not so much of what they do, which she is at pains to dismiss as being childish and stupid, but of the fact that they get so much attention for it, while somehow never getting into trouble for breaking the rules (“Hi, Mom! I’m digging up the Northwest United States! You okay with that?!”). In other words, her envy stems, not from the fact that Phineas and Ferb can build a rollercoaster in the backyard over the course of a morning and she can’t, but just from the fact that they’re successful: that they’re more popular and admired than she is, that they excel at whatever they try while she doesn’t, and, most of all, that they never get caught. To that end, she will endure anything if only she can one-up her brothers just once and prove that they’re not as cool as everything thinks.

In all this, she’s missed the simple fact that…it’s not a competition. Though she’s continually trying (and failing) to outshine them, Phineas and Ferb aren’t trying to outshine her, or anyone else; they’re just doing what interests them. “We don’t do this to compete,” Phineas tells Candace in one episode. “We do it for fun!” (“And for the ladies,” Ferb adds). That’s the point: there is no conflict except in Candace’s mind.

Far from seeking to overshadow their sister, Phineas and Ferb actually admire Candace and want her to participate. They’re always inviting her along on their escapades and providing her with the means to join them (“We built [that rocket ship] for Candace; I don’t know why she took ours”). But Candace would rather show up the boys and spoil their fun than actually partake of it herself. As far as she’s concerned, the mere fact that Phineas and Ferb are involved immediately taints the activity for her.

Candace is focused on the personal aspect; she really, really wants to be able to one-up her brothers by ‘busting’ them to their mother, just to show that they aren’t as great as everyone thinks and (in her mind) make herself look better by comparison. Phineas and Ferb, on the other hand, are focused on the actual activity itself. The important thing to them isn’t who does it, or who’s better at it, or any of that nonsense; the important thing is simply that it gets done.

This dynamic is showcased in an early episode centering on their mom’s birthday. Candace once again sees it as an opportunity to outshine her brothers, refusing to help them with their preparations, growling about who has ‘won’ each part of the day, and even going so far to sign her card, “The child who loves you best.” Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb culminate their multimedia birthday celebration by playing the song Candace wrote and inviting her up on stage to sing it live. Again, they don’t care who does what, just so long as their mother has a nice birthday.

Now, Candace goes through a lot over the course of four seasons, yet the show makes it abundantly clear that, to put it bluntly, it’s pretty much all her own fault. If she’d only let go of her petty jealousy and loosened up a little, she would be much happier, more relaxed, and be spared the numerous mishaps that she’s subjected to. In fact, on the odd occasion where she’s either cooperating with the boys or going on her own adventure, she tends to be very successful and to have a good time to boot. But, rather than learning to lighten up a little, she persists in her Sisyphean quest to ‘bust’ her brothers and so keeps bringing disaster down upon her own head.

This all should sound pretty familiar: it’s the attitude most self-styled feminists adopt. It’s the notion that men and women are in opposition, that men are the oppressors of women and that women must do whatever they can to escape the shadow of ‘the patriarchy.’ When, actually, most men (at least in the West) rather like women and want them to succeed at whatever they’re interested in.

For one particularly silly example, we hear a lot from feminists how we need to get more girls interested in STEM fields. They decry the ‘gender imbalance’ in such things, and in pretty much everything else where there’s difference between men and women (unless, of course, the women have the better share). Like Candace trying to outshine her brothers, though, this misses the whole point; it focuses on who is doing it rather than on what they’re doing.

If a girl wants to go into science, technology, or what have you because she’s interested in the subject, that’s awesome, and she should definitely be encouraged to do so, but because it’s a worthwhile endeavor in itself; not because her doing so will add a checkmark to someone’s imaginary ledger. If she’s going into the field to close the ‘gender gap,’ then frankly she’d be much better off doing something else: something she’s interested in for its own sake. No occupation or field of study is helped by anyone (male or female) who gets involved with an eye towards correcting social ratios, only by those who care about the subject itself (i.e. I’m sure Amelia Earhart would have wanted to fly even if every other aviator on Earth at the time were a woman).

You see, when someone sets out to do anything with an eye towards the societal aspect, her attention has, for that very reason, been taken off the thing itself and placed on an abstract social image. Most people (men and women) in whatever field she’s involved in will find this annoying, because their focus is on the work itself while she’s preoccupied with what the work means for her and her idea of society. This is what will make her unwelcome: the fact that no group of people likes it when someone who isn’t really interested in their subject imposes herself on them, even less if she’s doing it to make some kind of point.

More to the point, if you’re trying to go into space, would it make any difference to you who designed your rocket, as long as it worked properly? When Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, was anyone thinking about how many women versus how many men made that possible? Would that achievement have been any more outstanding if there had been an equal proportion of men and women at NASA?

As all this indicates, I think a lot of modern feminism is a big fuss over nothing: people who get furiously competitive over a conflict as imaginary as Candace’s rivalry with her brothers. Because, let me say it again, the ‘gender gap’ doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who is doing the job, as long as the job is done well, and it doesn’t matter how many women or men are in any given field, as long as those who are genuinely care about their subject and know what they’re doing.

Candace is, in fact, living out a broad and, today, very popular worldview: that it is the identity of the person doing the act that matters; not the act itself. To her, the fact that her brothers are doing these things are what is important: her brothers who constantly overshadow her, who can get away with anything, and who are just so annoying. The fact that what they’re doing is amazing, fun, and often beneficial to others is secondary.

By contrast, Phineas and Ferb are focused on the act itself. They are close to the position described in The Screwtape Letters: of being able to design the best roller coaster in the world, know it is the best, and rejoice in that fact, and yet be just as happy if someone else were to design it instead. If Candace went out and built her own supersonic jet or a skyscraper to the Moon, Phineas and Ferb would just think that was awesome. Any reservations they would have would be based on the fact that they would have liked to have done that cool thing themselves, but the idea that they would object because their big sister is trying to overshadow them, or because she’s a girl, would simply sound weird to them.

Most people today (at least in the west) see nothing at all strange in the idea of women doing great things. We’ve been taught feminism all our lives and raised on a steady diet of tales of female empowerment. But, for that same reason, we find demands for perfect parity between men and women in all things to be childish and silly. Nothing seriously excludes a woman from pursuing pretty much any job she wants: why not just let her do what she wants and stop stressing over who does what? It’s not a competition, after all.

Candace’s urge to ‘bust’ her brothers is ridiculous because one, it’s obvious the effort she puts into it is ludicrously out of proportion to any kind of payoff she could receive, and two, because her rivalry with the boys only exists in her own mind. It’s funny, because she’s driving herself past the point of human endurance in pursuit of a purely symbolic victory that no one but herself cares about, much like current-wave feminists spend millions of dollars and countless hours of time advocating for things that either they already have (i.e. equal pay) or which simply don’t matter (i.e. the ratio of men and women in any given field). Candace herself, in her better moments, understands that her whole crusade really isn’t worth it. I only hope modern feminists might come to the same realization. I think they’d be much happier.

Choose the Means, not the Ends

Here’s a typically insightful article on the Affordable Care Act (so-called) by Joseph Moore, the proprietor of Yard Sale of the Mind. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but the opening paragraphs are, I think, the most interesting:

As is characteristic of virtually all political decisions, in health care policy, we cannot choose ends. We can only choose means. We are not choosing and cannot choose between Wonderful Affordable Health Care for All (WAHCA) (1) and Misery For All But The Rich. All we can do is chose to support or oppose a particular next step, in this case, continuation or repeal/fundamental modification of the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA is not, in itself, WAHCA. Do not go on until you, dear reader, grasp this. Voting for the ACA was not voting for WAHCA. Passing the ACA did not achieve WAHCA. WAHCA is an *end*. The ACA is a *means*. We all may *hope* that  the ACA results  in better, cheaper health care – but that depends entirely on those pesky details of *how it works in practice*. You know, those details we had to pass the bill to see.

I think this one distinction would, if understood, eliminate a goodly part of the confusion and hostility that currently grips so much of the American electorate: We don’t choose ends, we choose means. We may agree on the end without agreeing on the means.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons that the ends do not justify the means: the means are real and immediate, while the ends are only speculative. Over the last century some hundred million people were murdered in order to bring about a utopia that never came. The people were real; the imagined utopia of Karl Marx was never more than a dream (and not a particularly likely one at that). To sacrifice freedom for some imagined end of prosperity or safety or (worst of all) equality is a fool’s bargain: the thing you sacrifice is real; the end is only speculative. Indeed, often your only guarantee that the end you are bargaining for is the one intended is the word of someone you have no reason to trust.

Anyway, read the whole thing for a sober breakdown of how and why the ACA isn’t WAHCA, probably will never lead to WAHCA, and may not even have been intended to lead to WAHCA.