The threat of intimidation as a feature of our age

There’s a blog that I quite like reading. I’m not going to mention it as I don’t want to give it any negative attention, but I will say I admire the blog and what they do. I won’t even say what it’s about as that itself will be a giveaway.

 

A couple of months ago this blog wrote to respond to a current issue which was developing in their industry which they chose not to respond to. They acknowledged the issue so as to say ‘we are not ignoring this, we are just not commenting on it’. This response was due to the malicious ways in which online reprisals were taken against anyone who took a stand against them.

 

When I started this blog I thought of the medium of blogging as an extension of the old ‘freedom of the pen’, where one can air political and social views about issues and theories of the day in a platform of discussion.

 

At some point in this decade, as it is easier to communicate yourself through the online world; the measures of silencing have been more innovative as well. As such, I feel increasingly reluctant now compared to previous years to state one’s views. I feel like there’s a cop out in dealing with culture of the past in that there is a sense of staleness that 19th century Kantians might not do a DDOS on me, or the 1920s anti-adornians were to leak all my social media accounts.

I have the utmost respect for those who can be honestly candid in the online world. The fact that I can’t even mention a blog that I like and the comment on an issue I won’t even mention, is out of a sense of intimidation.

In other news, I am really enjoying tablet games lately. Despite my lack of time I am able to manage a model of gaming where I participate for about 5-10 minutes every few hours, instead of a massive long session of 5+ hours! I’m quite enjoying the diversity of games these days. Having said that, I sitll do quite like those long sit down gaming sessions.

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Amorphous, Nebulous and enthymatic, or British Values

Lately there has been a bit of public discussion about the issue of what are British values? This comes from a discussion about a suggested coup of one faith group to allegedly influencing a school in negative ways that are not just out of local educational policies, but are also unBritish. In a similar vein, this week saw the death of Rik Mayall, a comedic actor that I grew up watching through the show Bottom. I remember watching Bottom during two periods of my life. One where I was a lot younger and mostly saw the desperation of the characters in their shoddy mod-like clothes; and later on with a more critical eye which appreciated more of the dysfunctional side of Eddie and Richie. I mention this because Rik Mayall was to me, a quintessentially British character, and yet could hardly be considered an estalishment sort of figure.

 

I was watching this week’s BBC Question Time where people talked about British values and pointing to values but not defining explicitly (or in the Carnapian sense) what exhaustatively consists within the notion of “British Values”.

 

This week began the world cup. I recall this thursday going to the gym and seeing how the roads were exceptionally empty. Most people were presumably at their homes watching the opening Brazil/Croatia match. To me, the casual interest in football seems quintessentially British. I say a casual interest because when it comes to Premiership or European championships, people are passionate but not to the degree as it is with the national England team.

 

One phrase that I normally use to the ridicule of my friends is: [That’s] not cricket! British values could be linked to old traditional notions such as the commitment to observing and codifying rules. By this I give the examples of the codification of Rugby football or the Marquess of Queensbury rules. Often when I am playing Badminton we are committed to the principle of fair play. That means being honest about whether a shuttle is in or out of the perimeter of the court , even if it means you lose your point and could have gained a point if you lied.

 

It could also be said that our values are constantly under change, as the idea of what counts as British has changed over history. The intake of French Huguenots in the 16th century or the wave of migration from the West Indians in the 20th century have had impacts on the culture and it could be said that it is this integration and mix that makes of a distinct culture.

 

At the moment I am reading book V of Gibbon’s gargantuan The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It starts off with a very familiar Augustan era (contemporaneous to the time in which Virgil wrote), and I am currently on a section describing the reign of Charlemagne and the emergence of what will become modern Europe. The Roman Empire had contact with African factions of Christianity; China and India in trade; and the emergence of Islam affected it all to the point that what we consider as the Roman Empire is beyond recognition to the age of Augustus Caesar.

 

I suspect that national and cultural identities work in this way. By acknowledging the influences we find out who we are, and also by pointing out how much an identity is in flux shows the potential of how things can change. To close I recall a remark that I once heard from a German I had a conversation with when I said of my view (which I now have changed my mind on) that I am not a fan of British composers compared to the Germans. The German said to me: my favourite British composer is Georg Friedrich Handel.

 

The wrong side of History (and some parallels)

At Noumenal Realm some of us often have a conversation that goes to the effect of: when history judges us individually and as a period, I wonder how we will be judged. Perhaps we will be on the wrong side of history about certain issues. There were some people who thought that 100 years ago, a war would be the best thing for the morale of a general public. Michael thinks that being a meat and fish-eater (particularly of Cod) will make him seem abhorrent in the future as these commodities (that’s how we see them today) are so scarce yet deeply affect biodiversity and wider sustainability concerns.

I woke up to find two stories that I thought were notable. The Sochi mayor (city of the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics) claimed that there were ‘no gays’ in Sochi. This parallels to me the denial of the existence of disabled people in Russia late in the 20th Century. Isn’t such a denial both ridiculous and ignorant? Yet our time and during the cold war, it was ideologically motivated to say whether being non-heterosexual (‘gay’ is such a limiting catch-all term) is a choice.

I see on the BBC front page that there is a discussion of a counter-campaign from an ‘ex-gay’ group that imitates Stonewall’s advertising. This is our zeitgeist.

Going back to Sochi, I find it interesting how there is going to be a Paralympian series of games, from the same country that denied the existence of disabled people. There’s very much a parrallel here, by virtue of the fact that a politician would use the same rhetoric of denial of existence to a group of people we now accept – well, that’s not to say its unproblematic to live with disabilities with regards to social or economic and political discrimination (it certainly isn’t unproblematic).

More parrallels: George Takei, of Star Trek fame, has an influential Facebook page. One of the really interesting things he points out (excepting for the really naff visual puns he puts up) is that there’s a parrallel between the discourse between same-sex partnerships and inter (intra?)-racial marriage in the Jim Crow era. Much of the ‘junk science’ of race studies in the 19th and 20th Centuries might be said to be ideologically motivated, another example of how our historical perspective shows a bit more insight with hindsight. Yet inter-racial marriages (I hate that term) is hardly now an issue of legislation and, although there may be social sanctions on the basis of what communities we belong to (and that’s very relative), it’s hardly considered an issue of law. What difference is it does it make between where one is born (or grandparents, parents etc), versus what their status of hormonal development was during the embryonic stage? Pointing out such parallels make the distinctions we make in law seem based less on informed prejudice but social and ideological presumptions.

(A post by Sinistre)

The ‘crack mayor’

Today I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the amount of coverage on Rob Ford, the incumbent Mayor of Toronto. For much of the day I’ve been sent a few of the ‘comedic’ treatments of the subject which I thought was notable from the US. For context (i.e. anyone reading this when this topic is long forgotten; Ford had an growing number of incriminating allegations about his behaviour which has recently exploded in his public embarrassments. It’s a comedian’s field day to have a story where a member of public office is found with street drugs, not least a conservative one on a grassroots ticket.

Examples of comedic treatment of the subject come from the following:

There’s a very obvious source of comedy from the revelations. I wonder if history will judge us differently about the kind of preoccupation on this story: are we being insensitive? Not specifically to Ford himself (although that is a consideration too), but to those who are troubled by crack-cocaine. It could be said that a member of public office who had made such a public denial prior to a retraction of such a denial of using crack-cocaine is an open house invitation to alleging some form of flawed character. But I wonder if in coming decades this will be seen as a questionable source of humour.

I find it particularly of interest how a few years ago, Craig Fergusson made a point not to make jokes about problems going on with celebrity Britney Spears with the suggestion that there may be some form of substance abuse, and Fergusson candidly opened up about his own experience with addiction and overcoming similar demons. However, it seems that this time, perhaps because it is a politician, or someone who made such a public denial, there’s little sympathy for Rob Ford. But what about the casual ridiculing of those other people affected by crack cocaine implicated by these jokes at Fords expense?

What do I think? well I watched those videos with a little bit of laughter, but I was a little bit self conscious about how potentially problematic it could be. I was then reminded of a Chris Rock stand up routine from ‘Born Suspect’ about a similar subject nearly 20 years ago.

Antisophie

“Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” – A MOOC from Jonathan Biss

This month I have been following quite a few MOOCs. One MOOC in particular, and the subject of this post, is “Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” delivered by the concert pianist Jonathan Biss. Watching this MOOC helped me with a few reflections about music appreciation in general, as well as my own aesthetic tendencies and preferences. I recommend the MOOC for anyone with an elementary or nonexistent familiarity with classical music.

Accessibility

One particular dimension of the course, which surprised me a lot, was that it was very non-technical. I was expecting commentaries from musicologists and extended discussions on cadences and fugal writing. However it was not the specialism of Biss, who as a concert pianist, to comment on those aspects of Beethovenian and 18th century composition. However it does serve as a good introduction for anyone who has a passion about music to understand more about the ways in which Beethoven has a distinct legacy and relevance to listeners today. You don’t need to know too much about music to understand this course.

Music appreciation is lifelong

One of the key themes to this MOOC was that music appreciation is lifelong. Coming to terms with great musical works is ongoing through our lives. I grew in my appreciation of Beethoven while going through the course. I used to be a massive fan of the Romantics, and as I got to learn more about musicians like Adorno and Gould, I became a little bit more formalistic and austere in my musical preferences. However I feel like I’ve gone to a middle-way with Beethoven. There are pieces of music which have special value, and their value can relate to a time of your life, or your way of seeing the world then.

The joy of having a lifelong musical appreciation is that you can revisit pieces of music and simultaneously revisit yourself in a dual form of internal critique. To appreciate music is to appreciate culture, and to have an engagement with culture often involves an engagement with our own sense of individuality. It is fair to say for example, that my appreciation of motets and choral forms comes as a default from having a Catholic upbringing, but something like Beethoven’s later period is not something I was introduced to, yet learning more about Beethoven’s work in the post 1810 era makes me feel like I’m discovering a new part of myself, and a different kind of appreciation as a musician and amateur performer. I’m starting to appreciate what some may call ‘mature’ works of piano, which require emotional maturity as well as technical competence.

Socio-historical reflections

There are sociological and borderline philosophical insights that Biss had about Beethoven which will at a later point inform my commentary pieces on Adorno and philosophy of music, however for now I won’t focus too much on that. What I will say is that Biss’s discussion about the ‘independent’ musician feeds very much into discourses of today. Heck, even technical discussions about sonata form relate to songwriting today (which is a sign of poor technical ability for pop musicians today). Beethoven, unlike Bach, was able to write music that he wanted to write. Biss establishes a two tier scale of the independence of a musician against their creativity. The scale goes something like this:

Bach

Prolifically creative, Patronaged musician

Haydn

Highly creative

Patronaged, then independent musician

Mixed ability during independent period

Mozart

Highly creative during Patronage

Poor ability during independent period

Beethoven

Poor creativity during Patronage

Highly creative during independent period

The idea of the creative individual, self supporting has implications from the Transcendentalists of the American philosophers to Romantic ideas of the Bohemian, and relates to the discussion of the Adornian cultural industry. Beethoven was the cultural archetype of the independent genius, which has been mimicked endlessly since. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about the nature of dependency for artistic types to perform their work, relative to the financial support that they have. This discussion I’m sure will prompt my thinking on Adorno’s capitalistic view of culture.

The cult of Beethoven worship

Beethoven, for many the name has establishment and bourgeoisie linked to it. Like say, Bach or Aristotle. There is a reason why there is such hero worship about Beethoven, and that is due to the depth of his genius. Often however we have dilettantes who may for instance reference Descartes without actually understanding it as a way of passing off cultural capital or intelligence, and this is sad and facile. Saying this may merit an accusation of calling me a musical or cultural conservative: there is a good reason why Beethoven deserves a high place as a landmark European figure, akin to say Aristotle or Newton. Beethoven’s Sonatas express a multitude of temperaments, technically speaking they are wonderful works of pianism, the ‘New Testament’ to Bach’s ‘Old Testament’ (i.e. the Well Tempered Clavier).

A course such as this helps to unpack some of the reasons of Beethoven’s greatness. It even addresses a comparative to Mozart, in which the latter does not fare as favourably in terms of creativity. I have recently been annoyed at someone who has been trying to start a philosophy salon without having a clue about how to conduct philosophical argumentation or even appreciate the depth of the philosophical ideas he’s trying to appropriate, to borrow Adorno’s word, it is dilletanteish . A course such as Biss’s on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas makes accessible the numerous and profound ways in which Beethoven’s sonatas are truly powerful even as listeners in the 21st century.

Changing my own attitude to music appreciation

I’ll try my best not to sound snobby about music. Glenn Gould’s low opinion on Mozart’s later work is upheld by Biss himself. I remember a conversation that I had with someone completely unrelated to music, where the topic of piano appreciation came up. I talked about how I liked the showy Rachmaninov and Chopin pieces at the time, and he said how he enjoyed Beethoven Sonatas. I said to him that the Romantics were better than the Viennese classicals, and to me their appeal was much more obvious to me. The showiness and fanciful fingerings and exploitation of dissonances had a much more visceral and sensory appeal. The gentleman said to me that an appreciation of Beethoven comes from a more mature place and mature sensibility. I’m starting to be won over by that point of view. Not to say that I do not appreciate the Romantics anymore, but I am growing to enjoy the formalism and structures imbued in the more 18th century works. Biss emphasises the lifelong power of music appreciation. Music is a bonding thing between people and introspectively, music and its wonder is ongoing. Our relationship with the same piece of music can change, perhaps diminish or grow, and Beethoven’s Sonatas are a great example of a set of works that show development relative to Beethoven’s own life cycle, but also in response to our own introspection.

Michael

Remembering LucasArts

On April 3rd, one of the consequences of Disney’s takeover of the Lucasfilm empire is that LucasArts, the publisher and developer of games, is going to be shut down. One of the most notable announcements related to this was that the Star Wars: 1313 game project will not continue, and was considered to be the great white hope for the future of Star Wars gaming.

 

Some people have spoken of the non-Star Wars games that Lucasarts was well known for, particularly the way that games such as Secret of Monkey Island or Sam and Max challenged our assumptions about games. I thought I’d give an highlight of the things I really loved about LucasArts that were definitive to my growing up. If LucasArts will no longer continue I will be sympathetic to the fact that some of the later games were sub-par, but I will miss what LucasArts meant for me during my formative years. I thought I’d talk about some of my highlights.

 

Dark Forces/Jedi Knight/the Kyle Katarn games 

 

Whenever one is having a night in with my crew, one of the staples alongside blues-based jamming, ordering unhealthy takeaway and watching bad action movies is to play a first person shooter. One of the cliches I say at this point is ‘guys I should let you know I have motion sickness, but I’m happy to watch you play’. This is the legacy of me playing Dark Forces!

 

Dark Forces was a shooter in a Star Wars setting, addressing stories that were sideways to the main films. I especially liked the original story, and how it created a new situation within a universe that I already knew and loved. Then came Jedi Knight (the Sequel) and this was one of the defining games of my early teens! I absolutely loved the multiplayer and it indulged my fantasy of having lightsaber battles in the most interesting of settings, over walkways with a massive pit underneath. I also was introduced to modding through Jedi Knight. Modding was one of the most awesome things about gaming in the late 90s in my view, plus I learned a few skills from the community. One of my first email addresses was from a server that hosted Jedi Knigth Mods (Massassitemple.net).

 

Then came the sequels to Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and and Jedi Academy, which are games which had a big impact on my late teens. I absolutely loved the way that those games engaged my imagination, and gave me the satisfying indulgence of being part of a science fiction world. Although in that world most people were trying to kill my almost all of the time. That’s probably not a good life lesson.

 

Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II 

 

Another couple of games I loved from LucasArts are by objective standards, pretty bad games. Rebel Assault and Rebel Assualt II were my first introductions to PC gaming. Most of my experience had been from console games. What marked the games as significant to me was the ways in which different modes of gaming were within the same game – from flying to first person shooting to differing arcade modes.

 

I loved the way I engaged with the game, and introducing family friends to the game. I would play Rebel Assault II repeatedly, even though I knew how this game on rails would turn out, there was the illusion of real agency in this game that had replayability. Also the 90s were a pretty dull time compared to today, so replaying games was something that was probably a bit more common.

 

X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, X-Wing Alliance 

 

One of my family friends had a demo on a floppy disk of Tie Fighter. We played it endlessly for the longest time. I was introduced to the X-wing series of games through the later game: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. I loved the fact that Tie fighter and XvT was that you could play as the bad guys. I also liked the narratives present in X-Wing and Tie Fighter, and the ‘awards’ system and presence of secondary objectives. I loved learning about flying the spacecraft, where later on in XvT, and X-Wing Alliance, involved an extremely complicated system, like adjusting shields, laser power, targeting system and mapping.

 

The Star Wars flight simulators were a big part of my growing up. They were so monumental to me as say, my musical interests. They introduced a more abstract way of perceiving the world, thinking about memorising keyboard combinations and even the clunky 1990s joystick was a lot of fun. Back in the day, joysticks had this really awkward input plug that my modern laptop would have no hope of using. Ah, the days before USB!

I’ll miss the decline of LucasArts, not for what it is now, but for what it was. That’s how I’ll remember LucasArts.

Michael

#AMDG , or On the Jesuit Pope

We are living in an age of so many unprecedented things it is too much of an effort to keep track of them all. I thought I would care to mention one unprecedented thing of significance to us, and that is the announcement of a Jesuit Pope, the first ever Jesuit Pope.

 

There are lots of different things I could address about the most recently appointed head of the Catholic Church: the fact that he is from Latin America; the issue of liberation theology, or the other issues that many in the public and the Church congregation which to have the new Pope address, such as celebacy, scandals in the Church or the role of women. I’m going to do the side-stepping thing of not discussing them for the purposes of this post, and only talk about two issues specifically. Firstly – the question of ‘Why Francis I as a papal name?’ and secondly What significance is there to a Jesuit Pope?. It should go without saying that this is a speculative exploration in the exercise of writing this piece.

 

Why Francis? 

 

When I heard that the Pope was named Francis the First. I immediately thought of one Saint. Unlike most of the commentators around the Vatican and in Catholic media, I considered Francis to take after Saint Francis Xavier, who is the patron saint of Goa, known for introducing Catholicism to India and Japan and one of the first Jesuits. We at Noumenal Realm considered it interesting that we have a particularly different relationships to Francis Xavier. For I consider him as one of the founders of the Society of Jesus foremost, while Michael considers Xavier as the missionary who brought Catholic Christianity to parts of Asia.

 

Many commentators likened the name to an association with Francis of Assisi, better known for love of animals and nature. The question of what’s in a name is a significant one – as one is a missionary going to the edges of the known world spreading values, and the other has more of a conscientious connotation. Perhaps it is like me always to overplay the Jesuit connection with everything!

 

A Jesuit Pope 

 

Ah the Jesuits, they live in poverty and obedience to the Pope. The Jesuits are sometimes called ‘God’s Marines’ due to their militaristic nature. The Jesuits have placed themselves in many educational institutions and have taken a large part in mission work historically. I grew up with tales of Jesuit adventure and the very real perils that they faced in their work, including beheadings. I also have memories of the Jesuits claiming that they had their own personal views about homosexuality and women being inducted to the priesthood, but must always submit whatever personal views they had to the authority of the Pope. I always saw that as freethinking within limitations. I also respected such freethought from what appears to be a very authoritarian order.

 

I’ll always have a bit of a rational blind spot about the Jesuits, as they made me who I am in very large ways: inspiring my interest in Classics, Theology and Systematic thinking. The Jesuits also taught me that you should live by ideals, which included adhering to them. One of the things that has been coming out about Francis I is the way that he enacts poverty to his real life. The way that Francis I takes austerity in his own living conditions and behaviour, dress and actions is embarrassing the status quo of how things are done and have been done in the Vatican. No more custom red shoes, no more elaborate stoles and no more popemobile? This is a Christianity that I was grown up to believe in, not one of rock-star like entourages and fancy clothes, but one where a concern with the poor means identifying with the poor in how one lives, eats, dresses and travels.

 

Living with a minimum, without too much extravagance, and dressing for simplicity was the way that I was taught by Jesuits, and the ideal that I saw Jesuits live by. I was told about how Jesuit teachers had a ‘common pot’ where they put their wages, which were used for things like food, personal travel and clothing expenses. Even my dress sense has been influenced by the Jesuits. Smart, but universal. Simple and utilitarian. Try not to be too flashy. Try dressing to be adaptable. Wear black.

 

The Jesuits live with orders to have obedience to the Pope, does that make a Jesuit Pope a contradiction? How is it that an individual Jesuit can have complete obedience to himself? This reminds me of that old saying from Meister Eckhart: Can God make a stone so big that he could not carry it?

 

Perhaps I am being more deferential than I should. It is also the case that there are many critical avenues that people wish to address the papacy. I choose just for this post to focus on the Jesuit angle, because if he’s anything like the Jesuits who taught me, there is definitely space for reform.

 

I suppose all one can do is keep eyes open. It’s also amusing to see #AMDG trending on twitter!

 

Destre