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A reader with the uncomplicated but noetic name of Simplemind asks:
I have always wanted someone to explain this Gene Wolfe passage spoken by his character Severian the torturer. I do not know philosophy but is he talking about gnostiscm? Knowing the right words vs that things unfold according to free will/plan?
It always struck me as a beautifully written and pregnant with a meaning I could not quite deliver into my own mind.
“We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.”
It is an excellent question.
The quote immediately follows the moment when the young Severian, having accepted a coin from the dashing rebel Vodalus, puts it unthinkingly in his pocket.
Without knowing it, he is now a soldier of the rebel forces, a Voladarii. This is just as he just pretended to be a paragraph before: as often happens in life, the pretense becomes reality.
A reader asked me about the Deist argument against miracles.
The first argument, best elucidated by Thomas Paine in his unintentionally oxymoronically-titled AGE OF REASON, says that God, being an omnipotent and omniscient creator, has made the machinery of the universe with all the chains of cause and effect in place as neatly as clockwork, with no need for further direct intervention. Direct intervention supposes the Creator either to lack the foresight (hence not omniscient) or lack the power (hence not omnipotent) to foresee and forestall all possible exigencies otherwise requiring intervention via natural chains of cause and effect laid from before the dawn of creation.
To suppose the Creator to lack the necessary foresight or power to avoid the use of miracles is to insult the dignity of His deity.
The second argument comes from Hume: In nature, every effect proceeds from a sufficient cause so that nothing comes from nothing; no matter nor momentum is ever created or ever destroyed. Supernatural events, such as miracles, divine intervention, or granted prayers, on the other hand, proceeds by the will and fiat of God, without any intermediary mechanism. Ergo for Providence to grant prayers or perform miracles by definition intrudes a supernatural break or lapse in an otherwise solid chain of natural cause and effect. Since no events occur aside from cause and effect, ergo miracles do not happen.
Or, to put both arguments more succinctly, if God needs to break the laws of nature by interrupting with miracles, He those laws were made imperfectly, which is impossible: therefore miracles do not happen.
A third argument one from time to time encounters in writers of less skill than Paine or Hume is to say it offends the dignity of the Creator to propose he has need either to answer prayers or grant miracles or otherwise interfere with any of the workings of the clockwork cosmos, for the same reason a skilled watchmaker need not push the hands on the clockface with his finger to see the time is correctly kept.
Hence a correctly organized Providence would unfold events to carry out the will of Providence from the outset without any further need for impromptu corrections or adjustments, just as a correctly made clock keeps time without continuous intervention by the watchmaker fixing, tinkering, fiddling, correcting, re-calibrating, repairing, and puttering.
Hume’s argument is easy to dismiss: it is a circular argument. It assumes that it is impossible for events to arise aside from mechanical causes, and concludes that nothing aside from events arising from mechanical causes is possible.
As for Paine’s more thoughtful argument I submit it is a category error based on the same error which radical materialists make when they say the mind must be a machine on the grounds that nothing but machinery exists.
A reader in the comments box asked a question about the Sad Puppies that was so extraordinarily ill informed, I felt moved, once again, to state our position, which has not changed one iota since the inception of the movement.
So many lies so profoundly false have been spread so rapidly about us, that the gesture, if futile, is necessary.
This has been characterized as a conservative revolt against liberals. It is not. I am the only conservative among the four founding members of the Sad Puppies movement. (The rest are libertarian or mildly liberal).
This has been characterized as the intrusion of outsiders into a warm circle of science fiction fans. It is not. That is the exact opposite of the truth. All of us have been science fiction readers our whole lives, writers for years, and involved in fandom at every level.
Indeed, it is this notion that science fiction must serve political correctness as a tool for social reform that is the intrusion. No trace of such a notion is seen among the award winning stories of our field before twenty years ago.
This has been characterized as an attempt by readers of lowbrow but fun adventure fiction to shoulder aside the deeper and more literate works that address profound social messages. Absurd. What I write is literate in the highest degree, whereas Larry Correia writes pulp fiction, and so we cover the whole spectrum from highbrow to lowbrow and back again. The idea that poorly executed hackwork that serves the dull politically correct lecture of the day is somehow loftier in literary value than my work is risible. These costermongers would not recognize a literary allusion if it bit them on the cullion.
This has been characterized as an intrusion of politics into science fiction. The opposite is true. We Sad Puppies are attempting to remove the political litmus test of ideological purity from the Hugo Awards: remove, not impose.
This has been characterized as ballot-box stuffing, logrolling, and a violation of the gentleman’s agreement not to solicit votes. This again is the opposite of the truth: the previous twenty years are rife with such corrupt practices. We were and are scrupulously honest, obeyed both the letter and the spirit of the law.
This has been characterized as an attempt by White Males to exclude minorities from science fiction. By no possible Orwellian contortion of language can this possibly be true. I am the only White Male among the four founding members of the Sad Puppies movement. (The rest are Hispanic, Hispanic Female, Red Indian, for those of you who are keeping track).
The Sad Puppies slate indeed contained a broader diversity of minority authors than their opposition. Not only is this not our purpose, it runs directly counter to our mission statement and our observed behavior. And it is impossible on its face: how are four writers going to set about excluding anyone who wants to read or write science fiction?
At the risk of quoting myself, allow me to point out that I have been libeled by many persons for having untoward or vile motives, when my motives were announced at the outset, and repeatedly and clearly, and by no action and no word showed any insincerity to the statement:
“This new movement shall be one where the writer is allowed to put a message in his story, provided it entertains the reader, and provided he does not sabotage or ignore the story trying to shoehorn a message into it. Story telling comes first in stories.
“All stories will be judged on their merit, rather than on the skin color of the author or authoress.
“The writers are the servants of the readers, who are their patrons and patronesses. We are not the teachers, not the preachers, and not the parents and certainly not the masters of the readers. We are not social engineers with permission to manipulate the readers, nor subject them to indoctrination nor propaganda disguised as entertainment.
“In sum, the three ideas of the so-called reactionary Evil Legion of Evil are that that Science Fiction stories should be workmanlike, honest, and fun. Stories should serve the reader rather than lecture, sucker-punch, subvert, or hector him. Stories should give the reader what he paid for.
“Dear reader, do you understand that these three principles, these three points of simple common sense and common decency, these three principles are what the Leftist ideologues, who untruthfully claim to be fighting for the underdog, untruthfully call evil?
“These are the principles our foes reject, and why we (including you, our readers) are subject to shrill yet tedious tongue-lashings by the scolds and shrews of these craven and no-talent know-nothings.
“Does that sound like a new literary movement? It is older than Homer.”
The recent and horrific events in Paris should warn all honest observers what outcome results when one introduces enemy barbarians bent on the destruction of the West into the midst of an unarmed population. In the case of Paris, the Parisians were physically unarmed against Jihadist barbarians armed with military grade weapons. In the case of Manchester, the students are mentally disarmed, thanks to safe spaces where the examination of nonconformist viewpoints is forbidden on the grounds that thinking hurts the brains of the sweet, wee little girls, and the femininsts are armed with sophisticate techniques of propaganda, mob action, and also have recourse to the coercive powers.
Two-time World Fantasy Award-winner S.T. Joshi has publicly announced his rejection of the award. All the words below are his.
It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. Here is my letter to him: Mr. David G. Hartwell Tor Books 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010
Dear Mr. Hartwell:
I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.
I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.
Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.
I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.
Yours, S. T. Joshi
And that is all I will have to say on this ridiculous matter. If anyone feels that Lovecraft’s perennially ascending celebrity, reputation, and influence will suffer the slightest diminution as a result of this silly kerfuffle, they are very much mistaken.
My comment: I applaud this decision and the panache and brio with which it was executed. Well done and well said, Mr. Joshi.
The culture war over “gender” has been especially bad in the last two years. You know it started out as about job equality for women, then it shifted to ending exclusion and discrimination against gay people, but lately it is going much farther. If marriage is the same whether a man marries a woman or another man, then in a sense, being a man or a woman is just an external accident, like having a birthmark or blonde hair. What really counts is who you are inside, not how you look on the outside. The next logical step is transgender, the idea that you can shift from man to woman at will, regardless of what you were born. As we write this piece, there are news stories about the federal government ruling that any man who identifies as a woman must be given unrestricted access to women’s locker rooms and bathrooms, and a few days ago, voters in Houston rejected a proposed city law to that same effect. I’ve read any number of opinion pieces that say “gender is a construct,” and that you are a man or woman only to the extent that you believe it inside.
I see this battle as a war over the importance or reality of archetypes. …
Because archetypal ideas are part of our animal instinct, our sense of what makes the world right and safe, the war over gender issues always has a layer of fear to it. When I read things about why we should accept whatever gender someone feels they are [sic], there’s usually an argument about how people will die if we don’t. They will commit suicide, or they will be beaten up by gangs. It’s not just an argument, there are news stories linked to show that this very thing has already been happening. The argument goes that we need to make these changes so that people won’t die tragically. If you resist and oppose change, then either you don’t realize that people are dying, or you don’t care, or in your own small way, you’re participating in killing them. And if you aren’t actually killing them, then you’re helping keep them vulnerable by denying their reality a full place at society’s table. So it’s not an academic dispute, it’s felt to be about life and death, good and evil. There’s a call to action: which side are you going to take, the side of hate and death, or our side?
Q: So the group that is interested in exploring gender roles and seeing them as less restrictive probably loves books like Ancillary Justice or Left Hand of Darkness, which do just that. In fact, it was probably a major factor in Ancillary Justice winning the Hugo in 2014.
A: If there’s one thing the two sides in the Hugo controversy agree on, it’s that the most important thing about Ancillary Justice is not the story itself but the way it used pronouns to obscure gender. Everyone is “she” until the narrator has a reason to identify male or female. It’s explained in the story as just part of the narrator’s native language which, like Chinese and Turkish, doesn’t specify gender in a normal sentence. The narrator, writing in English, is forced to make gender choices in every sentence, so instead just uses “she” for everyone. But I had to read some of the story to understand the thing about language, because when people talk about Ancillary Justice, they elevate the single pronoun to such importance that it’s like the story was really just about obscuring gender. If they liked the story, it’s because at last we’re disrupting mental assumptions that gender will always be visible. If they didn’t like the story, it’s because obscuring gender became more important than whatever was happening.
So that’s a great example of the wider culture battle interfering in science fiction and crowning a winner in what might otherwise just be a dispute about literary taste. Once it’s connected to the wider question of how we, in real life, see men and women, then it’s about life and death, good and evil. It’s like they’re saying, “If you don’t like this story, maybe it’s because you want to suppress the “‘other’.” Those who didn’t like the story respond in defensiveness: “well maybe if you like the story, it’s because you care more about message! You just want to disrupt society.” Now it’s no longer about literary taste, it’s about hurting people or destroying the culture…
… As we’ve said, I’m an outsider to fandom. But watching this from a distance, I noticed the vehement insistence among the mainstream publishers that it was about race and gender identity. Not just insistence, but vehement, at times highly emotional, insistence. A core idea in my personality theory is that parts of our minds are organized around inborn ideas of what a safe world looks like. When I see such vehemence, I suspect that at least some of the people actually feel, deep in their minds, that safety is being challenged. It’s not just “politics” to them…
When you already have a strong fear, it’s very hard to believe that something isn’t connected to it. And with this particular set of fears, Introverted Intuition is a driving force. … All you need is for someone to suggest that “Gamergate and straight white men are trying to hold onto power” and anyone with this belief framework will instantly feel the truth of it. From that point on, any protestations to the contrary are just so much rubbish and self-deception.
When I look at the Sad Puppies, I don’t see straight white men, but I do see leaders who have personalities that value human role archetypes. Their books don’t try to confuse roles like hero and villain or man and woman. They have what I’ve been calling the A combination, in which Intuition is willing to believe anything, but Sensing is deeply tied to roles. When they attack “message fiction,” they are not attacking fiction with any message, but rather the fiction that has the anti-archetypalmessage.
There are two kinds of atheist: a rational atheist, whose disbelief in God is grounded on some rational reason he can articulate, and an irrational atheist, who hates a God in which he allegedly does not believe, grounded on various unseemly appetites emotions and passions (anything from an infatuation with sin to a hunger for fads to a hatred of moral reality) passing with furious clamor through echoing emptiness of his brain. A rational atheist is one with whom one can have a rational discussion, and be a dispassionate as a judge in a courtroom. An irrational atheist has something wrong with his brain, and he belongs on a psychiatric couch.
I have noticed of late the rational atheists are disappearing and the irrational atheists blooming, and fear I know the cause.
In my youth, one could find from time to time an honest and thoughtful man who, not believing in God, could give a rational and honest reason for his disbelief.
He could say it was a logical contradiction to say an omnipotent and benevolent creator could permit evil a place in his creation, since a creator lacking the ability to forestall evil is not omnipotent, or, lacking the motive, not benevolent.
Or the rational atheist could say an omniscient being possessing or bestowing free will was paradoxical, since only the acts of an unfree will can be foreknown.
The rational atheist could say that natural causes were sufficient to explain the cosmos and man’s role in it, ergo so no inquiry into supernatural causes is needed.
Or a rational atheist could say that Christian theology was essentially the same as pagan mythology, and since even Christians admit such myths are manmade falsehoods, there is no rational way to defend one myth as true while condemning all others as false.
Finally, a rational atheist could point out various inconsistencies in the Bible or in Church tradition, or enormities committed by followers of Christ, to lend weight to any doubts one might entertain in taking the Bible or the Church as a trustworthy authority or trustworthy witness. This final argument is not meant to prove atheism is true, merely that it is a sound position.
I regret to report that, so far in my career as a Christian, not one of these rational atheist arguments has been encountered by me.
I am not exactly a one-issue voter, but I do think some things have priority over others.
As an ex-newspaperman and newspaper editor, I am perhaps more sensitive to how loathsome, dangerous, and morbid is the corruption in the Media. It is part of the Democrat Party political machine, an organ of propaganda, and engine designed deliberately to deceive the people, and it exasperates me that many an otherwise intelligent person allows himself to be deceived, and by such transparent and halfwitted tricks as the newsharlots routinely employ.
The media machine is the enemy.
Without them, the Leftists have no power, and the Jihadists have no support, no apologists, no smokescreens to hide their evil deeds, no propagandist to blame the Jews for daring to be the victims of these lunatic barbarian fanatics. The media are destroying the nation by addicting it to a diet of lies.
So it is with great pleasure that I see a candidate, and not in a blustering or angry way, rebuke and dismiss the routine falsehoods of the Democrat party activists posing as journalists, and call them out. Read the remainder of this entry »
Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington is not your stereotypical left-wing teacher. On the heels of a report that showed that liberal arts professors overwhelmingly support Democrats, Adams’ semester-opening statement to his students has gone viral.
[Trigger warning: The following is extraordinarily insensitive and its candor may cause some students to be highly offended. Symptoms of being confronted with viewpoints other than one’s own may cause one to get “the vapors” and students have even been known to collapse in a fainting spell upon reading offensive literature. Reader discretion is advised.]
Welcome back to class, students! I am Mike Adams your criminology professor here at UNC-Wilmington. Before we get started with the course I need to address an issue that is causing problems here at UNCW and in higher education all across the country. I am talking about the growing minority of students who believe they have a right to be free from being offended. If we don’t reverse this dangerous trend in our society there will soon be a majority of young people who will need to walk around in plastic bubble suits to protect them in the event that they come into contact with a dissenting viewpoint. That mentality is unworthy of an American. It’s hardly worthy of a Frenchman.
Let’s get something straight right now. You have no right to be unoffended. You have a right to be offended with regularity. It is the price you pay for living in a free society. If you don’t understand that you are confused and dangerously so. In part, I blame your high school teachers for failing to teach you basic civics before you got your diploma. Most of you went to the public high schools, which are a disaster. Don’t tell me that offended you. I went to a public high school.
Of course, your high school might not be the problem. It is entirely possible that the main reason why so many of you are confused about free speech is that piece of paper hanging on the wall right over there. Please turn your attention to that ridiculous document that is framed and hanging by the door. In fact, take a few minutes to read it before you leave class today. It is our campus speech code. It specifically says that there is a requirement that everyone must only engage in discourse that is “respectful.” That assertion is as ludicrous as it is illegal. I plan to have that thing ripped down from every classroom on campus before I retire.
One of my grandfathers served in World War I. My step-grandfather served in World War II. My sixth great grandfather enlisted in the American Revolution when he was only thirteen. These great men did not fight so we could simply relinquish our rights to the enemy within our borders. That enemy is the Marxists who run our public universities. If you are a Marxist and I just offended you, well, that’s tough. I guess they don’t make communists like they used to.
Unbelievably, a student once complained to the Department chairwoman that my mention of God and a Creator was a violation of Separation of Church and State. Let me be as clear as I possibly can: If any of you actually think that my decision to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence in the course syllabus is unconstitutional then you suffer from severe intellectual hernia.
Indeed, it takes hard work to become stupid enough to think the Declaration of Independence is unconstitutional. If you agree with the student who made that complaint then you are probably just an anti-religious zealot. Therefore, I am going to ask you to do exactly three things and do them in the exact order that I specify.
First, get out of my class. You can fill out the drop slip over at James Hall. Just tell them you don’t believe in true diversity and you want to be surrounded by people who agree with your twisted interpretation of the Constitution simply because they are the kind of people who will protect you from having your beliefs challenged or your feelings hurt.
Second, withdraw from the university. If you find that you are actually relieved because you will no longer be in a class where your beliefs might be challenged then you aren’t ready for college. Go get a job building houses so you can work with some illegal aliens who will help you gain a better appreciation of what this country has to offer.
Finally, if this doesn’t work then I would simply ask you to get the hell out of the country. The ever-growing thinned-skinned minority you have joined is simply ruining life in this once-great nation. Please move to some place like Cuba where you can enjoy the company of communists and get excellent health care. Just hop on a leaky boat and start paddling your way towards utopia. You will not be missed.
Earlier this year, Adams won a court victory against the school, when he sued, asserting that he was not promoted due to his outspoken conservatism.
My comment: His is mere common sense, hardly worth repeating, and within my lifetime was the commonly held unspoken agreement of both Right and Left. But when the seas have receded, and all the waters of the world dried up, and left behind a parched and arid wasteland, even a small oasis-pond is worthy of wonder.