Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Exploring Morality with Dungeons and Dragons

So as I’ve mentioned in, like, my first post, for a period in my life I was convinced there was some sort of perfect objective morality system out there that’s already been discovered by Philosophy’s greats and I just needed to discover it for myself via research.  Then I remembered that’s silly, all of reality is ultimately subjective, and it’s up to each of us to make our own morality systems.  Well I finally invented one for myself!!!  And much like how my personal beliefs in God coincidentally resembles the Force from Star Wars, my new morality system happens to follow the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system from the 1st through 3rd editions.  Disclaimer:  I’m fully aware of the inherent silliness that reducing a subject as complicated as morality is into a 2 axis system is.  I also know that anyone who’s not a stubborn moron changes their own opinions frequently throughout life, so I’m sure I’ll think the following ethics system I’m laying out is ridiculous within a few years.  But suck it, morality is subjective, and present-me is very is pleased as punch with this. 
For those of you unfamiliar with the D&D alignment system, it’s how one categorizes their character’s personal code of ethics.  There are two axises (axii?), Good and Evil, and Lawful and Chaotic.  Therefore there are nine alignments total, in a combination that looks like this:
It's always best to explain things with Batman.
This one's a little easier to read though.
                So anyway.  Back to me.  If you’re anything like me, you often hit little moments of clarity where you think “Oh yeah, that’s TOTALLY the way the world works and would be a good way to live my life!” But then you realize that when you look at the big picture, that idea has a shit-ton of flaws.  “Well gosh”, you might say.  “That inspirational speech in that movie/paragraph in a Ann Rand novel/lecture from my grandpa/stand-up comedy bit made so much sense to me!!! But it’s just too simplistic to live life by!!!  Whatever shall I do?!?!”  Well look no further!  I’ve realized that if I generalize the most convincing arguments/my own ideas about Life, the Universe, and Everything, they fit four categories that resemble the D&D alignment system EERILY well!  For your amusement:

Good:  This can be generalized as caring for your fellow human beings.  Empathy, if you must have a one word description.  Who can deny that there is something intrinsically right about helping others? From the classic helping an old lady cross the street to doing volunteer work throughout the world, sacrificing your time and energy for the good of other people helps you feel good and helps them feel good.  Not to mention the fact that altruism does occur in species other than humans, and benefits are almost also reaped by the practicing species as a whole.  Self-sacrifice for others is possibly the noblest way to live one’s life.
Cons: For the good of the species?  What about for the good of me?  I have just as much duty, if not more so, to my own DNA then to my fellow man.  What do you want me to do, give all my money to the government in taxes so that crackheads and the shiftless people can cheat the system and grab that sweet welfare money for themselves?  And why should I worry about the starving in Africa when I have myself and my family to feed?  Also, a person who self-sacrifices everything for everyone else soon has nothing left to give to others whereas as person who takes care of their own issues/needs first has more to give to others over time.  While a utopian society where everyone helps out each other is a nice thought, there are too many selfish people in this world that would take advantage of the selfless, meaning that trying to help the world is just pissing in the wind. 

Evil: Let’s face it: you don’t own anyone else JACK SHIT. Not only is the world filled with assholes that don’t deserve your help, but you theoretically can’t even prove anyone else but yourself even exists.  So why not worry about just yourself then?  You might want to call this one Selfishness, but I call it Apathy.  Just don’t give a fuck about all that outside noise and worry about your own business.  And as many fans of Nietzsche, Ann Rand, or the 1% can attest to, the world would be great if everyone just minded their own business and worked on satisfying their own self-interests.  Then we’d have a society of super awesome super men who deserved the luxuries they have because they EARNED them, while the have-nots have only themselves to blame.  You have to work hard (or smart (read as: taking advantage of people)) for what you want, and if you can’t cut it then you get nothing and you deserve to be poor.   Survival of the fittest, baby.  And those who say that altruism holds an important place in evolution just remember who benefits the most in those situations: cheaters!

http://sci-ence.org/cheater/  Great webcomic, check it out.  Like xkcd with only the science-y bits.
Cons: Really?  The world would be a better place if the cheaters always got their way with no society imposed limits?  The rich earned what they have without any support besides their own?  If you really think that you’re extremely childish, short sighted, and not even worth arguing with (okay fine I will: rich people, there’s like a billion people who helped you, your parents for one, your teachers for two, must I go on?).  And even if you’re the best at being a living organism by surviving and spreading your DNA through cheating and selfishness, what’s the fucking point?  All you’re doing is perpetuating the 3.8 billion year system of RNA molecules replicating themselves.  Life is nothing more that advanced chemical photocopying.  Maybe being human means adding something more to that process; rising above simple survival to make something greater.  Together.

Lawful: Organization.  The Man.  No matter how you look at it, systems tend to organize themselves, whether it’s salt molecules forming crystals or groups of humans forming government.  Even when anarchy takes hold, organization always arises from the chaos again.  Longtime readers will know from my environmental posts that I don’t like using the term “natural”, but organization just seems so, well, natural.  Building something together with other beings to make something bigger than just a single individual has something grand about it.  I find this hard to put into a single word.  Honor?  Seriousness?  The point is, there are some things in this world that are worth the effort and sincerity, whether be an anime club that binds local geeks with similar interests in a fraternity, or a government that cares for the needs of its people. 
Cons: You want to talk about natural?  What’s more natural then chaos?  Entropy is one of the natural laws of the universe.  And what about THE MAN, dude?  That guy’s a dick.  Human governments always are wildly mismanaged at best, and take advantage of its citizens at worst.  Trying to form a stable organization or even following a personal code of ethics like, I dunno, following the rules at school or work is impossible to achieve in the long-term, and is even more like pissing in the wind then being nice to people is.

Chaotic:  Chaos seems to be one of the main laws of the universe.  In fact, it’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Systems always seem to break down as soon as they hit their peak efficiency.  There’s something beautiful and natural about chaos.  Libertarians will argue that society works best if people are more or less left to their own devices, and anarchists will go so far as to say society itself is inherently unnatural.  Existentialists will argue that only the individual can find their own meaning to life, and a nihilist will go so far as to say that there is no meaning to life in any case (and an absurdist, a philosophical term that I’m pretty sure only exists in the world of Wikipedia, says it’s absurd to even try to find meaning in life).  I have my own personal spin on this.  I’m a HUUUUUUGE fan of comedy.  Favorite genre; love everything from the “stupid stuff” like physical comedy to the more subtle and complex forms like satire, as long as it’s done well (despite what people think, “stupid humor” can actually be very smart when done by the right people like the Three Stooges, Will Ferrell, etc.).  The one underlying theme of Comedy (besides amusement) is this: mocking the negatives of the established systems that terrorize us humans.  As Cracked.com once put it, “Comedy is the art of making people laugh at their miserable existence.  Sometimes it can make people think too.”  I’d hope most of you reading this know that when chimps make a smiling expression, it actually means they’re terrified, right (all those chimps in film are pretty much being abused in the shot to make them look like they’re smiling)?  Well evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized that human laughter/smiling what-have you developed in situations of false-terror.  For example, when a group of hominids heard a rustle in the bushes, one guy would go check it out, see that it was a squirrel, make the terror face to fuck with the others,  and then when the squirrel popped out everyone would be like “Fuck Jim, you totally had us going for a minute there!!”.
Jim's such an asshole.
That’s right.  Comedy evolved from trolling.  And comedy continues to be that way today, from us laughing at pratfalls on, to the Daily Show poking holes through our government’s silly-ness, to the bits of more dark humor like rape jokes.  All of us know that rape is real, terrible, and way too common in society, but that’s a disgustingly hard fact to live with.  Joking about terrible things like rape helps us to relax and excise our inner fears and demons.  I have two personal (and fictional) heroes when it comes to this subject.  Marco, from that old book series the Animorphs, explained that the reason he was always joking was because life is inherently ridiculous; people fight bloody wars over patches of sandy desert.  How is that not funny?  Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has a more primal understanding of comedy:

Cons: You know another character I like who has a similar outlook on life as Marco but should in no way be a role model?  The Joker.  In Alan Moore’s famous, character-defining story The Killing Joke, the Joker tells Batman that chaos is the only thing that makes sense. 

“Do you know how many times we’ve come close to World War Three over a flock of geese on a computer screen?  Do you know what triggered the last World War? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! HA HA HA HA HA!” 

The Joker has a point, but his reaction to this fact of life is… killing people for fun?  There are some things that should be sacred, and most could agree that human life is one of them.  The most common complaint against satirists like Jon Stewart or South Park is that they can joke and joke about what’s wrong with society, but at the end of the day they never offer solutions.  Comedy and Chaos break down the organized and pompous, but they never build anything of value themselves.  Sarcasm literally means “to tear flesh”, aka, emotional flesh.  Comedy is a chasm, which, while refreshing and necessary just like entropy, would leave us all with nothing if left on its own.  There needs to be something worthwhile to our lives or all this is pointless.
                So put this all together and we get a similar morality chart to D&D’s.  As you should be able to tell by now my favorite way to examine reality is through reductionism.  Wikipedia definition :
Reductionism can mean either (a) an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or (b) a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents.”. 
That’s just the western scientist in me, it’s how I like to think; I think you can figure out a lot about something by taking it apart and see what it’s based on.  But I’m no fool, and I understand the benefits of holism:
Holism is the idea that natural systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic etc.) and their properties, should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts. This often includes the view that systems somehow function as wholes and that their functioning cannot be fully understood solely in terms of their component parts.
                Only by taking a holistic approach to this completed chart can you live a balanced life.  Most people realize that too much of anything is bad, so I’d recommend trying to live a life balanced between my terms of Good and Evil, Lawful and Chaotic.  Let’s talk about True Neutral in D&D for a sec.  Most Non-Playable Characters are True Neutral, not out of some personal philosophical code but just by doing whatever benefits their situation at the moment.  They’re not saints but wouldn’t pass a dying person on the street; not villains but would resort to petty theft if they got a good chance.  They follow the rules most of the time, but break them when it’s appropriate.  I’d say almost everyone in real life is like this too.  I find this unacceptable.  Living an unexamined life and just acting without really considering the moral backing behind their decisions is not befitting a sentient creature.  I say we try to be like the rare True Neutral monks or clerics of D&D, who know that life is about balancing those four cardinal attributes of morality. 
                That being said, I’m not living this new moral system of mine as much as I’d like.  Throughout my life in general, I follow the rules “The Man” makes pretty well like a good little boy, even as I sneer about said rules to my peers.  I tried to be a tough asshole as a kid and as an adult try to remember the legitimacy of living an apathetic life, but can’t help but be nice and caring sometimes.  On the flip side of the coin, I can’t bring myself to be a true good person; I’m a dick most of the time.  I’m a mess who can’t stick to any moral code, just like the rest of the non-introspective True Neutral out there.  Well, the Lawful side of me likes charts, so maybe this chart will help me stick to this complicated moral code system.  One question I still have is this: Does this enlightened state of balancing Good/Evil/Lawful/Chaotic have to be achieved a certain way?  As in, would I have to do a little of each?  None of any of it?  Or do a lot of each which will balance itself out?  I think I can do the latter quite well, I can always put myself first in all things but help my friends and community whenever possible, and mock every organized system that I find silly but still strive to better my personal reality with involvement in things like the geek community and local government.  This seems the most ridiculous and contradictory way of doing things, but it’s the way of living I can do most easily.  Kinda like the way I strive for androgyny but being into manly man things and girly girl things at the same time instead of being unisex.  I dunno.  Life is hard, living by a personal code of ethics is even harder, and learning to balance things is hardest.  BUT IT’S STILL WORTH IT.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Geek Girls in Metal Bikinis: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh

A facebook friend just posted this great article on her wall, and I decided to comment on it.  As always, I wrote too much.  So I'm just turning it into a blog post!  Yay laziness.
First the article:

This kind of conversation is important to me, and even though I often feel like I'm not allowed to be a male feminist, as if I have no right to speak about social equality (maybe then it's ESPECIALLY important to me because of that). I also think geek issues are tremendously important because geek culture is 90% of my social life and thus matters to me.  I particularly LOVE this quote: "Because geek cultures often think of themselves as countercultural, they don’t usually believe they are tainted by the sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, ad naseum that infect popular culture. And there are entire blogs that prove that nonsense untrue."  Sooo freakin' true.  Many geeks still carry this victim stigma around from being countercultural, aka not the popular kids.  But the last decade has proved that being a geek isn't just about liking certain things, it's a legitimate lifestyle with a legitimate society that comes with it.  And we're subject to the same demons all societies deal with.

Maybe it's the reductionist and the deontologist in me, but I think social problems need to be addressed and held responsible on the individual level.  Women clearly have to deal with a lot of pressure coming from a complex social system made up of a horny patriarchy, overly competitive female peers, and a hypersexualized entertainment spawned by and enforcing the attitudes of the former two to look/act a certain way to be accepted.  Men have the same pressures in a different ways of course, but in regards to this subject men have grown up in a patriarchy that says it's OK to give into their baser instincts and to treat women as sexual objects.  This is even MORE pronounced in geek culture, where the geek women are likely to have faced rejection from society in their life and thus seek approval and acceptance both sexually and socially even more, and the geek men are used to geekdom being a boy's club and are especially fond of their pretty, shiny toys (sexual objects, toys, what's the difference).  It's up to the individual geek woman to not give into the benefits of self-objectifying costumes (cosplaying a sexy costume because you actually like the character and there are no other reasons for doing so is excused, obviously), and it's up to the individual geek man to stop objectifying the slave Leias and Olivia Munns out there and to let geek women into the fold naturally.  As a side, there's a reason that feminism still exists and it's because the glass ceiling and boys' clubs and a million other sexist institutions are still in place.  I know, feminism is inherently flawed and sexist, but I can't be a post-feminist completely until the feminism's work is done.  Much to my delight however, my life has been full of co-ed geek circles on the highschool, college, and post-college level.  So maybe the situation isn't as bad as it looks, or I've just been incredibly lucky to find wonderful people in my life.

There's another set of individuals with a responsibility in this situation: people who know what's happening is wrong.  We need to speak out about it.  We don't necessarily have to be hyper dicks about it constantly speaking from a soapbox.  Simple reminders to our peers will do.  I found this amazing quote from the comments section of Film Crit Hulk's blog post about the sexism in Arkham City.  Here's the link: http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/hulk-vs-arkham-city-round-2-bitches-be-trippin/ (btw, read Film Crit Hulk, every article is amazing, and while I didn't necessarily agree with him about Arkham City after I played it myself, this article is an amazing lesson in reasoning and common sense)  This comment literally made me weep when I read it:
 Commenter A: "The tragedy is, the people who could most benefit from that well articulated, moving last piece of Hulk wisdom are the ones most likely to completely overlook it."
Commenter B:"That’s quite true, but really they’re never the target of a well-formed argument like this, are they? It’s the people on the edge, the ones who read the argument through tinted glasses that make them predisposed to disagree that sexism in games exists and is a problem, but would agree given logic that hits them just so. Every time the right argument comes along and they reevaluate their stance, the demarcation line between the people who ignore it and the people who disagree with the state of things moves forward, just a bit. And that means a whole new group of people who have their own ways of voicing their disagreement, people who are more likely to be friends of those who still don’t see a problem, which gives whole new opportunities for other people to recognize the issue, and so on."

It's up to us to make geekdom and all of society better.  And we can do it, slowly but surely.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Friendship is AWESOME:In Defense of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic

I feel like it’s about time for me to make a formal defense of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Doing so reveals my desperate need for my opinions to be approved and accepted by others which is a major personal flaw I’m trying to work through, but I’ll save that big post for another day. 
For the last 25 years, both geek and young male culture have been really into “dark” stuff.  We’ve liked our superheroes “dark and gritty” and over-the-top violence has been shorthand for “adult and deep”.  This paradigm shift wasn’t necessarily started by, but definitely cemented by, the comic books (sorry, graphic novels)Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  Both are fantastic graphic novels whose “dark and edgy” takes on superheroes changed the comic industry as well as the rest of all pop culture.  But while each book is great, the Watchmen was meant to destroy the concept of superheroes not make them darker (read this essay-it’s fantastic:http://tinyurl.com/6n3avqh), while the Dark Knight Returns only represents one very specific take on the caped crusader (because like it or not campiness is a major element of the Batman mythos [plus Frank Miller is homophobic war-mongering crazy person, and not in the good way Alan Moore is]).
So in recent years, some geeks have been getting into the idea of going back to a more optimistic form of storytelling.  After all, real life can be pretty great sometimes, and to ignore all the good in life by focusing on the awful is just as bad as sugar-coating reality.  There is some official support for this minor shift in mood; a while back Marvel Comics had a “Heroic Age” period, where they tried to tell fun, mildly campy superhero stories that tried to stay light in tone.  The popularity of cartoons like Adventure Time and Phineas and Ferb with people other than small children is also evidenced of this.  While I won’t deny that most of the people in my demographic still equate overly dark and violent content with it being “cool”, “smart”, and “realistic”, this new camp is growing.
I’m definitely in this new camp.  Between finding and marrying an amazing woman who has proven to me that not all humans are inherently selfish assholes and realizing how great my life is in comparison to other people, my mood and general life philosophies have seen unparalleled amounts of optimism in the last few years of my life.  Naturally, I want to watch entertainment that matches my love for life.  And that’s where My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comes in.
I’ve relayed the origin story of MLP:FiM as well as the primarily male fan movement called “bronies” countless times to people, so I’m sick of it.  Short of it: Powerpuff Girls/Dexter’s Lab/Foster’s Home major contributor Lauren Faust was asked to create a new My Little Pony show for Hasbro’s new revival of cartoons that sell shit to kids line, and she decided to make a great show instead.  When internet geeks on 4chan tried watching it to get material to make fun of it, they realized it was actually good.  REALLY GOOD.  Here’s the long of it: http://tinyurl.com/5s9u9aj

A lot of people still don’t get the whole brony thing though, and I was one of them.  Up until late last summer I just assumed that the only “fans” of the show were geek hipsters watching it ironically, pedophiles and furries.  Then I caught like, half an episode before leaving for Otakon and noticed it was actually kind of good.  After seeing countless MLP:FiM cosplayers and artwork at Otakon and going “WTF?”, when I came home I caught another episode.  It was also… surprisingly good.  Really good even.  I read the above article on Know Your Meme and said to myself “Shit, I’m going to get into this aren’t I?  Like I need another reason for my friends to question my masculinity”.  
There's a reason this minor meme exists.  The realization that
you like a My Little Pony show is
enough to drive one to alcoholism
I poured myself a drink, and watched the 2 part pilot episodes.  And I WAS HOOKED.  Because I have the aforementioned insecurity that makes me want to convince people to like the same things I do, and because I want you all to experience the same joy I feel, here are the primary reasons I watch MLP:FiM.  I know that not all bronies like the show for the same reason, and there are probably plenty of freaks who like it for unsavory reasons, but I have a feeling most bronies share the same first reason that I’m about to give, and many share the rest:

1)It’s a really, really, REALLY good cartoon.
If you’re not the kind of person who watches cartoons as an adult, and can’t understand why anyone would, then I’m going to just give up on you right here.  You’ve clearly lost all joy in your life, take yourself too seriously, and can’t tell the difference between “family” and “children” entertainment.  I can’t help you at this point, just go about your life and keep missing out on gems like Pixar movies and Homestarrunner because they don’t curse enough.  But for the rest of us who have experienced the joy of catching a random episode of Adventure Time or Chowder, or who would gladly watch an old Looney Tunes or Powerpuff Girls cartoon, listen up: this MLP:FiM shit is one of the best damn cartoons I have ever seen.  It blends classic cartoon bits and physical comedy along with geek references for the adult viewers and gorgeous animation. 
It's hard to find all the best clips, but here's a couple:

Not to mention all the pop culture references: 

Big Lebowski characters:
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ending:
Doctor Whooves:
Doctor Whooves id.png 
Not to mention Benny Hill chase scenes in at least two episodes:

And did I mention the animation quality?  This is really a point only cartoon geeks and otaku care about, but the range of facial expressions are amazing:
 Not to mention they're ability to pull off crazy:

2. It’s chicken soup for the soul, for both its intended audience and for its adult fanbase.
When Lauren Faust was a kid, she loved her My Little Pony toys.  However, while the ponies on the tv show would just have girly little tea parties she would send her pony toys on adventures.  Thus, she developed a show that reflected her childhood instead.  The result is a beautiful, much needed message for little girls.  It’s just what young women need during their crucial developmental period: female role models that aren’t stereotypical girly, yet aren’t stereotypical preachy independent feminazi  mouthpieces.  The characters are simply people (or ponies in this case).  The key to making strong female characters is to stop making STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS and to start making STRONG CHARACTERS, FEMALE (or rather, strong developed characters who also happen to be female).  When you draw attention to the fact that they‘re women and make that their defining personality trait it just continues sexist stereotypes by pointing out that these ponies are special and different because they’re girls who DON’T go to tea parties.  Instead it just shows different characters with a variety of personalities and varying levels gender behavior, from girly to androgynous to tomboyish.  Plus it represents a nice swath of personalities between the 6 main ponies: Twilight Sparkle is the organized nerd, AppleJack is the country tomboy, Rainbow Dash is the athletic tomboy, Rarity is the fashion-obsessed girl, Fluttershy is the shy animal lover, and Pinkie Pie is the silly party girl (who also doubles as the fat chick if you notice how much she loves eating).  Little girls need that, they need to find someone they can relate to that lets them know that they are fine just the way they are, because our society really doesn’t do that for them enough.
You know who else needs that?  Males aged 18-30.  And more importantly do we need to see females in a feminine environment in a non-stereotypical tea party way, but we need the lessons taught by the show.  Each episode is a morality tale on friendship that while cheesy and obvious, is still a valid life lesson.  Humans tend to keep having to relearn the same lessons throughout life; we tend to forget important shit that never stopped being true.  Since when did listening to your friend’s opinions and learning to not to be racist stop being relevant?  It hasn’t.  And it’s certainly important for young adult males like me who are finishing their adolescence and entering adulthood and who think they have the world figured out.  And it’s ESPECIALLY important for young men and geeks who have spent the last few years dealing with the cruelty of their peers and had their pessimistic world views reinforced by pessimistically dark superheroes.  We need to relearn that there is good and light in this world, and that you can create more of it by treating others this way.  Two of the most common responses bronies give on the internet when someone insults them are posting these pictures:

While it might be hard to actually feel that way towards your bullies (I know that even when I post those responses I’m still angry and a little hurt), Aristotle said the best way to become virtuous is by acting virtuously.  A more positive existence starts with our actions.

3. BOUNS REASON!: The creators actually respect the fans and show it.
While the creators of MLP:FiM were certainly shocked by the brony fanbase, they didn’t dismiss it outright.  Lauren Faust has had open dialogue with 4channers, the show continues to put brony memes like Doctor Whooves and Derpy Hooves into the show, and even mentioned bronies by name in a music video commercial they made.  They even released a full version of said video exclusively for one of the big brony fansites!  I’m not just a geek, but I’m a consumer as well.  I love it when the people who are providing me a service demonstrate that they care about my business.  It means I’m going to keep coming back to them for more.

So seriously, if you haven’t watched it already, watch the first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Then watch the rest.  It’s worth your time.  Here's episodes 1 and 2:

If you end up liking the show, let me know so I can send you the initiation to brony-dom:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Legitimate Question for my Generous Friends

When I was a little kid, I was very, very greedy.  I feel like this is my natural state of being: a selfish person.  I still notice my selfish behaviors when I'm not thinking or drunk; I do things like push past people, steal parking spots, interrupt people, etc.  But over time I was able to forcefully modify my own behavior.  From my early teenage years until recently, I've tried to decline gifts while giving generously, open doors for people, do favors whenever possible, etc.  And surprisingly it worked.  It's really a testiment to Aristotle's virtue ethics: you become virtuous by living a virtue filled life, aka if you force yourself to act good you will eventually become good.  There's obviously still some problems of looking at generosity this way.  I essentially began treating gifts like the Chinese culture does: an intense social game where you do whatever you can to throw your gifts at people while avoiding theirs.  The only difference is I did it out of atonement for a childhood of selfishness instead of a long tradition of family honor and Confucianism, and I actually succeeded since no one else was playing the game.

The next change in my perception of gift exchange came senior year of college.  One of the few things I enjoyed about my American Indian culture class was the perception of gift giving and recieving that many Plains tribes had.  People would give gifts for no special reason, and could receive gifts without guilt or giving more than a simple thanks.  Since everyone in society acted generously, the act of exchanging favors and goods wasn't special and didn't need to be forcefully evened out since the karmic forces of society would naturally balance out the generosity.  I really like this attitude towards generosity.  Now I'm no devout subscriber to karmic balance, but I approve of living a principled life the same way you would if the world was perfect.  If I could receive gifts happily and give gifts happily to other people I will have a)acted virtuously, b)done my part to make a more generous society, and c)be able to enjoy gifts again and stop lying to my material loving nature.  If those of you reading this are confused because I haven't been acting like a American Indian, it's because I don't have the means to participate in the second half of the gift giving equation!

I'm at a time in my life when I am very poor.  I'm working an exhausting food service job full time that would barely allow me to live comfortably by myself, and I'm working for two.  My wife is still in grad school and can't work enough to do anything except buy groceries once in awhile.  And I'm ok with that.  I'm ready, man.  This is the time of my life that the Boy Meets World episodes "The Honeymoon is Over" and "Picket Fences" prepared me for.  I have plenty of video games, books, dvds, the internet, and most importantly, the love of a wonderful person to tide me over for a couple of years until I can buy more things for myself again.  I have the willpower to skip meals.  I have the willpower to skip hanging out with friends when I have to.  I have the willpower to not buy things for myself if I can't afford it.  I have the willpower to ride my scooter through freezing rain to save money.  I got that shit down pat.

The only problem is my friends.  It seems like a lot of my friends are at a time in their life where they've started their careers and have some extra cash, or only have to provide for themselves so money's not as criminally tight.  And some of them are in the same up-shit-creek boat as I'm in.  The only problem is they're ALL TOO DAMN GENEROUS.  In the past year I've been bought meals, drinks, brand new PC games, artwork, and minigolf games.  I've been given Magic cards, old dvds, and used Gamecube games.  And when I received them I of course responded like my old self, profusely trying to refuse the gifts.  But that's only because I HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE BACK!  I can't fulfill my end of the American Indian social pact!  If I had some way of repaying my debt to either the giver or different people in my social circle I would, but I don't so I still fill tremendously guilty about receiving gifts.

I've already decided that when my wife and I have started our careers and we can help others, I will make it my mini-life's mission to help out young twenty-somethings like myself.  But that's not for awhile.  What can I do right now?  This isn't a rhetorical question, I'm tagging a lot of the people who have already been so generous with me when I share this post on facebook.  I want REAL answers from you guys.  Surely my company alone isn't enough to pay you back (I may be delightful, but I'm not THAT delightful).  Should I dance for you?  Be your court jester?  Draw you second-rate artwork?  Let you get to second base?  I'm out of ideas here guys, and I just want to now how I can make up all the kindness you've shown me because you deserve it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Rare Moment of Sincere Sorrow for Just a Sec

Oh. The only member of my extended family (in this case, not grandparents, aunts, uncles, or 1st cousins) I actually care a little about just died an hour ago. That.. kinda sucks. He was a really funny guy.

I'll miss you Uncle Louie.

I love you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marvel Comics Civil War: Why Superhero Vigilantism is Wrong

So I found out recently that two of my best friends who are engaged fall on different sides of the old Marvel Civil War debate. I have a personal history with this subject; I used to debate with those philosophy major buddies of mine for hours during college. I also own the collection in graphic novel format. So I responded to them in length my side of the argument via facebook message, and I just realized I could very easily copy and paste it as a fun blog post. Lazy-ness! Awesome.
For those of you not familiar with the Marvel Comics Civil War event, some background. It was a crossover event from July 2006 to January 2007. In the superhero comic book world, Marvel and DC often have huge blockbuster summer stories that effect their entire universe, with a main comic in several parts and lots of tie-in shout outs to it in the regular comic lines. They're really gimmicky by nature, and a clear money grab, but sometimes really fun. This event explored a oft-treaded on topic in things like Watchmen and "The Incredibles": people are sick of vigilante super humans running around, and the government takes action. The catalyst for Marvel universe outcry is a when a team of C-list untrained teenage superheros try to fight some supervillians for their reality show and end of accidentally blowing up an entire school in suburban CT. The government passes a bill making superheroes register with the government. The government will learn their identity and train them to make them paid governmental employees, essentially becoming superhuman police or FBI agents. Anyone who doesn't register is an outlaw. The superhero community picks sides, with Iron Man leading Pro-Registration and Captain America leading the rebels, and battles wage.

So while my friends would always argue for Anti-Registration, and I would argue for Pro-Reg. I find it hard to believe myself, because politically I'm usually closest to being a libertarian (I'm actually moderate) and more government and infringing on superhuman civil liberties seems naturally wrong to me. Plus, while government training, government pay, and a happy America are naturally a more pragmatic response, I usually favor ideals to practically. But looking at the situation in depth reveals that it's not so simple.

As Alan Moore's Watchmen pointed out, superheroes are just WRONG to begin with. It's fine if the post-human individual is a perfect, inherently morally good person, but that kind individual existing is entirely fictitious (oops, all superheroes are fictitious, but still). So a regular, flawed human being is given superpowers, and it makes them morally better than us and responsible for us? My favorite argument for Pro-Reg was something Iron Man said in a private monologue he made to Captain America's fake corpse, cause it shows how his opinions come not from fascism like some accuse him of, but from personal experience. I'm paraphrasing, but he mentioned a time during the Demon in a Bottle arc when he was alcoholic and drunk off his ass, and tried fighting a minor supervillian in crowded public street. He was swinging around a telephone pole and almost killed some bystanders. THE SUPERVILLIAN he was fighting had to knock him out to protect the innocent civilians. If you can't even trust an A-Lister like Iron Man completely, what about the hundreds of C and D list superheroes, all the New Warriors morons out there? And don't even get me STARTED on whether or not vigilantism is moral to begin with. Sure stopping someone from mugging an old lady might seem objectively good, but I think morally is inherently subjective, since we have no way of scientifically pinning down what "right" and "wrong" are, or even if those concepts have any metaphysical weight to begin with.

Obviously then, the only form of humans physically protecting and policing other humans with any sort of legitimacy is a government that people willingly enter via social contract. And while a democracy/republic certainly isn't a perfect means of respecting the rights of individuals while protecting them from themselves, it's the best we got so far. So if a individual suddenly finds themself with super powers and they want to help others, they should do it legitimately. Regular humans often want to protect others, and what do they do? Join the police force. GET TRAINED, which many would-be heroes need, not only to teach them how to save lives but to teach them respect for strength of their powers (policemen in training get maced and tazed before being allowed out in the field, shouldn't 15 yr old Spidey have been spun upside down to a lamppost for a few hours too?). Thus, they'll have a somewhat legitimate authority over others, as opposed to none whatsoever. Also, in a democratic society we should listen to the will of others, and while allowing the civilian majority of the Marvel U to vote on superhero segregation or god-forbid disposing on them infringes on the rights of the post-humans, letting the majority decide whether or not the post-humans can save them is completely fair, and is the very nature of a social contract. Superheroes need accountability, because if you don't like something the police do you can get involved politically, but as it stood if you don't like something a superhero does you can go fuck yourself. I don't feel like that's right. And really thinking about it, an individual has NO right to vigilantism in the first place. The very nature of it is infringing on everyone in their society's personal freedom.

And if a superhero doesn't want to register? Then stop being a superhero. Disappear into your alter ego. I'm pretty sure the Super Human Registration Act didn't even make post-humans make their identities public, it would be S.H.E.I.L.D. classified information if I'm not mistaken.

The only argument left that gives me any pause is the one my friends would stick to, and the one Cap gives for going rogue:
"Don't play politics with me, Hill. Super Heroes need to stay above that stuff or Washington starts telling us who the super-villains are."
Very true. The US government is certainly no saint, and could start telling Thor to take down Colombian dictators or Wolverine to assassinate Julian Assange. It certainly is vexing. My only practical response is the individual post-human could just quit at that point. Idealistically however, this doesn't change anything I've said. As Maria Hill, then-Commander of S.H.E.I.L.D.responded to Captain America after he said that:
"I thought super-villains were guys in masks who refused to obey the law."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Otakon 2011 Recap

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST IS ONLY TO BE READ BY PEOPLE 18 YEARS OLD OR OLDER. What with all the recent Facebook friends I made they are still in highschool, I feel like this disclaimer is necessary. I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR CHILD READING THIS, THEY WERE WARNED.

So I'm going to do something I rarely do, which is blog about my actual life for once. 3 weekends ago I attended Otakon, the largest anime convention on the east coast (and like the second or third largest in the US) at the Baltimore Convention Center. I wanted to write this post sooner, but exhaustion from the con prevented me the week after, and then I went to volunteer as a counselor at summer camp for a week. So now that I've had 2 vacations in a row and 4 more days off from work, let's do this to distract from the fact I might not be able to pay my bills this month.

I started attending anime conventions in 11th grade of high school, and was able to get in 5 great cons before my college years started. As a little old high school, my first 4 cons consisted of being dropped off for Saturday only by my little mommy and daddy, run around like a wide-eyed puppy showing off my costume, watching AMVs, and waiting waaaaaay too long in line for the masquerade skit show at night. I dreamed of one day being old enough to:
a)spend all 3 days at a con
b)sleep in the same hotel the con took place in so I could just walk upstairs for changing, food, relaxing, whatever
c)be with friends (I hung out with very little otaku in high school)
d)make and wear an awesome, complicated costume that got tons of respect and not just another human character made out of Goodwill and Walmart purchases.
e)drink and be merry (OK, that's a lie, I wasn't excited about drinking in high school, because despite my asshole-ness I'm pretty Lawful Neutral)
f)...... stay up all night going to 18+ panels.... I might not have admitted that hentai is great until my fellow otaku in college gave me the courage too, but yeah, who doesn't want to watch porn all night at a con?

Now I did some of these things at various cons. My fifth con, my first Otakon, was a 3 day affair with my family. I did my first group cosplay (Inuyasha) at my 4th con, and have been sharing hotel rooms with friends since my second Otakon. My Missing No. cosplay was made out of cardboard, but still really fun, weird, and got a lot of glomps. And just ask my March 20th, 2011 self how his two-days-of-drinking hangover felt, and he might throw up on you a little. But I've never slept in the same hotel as the con, and I've never done all these things at the same time. This Otakon was the first time I combined all these high school desires (and it was at Otakon, the best con EVAR, so that made it extra special). Yet, I couldn't get super excited before the con. I spent the whole summer worrying about money and if I could make it to the con without starving my wife at the same time. So it put a damper on the experience from the start.

Driving down on Thursday, I hung out with some local friends until my college buddies whom I was rooming with showed up. We had our traditional Thursday night dinner at a secret Thai place that isn't on the Otakon dining guide so we can also get a seat. I had a great time catching up with my friends. Someone touched a dead bird found on the street. Good times were had by all.

Friday started awesome. I decided to fuck it and not join the hallway costume contest (which would have been my first time), which means I'll probably never do it. It just seems like a waste of time at such a large and fun filled con. Watched some of a Case Closed movie, and caught the rest of a Pokemon panel teaching what it takes to be a professional trainer. It involves timing, patience, random number generators, and a little bit of cheating. Don't think I'll ever get into it. Next I got into my new costume, Excalibur from Soul Eater. Here's a picture of the character, and of me in costume:

It was definitely my best costumes yet, and probably my favorite to wear as well. It was hot as shit, and couldn't wear the headpiece for longer then 30 minutes, but oh well. Cosplay=love, cosplay=pain. The rest of the night was filled with food, a little drinking, Friday Night Fan Parodies, and a hilarious hentai panel. More on that later.

Saturday was also fun filled, with more costume wearing, trips to the dealer's room, and getting to watch the premiere of the English dub of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Some people don't like watching movies in large groups, what with assholes making lame jokes at the screen and such. But I love it, and I think it's one of my favorite parts of conventions. If the movie is bad or a little cheesy, it becomes live-action Mystery Science Theater 3000. If the movie's good, like the Haruhi movie is, you get to witness all the people watching the movie for the first time gasp and give standing ovations at every major plot twist. It feels cathartic sharing my love with total strangers. It's what cons are all about, and it's why I always try to make midnight showings of comic book movies, same experience there.

Hentai panels are usually hit or miss. For example, at the last con I went to in March the Friday night panel I went to was called "Yuri Doing it Wrong", a panel promising to point out how lame most Yuri (lesbian action) panels are, but it just devolved into creepers talking about their favorite pr0ns. We heckled it and left. The next night was "Hentai 101" and it was funny, informative, and I won a bottle of Tentacle Grape which I brought with me this time to invent a drink called "Tentacle Rape"

1 shot crappy tequila
pour over ice in a highball (err...hotel room) glass
fill the rest with Tentacle Grape
garnish with Twizzlers
(I'll upload a photo once I find it)

This con, I was lucky enough to go to two great hentai panels (the trick is making them funny, not sexy, panelists. We don't actually want to masturbate in public). Friday night was "Beyond the Tentacle: Exploring Japanese Fetishes". It was run by some stand-up comedians, +2 Comedy, so it was hilarious!!! Most of the fetishes I already knew about, like foot fetishes, Rule 34, vore, guro, etc. But there was a brand new fetish they told us about, and I couldn't stop laughing every time they said the name "Karate Girls vs. Rape Team". Two female blackbelts are stuck in a room and must defend themselves for 5 minutes against 10 men trying to rip their clothes off. Every minute they last, the girls get another $1000 or something. If their clothes get ripped off though, 10 MORE MEN enter the room and they gangbang the two girls. Oh Japan, you so crazy. The panelists couldn't find any videos or pictures to show us, as they showed that when you Google Image Search "Karate Girls vs. Rape Team", you inexplicably get pictures of random cosplayers, Smurfs, and Morgan Freeman. "I am Morgan Freeman, and I enjoy Karate Girls vs. Rape Team". Disclaimer: half of the people I tell this story to don't seem to realize it's probably not real rape. It's not like Japanese porn producers drive to dojos to kidnap blackbelts. Some porn stars enjoy gang bang. It's a thing. They ended the panel with a DISGUSTING video of a wasp monster impregnating an animated girl with tentacles, and then a girl offering herself to a bizarre parrot monster with a penis drill on the end of it's tail. The +2 Comedy guys said "And that folks, is what you show your kids when they ask you about the Birds and the Bees" *rimshot*! On Saturday I was dragged to a panel with the girls of my group to "A Ladies Guide to Hentai". It was a girl power tribute to hentai made for women, with tender sex scenes and... shudder... some Yaoi scenes. Thanks girls, for making me sit through male creampie. You're lucky years of Rocky Horror Picture show mostly desensitized me to that stuff.

Sunday was great, out of shear luck and mistakes in the Otakon scheduling, I was able to sit with my friend in the front row for both a panel on the beginning of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers with it's main producer/writer Tony Oliver. He showed us awesome shit like the embarrassingly awkward audition tapes for the original casts. Luckily someone else asked the question I thought too rude to ask "Did you realize you cast a black man as the Black Ranger and an asian woman as the Yellow Ranger?" Oliver shook his head and groaned. "Saban Entertainment was actually a very multicultural company, with people frequently going over episodes in different languages. Suddenly, after episode 50, we were sitting in a writer's meeting and suddenly all went 'OH SHIT WHAT HAVE WE DONE!!!!' Lucky TV Guide didn't notice for another year and a half" I asked him what the Japanese original creator of the show thought about how successful it was in America, and he said "At first, he was really upset with what we were doing with his show. Then we cut him his $300,000 check. He liked us after that". It was a great panel, showed us the inside scoop on our childhood, and made me feel especially great when he said he gave up and left the show at the same time (and for the same reasons) I gave up and stopped watching the show.
Next was the Brentalfloss panel. Brentalfloss is a guy who makes an awesome video series called "What if _____ Had Lyrics?", writing lyrics for classic video game songs and performing them himself (he plays the music on his piano too). He's a bit of a celebrity in the video game community so it was awesome being that close to him. He admitted he was tired and in a grumpy mood, thus he shared with us a lot of his personal feelings, his fears, and his hopes of Broadway for the future. We got to see the man behind the mask, and it was moving. He showed us the work-in-progress for one of his October releases, "What if Ghosts 'N'Goblins Had Lyrics?". Then a fan asked him "I hate to be THAT guy, but could you please make an Earthbound or Pokemon song sometime". Silent, Brentalfloss hit a button on his computer and grabbed a mic. WE CHEERED. He then belted out an unreleased song to the tune of the Pokemon anime theme, called "STDs: Gotta Catch 'em All!" IT WAS HILARIOUS! I embarrassed myself trying to talk to him afterwards, like I always do with famous people I meet, but oh well.

So was this con everything I dreamed? Did I finally fill fulfilled? Strangely enough, it was really fun but it didn't feel extra special. My con-going skills are experienced now, I went to 9 different events as opposed to just buying things and people watching like many newbies do, and I never wasted time waiting in any line for longer then 20 minutes. I should feel ecstatic, but it just felt.... normal.

I think that's an indicator that I actually have arrived at where I wanted to be as a new con-goer back in high school. The fact that I spent a great weekend at one of the most magical and amazing events in fandom felt like a regular occurrence to me means that I'm no longer a journeyman. I'm an experienced, well-seasoned con-goer now. Whether that means cons will start to feel old and boring or if I'll just love them more is too soon to tell. For now, I'll just be happy with where I'm at and how far I've come. Til next Otakon.