Culture

The cruel irrationality of scientism

A common feature of human behavior is for people to take positions that are the exact opposite of their stated morality.

This isn't necessarily hypocrisy because hypocrites are necessarily aware of the contradiction.  The fact that the practicioners of what I shall dub "scientism" are blissfully ignorant of the truth of their position only makes them that much harder to convince.

It should go without saying that science is never "settled."  Science is a process, a method of truth-seeking and its core tenet is taking nothing for granted.  There are endless examples of "settled science" being overturned by subsequent discoveries. 

True scientists are constantly attacking the status quo and never resort to appeals to authority to settle disputes.

As a method of explaining the natural world and solving problems, science has done wonderfully well, but it is simply incapable of being turned into a philosophy or worldview.  When people say they "believe science is real," that's a statement of faith, not logic.

Nothing I'm writing here is either new or original (well, other than my peerless prose styling), and if one goes back a couple of hundred years one finds the Cult of Reason making all these mistakes in Revolutionary France.  Tens of millions of people have died thanks to "Scientific Socialism" in the 20th Century. 

It's interesting that people who blame religion for war seem completely unaware that in so doing, they're making a new religion - which is far more murderous.

I should also mention that "religion causes wars" is garbage warmed over.  People cause wars and they will sometimes use religion to justify their greed, wrath or other sins.   Wars happen because people want and enjoy them.  Violence is fun, as all of recorded history demonstrates.  Having decided to make a war, people will then try to appeal for divine assistance or some other cause.

This is not to say that some wars aren't necessary or justified, merely that picking a single factor as the reason for most of them is either ignorant or dishonest.

It's also unscientific.  To make that statement one would have to have a means of sifting through conflicts to determine the exact degree of religious scruple held by all the (long-dead) participants.

Since science needs extremely reliable data, it's always tentative at best.  Since data can shift, science can never provide a steady moral compass, and it's interesting to see that each generation brings new revelations on the horrors that science can inflict.  In fact, the more we empower science for its own sake, the most extreme these horrors become.

One doesn't need to go full-on Luddite and hate technology to understand that there are some experiments we shouldn't be undertaking.

That lack of any meaningful moral restraint is what makes scientism so scary.  Not long ago, there would have been near-universal horror and massive federal investigations of allegations that abortion mills were doing a thriving trade in infant body parts.  Instead, the investigators turned on the whistleblowers for exposing the enterprise and we were told that such grisly commerce is necessary for science to move forward.

Thus we come to the point where the same people who claim their opponents are Nazis have fully embraced the scientism of the actual Nazis.  History has a strong sense of irony.


Some "think pieces" at Bleeding Fool

So far, I haven't gotten much in the way of complaints about abandoning (temporarily?) the Geek Guns project.  I found having a weekly deadline really restricted me creatively, and since I wanted to start doing another book, I needed to clear some space for that.

At the same time, I also wanted to clear out some of the drafts I'd left lingering around the place, and so I've put a new (and somewhat long) piece at the other site about the role of fear in making brave characters.

Having written that article, I was inspired to do another, and I foresee at least one more musing on the elements of good writing and compelling storytelling.

Of course, I'm not exactly a smashing success myself (although I am technically a best-selling author, if only for a day), but most of my negative reviews deal with poor editing, not the actual content.  Alas, I fear that as grammar and spelling continue to be condemned by the educational establishment, things will only get worse in those respects.

I think a good story can overcome those defects - even if it takes multiple post-publication revisions.

To put it another way, the craptastic character development of Anakin Skywalker wasn't the result of a typo.

 

 


A double dose of Easter

Okay, the headline may be a little misleading.  Don't think that I went to the vigil Mass and am now going to the Sunday one.

What I mean is that this Easter is really the culmination of our year-long Lenten journey.  It's been two years since an Easter Mass was said in our diocese and I'm really looking forward to it.

I think I mentioned that the turnout on Good Friday was impressive.  I suspect today will be even better.

Of course, it is still imperfect.  My extended family won't be getting together and my parents are still hiding out from the COVID, which appears to have targeted Michigan in particular.

Weird that we should be doing worse than "open" states what with our mandatory masks, limited capacity and other oddball measures the best people assured us were necessary to prevent exactly what's happening.  Must be wreckers and saboteurs. 

But enough about that, today is a day of celebration.  Christ is risen.   That's all that matters.

Have a blessed Easter.


A Very Good Friday

Today was the first time in two years I could attend a Good Friday service.  Traditionally these are somewhat punishing - longer than a normal Mass and with a lot more kneeling.  My kids refer to it as an endurance contest.

This year was different.  Yes, there were certain COVID-required expedients that shortened the duration, but I think in terms of hardship the mask-wearing more than compensated.

No, what I'm referring to is the joy at being able to participate at all.  As the songs say:  "You don't know what you got till it's gone," and that's certainly true in this case.

Our clergy seemed to feel the same way, and thanks to COVID spacing, we had a spillover crowd - not bad for noon on a Friday.  It was the most upbeat Good Friday I've ever had.

In many ways, the Lenten season of 2020 never ended, yet the promise of Christ's Resurrection remains.  No power on earth can change that.  I see this more clearly now and it is contributing greatly to this feeling of calm I've had over the last couple of months.

Easter is coming.  I can't wait.


Battle of the Bulge is objectively awful

My survey of war movies brought me into 1965's Battle of the Bulge and it's a terrible film.

Setting aside the fact that the whole story is fictionalized, there's simply a point where so many technical details have been compromised, the movie loses any historical relevance or feeling.

I was pretty sure I saw it before, but re-watching it, the first thing that struck me was that it was filmed in Spain.  The Germans are using Patton M-47 tanks and the Americans M-24 Chaffee light tanks.

So none of the equipment is accurate.

The terrain is also wrong - the Ardennes is heavily forested and the Battle of the Bulge took place in deep snow, but the climatic tank battle of this movie is resolved on a dusty, open plain.

In Spain.

Don't get me wrong, I'm really into Spain for some reason, and that's why the locations were like a giant red blinking light telling me that this movie was wrong wrong wrong.

The wrongness is just pervasive.  The German HQ is like a Bond villain's lair, complete with doomsday clock. 

Don't get me wrong, I know that sometimes period films (especially war movies) have to make do.  For example, I went easy on Tora! Tora! Tora! precisely because so few Japanese aircraft survived World War II and likewise the available ships for live-action shooting are more modern.

But if one shot a Pearl Harbor movie with jets and set it in the desert, people might complain.  And that's the big issue with Battle of the Bulge.

The acting is also really weak.  In fact, the whole thing's weak.  It's the kind of movie where if you don't know history and watch it hoping to learn something, you'll end up dumber than before you started.  Even the voiceovers get stuff wrong. 

Given that there were three people credited for the script, you'd think at least one of them would know that the British Eighth Army was in Italy, not France.

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.


An end to our year-long Lent

A year ago I saw the COVID lockdown as a month of Good Fridays.  I now see the past 12 months as a year-long Lenten observance.

The pews at my local parish are filling back up with the faithful.  The social distancing (which apparently has no evidentiary basis but was a SWAG* imposed on a nation), is making it challenging to find a seat, but in time that restriction will also be lifted.

Michigan's restrictions on religious observances were comparatively mild, likely due to the considerable size of the various faith communities and the precarious political balance that exists.

I also credit the leaders, particularly the Catholic bishops, who attacked the problem of restrictions aggressively and invoked sound science whenever possible.  This made it very difficult to claim clearly arbitrary or anti-religious restrictions were based on some sort of science.  The Diocease of Lansing notes with some satisfaction that there are no documented cases where COVID spread through Mass.

My faith has ground throughout the ordeal, as this blog has perhaps illustrated.  What was a "zen room" in our home (a combination exercise/mediation area that used to be a formal dining room) has now been made into a "petit shrine" and filled with icons and Christian religious art.  We even added some holy water for daily use.  We still have the exercise equipment, but the floor mats do excellent service as kneelers as well.

A year ago, Michigan Catholics were reduced to taking "spiritual" communion, and while we can now partake of the Host at Mass, the Precious Blood is still being withheld and the holy water founts remain empty.  Not quite there yet.

But just as winter's grip is inexorably weakening, so are the restrictions.  Schools are coming back into session and I noticed that one-way signs at the grocery stores are gone.  Legacy media are still trying to keep the old panic alive, but no one cares.  Lockdowns didn't stop the spread a year ago, and they won't stop it now.

Lent is almost over, and so I think is the year-long Lent of fear and overreaction.  It brought a lot of stress and hardship, but as with all evils, God ensured that goodness was brought forth that otherwise never could have been.  For that we can be grateful.

 

*Scientific Wild-Ass Guess. 


The Crow is a profoundly Catholic movie

I have to say that the Lord of Spirits podcast is fundamentally changing how I think about everything, not just religion.

I've got a post up at Bleedingfool.com comparing Deadpool and The Crow.  Both in subject and structure the two are strikingly similar, but I want to dig a little deeper into the moral aspects of The Crow. 

Previously, I always thought of it as a spiritually-tinged revenge movie with proto-emo imagery and music.  That's still true, but the broadly Catholic-influenced themes and actions really stood out to me.

From a this perspective, Brandon Lee's character isn't a ghost bent on revenge so much as a soul in Purgatory who is cleansed of sin by carrying out divine judgement on unrepentant sinners while also helping those capable of redemption to find it.  The titular crow is his guardian angel, guiding him on the path to salvation and peace.

The late Brandon Lee did a great job in this film, and one can't help but see similarities in his fate and that of his character, Eric. 

On the face of it, Eric isn't a paragon of virtue.  He's a rock and roller who has a live-in girlfriend - not exactly a poster child for the Holy Family.

And yet, he intends to marry her, proposing in the proper way.  Even the wedding dress is modest and traditional.  The date - Halloween - seems like a hipster conceit, but that means their first morning as husband and wife will be All Saints Day.

Okay, maybe I'm reaching there, but it's interesting to look at how he approaches his task.  Each one of the guilty party he approaches has the opportunity to seek mercy.  Only the pawn broker asks for it, and so he is spared (though his continued sinful behavior inevitably catches up to him).

The bag guys aren't just bad, they are objectively evil.  The witch practicing blood magic?  Yeah, that's a big call for some divine retribution there.

Finally, there's the big confrontation between Lee's character and the arch-villain, Top Dollar.  As is customary, the villain gets the upper hand and seems sure to triumph but our hero suddenly turns that tables - in this case by summoning the memories of his fiancee's suffering and giving to the bad guy all at once.

What's interesting here is that Eric does the only after Top Dollar has admitted that yes, he was ultimately responsible for the double murder.  He may as well have said mea culpa, mea culpa mea maxima culpa.

In fact, the fact that Eric is able to obtain those memories at all is another Catholic 'tell.'  Officer Albrecht stayed with Shelly throughout her ordeal - a corporal act of mercy.  Albrecht also looks after Sarah, buying her dinner when they meet, which is of course an act of charity.

Throughout the film, these moments knit together a tapestry of religious symbolism that may appear purely spiritual, but all have a basis in Catholic theology.  Note how Eric purges the heroin from Sarah's mother and then tells her to go forth and sin no more.

When the mother then tries to be 'motherly' and her daughter gives her grief, the film could take a darker turn, but Sarah chooses the path of mercy, and accepts her mother's repentance.

The final scene where the again-dying Eric sees a vision of his fiancee approaching in a luminescent white light may appear to be simply traditional good vibes, a vague spiritualism, but a Catholic would note that her ordeal had already purified her, and that she was waiting for Eric to cleanse himself of sin as well.  Having done so - offering forgiveness to some, justice to others - Eric is now able to ascend with her.

Make no mistake, the film abounds with Christian symbolism, right down to the showdown in what appears to be an abandoned cathedral.   From my view, the entire film is permeated with not just religious themes, but ones that make the most sense if one views it from the Catholic perspective.

 


We all have a breaking point: the gut punch of Twelve O'Clock High

Our society has never outwardly been more pro-military.  I'm constantly surprised by military discounts from various retailers and vendors.  Being in the Guard, I don't often wear my uniform, but when I do, someone is sure to thank me for my service.

I think this is largely a function of how remote military culture is from the broader population.  In 1946, military culture was popular culture.  A given veterans a discount was basically a price cut, which few businesses could afford.  Now, the gesture doesn't carry anything like the same financial impact.

Twelve O'Clock High was filmed in an era when veterans were plentiful and it deals with the human cost of war in a unique way - from the perspective of a command team in charge of a US Army Air Force bomber group.  Gregory Peck plays a staff officer temporarily detailed to restore the morale and skill of a troubled outfit. 

Like many war movies, the story isn't as important as the way it unfolds.  That's the case here.  It isn't a surprise when Peck - like the man he replaced - pushes himself too hard and start to come unglued.  Rather, it's a reminder that we all have a limit. 

There is a tradeoff between experience and what they used to call combat fatigue.  It's like over-sharpening a blade - too much of anything can make things worse.

Twelve O'Clock High demonstrates that tradeoff, which makes it one of the most important of the old war movies I've been watching.  They teach about history, but Twelve O'Clock High offers valuable lessons for today's leaders.


Lenten cleaning

Cutting my news consumption has been wonderful.  I've got more time than ever, and I'm finally getting stuff done around that house that has been waiting for years.

I'm also avoiding the daily outrage of people expressing outrage over today's outrage.

It's outrageous, don't you know.

But this year I'm not feeling that, but instead the quiet satisfaction of solving long-running issues with closet space, furniture arrangements and so on.  When we moved into our current house, we had a lot more space, so we got very sloppy with it.  Things aren't particularly crowded, but we have stuff we don't need and space that we could be using better.

So that's what I'm doing.  Jordan Peterson talks about "cleaning your room," and this week, that's what I'm doing.  Going through long-forgotten clothes or other items is a useful and necessary experience.  I'm letting go of a lot of things - both physically and emotionally. 

Doing this during Lent is particularly appropriate since it is yielding useful items that I can donate to others who need them more.

If things have you stressed, I suggest you turn off the screens and do the same.  It's awkward at first, but once you start making progress, you'll feel a lot better.  It's not just the having something to do or knowing you are taking care of a project, there is a practical benefit as well: you can find things!

That's what I'm enjoying most of all - the extra space, and convenience.  Jumbled drawers are now sorted and clutter that I've tripped over for years is either gone or put away.

If you think about it, not stubbing your toe is a lot more consequential that the latest Twitter outrage.  Focus on the little things you can fix rather than the big things that are beyond your control.


The Blue Max: George Peppard and the dark side of glory

My latest movie outing was The Blue Max, an off-beat war movie from the Sixties about World War I German fighter pilots.

The main character was played by George Peppard, known to my generation from his turn as "Hannibal" from The A-Team, but who almost became an A-lister back in the day.

He was good (but seriously "beta" as the cool kids say) in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and his career never really achieved super-stardom.  

Still, The Blue Max is an interesting film, exploring the issues of social mores, class, and the way in which "official heroes" are made. 

To be sure, World War I is something of an obscure topic, but in the 1960s it wasn't that far removed - it was in the same place as World War II would be in the 1980s.  It made sense for retrospective films to emerge, and The Blue Max is interesting insofar as it evokes both the chivalry of the era (including a nod to Manfred von Richtofen) as well as the mentality of total war.

Interestingly, the aircraft used were built from scratch - there weren't a lot of World War I aircraft still lying around, and they were simple enough to construct that it was financially viable to build replicas. 

Not that they got everything right - a deep dive into the topic reveals some anachronisms - but it was pretty darn close.

The worst moment (for those who care about historical accuracy) was where the German and British armies meet in pitched bayonet combat in No Man's Land, but it's a minor (if stupid) scene, and incidental to the plot.

Far more meaningful is the role of Peppard as the meritocratic social climber, willing to do whatever it takes to obtain status, power, respectability.  His struggle - and fate - is not without relevance today.

It's not in the first tier of war movies by any stretch, but it's worth a watch.