Category Archives: social commentary
In this series, we began with a humorous look at the similarities between religion and nerd culture. On the way to a more serious analysis of this similarity, we’ve looked at how the Western world gradually became “disenchanted”. The ancient pagans lived in a world that was alive, filled with a dizzying array of gods, demigods, spirits, and demons. Christianity gradually pushed these to the margins, though many remained in new forms–angels, demons, fairies, elves, and so on. The Enlightenment saw the rise of reason over all, and gradually completed the process whereby Westerners went from viewing the cosmos as a living organism to seeing it as a dead machine, while at the same time traditional religion went into gradual, and now steep decline. Finally, we saw the rise of pop culture and fandom, whereby fascination with fictional worlds gradually developed into obsession, then into a mainstream lifestyle choice. In this post, I’d like to try to tie it all together, as far as possible with such complex phenomena.
I’ll start with the image at the top of this post. Someone unfamiliar with pop culture and Catholic religious orders might think that the two sides of the picture were more or less variants on the same theme. In fact, as I imagine most readers of this blog will have immediately noticed, the left is a group of Jedi. No, it’s not a scene from a movie, and it’s not necessarily cosplay. There is an actual, real-life movement in some countries to have “Jedi” or “Jediism” registered as an official religion. How “seriously” this is intended is something we’ll come back to. Meanwhile, in addition to these efforts, there are organizations for “real” Jedi. That is to say, they take the principles and practices, either explicitly stated or implied, of the Jedi Order of the Star Wars franchise and try, as far as possible, to use those principles and practices as guidelines for living their lives. Their real, actual lives in the real, actual world. They do this by a combination of aphorisms derived from the Star Wars franchise (movies and extended universe), martial arts training, meditation practices, and so on. They often, as can be seen, dress in attire based on that of the cinematic Jedi. The right-hand part of the image above, by the way, is a group of Franciscan friars*. Their expressions seem a bit surly–maybe it’s because they don’t get to carry light sabers….
Tags: Daesh, fandom, fantasy, Franciscans, friars, Islamic State, Jack Kornfield, Jedi, Jediism, LARPing, lifestyle fantasy, live action role playing, monks, nuns, religion, science fiction, terrorism, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James
As I wrote the last couple paragraphs of “Heresy: Systems of Control“, I began to fudge on the phrasing a bit, and it occurred to me that I ought to write another post explaining why, and elaborating the issues involved. I almost said that in a pluralistic society we must respect all religious beliefs while keeping public policy neutral. However, that little word–“neutral”–has caused issues in blog discussions elsewhere to which I’ve been privy, so I want to look at it here.
In a confessional state, there is no question of neutrality. A given religion is the official one, simple as that. How this is manifested may vary: there may be no separation between church and state at all, or there may be moderate separation, or the state may acknowledge the state church in merely symbolic ways. Religions other than the official state religion may be banned and persecuted, tolerated with restrictions, or left totally alone. Regardless of the specifics, though, there is no pretense of neutrality–there is the state religion which is favored and enshrined in law, and there is everything else.
The United States, of course, not only has no state religion, but the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment ensures that there never will be an American state religion. We have been a pluralistic society from the beginning: first, with most forms of Christianity represented in colonial times; later on, with immigration and religious ferment, almost all human religions have come to be found within the boundaries of the USA. As a result of this, we tend to think of ourselves as “neutral”–that is, people of all faiths are treated the same, and no one religion should have a special place over any other. This had always seemed to me, for one, to be self-evident. However, in the course of various blog discussions I’ve had over the last year, I’ve come across a frequently expressed counter-narrative.
Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Worpswede (1903); courtesy of Wikiquote.
Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not getting the TV?
Ellen Willis, “Women and the Myth of Consumerism”, Ramparts
I first published this in 2005 on my LiveJournal. I re-posted it to this blog in 2010, and it got more hits than any other post on my blog at that time. I think it’s sill relevant, so I’m re-posting it today. One thing that is a bit consoling to me is that in the years since I originally wrote this, the jinogism and enthusiasm for war that I describe seems to have waned substantially. Witness the opposition to action in Syria and the president’s backing away from his previous stance. We can only hope that it stays that way, and that we don’t get sucked into yet another unending conflict. Anyway, the original post follows:
I wasn’t going to write anything for the anniversary of 9/11, and I’m still not going to do so, per se. I was, however, struck by this provocative article at The American Conservative (always an interesting magazine even for a liberal such as myself, as long as I ignore Pat Buchanan) and this one at Salon.com. In that vein, I decided to post something I wrote back in 2005 regarding a 9/11 memorial I went to that year. I have edited slightly for clarity and length, but it’s substantially as I wrote it six years ago, including a little heated prose against what I saw as the then-Administration’s policies. I wish I could say the policies regarding the Infinite and Eternal War on Terrorism, on foreign policy in general, and on civil liberties and the surveillance state had changed since then, but much to my disappointment and disillusionment, they have merely got worse. Anyway, here’s my piece (lightly edited to reflect the years since): Read the rest of this entry →
Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.
–G. K. Chesterton, The Eternal Revolution, courtesy of Wikiquote
In the last installment, I discussed how excessive bandwidth leads to what I called “junk genres”; that is, genres of TV show that require as little overhead, planning, writing, etc. as possible. This is necessary because the amount of quality TV—or quality anything—is relatively fixed, whereas the 24/7 structure of availability that is now the norm has increased the amount of time to be filled. I enumerated some examples of these genres, to be expanded on later. This is what I want to do now, regarding what I consider one of the worst TV-related phenomena of the last decade or so: reality television.
To clarify what I mean in this discussion by the term “reality TV”, I refer (briefly) to my previous DAFOTV post:
I include things like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Biggest Loser, the recent shows Jamie Oliver has been doing, and the various shows about hoarders, home makeovers, bridesmaids, etc. on TLC, Discovery, and such under the rubric of “reality TV”. I even include Dick Clark’s old Bloopers shows and America’s Funniest Home Videos. They may not all purport to be documentaries (as An American Family did) or have an explicit game-show aspect (as Survivor does), but the basic principle of just letting the camera roll before “real people” is essentially the same. Also, I realize that it’s not all “real”–there’s jimmying and manipulating—but it’s still easier and cheaper than writing an actual drama or researching a documentary.
So what’s the problem with reality TV? Read the rest of this entry →
Last time I essentially argued that the 90’s were the best decade, objectively speaking, of the 20th Century, perhaps of all human history. I’d like to try to finish it now.
Basically, I argued that pretty much every decade except perhaps for the 1920’s had some major negative thing going on–world wars, depressions, social turmoil, the Cold War, and so on. Those of us who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s (in my case, the latter, having been born in the same year as President Kennedy’s assassination) had it easy in a lot of ways–we never knew real privation, there were no draft and no wars to speak of, and it sometimes seems that the 70’s and 80’s served as backdrops to our parties.
Nevertheless, as I tried to point out in the earlier post, it’s hard to get across to those born after about 1970 or so just what it was like to live even during the tail end of the Cold War. Maybe I was oversensitive, but the possibility of the Big One was always at the back of my mind. Every time there was a news flash, a little knee-jerk reaction deep inside screamed “Omygod! They’ve launched the missiles We’re all done for!!!” One of my most distinct memories of this sort occurred in the late evening in December of 1980. The newsflash logo came on, my innards twisted in their usual fashion, and when the announcer came on, it was not the beginning of Armageddon, but the murder of John Lennon. Tragic, but considering the alternative, a relief, relatively speaking. Read the rest of this entry →
Several years ago, when my daughter was about three or four, I was rocking her to sleep, and as is often the case, my mind was drifting around randomly. I was thinking about the last century and the way things have been going in this one so far. Having a child makes one think about such things, I guess (being forty-something probably contributes, too). It was both interesting and tragic to think that I may have lived through the greatest and most hopeful decade of our country’s history, perhaps of the world’s history. That decade is over and has been for many years; wherein the tragedy.
If you consider, the 20th Century was pretty much a mess: the two bloodiest wars in human history, the increasing prevalence of full-scale genocides, the worst pollution the planet has know, global warming, &c. &c. &c. We all know that already. There were also good things, too–I’m aware of that. Think of it, however, by the decades (a very 20th-Century way of looking at history, in fact, so appropriate here!). Read the rest of this entry →