April 30 @ Elsewhere In Dreams

Just in case you have noticed, I have a new 30 day project going on at Elsewhere In Dreams. I’m going to write a little something there every single day this month. Yes, even on the weekends. I’m not promising it will be good, but I am promising it will happen:

  1. “I”
  2. The Story Has Been Told
  3. The Scapegoat, Lifted High
  4. We Forgot The Kettle

You’re welcome to tag along. Comments are always appreciated. You can also +1 me on Google+ if you’re a masochist.

It takes time

There’s this idea that we’ll get rid of poverty by giving away food and aid. And sure, that’s part of the problem. But poverty isn’t at its root about simply not having enough food. Poverty is about institutions.

Countries with solid institutions have a much better class of poor. Being poor in Canada is very different from being poor in Mali. If we want to try fixing Mali, we need to focus on the stability of that country’s institutions. Rule of law, income equality through redistribution, sensible civil engineering, a non-corrupt police and military force, etc.

The problem is that we can give aid now, but making strong institutions takes time. Take India as an example. They should have a reasonably strong set of institutions thanks to the legacy of the British Empire (we can also say this about the Roman Empire — this isn’t to say that empire is a good thing, just that it can produce good things). But they don’t. Corruption, income inequality, and massive poverty.

It takes time and political will to get there. And in a sense this change has to come from within. Strong institutions simply can’t be imposed without a massive ongoing investment. Look at Iraq. It needs another 50 years of occupation.

This isn’t even a matter of democracy. I’m not even sure democracy makes it better. It might make institution-building worse.

Either way — it takes time.

Here’s a way to talk about privilege

From http://squashed.tumblr.com/post/80205444184/explaining-racism-and-privilege

If I write somebody a letter, it gets taken seriously. The guy opening it shows it to his manager. His manager shows it to her manager. Maybe I still don’t get what I want—but I get treated well and taken seriously. My letters—even the angry ones—are unfailingly polite. I don’t need to be angry to get somebody’s attention. I just need to sign the letter “Attorney at Law.”

Being a white guy has the same relative effect. It takes negligble effort to be treated well and taken seriously.

Ubercompetence & Gaze

I’ve been thinking about TV lately. It’s the defining storytelling medium of our time. At least, I think so. I think we’re going to look back at the early decades of this century as the golden years of TV. For better or for worse.

That’s all been said and done before, though. I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the kind of heroes and anti-heroes we’re making for ourselves.

I want to talk about Breaking Bad.

Sort of.

Walter White isn’t a hero. So why do we want to watch him? He’s not a good man. He’s at best a decent man who stumbles a bit and then runs swiftly downward.

We watch him because he’s fascinating. And he’s fascinating because he’s in control. His manipulation of his family, his enemies, his friends, his circumstances…

It’s like he’s a little puppet-master. Maybe even a little god. He bends the world to his will.

I call this ubercompetence. And TV is full of ubercompetence. People who are so good at something that anything can be forgiven.

I can forgive Breaking Bad. It has some redeeming qualities, despite its protagonists focused ubercompetence.

But then there’s Suits.

The problem with labeling something like ubercompetence is you can’t stop seeing it. And when you can’t stop seeing it, it starts to get annoying really quick, unless done really well.

Suits does not do it really well.

It doesn’t really do anything really well, actually. It’s every other USA show with a slightly different location. Have you seen White Collar? You’ve seen Suits. The same can-do-no-wrong with a the same smirk.

Week after week these characters win the day through sheer manipulation. Then, at the end of the episode, or if you’re lucky, at the end of the story arc, they smirk off to victory. They’ve turned the tables.

Now there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with watching this show. Or even with enjoying a series centered around the ubercompetent man or (rarely) woman.

The problem is when you start identifying with them.

I have this theory that we become what we behold. Or let me put it a different way, one that’s a little more personal. I become like what I look at. And I mean “look” as in “gaze”. What I fix my eyes on, as it were. I gaze at something because I admire it. So in a sense, I become like what I admire.

Which athlete isn’t inspired by great athletes? Which leader isn’t inspired by great leaders?

But of course reality is at once much stranger and much more prosaic than TV could ever imagine. There are few people who can warp the world to their will. It seems like life enjoys breaking those who try.

All great people eventually fall. They fail or they die or their imperfections are exposed. Which is why we don’t build our empires or our organizations or our families around a person.

So where do we direct our gaze? Who can we admire?

I think you might know the answer.

So if you want to make a movie, I have the beginnings of a script.

So the other day I started thinking about making the most crass possible movie script I could think of. It needed to have every possible Hollywood convention in it, but still be something I’d want to watch (maybe). So here’s what I came up with:

OPEN ON

The chase is on! Several 80′s-style Range Rovers weave down a narrow jungle road. The sound of gunfire. Tires kicking up dust. Reckless speed. The lead rover is driven by a man, beside her a woman desperately shielding a baby with her body.

Bullets whiz by. Glass cracks and shatters.

CUT TO

Monastary grounds. Distant bells. Placid nature. A group on nuns in habits move along a well-groomed path.

CUT TO

A range-rover sunroof pops open and a machine gun wielding thug emerges. He takes sight and opens fire. The lead rover is riddled with holes.

A tire bursts! And the lead rover begins to look like it’s out of control as the tire beings to shred…

CUT TO

A choir in song, voice united, a majestic noise. ZOOM IN slowly, starting to focus on a particular nun, her eyes closed, singing.

CUT TO

The lead rover loses contol! It plunges off the road into the dense underbrush. The rest of the range rovers have to stop and reverse to follow.

But it’s just a ruse — the driver has pulled into a hidden path. He’s having trouble controlling the vehicle. His shredded tire is almost gone. Branches thwack against the side of the rover.

The man stops the rover. He and woman abandon it and continue on foot.

CUT TO

The choir, still in song. We ZOOM IN still slowly until her face fills the shot. Her eyes closed, mouth open in song. She looks to the right. We see 3/4 of her face.

CUT TO

Running — no sight of the persuers — but then BANG, the man almost stumbles. We see the spreading blood of a bullet hole in his back. He stops running. He chokes up blood.

The woman stops running and looks back, terrified.

BANG — a bullet whistles by.

“GO”, the man says. “GO!”

BANG — another bullet misses.

She hesitates and then moves on, running for her life.

BANG – she, too, hesitates. blood blossoms from her chest. She stumbles, falls to her knees, still clutching the baby.

No more bullets. Silence. Her eyes glaze over.

A woman emerges from the bush, a native. Is this pre-arranged? Did she know to find them there?

The woman takes the baby, holds it up against her, its head peeking over her shoulder. They run with preternatural speed through the forest.

As they run we see the baby, eyes closed, mouth open in a infant scream, a line of blood trickling down from a gash on its head.

CUT TO

The nun turns her head, her eyes closed, mouth open in song, and we see it — the scar along the side of her head.

TITLE CARD

BREAKING THE HABIT

* * *

(It’s Batman crossed with The Sister Act.)

The year blogging died

I think it was this year. Or maybe it will be next year. But it’s pretty much over.

The only blogs left, the only really significant ones, are commercial. Increasingly, they’re owned by newspapers. The indies, like in every industry, are few and their voices increasingly small.

There was a time you could grow a blog into a brand. You could be bought out by some media conglomerate. You could make your millions, sell out, and move on. And a lot of people have.

The thing is — the audience has moved on. They still come to blogs of course, but in the same way they come to traditional news outlets. Through aggregators like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy. Through Facebook. And to a decreasing extent, through Google.

Blogs have become a sort of endpoint for the info river, but they themselves are not the river. Despite, of course, being organised in streams.

Which reminds me: RSS is dying too.

Thing is, I fully expect newspapers to outlive blogs. That’s the way technology is. What has existed for a long time will continue to exist for a long time. Technology doesn’t really have a defined half-life in that way, except to say that some things stick, and you won’t really every be able to tell what things will stick. You can only tell that what has been around for a long time will be around for a long time. The record is a good example of that. So is the newspaper. Blog? Well… maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

The Christian Worldview

I keep having to remind myself that a Christian Worldview isn’t something we find in the Bible.

You can kind of extract it from the pages if you try hard enough, but it’s not there in so many words. It’s one of those things we made up and then didn’t think too much about why we made it up.

It makes sense, because different people look at different things in different ways, and if we’re going to be followers of Christ then we should probably get our Christovision goggles on, right?

I suppose. It’s kind of elementary that if you’re a Christian you experience the world in Christian terms.

But that’s a whole lot different from what a lot of people mean when the say “Christian Worldview”. It means lots of different things to different people. All the way from the idea that non-Christians are unable to interact fully with the fundamental reality of the world, to voting for conservative politicians and holding the line on gay marriage.

The Christian Worldview has become a kind of shorthand. We take it for granted. It insists upon itself. So much so that we don’t even take time to think about its validity as an idea or about any negative effects believing in it might have.

I’ve thought about it for a while today. I’m not sure what I think about this whole worldview thing yet. But I can see where it goes wrong. I can see some ways in which an unquestioning belief in a Christian Worldview can have a set of deleterious effects.

Let me start off by saying that I used to be a big fan of presuppositional apologetics. I feel like this was self-serving of me, giving myself a pat on the back for being able to fully comprehend the fabric of reality. (I know, as a Calvinist I shouldn’t have felt that way, but I did.) It’s a seductive philosophy. It allows for the worst sort of us/them dynamic, where “they” are so benighted that they can’t even think rationally! But “we”… ah, “we” have been redeemed, not only from sin and death, but also from bad logic.

The presuppositionalist thing ended when I realised that it begged just about every question that could be begged. And it wasn’t really a convincing apologetic, or even really an apologetic at all. And it removed any chance for meaningful dialogue. But that’s another thing for another time.

This Christian Worldview thing get us really mixed up, I think, because we conflate “thinking like a Christian” with the biblical idea of being in but not of the world.

So we get all these ideas about what it means to be in and not of. We bundle them together and call them a Christian Worldview, and march forward as Christian soldiers to fight the good fight. This means that we’re supposed to look at the world a certain way, and that certain way just so happens to align with a political interest — but we seem, culturally, to be blind to that.

It seems like our Christian Worldview doesn’t function like we think. It’s not a pair of X-Ray spectacles. It doesn’t reveal to us the true fabric of reality. Instead, it just blinds us to a different set of things.

If our morality has been co-opted and misdirected to serve the interests of the world (after all, what can be more worldly than politics?), and if we get to that morality by way of our Christian Worldview, perhaps we need to stop and think a bit. Maybe the Christian Worldview is another of those ways that we worship in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Perhaps our Christian Worldview is nothing more than a tradition. The sort of tradition where God commanded “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy”, but we say “trickle down economics”. Or where God has said “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation”, but we say nothing when our megachurch leaders build mansions. Or where God commands “Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it”, but we seek preemptive strikes and build a war machine.

Or whatever. Maybe for you it’s something else. For me it is. For me it’s an inability to do business with science I don’t like, or uncomfortable facts I don’t want to have to think about. My Christian Worldview keeps me from looking critically at certain parts of my own Christian life.

I’m not sure what to replace it with. If anything. We all live our lives at the intersection of history, the Spirit, the church, scripture, and so many other things. Maybe the answer isn’t as easy as “Christian Worldview”.

How science is done

We understand how a cookie cooks pretty well. I mean two things by this. One: We understand how to assemble and bake a good cookie. And two: We understand the physical processes that make this happen.

This is how science is done, for the most part.

There are exceptions. Physics and math, for instance, are different. But for the most part science tends to be an evolutionary process. And so it is that a cook, experimenting with different compositions and temperatures, is doing science. Maybe they don’t know that. But they are. Maybe the cookie was invented accidentally, while someone was trying to make something else. Still — science.

We have a perception that science is something we can order, as if from a catalogue, and have delivered, as if off the back of a truck. But it’s not really like that.

Scientists get asked “what’s the point of your research” a lot. There’s no good answer to this question, really. Except maybe to say that we might end up with a better cookie.