On the destruction of knowledge

We Are Winning

Original quote is from “We Are Winning,” by Flobots


In altering the message in order to adapt it to a new medium, I am drawing a connection. Twitter is one of the most powerful tools we as citizens have at our disposal to expose the corruption, hypocrisy, and hatred that characterizes our government. Communication is the most powerful weapon against oppression. A tower of Babel, a strong community for justice, can be built with this power. Revealing the truth can only ever be good when it concerns many people. Hiding the truth, by manufacturing falsehoods or by destroying the medium of truth, can only ever be an act of violence against reality itself, and against the people who experienced and valued that reality. The destruction of knowledge is always used to exert control over those who want to preserve and add to it. It is never justifiable.

This deeply held conviction of mine is partly why I adore semiotics and the researcher’s ethos. Nothing feels more exciting and fundamentally right and important to me than uncovering overlooked truths once written down and now ignored. New truths are nearly as exciting, but there isn’t such a sense of urgency there—if someone does not preserve old truths, they are liable to be forgotten and lost forever. The greatest tragedy is losing information, not because it is important in itself but because… the existence of information is important. Someone wrote it down. It was meaningful, and we can still find meaning in that. I believe that the loss of an archive is worse than the loss of human lives, because the information inside a human cannot all be preserved anyway. I mourn the burnings of great libraries not for the idea of how much further science could have gone had we had their knowledge, but for the obfuscation and warping of reality.

It is ultimately important to me to record the past, because I have so little continuity of self that there is no other way for me to remember and understand it. I can become the past of two thousand years ago as easily as the past of yesterday. Then in my mind, in my heart, nothing cannot be proven unless it has been written down. The destruction of recorded history and thought is nothing less than the destruction of reality itself. And that terrifies me, because my grip on it is sometimes so tenuous. It is important to preserve everything that happens, because otherwise, there is no past. Yes, it also enables people to seek freedom, power, and happiness, but for me these concerns are almost secondary to the incredibly personal, visceral wrongness of eliminating knowledge.

Why I hate Marius Pontmercy

In general I try not to be hateful, but have you seen this guy? He’s awful in every conceivable way short of kicking puppies! This is an exaggeration, but when I think about him I get so angry that I need to make a blog post about it. [Disclaimer: I’m doing this mostly from memory, so I may get a few facts wrong. Feel free to correct me.]

-The first time the reader is introduced to him, it is as a lazy, pretentious hypocrite; he would rather lie at home contemplating the universe than work to feed himself. As a result of this, he has to take charity from Courfeyrac by living in his house and borrowing large amounts of money. He hardly talks to Courfeyrac, does not try to fit in with Courfeyrac’s friends, and takes him for granted.

-While Éponine lies dying on his lap, he does not even have the decency to try to remember her name, despite the fact that she has saved his life several times.

-While he is first falling in love with Cosette, he stalks her and her father, which, while creepy, is a fairly standard romantic trope. However, after they are married, he treats her like a child. He intentionally manipulates her into forgetting and ignoring her father—paying attention, in short, only to him. He takes away her agency (and goodness knows, as a woman Cosette has already suffered enough of this) and treats her as a prize. This may also have been acceptable during the time when it was written, but I think that, even for some back then, forcing one’s wife to neglect her father might have crossed a line.

-Marius’ attitude toward Valjean is excused or rationalized with his not having known that Valjean saved his life. He believed Valjean to be a dangerous criminal, but this really is not a good excuse for what he does. Essentially, Marius systematically destroys Valjean’s reason for living in hopes of causing him to die. That is supervillain-level manipulation of his wife and father-in-law right there.

In conclusion: Marius abandons his ideals for the first pretty girl he falls in love with, stomps on other people in his single-minded quest to obtain her, and then tries to ruin her life after they get married. And he is not presented as one of the many characters in need of redemption, probably because he did it for true love.

Sexuality Complaints and the Statistical Analysis of Attraction

Best Beloveds, I am often frustrated by the very concept of sexuality. It has never made sense to me in a personal capacity, and thus reason leads me to believe that I may be asexual. I do not want to be asexual! Sex is obviously very pleasant, perhaps even moreso than the memetically vaunted cake.  It saddens me to think that I will never experience such a visceral pleasure. It seems my situation is somewhat unique: I am intellectually attracted to sex (and it has a host of health benefits, too, that would be a shame to miss) but unsure if I am physically compatible with this. Thing.

Let us talk about sexuality as a whole! It has recently expanded from one type (heterosexuality, although this is after some shrinkage from when a few other types were accepted too) to several distinct types, and then to a continuum.  I like to think of it as a three-dimensional continuum–although three dimensions is no longer enough considering the variety of gender expressions that exist–with the following axes: sexual attraction to men, to women, and to people who do not fall neatly into either of those categories. I still have no idea where I fall on any of these axes. I know that sexual attraction is just one of myriad kinds of attraction, which can be seen as another n-dimensional continuum, and I have tried exhaustively (exhaustingly) to analyze how the other types of attraction work for me. I am most prone to aesthetic and intellectual attraction, and I would say that I am even less likely to experience romantic attraction than sexual if I had any idea whatsoever what romance is. Many of my friends have tried to explain romance to me at length, and given up in the face of my curious stupefaction.

Here, then, is my complaint: romance and sexuality are much too confusing, and there is no conceivable way to fix this. Nature has gifted humans with the desire to procreate and the desire to stick around and make sure the offspring don’t die, but in the messiest possible way. Evolution does things by trial and error, so humanity is stuck, for the most part, with a lot of hormones and various sloshy concoctions that send contradictory and unhelpful messages as often as not. Add to this social and familial norms and–congratulations! everyone is miserable trying to figure out the one thing they are told will make them happy.

Obviously this is an exaggeration, but can I be blamed if I am the tiniest amount bitter? I’ve seen people wrecked, people wrecking other people, and I wish it would stop. I wish I could blame someone (besides our old enemy Society) but sadly I am atheistic and have only the random distribution of past events to yell at. Here’s to a brighter future in which, perhaps, I figure out what’s going on in my pants. Cheers.

A metaphorical analysis of Hobbes the Tiger

Upon extremely cursory consideration, the long-running comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” seems to be a sweet but largely insubstantial body of work. Bill Waterson often writes puns or coming-of-age shenanigans for Calvin, but interspersed with these are earnest moments contemplating philosophy and nature. Because Calvin is a six-year-old boy, these often seem to be played for laughs, but what of the main characters’ eponyms?

It is widely accepted that their names are based on John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, sixteenth century religious and political philosophers. Calvin led the Protestant Reformation, coming down on the side of pessimism with his belief in absolute predestination–i.e., ‘you might as well do whatever you want because it’s already decided whether you’re going to Heaven or not.’ Hobbes was only slightly less cynical as the originator of social contract theory, which says that the people tolerate government in exchange for protection, and coiner of the oft-quoted observance that life is ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ However, Hobbes was also a pioneer of individual rights and equality, so perhaps it balances to neutral.

How, then, is this relevant to a comic strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger? Calvin is no spiritual leader, even if Hobbes can be sarcastically compared to a man who recognized the regrettable natural order of things (three cheers for the bloodthirsty animal who only eats tuna sandwiches). Hobbes the Tiger is a representative of a gentler side of nature, almost as an answer to the philosopher’s cynicism. But Calvin? He is neither religious nor a proponent of fate. He is a crusader. John Calvin rejected the church and his father to advocate radical fundamentalism; six-year-old Calvin constantly butts heads with authority over his unorthodox, whimsical, and irreverent methods, and is punished for exposing flaws in the system.

His crusade is not religious but imaginative, as an exhortation to the audience to be interesting and unique.

Hobbes, though, is more interesting to me. Calvin is an obvious reader surrogate, which means that lessons taught to him are aimed at the audience. And what lessons Hobbes has! Where Calvin tends to lose himself in science fiction and technological dystopias, Hobbes is a grounding influence telling him to relax and enjoy the outdoors–an emissary from nature. Hobbes is the reason that Calvin is disgusted by piles of empty cans in the woods instead of creating them. This is why he is a tiger (although surely Waterson has his other reasons): a representation of the ferocity, elegance, and beauty of nature. Hobbes teaches Calvin, and us, that sitting against a tree is a valid and fulfilling way to spend an afternoon.

Interestingly, Hobbes is something different to Calvin than to the reader. Observing their interactions, one sees that Hobbes acts at times like a condescending and worldly older brother, and it becomes clear that Calvin is projecting his perception of maturity onto his friend. Hobbes often expresses interest in girls and kissing, and (again, as would an older brother) teases Calvin about them. He is also frequently pressed into service doing Calvin’s homework, but tellingly knows nothing more than Calvin himself, and is obviously bluffing when he shows the ‘correct methods.’

This suggests that Hobbes is indeed purely imaginary, created as a role model and companion by a weird lonely boy–

Luckily, this doesn’t make him any less real.