Author: robechr01

Retraction, RE: Sargon

Further information has compelled me to change my mind regarding Sargon’s character.

This is not conclusive proof of wrongdoing, but circumstantial evidence of shenanigans which are not in line with the character I had previously assumed in Sargon, an assumption also based largely upon inference.

That is all for now.

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In Defense of Sargon

UPDATE: I have retracted the view I expressed in this piece, in light of further information.

To me, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin is much like Christopher Hitchens: I don’t agree with him on very much politically, but there is something about the quality of his mind that is admirable. In my discussion with Greg Johnson, we both agreed that someone who is principled but wrong is better than a person who is right but unprincipled, because the person who is principled can eventually correct their error which will inevitably reveal itself, whereas the unprincipled person can deny their error or hide from it indefinitely. Moreover, the principled person is trustworthy, whereas the unprincipled person cannot be trusted, especially in the moments that it matters the most.

In his refusal to help Kraut & Tea’s dishonest operations, Sargon demonstrated a degree of moral integrity and fortitude that everyone likes to imagine that they have, but few are able to manifest when actually put to the test. He has repeated this elsewhere, in his humane treatment of Laci Green, and his consistency in discouraging doxxing, violence, or abuse of other people online with whom he disagrees. For all of his faults, Sargon has character.

Lately, Sargon has come under fire in the aftermath of his now infamous debate with Richard Spencer, and after a rather rough conversation with Mister Metokur. While there are many criticisms of Sargon’s political positions, the main claims being made now are not attacks on his position, but attacks on his character. He is being attacked for “having a big ego,” for instance, as well as for thinking he’s a leader, and perhaps most popularly (from Richard Spencer) for thinking he’s smarter than he really is.

I will go after Sargon all day long on his political positions. JF has leveled some devastating criticisms of the half-baked hybrid liberal-libertarian position that Sargon has amalgamated together as an alternative to the neoliberal and Alt-Right positions vying for the next generation’s metapolitical fealty, and I believe JF is absolutely correct in his criticisms. However, observing that someone is wrong does not mean that the person lacks character, and it is a threat to the value and respect of character to go after someone’s character merely for being wrong.

I would like to bring back to mind that Richard Spencer participated in the attack on Greg Johnson in conjunction with Daniel Friberg. Greg utterly refuted the claims, was vindicated by Aedhan Cassiel, and then again by John Morgan. (AltRight.com’s responses were weak and off-topic). Richard Spencer is an intelligent person, but he does not have character in the way that Sargon does. He certainly has a bigger ego than Sargon, not only for going to the media and participating in stunts (Charlottesville, HailGate) that give him publicity at the expense of the movement, but also for audacious and hubristic claims, such as that he would be the leader of the Alt-Right and would direct its course for the next hundred years.

Mister Metokur is, in my opinion, even worse than Spencer, who at least stands for something. Mister Metokur, so far as I can tell, does not stand for anything. All he does is tear things down… and man, does he do it well. By his own admission, he’s only doing this for laughs. Life is a big joke to him.

Deconstructing something is easy. Anyone can notice that the epistemology supporting any particular view of the world is incomplete, and can point out apparent inconsistencies and flaws. If they do it with humor, this deconstruction can be particularly devastating, but it doesn’t help anyone. It’s a hell of a lot harder to create something, which Mister Metokur seems adamantly opposed to doing. Listen again to his conversation with Sargon, and see if you can hear anything else. Functionally, Metokur is a nihilist. But he makes you feel superior while you’re following him down, so it’s okay (because those people were trying to feel superior to us; joke’s on them!). If there’s someone out there putting in decades of thought and research into bringing meaning and purpose into the lives of the next generation, Metokur is the kind of guy who would rather shit on his work than try to do something better.

Sargon is better than Spencer or Metokur. He may not be the smartest guy in the world, or the most well-read. He may not be a natural leader, or a even a “moral genius,” to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris. But he is reasonably smart, he works hard, is a good organizer, is charismatic, and most importantly, he has demonstrated his good character in virtually every case in which it has been tested, which is more frequently in public than most people will experience in their lifetime.

I understand why Sargon wants to shirk his role as “leader” of anything. Strategically, it is risky, since being a leader makes one a target, and targeting leaders has been a consistent SJW strategy. Being “leaderless” was one of the things that made #GamerGate so successful. It was difficult to attack, because it was difficult to pin down. For this reason, it is also personally stressful. Finally, it is distracting from other goals and plans, such as “making shitty video games.”

That said, however, I think Sargon should step into a leadership role, and would urge him to do so, if not within the “Liberalists,” than in another classical liberal advocacy project.

Strategically, the problem with leaderless movements is what’s morally wrong with Mister Metokur. If ground is to be defended, real people, with real names, have to defend them. #GamerGate was defined as successful not because video games were protected, but because most of the Gaming journalism sites changed their official policies and Gawker went down. This was no small feat, but the same enemies that were aiming for video games have been relatively successful at infiltrating comic books and movies, not to mention schools and businesses. #GamerGate is one small victory in a war that has been generally looking grim… or at least had been, until Donald Trump and the Alt-Right began, mostly independently, challenging the underlying Left-Wing cultural hegemony over society. Guerilla fighting can be successful in the weeds and in the swamps, but this war will be decided on the battlefield, where real people face off in real-life, with elegant ideas more metaphorically like gleaming swords and shields than like the rusty dirks of “dank memes.”

Personal risk is a serious problem, and cannot be ignored. I would only respond by quoting my friend Augustus Invictus: “I wonder which is more terrifying: to lose a child to a cause – or to lose the respect of that child when she discovers that her parents were cowards who made a virtue of submission?”

This is the kind of sentiment that is easy for people like Mister Metokur to laugh away, but it is the kind of sentiment that strikes a chord with anyone who simultaneously possesses self-respect and sincerity, both of which Sargon possesses.

Anything worth doing is hard, and changing the world is a lot harder than making shitty video games. In my opinion, that alone should guide Sargon’s choice of priorities.

It may sound suspect that I, an ideological opponent of Sargon, would be giving him advice about what he should do. But for me, ideology is a secondary loyalty. Loyalty to good character comes first, which is why I like Sargon more than Richard or Metokur, despite both of the latter coming closer to my own political views than Sargon. Ultimately, no political movement can succeed if it is run by people with poor character, and a civilization is composed of multiple political movements with differing positions on a variety of subjects. At the end of the day, Sargon and I are on the same team, fighting for a similar social ideal (a Republic, infused with English-American values). We just have different ideas of how to get there.

I also happen to think that the Left does have a lot to say about politics, and that if the Left is represented by bad people, the underlying concerns that the Left usually seeks to address will not go away, but will only reemerge stronger and more pathologically down the road.

Finally, as I stated in my book, I want strong enemies:

I do not want my enemies lying to themselves. Perhaps they have something important to say, that I can learn from. […] I want strong enemies. When I was in debate club in college, I could demolish liberal students whenever a politically partisan issue came up because none of them had read conservative arguments, as I had. They were unprepared, weak. And I was a less skilled debater than I could have been because of it.

[…]

And is it not simply more satisfying to defeat stronger enemies? Whether it is in literal warfare, or the more metaphorical variety–politics, law, culture, or even sports–the strong man never gets a sense of satisfaction from defeating pathetic, weak enemies. It is only from defeating challenging enemies, worthy of one’s hatred, that your own strengths can be vindicated and demonstrated. As Nietzsche pointed out many years ago, it is in this way, at least, that we can learn to love our enemies.

My best wishes and hopes go out to Sargon, whom I think of as an imperfect but worthy and respectable opponent in the battle of ideas. Like Henry V, or Hamlet, I think Sargon should step up and take his crown as “leader,” heavy of a burden as it is, because ultimately it is worth the cost. For his own sake, and for his movement’s sake, he should step up to the plate, and we who disagree with him — about race, or individualism, or rights, or anything else — should support him in this if we also believe character and virtue to be more important than the details of political theory.

Don’t join in the crowd of resentful losers, leaping on any wounded animal they can smell like hyenas. That is the path of weakness.  Rather, respect great men, because the only chance anyone can have of becoming great is by recognizing and venerating the qualities of greatness in others. As measured by character, Sargon is a great man.

Sargon, if you ever read this, thanks for all the great work.

God in Solitude and Society

Here’s an odd question: are we closer to God when we are with others? Or are we closer when we are alone?

I recently made the case that God has made his home in the Church, and exists in the unity between its congregation–the church itself being the body of believers:

Jesus is the redeeming quality of self-sacrifice and love latent within humanity, which counterbalances the disobedience revealed in man by Adam. This archetype literally is the bond of connection between people, whether in friendship, in marriage, or merely over a meal.

This is theologically grounded in much of the New Testament, which instructs us first and foremost to love and to serve one another. Because the entirety of the law can be summarized in the two commandments, and because Jesus adds that serving others is a form of serving God, it may be tempting to think that almost the entirety of Christian spirituality is to be found in relationships with other people. Indeed, the fact that one of God’s first comments on mankind is that “it is not good for him to be alone” seems to imply that at the very least, being alone runs contrary to God’s plan for humankind (human nature).

What then are we to make of Jesus going out into the wilderness? The wilderness, of course, is not the only time Jesus goes off on his own; it is only the longest and the most memorable. He also takes some time to himself before walking out to his disciple’s boat, and he spends some brief but valuable moments praying alone in the hours before he is betrayed.

Nor is Jesus the only biblical holy-man who takes time off from the crowds, to spend closer to God. Jonah, though perhaps not very intentionally, wound up in the proverbial wilderness for three full days, and it was this experience that transformed him into a courageous man of the Lord. Moses too experienced his formative–and perhaps most important–experience with God when he was alone in the desert.

This juxtaposition speaks to a mutually-reinforcing duality, rather than an either-or choice or a simple contradiction. To draw from a classical source, G.K. Chesterton once wrote about how Christian theology is full of such dualistic relationships. In his case, he had been persuaded in his younger days–as many Nietzschean types are–that Christianity seemed purpose-made to turn men into sheep. A subsequent reading of history, however, indicated to him that Christianity was so violent and bloodthirsty that it ought to be condemned for making wolves of mankind.

Which was it?

The answer is… yes.

It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family…it has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates the evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty grey […] All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours coexistent but pure.

The New Testament, even in its most pacifistic beatitudes, does not contradict the Old Testament’s dictum of the seasonality of human purpose. There is a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to love, and a time to hate.

Clearly, we are to spend some time with others, and some time alone with God. Which of these is greater is arguably less important than the importance of practicing both. To answer the original question in a somewhat speculative manner, we may be manifesting distinct but symbiotic aspects of the ideal human in relationship with the divine.

The new questions become the following: first, what is the relationship between time alone and time spent with others? Secondly, which should we spend more time doing?

I suspect the second answer will vary drastically, depending on the individual. A father of twelve and a trappist monk will have different demands made of them, from society and from God, respectively, despite both having an obligation to some balance. Even a father of twelve ought to find regular time alone to pray and to “sharpen the saw,” so that he can fulfill his obligation to love God. Even a trappist monk ought to spend regular time with other people in the world, so that he can fulfill his obligation to love others as he loves himself.

After all, is there anything more spiritually self-indulgent and selfish than keeping God all to yourself?

As for the question of the relationship between the spirit in solitude and in society, I believe the most important one is the latent utility to others within the character that can only be properly developed in solitude. Nietzsche once argued that the development of will and spirit was fundamentally born out of the experience of boredom, and indeed, there is probably no more important virtue for social interaction than patience. Learning to come to terms with the sound and rhythm of your own mind is perhaps only really possible by confronting it directly, without distractions, and without external circumstances that allow us to pin our annoyance with the experience of being on anything outside of our mind… or, conversely, to identify with certainty that our sources of annoyance are coming from outside of our mind. This too we can only learn by discerning what our mind feels like.

With prayer and meditation in solitude, we can understand ourselves, which paves the way for formation, reformation, and transformation. Our own reflective experience turns us gradually, on the pottery wheel of our own consciousness into the sort of person that others appreciate and enjoy as well.

Thomas Aquinas once defined contemplative prayer as “finding the place in yourself where you are here and now being created in the image of God.” In this regard, we are closest to the Father (the Father of creation) when we are alone. By the same token, we are closest to the Son (the Mediator and the Bridegroom) when we are loving and serving others.

Perhaps for this reason, it is all the more important for the father of twelve to come to better know the primordial Father, and for the monk who devotes himself to Jesus to emulate and more closely resemble Jesus the self-sacrificial servant of man.

Video Games as Narrative High Art: Skyrim

I recently completed a lengthy essay on why Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim qualifies as high art and as a good story, in the classical sense. The piece is a bit on the heavy side in addition to its length, but if you are a mythology buff or are into video-game lore, you may find it worth the meander.

Here’s just one thematic exploration from the game:

The achievement the game awards the player with upon killing Alduin is “Dragonslayer.” It may seem a bit superfluous, after already having killed any number of dragons prior to defeating Alduin, but it marks the complete attainment of the identity of dragonslayer, since Alduin is, essentially, the King of the Dragons.

This brings up another critical point. Who, or what, is Alduin? In the game, he is a very powerful dragon, the first-born son of a God, and the legendary harbinger of the end of the world. Mythologically, Alduin is the great serpent, the snake in the Garden of Eden and the Great Beast of Revelation, Jörmungandr and Fenrir. Psychologically, however, Alduin is the Shadow of the Dragonborn.

The Shadow is the dark and emotional side of our personality, always dangerous, but not necessarily evil. It becomes evil, however, when we are not aware of it, and thus cannot control it. It takes on a mind of its own, pursues its own desires, which are often at odds with what we want, as well as with morality, society, and the world. If it is allowed to grow, the shadow can become a true monster.

[…]

After confronting the shadow, the resurrection from death is simultaneously a transformation into something new. You are both dragon-born and dragon-slayer: a self-slayer, and self-overcomer.

Check out the full piece at Medium. If you think it’s interesting, leave a few claps.

Cursed Are The Peace-Enforcers

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
–Matthew 5:9

Everyone looks up to the work of “peace-making,” whether it is for secular humanitarian justifications or for religious ones. No one wants to be the source of conflict, yet many go above and beyond this general standard, seeking not only to avoid starting disputes, but to make peace. But what does it mean to “make peace?” The question is less obvious than it at first appears, because in different senses of the phrase, the spirit beneath the word may be contradictory.

Consider the story of Adam and Bob. The two brothers get into a dispute. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the brothers are five, and the dispute is over a toy. There are two directions this dispute could take. First, the two brothers could work towards a resolution between themselves. Second, the mother could intervene and resolve the dispute for them.

On the first path, it is possible that the dispute escalates to the point that one boy kills the other. This is wildly unlikely, which means that a dispute which is not resolved to both boys’ satisfaction will likely reemerge at a later date. Each brother will have to learn to get along with the other if he wants to avoid being miserable himself. This is how children gradually acquire the skills of empathy and the foundational instincts of game-theory-morality. Conflict, in other words, generates the environment necessary to learn the skills that will be expected of us as mature adults.

What of the second path? What if the mother intervenes and “makes peace” between her two sons, perhaps distracting and placating them, or maybe even adjudicating the dispute in one side’s favor? Trying to get their minds off the matter will certainly solve the immediate predicament, but it does so at the cost of the experience the children would gain in learning to make peace among themselves.

This pattern emerges in parental modeling as well. Recent psychological research seems to indicate that conflicts between parents in can actually be beneficial to the children, so long as the resolution to the argument is also observed:

Some types of conflicts are not disturbing to kids, and kids actually benefit from it,” says Cummings [E. Mark Cummings, Notre Dame University]. When parents have mild to moderate conflict that involves support and compromise and positive emotions, children develop better social skills and self-esteem, enjoy increased emotional security, develop better relationships with parents, do better in school and have fewer psychological problems.

“When kids witness a fight and see the parents resolving it, they’re actually happier than they were before they saw it,” says Cummings. “It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time.”

Even if parents don’t completely resolve the problem but find a partial solution, kids will do fine. “Compromise is best, but we have a whole lot of studies that show that kids benefit from any progress toward resolution,” says Cummings.

By contrast, children who witness even a moderate argument, but who are not allowed to witness the resolution, experience a gradual building of tension and stress around the relationship. Resolution to arguments proves that relationships with people are resilient, even antifragile. Unresolved arguments, by contrast, tend to inflame and enlarge the tension and anxiety surrounding relationships. The world becomes unstable when there is no clear pattern linking calm to storm-clouds, and no visible path from the latter back to the former.

This means that the mother of Adam and Bob, in her intervention, is actually robbing her sons of the experience necessary to become peacemakers themselves.

This simple and illustrative example is by no means a catch-all, implying that in no circumstances should a parent ever intercede in their children’s interactions. Rather, it is a criticism of a particular reason why parents–or friends, family, even strangers–may intercede in a nearby conflict: “conflict is bad, so I will stop the conflict, and this will make me good.” Or, “conflict is bad because I cannot tolerate it, so I will stop it.”

In my recent debate with Zach Ryan Mora on Satanism, I argued that the essential quality of what is satanic is that which is proud and what is judgmental and accusatory in its pride. It may sound a little hyperbolic to describe self-appointed peace-enforcers, who come around and battle against conflict on other’s behalf, as “satanic.” But it touches on a real pulse. Whether they are unable to cope with the potential instability they associate with conflict, or they can’t resist the impulse to push others down to elevate themselves, those who make peace or else are not doing God’s work. This is why Dolores Umbridge is such an easy character to hate: under the pretense of being nice, she neither wanted nor tolerated disagreement, and stifled everything that was good in the process.

Intolerance for disagreement is stifling and hateful because what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true, all matter. Being able to distinguish these qualities from their opposites are what makes life itself either good or bad, and since no one person has the answers, or will ever have all the answers, the sincere pursuit of the good within life will inevitably lead to disagreement, perhaps even conflict. But this conflict is not antithetical to what is good; it is only antithetical to peace.

Arguments and debate represent turning points in the recursive oscillations that move us closer and closer to the ideals that make life good. The helicopter moms and Dolores Umbridges of the world impede, or even obstruct, these oscillations, perhaps out of pride or fear, maybe even envy. But this behavior is not “peacemaking,” in the sense intended in the beattitudes. A more complete elaboration on what “peacemaking” looks like can be found later on in the book of Matthew:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Biblical peacemaking does not avoid confrontation, but actually requires it. It is also not pursued on another’s behalf, but on one’s own behalf: first because we all have our own troubles that are likely great enough; second, because we may not be aware of the full extent of the subject; third, allowing people to become outraged on other’s behalf opens the door to all sorts of perverse incentives and social power-plays, and there is no end to that hallway.

In other words, what Jesus advocates is not “peace” per se when he says “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
–Matthew 10:34

Rather, what he advocates is reconciliation. Reconciliation is itself a form of forgiveness, which is arguably the heart of Christian spiritual practice: “…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

No one is perfect, which means that participation in the dance means we will inevitably miss some steps. There are two options: correction (and forgiveness), or stepping out. There is no way to take option one and also have peace: the only peace that is even theoretically possible is the silence of death. Whether that death is literal or figurative is essentially irrelevant for those who live there. Life is conflict. There’s simply no getting around it, and it’s a living death to move about the world avoiding any and all collisions with other people.

So blessed are the peacemakers, for they keep fighting fun, and life vivacious. And cursed are the peace-enforcers, who condemn life itself as intolerable or immoral, even if they themselves do not know it.

The Moral Con

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The creators of Cards Against Humanity recently pulled an interesting and illustrative stunt. They purchased land on the Mexican border, with the goal of preventing the Mexican border wall.

“Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing. So we’ve purchased a plot of vacant land on the border and retained a law firm specializing in eminent domain to make it as time-consuming and expensive as possible for the wall to get built.”

Whatever you may think of the border wall, positive or negative, one of the virtues of this stunt is its creativity. It is neither violent nor destructive, is entirely legal, and appears likely to be an effective impediment.

Yet even if you disagree with the wall and applaud the clever means of opposing it, there is something off about the motivation behind it. Their statement from their website begins with a somewhat immature insult, and a straw-manning of a very serious and reasonable concern among many Americans, particularly on border states: the job-loss, crime, and cultural dilution that comes with the scale of immigration we’ve been experiencing. It may be wrong, but it isn’t unreasonable.

More telling is their line about making the wall as expensive and time-consuming as possible. Given that two of their stated reasons for opposing the wall are its cost and its projected ineffectiveness, this tactic specifically designed to increase the cost and reduce  the wall’s effectiveness indicates another motive, especially when we consider they made no positive case for the Mexican migrants. They aren’t pro-immigration, they’re just anti-Trump.

It is entirely possible–likely, in fact–that their motives are entirely economic. As a marketing scheme for promoting their game, immediately before the holidays, it’s pretty brilliant.

That it may cost taxpayers millions of dollars would be just an unfortunate side-effect.

Even if their motives really are civic, and their positions are–contrary to all appearances–clear and thought-through, there’s something suspicious about the timing and the pandering. It’s very popular to signal against Trump these days. Isn’t this the very reason why so many dislike Trump in the first place?

The whole situation reminds me of a video Davis Aurini put out about two years ago, in which he describes the mechanism of the con man:

The important thing you need to remember about con artistry is what the ‘con’ stands for, what a con-man is. He’s a confidence man. He’s someone who gets your confidence and uses that to steal your money. You know, there’s an old saying, that “you can’t con an honest man.” You can defraud an honest man, but conning him? Much, much more difficult.

Why is this?

Aurini explains a basic confidence trick called the “pigeon drop” that involves two cons and a mark. One con engages the mark in conversation, while the second sneaks up behind him and drops a wallet on the ground. He then points it out to the mark and the first con, asking if the wallet belongs to either of them. The first con and the mark both say they don’t recognize it, and so the second con–with the tacit approval of the first con and the mark–opens the wallet, to find it loaded with cash; maybe $3,000.

The first con verbally notes “that’s  $1,000 each.”

The second con puts the cash in an envelope (and through some sleight of hand, swaps the envelope with an identical envelope filled with sheets of paper, simulating the $3,000). He then hands the dummy envelope to mark to hold on to the cash; he’s going to take the wallet inside the nearest building and see if he can find the owner, on the condition that the other two don’t leave. The first con volunteers a few hundred dollars of his own to the second con as collateral and proof he won’t wander off… thus pressuring the good-natured mark to do the same.

When the second con-man doesn’t return, the first says he’s going to look for him, leaving the mark with the envelope full of paper, left to eventually to realize he’s lost a few hundred dollars and gained an envelope of nothing.

There’s one critical key to all of this […] a real con-man gets his mark complicit in the crime. See, look at that pigeon drop; what happened there is these three people found a wallet with $3,000 in it, and you don’t know who this money belongs to. That could be their first and last month’s rent, maybe they’re on to a new apartment. It could be money they desperately need. And here the three of them are talking about splitting it among themselves, because this poor, imaginary fellow dropped their wallet? They get the mark complicit. If you’re going to be a con-man, you get the mark complicit.

What would be the point in putting your own money into a collateral pot if you weren’t planning on taking some of the found cash? The sly observation “that’s $1,000 each” primes the mark to participate in the theft. Putting his own money in the plot seals it, and in doing so, opens him to the con men’s ploy.

Where does Cards Against Humanity fit into all of this?

For people on the right (the ones who tend to support the border wall), traditional values are important, if not sacred values. Even for those on the left, the “traditional values” are valuable, even if they don’t beat out compassion, openness, and fairness.

Cards Against Humanity is not just a game like Risk, Monopoly, chess, or hearts. It is an invitation to creatively practice inverting these values and embracing the inversion. We are not laughing at the incongruity of the cards when we play Cards Against Humanity; we’re laughing at the dark creativity of the players. This form of irreverent creativity is a skill, and like any skill, is refined and even habituated with practice.

From the perspective of a right-wing traditionalist, it makes absolute sense that the designers of such a game would be the type to not only support left-wing policies, but do so of their own accord, in a creatively dickish manner, once given the power and resources to do so.

To summarize the mechanics, Temkin, Dillon, Dranove, Halpern*, Hantoot, Munk, Pinsof, and Weinstein* functioned as moral and civic con-men. They invited us to participate in a game that mocks the moral character and values that a traditional conservative should take seriously. It was only a joke, you see. When we discover that the creators of such a game don’t actually share the values we do, and are actively working to thwart our civic goals, it is like being the mark, standing alone, and discovering that he is holding an envelope full of paper.

(In fairness, gun-stores which sell guns to liberals, and who then donate some of the proceeds to the NRA, function in a similar manner. Here, the con-man label is not analogous to the motives of the con, but the experience of the mark).

This may sound a bit puritanical. What, are we not allowed to laugh? Are we not allowed to enjoy irony and make jokes?

This is a very tempting line of thought, and curiously, a sort of intuitive one. Curious, because a rejection of a particular kind of humor is no more a rejection of all forms of humor and laughter than a rejection of sweets constitutes a rejection of all forms of food or even tasty food, nor is rejecting theft a rejection of making a little bit of money. There’s an interesting question: exactly how much theft can we reject before we become puritans? There is no reason the “puritan” thought should be intuitive, and yet it is. C.S. Lewis was right when he observed — in the voice of his demon-tempter, Screwtape — that the word “puritanical” and its associations has become one of the greatest tools for facilitating habituated sin.

In fact, it may be useful to go over the four sources of laughter outlined in The Screwtape Letters, Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy:

You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such time shows they are not the real cause.

Fun is closely related to Joy — a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct.

For Lewis’ demons, neither joy nor fun are particularly useful for tempting mortals, except as a distraction. Where the real usefulness of laughter begins is with the Joke Proper:

The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field […] The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their ‘sense of humour’ so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is ‘mean’; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer ‘mean’ but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful–unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke […] Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as ‘Puritanical’ or as betraying a ‘lack of humor.’

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place, it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be made to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armor-plating against the Enemy [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

There are times when laughter is useful in dealing with difficult situations; the light side of dark humor. And of course, in the realm of what is allowed to others, we can’t make special exceptions or bans. “All of it’s okay, or none of it’s okay,” as they say, and there is good reason for this. But allowing others to target anything does not oblige us to participate in their particular forms of humor.

Laughter is immensely powerful. It is persuasive, because it makes us participants, but sometimes the participation is in more than the punchline.

We don’t need to become conspiratorial investigators, doing deep reconnaissance on the backstory behind every comedian, every Onion headline, and every satirical cartoon that rolls across our feed, just as the man in the street doesn’t need to know everything about everyone to have a basic level of trust. He just needs the will to be an honest man.

And we need the will to be honest and serious in our own values.

Marriage Reflections

Today marks my one-year wedding anniversary.

Lesson one: this post must necessarily be brief.

Humor aside, my debate yesterday on the subject of satanism and Christian relationships with non-Christians crystallized a lot of points of wisdom for me pertaining to relationships with people generally, and with spouses in particular. At the end of the day, Christianity is about relationships. It is little wonder that contempt is not only the defining character quality represented by the character Satan, but one of John Gottman’s four horseman of relational dissolution (the other three being criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling).

Both my wife and I have our struggles with these, but reflection tells me that we miss the point if, in our search for improving our relationships, we focus upon the fault in the other. Successful rhetoric and military strategy both begin with accepting the audience and opposing force on their own terms, with empathy. Love is no different. As tempting as it can be to find fault with our spouse, it is almost always more productive and empowering to consider first if anything actually needs to be done, and second, if I can modify my own behavior first.

It is a point I think many single young men miss these days, as they strive for and achieve goals in their own life. They take a kind of engineering view of human relationships, molding the world and their potential spouses to their will. This seems to never entirely work, because a woman is not like a man, and cannot be made into one. Nothing is more humbling to individual pride than marriage to a woman, and yet there is nothing of which I am more proud than my own.

There are times when I think about the road, and the solitary life I had before moving back. It is not nostalgic; I don’t miss it. I just remember it. It was a pleasant and care-free lifestyle, and one which holds a lot of attraction for young men. And yet now, looking back, the lifestyle is about as attractive as repeating a grade used to be in school. Marriage is more advanced, more enjoyable, more fulfilling, and ultimately, what all the previous work was for in the first place.

Evolutionarily speaking, anyways.

Perhaps after marriage there is something even more advanced and challenging, for which marriage itself was only preparation. If so, it will have to wait for another day.