On Pills, Blue and Red

Here is an analogy I don’t think I’ve ever seen made (though it must have been): the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil <=> the Matrix’s “Red Pill.”

Both involve learning. Both involve exiting one world and entering another. Both have effects that are…morally ambiguous.

The effects are not uniformly good, and in a certain light, are generally bad. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, their eyes were opened and they were empowered by their new knowledge, but also sin and death entered the world. You don’t even have to be “simply” evil like Cain—the knowledge itself is dangerous. Cypher and Denethor are some of the worst examples, as their new knowledge drove them to despair.

But even among the “successes,” damage is done. I quoted this before, but it bears repeating:

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

[Frodo replied,] ‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Something is lost when you start chowing down on red pills. You gain knowledge, but you lose innocence.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing too dramatically, and I want to write, “This isn’t a big deal.” This is the opposite of that. This is a really big deal. Adapting yourself to the world is (by definition) a utilitarian endeavor. We can become uglier even as we become more successful.

Scott Alexander gave a good description of this in Meditations on Moloch (yes, it’s been seven years; it’s still relevant):

The Malthusian trap, at least at its extremely pure theoretical limits. Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.

In fact, it’s not just art. Any sect at all that is leaner, meaner, and more survivalist than the mainstream will eventually take over. If one sect of rats altruistically decides to limit its offspring to two per couple in order to decrease overpopulation, that sect will die out, swarmed out of existence by its more numerous enemies. If one sect of rats starts practicing cannibalism, and finds it gives them an advantage over their fellows, it will eventually take over and reach fixation.

If some rat scientists predict that depletion of the island’s nut stores is accelerating at a dangerous rate and they will soon be exhausted completely, a few sects of rats might try to limit their nut consumption to a sustainable level. Those rats will be outcompeted by their more selfish cousins. Eventually the nuts will be exhausted, most of the rats will die off, and the cycle will begin again. Any sect of rats advocating some action to stop the cycle will be outcompeted by their cousins for whom advocating anything is a waste of time that could be used to compete and consume.

For a bunch of reasons evolution is not quite as Malthusian as the ideal case, but it provides the prototype example we can apply to other things to see the underlying mechanism. From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to say the rats should maintain a comfortably low population. From within the system, each individual rat will follow its genetic imperative and the island will end up in an endless boom-bust cycle.

Much sorrow stems from the innocent-seeming statement that being effective is not necessarily the same thing as being happy, or pleasant, or beautiful.

The solution to this was: split being into two sexes. One to face (and be transformed by) Moloch, and one to do exactly the opposite — to not be monstrous. To enjoy freedom from Moloch, and thus give meaning to the fight against It.

I’m saying really basic things here:

Red pill <-> masculine, blue pill <-> feminine.

Red pill <-> strong, blue pill < – > weak.

Red pill < – > cynical, worn down. Blue pill < – > innocent, fresh

Red pill <-> exposed, toughened. Blue pill < – > sheltered, delicate

I think this lens has legs. Some tidbits I may write more about later:

  • It used to frustrate me, meeting innocents (“sheeple!”). But the Lord specifically praises sheep, and refers to us as sheep. Now I realize that innocence is very valuable, even if it does sometimes require accommodation.
  • What constitutes “virtuous behavior” changes drastically from one pill to another. If your world is curated to be safe: you should be pleasant, agreeable, trusting by default, and more concerned with “being good” than “achieving good.” If your world is not curated at all: you should be alert, discerning, and more concerned with “achieving good” than “being good.”

This does not apply to just men and women—it is also a useful lens for the God<->Man relationship, and Parent<->Child.

Why did I write so much about this? Was there a shortage of amateur philosophy on the Internet?

No. What got me excited is how many different, seemingly unrelated things clicked into place at once:

  • how to live with Moloch and not despair
  • that women (relative to men) exist to be happy, and to make men happy—and, not, primarily, to “do things”
  • that the above is not a lesser calling, but deadly, deadly serious in the long term—though of course you don’t want to talk about that too much, or it kind of ruins the effect
  • I realized that any innocence I may retain brightens the universe from the Lord’s perspective. I’ve made it a new goal of mine to be more innocent.
  • It throws the Fall into perspective. Innocence by definition means there are certain aspects of reality barred to you—but curiosity is persistent.
  • We tend to have a lot of rules for women, and no coherent-sounding reason for them. This lens unties the knot. For women, the bluepilled, the innocent, the reason is “Because I (your father, your husband) said so.” That should be good enough for her (she doesn’t need to agree, just comply), but it’s not enough for him, because he does have to agree. The principle that “Innocence is a good, valuable thing, and that is to a large degree what women are for in relation to men” is an actual principle that isn’t culture- or time-specific.
  • It showed me a new perspective on obedience. It is extremely hard to communicate meaningfully across pill barriers, while retaining them. The Blue may say to the Red, “I love you,” but the Red knows there are dark things out there that would make Blue betray that, so Red can never fully believe Blue. Obedience—particularly blind obedience—is something Blue can offer that does instill confidence in Red. Commandments obeyed is every Red’s love language, be they God, husbands, or parents.

Notes On Femininity

A girl I’d had a crush on died a few days ago. I don’t know how she died, exactly. Found out on Facebook.

I’d made some half-hearted attempts to ask her out, but the stars never really aligned. It’s a boring, mundane story I won’t talk about.

Instead I want to talk about her, and what I realized from thinking about her more after her death.

She was somewhat…sheltered, in the way that someone from a tight, loving family can be, and can afford to be. She’d said she wouldn’t kiss anyone until marriage, for instance. This is laughable to most women (and men)—but remember, you only need one guy. But it wasn’t just that. She treated people like they were good, as if the idea that they could be anything else never crossed her mind.

She was pretty. Not gorgeous, but pretty. Prettier still in memory.

But it’s that shelteredness I want to talk about.

From a tactical perspective, delicacy and fragility are strictly weaknesses. And being sheltered prevents you from receiving feedback, making you more vulnerable over the long term. No man should aspire to these.

But competence and usefulness have—design constraints. Gaining them changes you. For men, they are necessary changes. But not everything necessary is entirely good. There’s often a cost. A favorite saying of mine: “Each man is a little war.” If so, each man bears the scars of that war.

I would be remiss if I failed to include this passage from Return of the King:

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’
[Frodo replied,] ‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

There are some virtues that independence precludes. Untroubled sleep, carefree enjoyment, an easy smile, reflexive kindness, innocent trust. Beautiful, impractical clothing. Faith in another. Goodness without power.

These are sacred, holy things, and we must treat them with care.

Men and Hierarchy

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have a lot of experience with hierarchy.

We have a lay clergy, but even to expand on that—every worthy male member is ordained a priest, of various stations.

The priests of an area are organized into quorums; a quorum has a president, who…presides.  Above him is the local area bishop, and above him is the president of the “stake” — something like a diocese.  Up and up it goes, until you have the President of the Church.

The reason I write about this is because I’ve grown up near many, many examples of men in positions of authority and trust.  It’s not a foreign concept to me.   I’ve been in some myself.

In a group of men in another context, that is somewhat unstructured, I thought, “Oh, we ought to appoint a leader.”  It occurred to me that the naturalness with which the thought came to me, and the lack of worry, and the knowledge that said leadership position would be more of a burden than a boon, is perhaps not very common today, or at least not as much as it used to be.

I don’t know.  It feels good, knowing men that know how to function in a hierarchy.  It’s one of life’s great pleasures.

Be of Good Cheer

I’m still around.  Been on Twitter mostly, or head down in work.  But still around.

 

Back when Kakistocracy was still around, he wrote something I thought quite insightful.  Since he deleted his blog, I can’t quote him directly, but what said, in effect, was:  one purpose of his blog was to serve as an online thought receptacle, and to share what perspective he could.  But another function, just as if not more important, was to keep up morale.

All the models of the “smart people” are in disarray.  For anyone who has had all their wishes granted over the last few years, it’s self-evident that there were flies in the ointment they didn’t anticipate.  We’re all in the dark now—we know it to be true of ourselves, and we know it to be true of others.

But there are still men of good will!  And Christ has not abandoned us.

I don’t know what to say, really, that can top that.  Our job is to keep our eyes on Him.  When we do, everything else looks very different.

Magic, Pt. 2

Last post was kind of a doozy.  The salient points:

  • magic seems consistently connected to meaning, consciousness, names
  • In Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, magic is (eventually) revealed to “work” by virtue of ancient alliances made with the land—the rocks, the rivers, the trees.
  • though it wasn’t mentioned last post, but probably ought to be to dispel any possible confusion:  There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved, than Jesus Christ.

OK.  So let’s continue this blog’s tradition of imputing eternal truth to works of pop culture (but the right pop culture, reader, and the right eternal truth) and consider Tolkien.

Tolkien had a thing for trees.  In a letter to the paper he wrote:

In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlórien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries. Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy. Mirkwood had fallen under the domination of a Power that hated all living things but was restored to beauty and became Greenwood the Great before the end of the story.

Thankfully the Jackson movies were faithful to this:

Machines are wonderful things.  If you know what you want, and you want it now, and without any fuss or backtalk—well, good news, that’s how machines work—and a certain kind of magic, even more so.  Both Sauron’s and Saruman’s methods are oriented towards shortening the distance between wanting and getting.  Sauron works through raw power, will, and coercion; Saruman sets up an assembly line to churn out warriors and weapons.  They get what they want, as efficiently as possible.

Gandalf, in contrast, spends most of his time riding around and talking:  warning, guiding, counseling.  Often it doesn’t “work” in that people don’t always do what he wants, as evidenced by Pippin’s misadventure with the palantir.

And this sets up the pivotal question of this post: Which is better, a tool or a friend?  If we have tools, do we wish they were more like friends?  If we have friends, do we wish they were more like tools?

True magic comes from the first, while the second kills it.

And this isn’t just me moralizing, either!  In a way, we already knew this—because we listed some traits of magic in last post.  “Unpredictable,” “understands things at our same conceptual level,” “cares about (and has) names,” “has some empathy for us.”  These things describe friends, not tools.

To be a magician, therefore, means to be friends with everything, even the (seemingly,  presently) inanimate. This is what Christ has done, and is doing, with us dust-creatures, after all.

And like Him, what we really want, at core, is not to control the world, but to speak, be heard, and have it speak back.  Tolkien, again, on the elves:

Elves began it, of course, waking trees up and teaching them to speak and learning their tree-talk. They always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did.

And Lewis:

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

Notice how end and means are become one!  Friendship is both the means by which magic is accomplished, but also the reason. Someday the curse will be lifted, the scales will fall from our eyes, and the atoms will come running happily, like a dog to a master long away, now returned home.

Magic, pt. 1

The author of this blog has for a very long time wished to be a wizard.

(Warning, if it’s not obvious:  We’re going far afield here)

Or that’s how I thought about it at first.  I soon discovered I didn’t really know that meant.

Did I want to get into the occult?  No.  Did I want to delve around in old books?  Well, empirically, yeah, but I didn’t estimate the chances of old books -> fire from my hands being very high.  And who wanted fire from their hands anyway?  Sounded like it could go off at the worst possible moments.

I didn’t know what I wanted.  I just knew that I was a very big fan of The Lord of the Rings, and A Wizard of Earthsea, and that I played wizards in D&D with my friends.

None of these taught me how to, you know, do magic, but they did teach me some valuable lessons about what to keep in mind if I ever figured it out.  The Nazgul taught me that there are things worse than death, and that power could be a trap just like anything else.  Earthsea taught me quite a bit (it’s my favorite book for a reason), to the point that I’ll likely devote a later post to it.

At one point I came up with what I felt was a serviceable definition of magic:  that which we don’t understand.  But then I considered things that we actually don’t understand, like ball lightning, and I realized that didn’t seem like magic to me, so my definition must be off.

Some other miscellanae I collected:

– magic is always connected with meaning somehow.  Would-be magicians, or fictional ones, always phrase the effects of their works in human-level terms.  They deal with concepts humans are very familiar with:  fire, clothing, water, trees, weather, love, motion, animals.  No one makes a spell to change the spin of quarks, or to denature proteins!

names seemed to be a very consistent thread, as did language

– reinforcing the “connected with humans/consciousness somehow” thread, there is a service you can subscribe to called Magic, which consists of 24/7 available skilled human assistants who can do things like order flowers, send emails, book flights, etc.

– in software, something is often referred to as “magic” if it anticipates your needs, somewhat like a good genie

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

But I think I’ve made a bit of a breakthrough recently.  I’ve been watching the BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, about two men in Napoleonic-era England who undertake to “restore English magic.”  I had read the book a long time ago, but the excellence of the adaptation, plus Dr. Charlton’s blog posts (1 2 3), got me thinking about it again.

The eponymous Mr. Norrell is a somewhat timid creature—a landed country squire, ever a bachelor, who likes nothing better than sitting in a corner reading a book, and is likely to describe anything that disturbs his study as “irregular.”  Through years of study (and a near-limitless inheritance with which to buy books) he has reconstructed a system of magic which allows him to perform various feats.  Norrell’s magic is effective, but wooden; he avoids risk, and is very concerned with magic’s reputation in Society, as it has hitherto been disreputable:

“Mr Norrell,” said Sir Walter, “I cannot claim to understand what this help is that you offer us, but whatever it is I am sorry to say that it will not do. Magic is not respectable, sir. It is not,” Sir Walter searched for a word, “serious. The Government cannot meddle with such things.”

In contrast is the other protagonist of the book, Jonathan Strange, who, having devoured tales of the Old Magic, wants to duplicate (and improve upon!) those ancient feats, and is willing to consort with dangerous fairies to do so.  Upon summoning one, he asks it to aid him, saying:

“Such power! Such inventiveness! English magic today lacks spirit! It lacks fire and energy!  I cannot tell you how bored I am of the same dull spells to solve the same dull problems. The glimpse I had of your magic proved to me that it is quite different. You could surprize me. And I long to be surprized!”

(Analogies to tame men and tame lions, and what they ought rightly to be, are encouraged.)

Mr. Norrell and Mr. Strange spend a good amount of dialogue wrestling with a question similar to mine, as they argue about what magic ought to be.  Norrell wants it to be practical, controlled, systematic; Strange wants it to be wild, wondrous, and spirited.  Norrell wants nothing to do with fairies; Strange knows that the greatest English magician ever, the “Raven King,” heavily consorted with them, and wants to follow in his footsteps.

The book is long, and much happens, but eventually Strange finds the secret of what magic is, at least within the world of the book:

 

“It is not so hard as we have supposed. Tell them to read what is written in the sky. Tell them to ask the rain! All of [the Raven King’]s old alliances are still in place. I am sending messengers to remind the stones and the sky and the rain of their ancient promises.”

The gist is:  long ago, the Raven King, having learned from the fairies to speak to the stone, the trees, and water of England, made alliance with them on behalf of all English magicians.  That was the source of the magic, and Norrell’s formulaic magic is akin to a child writing letters to distant servants in the hand of a long-dead father, thinking they are spells rather than messages.


I’ll end here for now.  Stay tuned!

The Gospel of Victory

(First order of business:  The King is born, long live the King!  But read on)

Over at Jr. G.  they’ve started categorizing some posts with a tag I heartily approve of:  “gospel of victory.”

It can be hard to remember, but “gospel” means “good news.”  And that good news is: we’re going to win.  Cleanly, triumphantly, gloriously, and unambiguously.

Pay no attention to empirical evidence suggesting otherwise.  Life is too short to count anything that happens in it as more than an anecdote.

Accepting ultimate victory as the null hypothesis—something to be believed until disproven—throws present obstacles into perspective.  “The problem” is rarely just the problem.  Tiger parents don’t worry about their child being denied by Harvard because they want their child to learn surrounded by ivy, but because they see Harvard admission as a determinant of future success or failure.

Remove that threat, by remembering final victory, and setbacks and sacrifices shrink in significance.

“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”

If the present can reach back into the past, I see no reason the future shouldn’t reach back into the present.

Heaven Cannot Be Graphed

This is because it keeps leaping to new and richer axes.

Eternal life means having time to read forever (as new books are forever being written)—but no one in heaven actually does this, or not JUST this, because books are not meant to just be read, but to complement an actual life.

Eternal life means having time to explore (and renovate!) the universe forever—but no one actually does this, or not JUST this, because it is soon found that exploring and renovating are components of the good life, rather than comprising it.

Eternal life means having infinite progeny, worlds without end—but no one actually does this, or not JUST this, because joy requires much more than numbers.

And lest you imagine that it’s just an ever-accelerating parade of Kuhnsian paradigm shifts, leading to future shock—all of this is measured and evaluated in terms of relationships.

There are many different infinities, indeed an infinity of infinities—the natural numbers, all the real numbers between 0 and 1, the set of all possible books, the space of the universe, all possible paintings—but some of them are better and richer than others.  It would be a poor life indeed (though infinite!) that consisted of counting the natural numbers.

Heaven is to our conception of it, as the set of all books is to the set of natural numbers.  But more so. And the gap is ever widening.