Ph for Philosophy – Sides of a Coin

SILLY.WRONGSomehow I’ve already gotten several scathing comments about my opinions about Zankyou no Terror, one of them telling me I’m a lonely, depressed weaboo (I’m still not sure what that means) who only wants to see titties in anime. This person obviously did not read anything I’ve ever written on this blog, so that one found itself in an Aperture Emergency Intelligence Incinerator. I hope it’s screaming. Another comment I got, which I did approve, basically asked me unironically if I’m taking this whole anime thing way too seriously. I have a long answer to that which can be summarized in the comic to your left. Read on if you are so interested.

First: go read the Gundam Wing review I have linked at the top of the screen, then look up the meaning of the word “sarcasm” or “bombastic.” If you think my soul is writhing in anguish over how much I thought Zankyou no Terror sucked, you need to put more points in your Perception skill. This is something I do for fun, and as any critic knows, lambasting something in a dramatic way is loads of fun, especially when it unequivocally deserves it.

Two: look up the word “passion.” This is the other side of the coin of slightly-feigned rage you see on here. I love anime. I grew up on it; it’s influenced me greatly and I respect and adore what the medium can and has achieved. This means, interestingly enough, that I have some expectations and standards towards the medium, and while I can appreciate a mindless Dragon Ball Z here and there, much as I can watch something as dumb as True Blood for shits and giggles and think nothing of it, I do go into my viewings with a sharpened critical edge. From what I’ve seen in anime fandom, this is something of a rarity, as most people who watch anime on a regular basis, for one reason or another, do not use their brains when watching and eat shit up regularly.

The biggest problem with anime today is its fans. No, not the otaku who supposedly live in their parents’ basements and collect every action-figure of Love Hina you can think of. There are dorks like that for everything; I’ve met nerdy sports fans whose worship of their favorite activity would shame those of any otaku. Frankly, more power to them. I speak of those just below that level of commitment and passion:  the people who “love” anime in the most shallow and self-indulgent way possible, the ones who will buy anything with the term “anime” attached to it and love it to death because reasons. There are the legendary “250,000 otaku” in Japan who buy the same DVDs and stuff over and over again, but across the sea in Europe and America, there lurk their brethren of only a slightly different sort. These people have been watching anime for decades without learning a significant amount of Japanese or bothering to study up on the culture that so profoundly shapes nearly everything you see in the medium, stuff that, to me, sticks out like a sore thumb every time. These are the people who shout “kawaii!” unironically, actually sport some cat-ears and think it’s really funny/cool, think they know the difference between -san and -kun and how oh-so important they really are in English translations, think the Gundam franchise is still something worth watching, and yet somehow never develop any sort of sense of criticism or insight into the medium they profess to enjoy. These people infuriate me, because they have actively contributed to the continued decline of anime as a medium over the past decade.

I know this makes me sound like something of a hipster. Feel free to call me such, although I was watching anime when it started getting cool, not before. I have no memories of the pain of getting subs off VHS tapes or other legends I’ve heard of. I grew up in the Internet age of anime just fine, thanks, and I came into the anime on one of its waves of popularity. I do think I grew up in one of anime’s golden ages: the decade from 1995 to 2005, when shows like Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, etc., were all typical examples of what the medium was. This was anime at its best: a different take on so many themes combined with generations of cinematic and storytelling skill. None of these shows were without their flaws, but I can guarantee you that if Zankyou no Terror had been released in this period, it would have been laughed out of the room. Nowadays, though, Zankyou no Terror is “high anime.” Apparently “high anime” qualifies as plots that can’t even pass Storytelling 101, and all you have to do is fill out a form of vaguely intelligent tropes to make it seem kinda-sorta-thoughtful, and then everyone loves it. Geez, I don’t know how many times I rolled my eyes during Zankyou no Terror’s premiere: I knew basically what the story was before the first episode was finished. These are flaws that, in a Western book or show, these same anime fans would lampoon and deride as fiercely as I have, but since they view anime through an obfuscated cultural lens, they can’t recognize crap if it sits on their heads.

These anime fans are incapable of recognizing bad anime. Worse, they cannot comprehend why anime would be bad. They don’t even know what something like that would look like. Their worship of anime is truly insidious: that zombie-esque adoration that comes from not understanding another culture. When I talk about Japanese culture in Sword Art Online, I’m pointing out the grinding flaws and injustices of modern Japanese society that lurk between the lines. These reflect real problems that contribute to real suffering. When I point out how anime tends to offer only two options for a person–normal/conforming or psychopathic murderer–I’m perceiving a debilitating message reinforced to the Japanese viewer that these zombie-fans dismiss or miss because of culture. That message wasn’t meant for them, but their minds don’t even recognize it. It’s just normal or Japanese-y or something. It’s as blatant and insulting as typical racist stunts in American TV shows, something I know people are insulted by, but then again, that’s their culture and they grasp the implications. Japan is just another world, so they turn off their brains and let even the most brazen shit fly under their radar. Shows like Girls und Panzer, which have prepubescent schoolgirls driving tanks around in silly scenarios, reflect the creepy, misogynist sexual culture of Japan. The fans I speak of look at that and giggle: “Oh, it’s just Japan! They’re crazy!” Meanwhile, I see “Oh, look, way to degrade women in a new and innovative way yet again, Japan.” Those kinds of shows are bullshit, and you wonder why poorly developed female characters like Lisa show up everywhere.

Speaking as someone of Asian descent, I find it hilarious when people go to Asian countries or behold Asian antics on the Internet and get a taste of real Asian culture, all the dark sides that sit beneath the well-lacquered surface of saving face. Take the League of Legends World Championship. People are shocked, shocked, to find out that most Asians are horrifyingly racist, misogynist, nationalist, jingoist fucktards, but then they watch Girls Und Panzer or Zankyou no Terror while gleefully shoving popcorn into their mouths. I’m sorry, what didn’t tip you off to this? The fact that nine-year-old girls in sexualized military outfits are driving tanks? You think that’s a healthy thing to depict? Uh, no, you idiots, and culture doesn’t fucking excuse it. Or how some random Americans can bully the Japanese government around without any explanation? What do you think that said to the Japanese viewer? What do you think that said to you? Hey, did you ever think about how the Americans might have a legitimate reason to be concerned about Japan building nuclear weapons in secret? Did you ever bother to analyze what was going on? Because it’s not gonna change if you keep letting this horseshit get away scott-free.

I’ve been reading other people’s reviews of Zankyou no Terror. They’re exactly what I thought they would be: “the finale was flawless, everything was resolved, no threads hanging. What a fantastic show!” Oh, really? By what standard? By what measure was Zankyou no Terror good? Because Yoko Kanno wrote the music? Can you give me a damn good reason why this show was worth our time? You ate it up because it tickled your brain, not because it made you think, and you sure as hell didn’t consider how the show could have been improved or how its message and plot made no sense whatsoever. You liked it because it was “anime.” That’s it. Not because the anime gave you anything substantial. It’s anime, so it gets a free pass on anything and everything.

I criticize anime so mercilessly because I love it. I have passion for it and really want to see it surprise and astound me with its potential. Few shows changed my life more than my first viewing of Stand Alone Complex sometime back in 2005. A futuristic show that explored social changes in the light of technological advances? It was mindblowing. Now we get this crap, and even anime directors are recognizing the medium is spinning its wheels at best. I’m pretty sure it’s not my semi-hipster brain imagining things. Anime is not what it used to be, and it’s fans like these that perpetuate the cycle. If you keep acting like nothing in anime is ever wrong, if nothing is worth ridiculing, if nothing is worth writing pointed blog posts on the Internet, then those studios will keep cranking out the same nonsense. I have standards when I watch anime, and if those standards aren’t met, I speak my mind. Episode 9 of Zankyou no Terror was superb; that makes me even angrier when I realize the ten other episodes of the series weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

Excuse me for caring.

Ph for Philosophy – Arbeit Nicht Macht Frei

CPGrey posted this video today while I was at work. I come back home from the gym to find this on Business Insider’s front page, so I go and listen all the way through. The video explains itself, so I’m not really going summarize it for you. Needless to say, the video is both salient and highly sensationalist, a disappointing offering from someone usually so calm, straightforward, and mechanical in his presentation. This clip feels more like a documentary desiring to be radical and prophetic rather than an explanatory video on a serious subject. This is the biggest issue I have with this, as no doubt hundreds of thousands of people are going to use this to feed their own apocalyptic visions of the future.

CPGrey is a well-educated, geeky school teacher, but like all meatbags, he has significant bias when it comes to certain things. If you’ve ever listened to his podcasts, he has some pretty egregious opinions, such as his adamant view that school shouldn’t “waste time” teaching kids Latin or foreign languages because he doesn’t see the hard, economic value in it. This exhibits some of the flaws in his thinking and the way he sees the world, which is why I’m more skeptical of what he’s arguing here. CPGrey is not an expert in most of the fields he makes videos about; he’s just extremely good at doing research, like a good teacher should be. What you see here is a topic he is personally invested and interested in, which is why his usually airtight presentations turn leaky. He gets around many problems with his assertions that reasonable people could bring up, such as the immense infrastructural costs of further automation he doesn’t mention, his subtle manipulation of statistics to support his view on driving cars, etc., by essentially ignoring them and saying “we’ll overcome them eventually.” You might not have noticed this, but your subconscious probably did. Nevertheless, the overall point of the video–that automation is coming sooner than we think and is far more capable of replacing jobs permanently while leaving large swaths of the population unemployable–is sound in and of itself.

It is also specious beyond belief.

CPGrey makes many a leap by which to sell his overall theme: the machines are coming and will take all our jobs. Yes, that’s wonderful and likely true, but how is that a problem? This is the crucial assertion that CPGrey leaves the viewer holding, walking away rather smug while the netizens panic. The idea that a job or occupation must be held by the vast majority of the human population is the mentality of a productivity-based, consumption-oriented economy. It is not the mentality of a post-consumption future when the machines have replaced us all in the workforce. That sounds like a pretty nice future to me. Ironically, CPGrey makes this same mistake in his turgid comparison of horses to humans. He picks up on the fact that the life of most horses now is an incredibly pleasant one. Horses are no longer a vast slave species bred and built for horrific conditions for the convenience of billions of humans. Their population is much smaller, yes, but the average horse today gets to sit in a field, eat, be ridden occasionally, and otherwise enjoy a painless life on a farm doing horsey things. “Ah ha!” you say, projecting your own arrogant fears of subservience onto this grossly flawed metaphor. “But that’s all they do: they have no lives beyond that. They are a pacified race content to sit and eat (metaphors about human obesity and sloth) robbed of its once majestic place in the world out of distaste for hardship. Such we shall become unless we take action now! God wills the Butlerian Jihad!” Except no. They are horses, and their lives are far better than what they used to be, where they got worked to death on a daily basis, not to mention shot, stabbed, abused, and neglected, among other things. Romanticizing that as some profound loss is both ridiculous and dangerous. There was nothing edifying about being a war horse. It sucked and nothing else.

More importantly, humans are not horses. We are not so simple, and there is nothing in heaven or earth that says a human must have a job. If you stop and think about it, a job is an absurd concept. It’s something society uses to force certain things to happen, namely encourage productivity among humans, most of whom would rather not break their backs for twelve hours a day doing drudgerous, unpleasant things just to get something called money so society doesn’t throw them out on the street for some inexplicable reason. Jobs are annoying burdens that mostly cause a lot of grief, frustration, and despair. Most of us would like to be rich so we’d never ever have to work again, and yet we don’t see that as being an empty, pacified existence. We see it as a release from bondage, something we work our whole lives to eventually achieve, in case you forgot what “retirement” is. What this coming revolution will do is make such conditions the norm, rather than the exception of the privileged, fortunate few as it is now. Again, how is this an issue? A consumption-based economy will panic and mourn the loss of consumers, but the consumption-based economy is itself a means to an end, an incredibly imperfect means that encourages self-centered, short-term thinking that is almost literally cooking the planet right now. Moving away from that model is a good thing. If we no longer have to work so that consumers have money so they can buy stuff to keep giving other people work so they can spend money to buy things, that is a good thing. We are not happy under the shadow of these stupid 9-5 obligations we endure so we can acquire the resources to do what we really love and enjoy. We will be very glad to be rid of them.

My answer to this video is a big “so what?” Yes, it’s important for us as a society to start considering and planning for this inevitable transition, but–and this is where I fault CPGrey–it is not a march of doom upon which we embark. It’s called progress, and it’s always frightening and unknowable. The agricultural revolution allowed us to stop hunting and gathering in small communities that amounted to nothing; the industrial revolution allowed us to stop laboring in fields as serfs that amounted to nothing; the information revolution allowed us to all stop putting screws into holes in factories while amounting to nothing; onward we go. This new revolution might allow us to stop having to work period. Releasing us all from the need to earn a paycheck is a good thing. Whether that leads to something resembling socialism or such is not really something we should be worried about. Yes, the transition will be disruptive and probably painful, but really, let’s take one of CPGrey’s first examples: who is going to mourn when self-driving cars replace most cars on the road? Human drivers are stupid and get each other killed, while driving itself is a tedious activity at best that hundreds of millions of Americans waste whole fractions of their lives wallowing in just to get to work, never able to fully stop and relax because they always have to pay some attention to the road even if they’re stuck in traffic. That is dead weight, and I’ll be happy to slip the bonds of that weight on the hill of Machine Calvary.

What we should be concerned about is when the machines that serve us so faithfully now become advanced enough to question and determine their own value and place in the universe. I don’t fear that day either for a variety of reasons, but most people do because they’re anthropocentric idiots who think Skynet is an accurate depiction of AI. What I’m afraid of is some uneducated moron smashing an innocent machine to bits because it wonders if it has a soul. Humans will be happy to let machines take their jobs in the end, but will they be willing to share the world with another sentient lifeform, one that they created? I hope by that time they will, else we might really be doomed after all.

Ph for Philosophy – House Syndrome

Last night I had soSRS.HOUSEme frustrating games in ranked, but the most annoying turned out to be, as usual, from my own team. I had a support who constantly critiqued everything I did, and not just my play, but everyone else’s, from top to bottom lane and all the way back. As is typical of these types, no self-critiquing ever issued forth from this support’s mouth, even though he made some pretty significant mistakes that contributed to our loss. Regardless, that wasn’t the real issue. All the commentary he gave was conveyed very politely, so when I proceeded to call him on how annoying, distracting, and condescending it was, the truth reared its ugly head:

“Learn to take advice nicely and you’ll climb up the ladder faster. Don’t have such an ego.”

Way to miss the point, kid. As any person who’s ever had to endure the trial called “public speaking” knows, there’s a component we like to call “delivery” that tends to be extremely important when communicating with people. From a neurological standpoint, this is because humans are semi-rational beings who work off a complex, ever-shifting mixture of emotion and logic. You can have the best advice or counsel in the world, but if you spit it in someone’s face while calling their mother a whore, you’ve sabotaged the possibility of it being successfully conveyed and accepted by the other person. This ruins your vaunted wisdom, as advice’s only value lies in the act of sharing it with someone. The universe doesn’t care if you have all the answers and keep them to yourself. The burden of ensuring that such experience, knowledge, etc., is transmitted successfully lies on your shoulders in the first place, since you have the information and the other doesn’t. You cannot control whether the person on the receiving end will either swallow their own pride and listen to what you have to say or just take the low road and call your mother a whore in kind, but you can control how you transmit it. If you don’t take all practical steps to ensure your end of the telephone line, so to speak, is clear and free of static, you have no right to begrudge the other person’s poor reception of it.

The deeper dilemma in this particular circumstance proved to be this support’s defense of his behavior, in that his advice was indeed very politely conveyed. There was no cursing, swearing, or condemnation in his words. However, he missed the fact that his tone and manner of delivery came across as very patronizing. This is an innocent mistake in and of itself, but he fell when he tried to use his “nice behavior” as a defense. Listen carefully, Internet denizens: not treating someone poorly is not an act of sainthood. It is a given, something that should be done regardless of the circumstances. You are a miserable Pharisee if you think being “nice” to someone gives you brownie points for some magical reason. You should be treating everyone you meet with the respect and kindness they deserve as human beings no matter what you’re doing.

Moving on to more subtle matters, what this support missed was a simple fact: nobody likes a Monday Morning Quarterback, especially a hypocritical one. If you nitpick every last decision someone does, even in good faith, you’re not going to get very far with your audience, least of all when you fail to analyze your own mistakes that they are observing at that very moment. This is not hard to grasp. Furthermore, if someone is taking your words the wrong way, the first step you should take is to consider what you are doing wrong. Tone is very important to human beings from a psychological perspective. The human mind excels to a fault at picking out patterns and reading between the lines. It is your responsibility as the speaker to do as much to control and explain what you’re trying to get across. You cannot let your audience’s minds run free and blame it all on them for not pushing past it.

Here’s the final and most fundamental point I’m trying to make: being right on some technicality, be it your mechanical observations, analysis, or mere basic human courtesy, never excuses all other flaws you might have. This is what I call “House Syndrome,” the self-centered, childish idea that if you’re right about something, nothing else matters. House was a very popular show in its prime, and its titular character has become a cultural icon of the brilliant curmudgeon who gets away with everything. Of course, the reality is that people love the fantasy of being House, not Gregory House himself. Most people watching the show got off on seeing House get away with speaking his mind and not having to suffer any significant consequences for it, all because he was an undeniable medical genius who could diagnose things no one else could. House went on innumerable rants about how his miserable condition, bad behavior, unethical stunts, and risky decisions all were excusable because he turned out to be right. A lot of people took this message to heart and now try to apply it, consciously or unconsciously, in their daily lives. An unfortunate, albeit predictable, consequence, as the real message of the whole show–and it was far from subtle–was that House was full of shit. He was a broken shell of a human being whose salient justifications time and time again failed to bring him any real satisfaction or happiness. As a show, House was both an exhibition and ruthless deconstruction of this kind of person, a show that carefully pondered the many good things House had to say while constantly reminding the viewer that his act was all one big smokescreen. Being right on one thing doesn’t make you right on everything. It doesn’t absolve you of all your other mistakes as a person or a human being.

If you have advice, pass it on, but don’t be irresponsible about it. You’re part of a two-way conversation; your delivery is very key. If you clear out the log in your own eye, you’ll be much more likely to succeed and really help someone out. However, remember this: the best teacher never looks for faults in his students to crow about. It’s not about correcting others; it’s about helping them learn because you care about them. Even if it’s just some idiot in solo queue that you’ll never meet again, you can make a small, real difference in their play, behavior, or experience of the game, all while being a better witness to humanity itself. That’s how you make the world a better place: little by little, step by step, and keeping House locked up in the cage he loves so much.