Paradoxes and Interpretations

I am so happy to have found an angle to expose my reflections about moral philosophy ^^ But this is not where our story starts.

How logic is impossible

Our story starts on YouTube, where I spend a lot of time lately, listening to french YouTubers, including Monsieur Phi, who revived my passion for paradoxes, notably introducing me to Lewis Carroll’s paradox (“What the Tortoise said to Achilles”). You can check out his video if you want, it’s great, but since I don’t want this post to be language restricted, I’ll stick to this version in English, which I don’t think is quite as good but is still pretty great (there’s surprisingly little English sources for something so important ;_;):

Essentially, this paradox is about the basic logic rule of deduction called Modus Ponens (I always hated how pretentious and obscure it sounds). Let me try to quickly summarize: Modus Ponens governs how to “instantiate” (or apply) the effects of a generic law to particular cases. Take this blue law for instance:

“If [A] is true, then [B] is true”

Modus Ponens is the name of the process that allows you to say that if the blue law holds, whenever [A] is true, [B] is also true (this process takes the law and the situation and produces a conclusion from them). If you want, Modus Ponens is what translates the words of the blue law into actual facts. It describes what a logical implication actually means.

Angelic Twaddle™ Comics: Modus Ponens

Now here is the kicker and the heart of the paradox: Modus Ponens is a generic law, the law that describes what it means to do a logical implication. So to apply it, you’d need some kind of meta-Modus Ponens. Which would be a law. etc… etc…

Though I’ve been bingeing a lot of Donald Hoffman who explores the idea that it’s fundamentally consciousness all the way down.

Which is pretty amazing and important, because if you try to ground basic into elemental pieces, you literally cannot because you fall down this infinite abyss of Modus Ponens requiring each other ad infinitum. It’s like you cannot define what “logical implication” means.

Fundamental axiom

So if you want to do anything logical, you basically have no other choice but to take Modus Ponens as a basic axiom, a law of the universe. You need some sort of leap of faith to accept how logic works. Much like Godel’s incompleteness theorem, logic kinda cannot ground itself.

And I think this idea has profound implications. It basically proves that you need some sort of fundamental axiom, a stop case, else you’re bound to fall down an infinite well of justifications. It’s a beautiful case against overthinking and grounding for the “just do it” innocent optimism of your average shounen manga protagonist.

30 Day Anime Challenge #19 – Most Epic Scene in Anime – Lethargic Ramblings

But it’s also a very nice metaphysical call for Occam’s razor, which recommends taking the simplest possible explanation when several are available (and therefore stopping before you reach this infinite pitfall). By the way, did you know that it was formalized as Solomonoff’s theory of inductive inference, using Kolmogorov complexity to give mathematical meaning to the concept of “simple possible explanation” ? Genius.

Kolmogorov complexity - Wikipedia

There’s only atoms and interpretations

And this actually matters because Occam’s razor is a basic axiom grounding pretty much everything in our reality when you get down to it. I hate to once again go all postmodern Berkley on you, but our reality as humans is built on interpretations (it’s interpretations all the way down, there’s nothing outside the text, etc…). After all, we give sense and orders to this atom soup (mostly void) by delimiting arbitrary borders. Sure it’s nitpicking and we come to a consensus most of the time.

But this is particularly important in epistemology and in justice: you’ll never be able to prove positively anything for sure. Hume’s philosophy already highlight that causation is impossible to guarantee. But without going so deep, you can always find more and more convoluted explanation for anything, the ultimate convoluted explanation being “a god/demon put everything there to trick you into believing this but it’s completely false“.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder | Shirtoid

It took me way too long to realize that you can never actually prove guilt, you can only prove that non guilt is way too unlikely in our universe, and thereby convince a jury. (for instance, that’s why someone caught in the act stealing would probably be guilty of theft, even though a valid though unlikely explanation could be that the owner gave them the items verbally but then had a mini stroke deleting any recollection of the event. Ok maybe that’s not the best example)

Zoo ou L'assassin philantrope | Salle Jean Renoir | BilletReduc.com

Uploaded consciousness

But I don’t want to talk about these classic very important topics that actually matter here 😛 Instead, I want to talk about another domain where the simplest interpretation is fundamental and may jeopardize or guarantee your immortality.

Indeed, to put it simply, I can define many arbitrary mappings between my neurons and random things (or even all the states my neurons will ever have had), like grains of sand or molecules in the wall. Some of them will obviously guarantee identity, like the one used to build a simulation of me in a computer or a teleporter. But where is the line? Which of them are “me”? How many “me” are there? Am I a Boltzman Brain? The best writings I’ve read on the topic are from Brian Tomasik, which I highly recommend.

There may indeed be traces of the thoughts you’re having now in your wall, and that’s fine. You can kinda sorta be your wall and the center of the sun and digital uploads all at once. Defining “you” is just poetry.

https://reducing-suffering.org/interpret-physical-system-mind/#Anthropic_reasoning

What if you're a Boltzmann Brain - 9GAG

Moral philosophy

But I hear you, you want something more practical to use in your daily life. And that’s where we loop back to my introduction. I’ve struggled for a long time to build myself a moral philosophy framework, since any intent-based Kantian framework is obviously bullshit considering how you can harm a person a lot even when meaning them well.

Kant Good Place GIF - Kant GoodPlace Good - Discover & Share GIFs

Indeed, any action I will have can lead to so many interpretations. Maybe you’ll think I’m just pretending to be nice for my ends. Maybe you’ll think I’m pretending to pretend to be nice for some sort of ironic joke. No matter how good my intents, any sufficiently adversarial person can build up a case for the opposite intent. Most of the time it’s not very hard. Sometimes it even happens naturally.

In the same way as before, there’s no end to the infinite depths I can go to pondering how my actions can be perceived. Since I wanted to tie this back to pop culture, it’s worth pointing out that it’s actually the point that the TV show The Good Place really shines by: at this day and age, it’s pretty impossible to ponder all the implications of an action. Too much second guessing can lead to utter chaos, as is frequently portrayed by Chidi’s character.

Chidi gets a mouthful - The Good Place - TV Fanatic

To sneak another pop culture in here and center it back to social interactions, it is also neatly portrayed in the anime Gamers (which is also very touching) where the misunderstanding about interpreting each other’s motives grow to lengths I’ve rarely witnessed.

https://imgur.com/r/anime/978GL

My solution to this potential infinite depth of recursion is to stop at level 2. Being aware of this pitfall, you can only try to do your best. I guess it’s a very stoic approach: focus on what you can actually do. You can’t assess or control all the ramifications, but you can control what you strive to be. All you can ever do is your best. And it’s ok to fuck up every once in a while, in fact it’s literally impossible to please a sufficiently adversarial interpreter. I guess in the end it loops back to intent, doesn’t it… Can’t believe I did this…

Its pronounced "cunt" - #181545776 added by boehsling at I Kant  even now

So keep forgiveness in mind and protect yourself from an infinite recursion that won’t help anyone. I think that the original YouTuber that inspired me this post found the perfect conclusion in early Wittgenstein. It is a great thing to keep in mind to escape this paradoxical overthinking which is by definition infinite:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

My Bioshocking Randt

So I know very well I’m pretty late to the Bioshock party and there has been much written about what I’m about to write, but I still think considering the themes of irony and meta that are prevalent in this blog we can do something interesting with it.

At least it allows me to write this at a period where the Ayn Rand institute is taking a government bail, which is very much in keeping with the tone of this article. Ayn Rand is the not-so-hidden inspiration for Bioshock (her work is the origin of pretty much all the names in the game, to prepare for this I’ve read Fountainhead, which the main antagonist is named after). I don’t want to re-hash the obvious, so feel free to document yourself more on what her philosophy was and how it is represented in Bioshock. This video is a really nice and fun way to do so:

Reading Ayn Rand is a profoundly ironic experience (and also extremely painful, you’ve been warned). There’s a lot of problems in her writing, and it’s pretty clear why she’s a joke in all philosophy departments. It’s all about ego, selfishness and illustrious geniuses.

Trump: Stable genius, unstable ego | Trump, Conway, Genius

It’s basically hundreds of pages of misunderstood geniuses treating the world like shit and whining about how the world sucks because it’s filled with garbage people who treat each other like shit. It may be the ultimate irony that this selfish philosophy could be the root of all the problems she complains about.

She is really riled up against the Collective, but forgets a bit fast that this collective is composed of individuals. It’s very funny to me that she has correct problematic, but backwards. She says collectivism kills intelligence but idolatry does, she says geniuses are exploited but workers are. For someone who claims to place the human as highest standard, she certainly encourages to treat people like tools. Even the holy Chosen Ones use each other like garbage all the time.

I’m no stranger to misunderstood art projects (just look at this blog xD) but reading her work made me feel as sad as the misunderstood geniuses she portrays. I guess it’s a brilliant illustration of how so-called “smart” people can still miss the mark oh so much and humanity is doomed or something.

But a great way to conclude this ironic streak and come back to the more pleasant Bioshock is to mention that those amazing minds that push humanity forward rely of course on millenia of experimentation, industry and tooling by countless other people. This is what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand of the market”, and what Bioshock means by “the chain of industry“. By the way it’s pretty funny too to see Smith and Rand, two pillars of capitalism, so diametrically opposed.

Irony is always meta by definition and Bioshock comes to bring extra layers on top of this delicious meta cake. Its take on Rand’s work is pretty obvious: the plot is pretty much a continuation of “Atlas Shrugs”, in which those precious misunderstood geniuses decide to stop contributing to the world, and leave to build a city underwater. The founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, as well as his main antagonist, Fontaine (i.e. Atlas) both follow Rand’s philosophy to the letter, and Bioshock is the tale of what happens after. And its pretty bleak: a completely deregulated market leads, according to the game, to a biohazard based survival horror hell.

Pharmaceutical Companies Buy Rivals' Drugs, Then Jack Up the ...

There is another interesting layer of meta in this story, because Fontaine secedes from Rapture, i.e. the society founded on the first secession from Andrew Ryan. This suggests that if you apply the individualistic ideal and follow selfishness to its extreme, it will still continue to bring conflict and power struggles endlessly and never build a harmonious society (we get stuck in an endless cycle of violence, Might makes right…).  Having this secession is a pretty clear answer that the first secession failed.

But the bit of meta that struck me the most is obviously the famous sequence around Fontaine’s betrayal. He keeps insisting, in keeping with Ayn Rand’s theory, that “a Man choses and a slave obeys”, but what does this mean for you as a player since you’ve only been following the plot that the game drafted for you? Can you really be “a Man”, since you’re pretty much forced to follow the events and oppose Fontaine?

There’s others interesting nods to the absence of freedom of the player. The whole “conditioning” theme strikes very interesting chords, because you are also pressing the buttons of the machines to receive your power ups (or your fix of entertainment), both in the game and literally…

Little Wonders Educational Facility | BioShock Wiki | Fandom

But then, what is “a Man” supposed to do? Stop the game right there ? Not play videogames in the first place? There may be an escape to this in the fact that you can still express free will within constraints (like a video game). Or maybe it just shows that you can’t help but being a slave sometimes? In any case I think it’s clear that it means that this framework does not hold.

And we come here to what I like the most about Bioshock‘s take on Ayn Rand, it answers what I think is the most dangerous part of her theories: this us versus them philosophy. I have no doubt that most readers of Rand will side with the small misunderstood elite, which obviously does not scale. But this makes the whole dichotomy that she proposes all the more dangerous and insidious, the reader is in on it. That’s the greatest thing about the game to me: it’s pretty easy to follow the free market proposals of Ayn Rand and say “doesnt work”, but leveraging the specificity of the videogame medium to destroy her pernicious manichean views of mankind is an amazing feat of strength which makes this game a masterpiece.

If you liked this article, feel free to take a glance at our podcast episode where we mention it and go in depth on other topics: https://www.reddit.com/r/NotDailyPodcast/comments/i1bb07/ndp_16_bioshock_and_is_a_postfiles_world/ 

 

Kapitalism Damacy

When I turned to my friend and said “I think I may write one of my overanalyzing mock essay about Katamary Damacy and capitalism”, I expected the usual rebuke of “stop bringing up capitalism about everything”, but something weird happened. Instead, they said “yes, of course, it’s well known”.

And indeed, it seems that the creator Keita Takahashi declared that his game was about mass overconsumption. And there is a fair amount of analyses that detail how it goes about tackling this theme. A very nice once is for instance this video:

Katamari is a game about working hard at cleaning a mess that isn’t yours in systems that belittle you just to get through the day.

But even though this topic has already been tackled, I still believe that there are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen brought up, so I’d like to bring them to the table!

  • The market doesn’t respond to logic

Why are there dice and batteries lying on the floor everywhere? It doesn’t make sense! But the rules of the game demand it. The market doesn’t always respond to an obvious sensical logic.

Related image

  • Currency puts everything on the same unique scale

And it yields some… curious comparisons.

Katamari Damacy REROLL (Steam Key) | Bandai Namco Store

Avoiding the metric system - memes

  • You have to both consume objects and produce growth. In fact, the consumption is precisely your means of production.
  • Your katamari thirst for growth is obviously at the expense of the environment.

  • Everything is absorbed by the market.

Everything goes into the katamari. Literally nothing can stay “outside the system”. Anti-system movements get absorbed into the system.

  • Shallow celebration of individuality to make you buy in

Look how special you are! This is your very custom katamari! You get to express yourself within a well defined boundary in the system! You even get a token custom reward (nothing much, just a minor title). Except well, there isn’t that many items in the level, so how different can anyone else’s be? Not to mention everyone also made a katamari.

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  • You don’t know how well you’re doing and it’s never enough.

Dues to the logarithmic scaling and the timer, it’s pretty hard to gauge if you’re going to meet your goal or not. You’re in a constant state of uncertainty, which pushes you to do more. I have no idea how people can describe this game as relaxing. As an added bonus, though, whatever you do won’t be appreciated by the king, of course.

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  • The workers are alienated and spoiled of the value and credit for their work

Everything goes back to the investors.

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  • I have a theory that the name “damacy” (魂) was in part chosen to make a wordplay with damashi (騙し) meaning deception, cheating, tricking.
  • Katamari Damacy is obviously inspired by the practice of rolling balls of muds that some children do in Japan, but also by beetles rolling poo.

What you’re consuming is literal shit.

BBC - Earth - Some dung beetles have taken to decapitating millipedes

  • But you know who else rolls? Sisyphus. So is all this over consumption just a distraction from the absurdity of our existence?

Katamari Damacy Sisyphus - Imgur

the Book of Maki

TW: Jordan Peterson

So I recently went to see Book of Mormon yet another time, and during the performance I started thinking that there may be an interesting parallel to draw with Hoshiai no Sora, a recent anime I liked a lot.

Book of Mormon tells the story of two mormon missionary sent to Uganda for their first mission. People there have it hard, obviously, and they understandably curse god for it in the famous catch phrase “Hasa Diga Eebowai. Faced with the impossibility to convert new believers, one missionary gives up hope, while the other one starts inventing random bullshit to keep people interested. In the end, the people get really inspired by the nonsensical bullshit, it gives them courage and hope in their struggles, and the show ends by everyone rejecting the established mormon church and founding a new church based on these fables. The last words are “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai”, thank you god, paralleling Hasa Diga Eebowai.

Image result for book of mormon

Now I’ve written a fair share of somewhat negative things about religion, especially institutionalized, but I think we have in this reversal of mindset something pretty interesting that I first came across in Jordan Peterson’s biblical analyses series. Among a lot of other things of course, he presents an interesting conceptualization of god as the possibility to make “a bargain with the future“. Following the unique human ability to deal with potential as if it was real (i.e. to act because of potential future causes), he posits god as an ever-present absolute that stands in as guarantor for this future. In this view, it makes sense to make sacrifices/efforts in the present, because there is something that acknowledges it and makes it pay off down the road. 

Image result for peterson philosophytube

In some way, that’s what we see in Book of Mormon. Belief, even in complete nonsense, gives strength to everyone to rise up and fight for the outcome they wanted. The point being, for Mr Peterson, when faced with hardships, turn off your negative emotions, man up, clean your room, believe, and be in a “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset rather than a “Hasa Diga Eebowai” because that’s how you’ll get the best results.

I thought that this was worth digging into this a bit. Because it’s true, if you accept that the world is obviously deterministic and free will is an illusion, that consciousness is a more or less elaborate byproduct, a sort of “noise” that your internal gears are making as they turn. With no causal role, it’s therefore completely irrational to accept negative qualia/emotions, and it’s only logical to try and chase them. I don’t know if you’ll get best results, but you’ll tautologically be happier.

Image result for destroy consciousness

But I really wanted to dig into this notion of best results. It may be intuitive that you’re more likely to be successful if you have a positive mindset, but this is kind of twisting the question on its head and looking at it the other way: considering a world where the success will happen (the role of the guarantor is to make this hypothesis easy), what mindset has the best chance of accomplishing it? Let’s work backwards from a potential success and see what lead us there retroactively.

Image result for walk backwards

I’ve been struggling for weeks to try and formalize this reversal of point of view with  Bayes theorem (doesn’t it look similar ^^), but I’m getting nowhere with my Probability(success|guarantor). If you get somewhere please tell me. But maybe the reason I’m running in circles here is that we’re faced with a much simpler tautological framework, “100% of winners have tried their luck”

Image result for 100 des gagnants ont tenté leur chance

Working backwards from success may be precisely what belief allows. It’s the ability to trust that we’ll make it, that it will work out, that this possibility exists. I this model, that’s what the guarantor is for. Maybe the guarantor is here as a reference point, to help you out of a local extremum you’re stuck in, towards a real extremum. Or maybe it may be a case of the prisoner dilemna where the other person is guaranteed to be trustworthy, which brings the best long term outcomes.

Image result for prisoners of love producers

Someone made me notice that it’s a actually closer to a sort of Pascal’s wager: stars may or may not align, but if I want a successful outcome, my only rational move is to try (success = try + circumstances).

Stars align Stars dont align
Belief/try (B) success failure
Disbelief (¬B) failure failure

Stars Align” is not so coincidentally the english title of the anime “Hoshiai no Sora”. It is centered around a highschool club of soft tennis who have accepted that they kinda suck. Maki Katsuragi, a transfert student, shakes things up by making them notice that they’ll never get anywhere with this kind of attitude, and we get to see these adorable dorks progress at their own pace now that they believe in the future. As in Book of Mormon, you can see the shift from the “Hasa Diga Eebowai” mindset to the “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai” mindset and its positive effect on the children, even though they may not win big. 

There are countless examples of this, though (albeit not as cute as this anime). Maybe the most notable is Les Schtroumpfs olympiques, where Schtroumpf Chétif only manages physical prowess when he believes he can win (because he believes to have ingested a special potion, which turned out to be strawberry jam). Yes, this is the actual parallel I wanted to make.

Image result for schtroumpf olympique

In the end, american media did a good job at marketing the notions of “just believe”, but there may still be some truth to it. I think one of the best way to conceptualize this “belief muscle” is through cognitive science (and economy) and its model on preference theory and temporal discounting. It posits that the total “value” of a thing according to a human is equal to the sum over all instants t of the value at this instant, discounted by how far in the future this instant is:

A famous illustration of this is the marshmallow experiment: are children able to refuse a marshmallow right now (value of 1 marshmallow, no discount) if this will give them 2 marshmallow in 1 minute (value of 2/discount). In this toy example, they would if the decay factor discount < 2 (which makes 2/discount > 1 marshmallow).

I think the simplest explanation is that believing is training yourself to have lower discount factors (i.e. to value the future more). In other words, in this framework, god is an increment of the discount factor. 

And I guess it can be good for you? be it only if it helps you mute irrational negative qualia that don’t bring anything to the table.

 

Withering with you

Circumstances have kept me away from writing this article that has been burning in the back of my brain ever since I went to the local premiere of Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie – Tenki no Ko (weathering with you), in presence of the director himself. So let’s eagerly jump into it, with a lot of spoilers ahead for a movie you probably shouldn’t see.

Image result for tenki no ko Amano Nagi

I’m a big fan of Makoto Shinkai, and have been following his career with attention, including a bunch of interviews. Lately, he’s been finding inspiration in real world tragedies. Kimi no na ha (your name) was self-admittedly inspired by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. It strikes me as a bit odd how you go from a real world tragedy to a fiction “love comedy” like that, but I can kinda see it, I guess it has something to do with awe in the face of something so much bigger than humans, or something about how beautiful human connections/solidarity are in the face of difficulties… 

This time Tenki no Ko is apparently inspired by global warming (the movie directly echoes many “record rains/temperatures/cyclones” that the director was telling us about seeing on TV). Very brief summary: in a world where the weather is getting worse and worse, a girl has the magical power to bring about the sun with certainty. She realizes that the only way to stop the trend towards environmental catastrophe is for her to disappear, which happens. 

Image result for temperature record

I’ll skip the problems I have with the cliche element of the story or its execution (and even over the borderline climate-skepticism ^^) to focus on what comes next. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the boy-love-interest refuses to sacrifice and comes to her rescue and persuades her that she should live, so she un-disappears and environmental catastrophe happens. 

Let me start by saying that I fully understand what the director was going for here. In the Q&A, he was explaining how our polarized society has become extremely judgmental and that it was important to be more tolerant, forgiving and let people live. He obviously also wanted to show that even if the environment is completely destroyed, we can still rely on human connections, find each other, find happiness, and ultimately live. He wanted it to be a message of hope and tolerance in the face of a gloomy future, and on some level I appreciate and respect this.

But this doesn’t mean we can ignore the content and implications of the movie, whose main motive is essentially “it’s okay to follow your desires even if it destroys the world”. Boy-love-interests simply willfully chooses the girl, meaning his desires, and by extension the material comfort of consumerist life, over actual efforts to solve the world problem. He chooses the selfish and easy way, even if it causes terrible consequences. Granted the situation would have been more complicated from the point of view of the girl, but the movie follows the boy.

Image result for simpsons burns nuclear

And that’s where I fundamentally disagree with the premise of the director. Sometimes when the stakes are so big it’s dangerous to cut oneself some slack and celebrate it. Huge problems like global warming simply can’t be solved by following the easy path. They require constant effort and attention. I don’t remember if the Q&A or the movie was mentioning that the character’s actions were okay because catastrophe “is not one’s person fault”, but using this to rationalize and exonerate individual actions is obviously a very dangerous slope. In actuality, it’s not one’s person’s fault means it’s every person’s fault and problem, and it’s simply not okay to not do effort and be proud of it. Seems like it’s precisely what got us into this mess.

In the Q&A, Shinkai was telling us that one of the things he cared the most about this movie was a scene at the end where the girl, back in a now destroyed world, was looking over the result of the catastrophe addressing a silent prayer. He was using this to justify that the characters cared about the world. 

not this one, imagine it under the rain

But of course they care, just not enough, and this scene illustrates the problem with a tragic clarity. Her empty prayers are too little too late, completely ineffective, especially when put in contrast to the actual effort that was effective. In a way, this picture shows brilliantly that intentions and care are not enough, and that they mean nothing compared to our choices and actions which are what destroyed this universe. This  may make her feel better, but it doesn’t actually help anything, and it may even become dangerous/negative if used to disculpate destructive actions (“I know I’m doing the wrong thing, but I still care and pray it away”). We actually have a great example and all know too well how effective are “thoughts and prayers” at stopping the mass shootings in some parts of the world. 

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This movie’s accidental depiction of the meaninglessness of intent versus choices and actions is pretty beautiful and certainly its greatest success. This is all well and good, but it wouldn’t be this blog if we just stopped there and didn’t dig a little more, would it? When all is said, I may have had a very hard time watching this movie, but I still think there are two extra noteworthy points to take out of this… morally questionable enterprise. 

Japanese consumers use 30bn plastic shopping bags each year, but it lags behind major European initiatives on phasing reusing and recycling.

The first one is a great cautionary tale about the appeal of individualism, consumerism and material comfort. Japan, with its mostly-coastal cities and its frequent typhoons, is certainly being hurt pretty bad by the climate crisis. But if even Japan can rationalize choosing consumerism over environmentalism, it says a lot about how strong its appeal is, and how strong efforts need to be in order to stop its excesses. If even the regions most impacted by its side-effects can be seduced into an over-indulging lifestyle, the will we must deploy to counter this attraction is quite formidable. Especially when inaction is always easier.

Image result for death note kira plan

The second point is about intent: as I said, I have no doubt that Makoto Shinkai did not set out to make a pro-climate-crisis movie, and just wanted an uplifting tale of hope. So this movie is actually a great example of how you can end up writing something very questionable even with the best intentions, without realizing it. It’s so easy (perhaps inevitable) to be misunderstood or have unintended consequences. You can probably never be sure that what you say or write doesn’t have a potentially completely opposite effect to your original intent. So be careful about what you say and do, and the way you do it. And most importantly, be lenient with others, be tolerant and forgiving. Through a weird roundabout (and meta) way, Makoto Shinkai actually demonstrates with this movie what he wanted to say in it.

The Phantom Zizek vs Deadpool

Ok so disclaimer, this essay is going to be mostly about the ending of Persona 5, and as such, it spoils the whole thing. I’m going to recap what’s important for the non players, but you should most definitely play this game before, it’s an excellent game, easily one of my favorites, which stands at the pinnacle of the Persona series, and contrary to the others, it has an… interesting overarching plot, which is what we’re going to talk about here. So wake up, get up, get out there first, and then you can come back 😛

An introduction about Persona 5

There’s a shitload to be said about this game. It’s basically symbolism on crack with a heavy handed dose of jungian psychology as the title implies, and judeo-christian theology. Many aspects of the game warrant their own analyses but the one I want to tackle here is its representation of society, democracy and the neoliberal capitalism it’s bathing in. Persona 5 is amazingly spot on when it comes to the pulse of the times.

Image result for jesus doing drugs

It’s hard to not see when going through the game how feeble public opinion is, which is all the more central a theme that it appears as a gauge on every loading screen. The parallels with the current entertainment-political climate are obvious, and they could almost sue the 2016 american election for copyright infringement.

Image result for persona 5 donald trump

But the part I’m most impressed by is how well Persona 5 captures the ecosystem and environment which gives birth to these circumstances. Society’s obsession with sensationalism is just one piece of a bigger picture, that we’ll call The System™.

The System™

I’m not the best at talking about the economical and societal implications of neoliberal capitalism, so I’m going to leave you with a brief summary and pointers to people who do it way better, before I try and tackle what this means in the context of Persona.

The crux of it is that the current neoliberal system is amazingly good at commodifying and marketing anything, and most importantly its own criticism and counter-cultural movements, thereby absorbing them and vampirizing them. And therefore any attempt to rebel ends up feeding the system. The textbook example being Che Guevara shirts.

Image result for Che Guevara shirts

I briefly mentioned in my 2nd Godel article how South Park season 19 deals brilliantly with the question. This topic is a favorite of my friends at Wisecrack and comes back in many of their videos. A notable example would be the Deadpool franchise, as self aware as can be about its own use of tropes and extremely cynical about the money-driven industry of brainless superhero movies, which ends up nonetheless as a huge superhero franchise and thereby becoming the very thing it’s mocking.

This is a core motive of the philosophy of Slavoj Žižek, who could be qualified as the resident expert on the amazing power of neoliberal capitalism to phagocyte counter movements, in a cycle that seems pretty desperately endless. He’ll tell you all about it better than I ever could.

Another cute recent example about counter culture becoming the thing they fought against is highlighted by this episode of PhilosophyTube about “comprehensive designers”:

Phantom thieves against the world

In Persona, the anti-establishment force is the group of protagonists, the Phantom Thieves, which can be extended to their Phandom. Their aim is clear: standing up and providing an alternative to a sick and corrupt society. The metaphors of the ending are pretty elegant about this: the world has become ugly and fucked up, but only a handful of chosen ones see it as it is and understand how dire the situation is. 

Rebels as they may be, they quickly become products of the system as reminded by the popularity gauge or the frequent talks about fan goods. Their anti-establishment criticism gets co-opted by the system in a textbook example. So much so that they literally become pawns in the political conspiracy. Their call to action is ridiculously cliche, their adult-bashing doesn’t help building up their depth.

Image result for phantom thieves merchandise in the game

The true end brings little comfort. They succeed in destroying the False God born from the blind faith of the general public, by using the blind faith of the general public in themselves. Ironically, they’re just replacing a false idol with another false idol (themselves).

(see 46’50)

Even the ending in the game is pretty ambiguous: we’re not sure if or how much it helped. The Phantom Thieves fad is waning and another one will take its place in the endless cycle of twisted idolization. After a year, people are starting to forget them already, and seem ready to move on to the next big thing. It’s pretty unlikely that they broke the cycle.

But one may then ask, if this is just a textbook rebel story that gets vampirized by the System, what does it bring to the table? What’s so interesting or important about it so that you have to write an essay about it? Well, I’m glad you ask…

The root of the problem

Persona 5 gained an instant place in my heart when I discovered the last dungeon. The dungeons are representations of twisted human psyche, and the ultimate one is the representation of the General Public psyche, i.e. the collective unconscious. It takes the form of a prison, built by mankind, where they long to be kept.

The name Prison of regression” and its description heavily plays on the fear and aversion for progress, echoing the dichotomy of corrupt adult vs dynamic children that punctuates the whole game. But I think it’s a bit simplistic to summarize everything wrong with mankind by “conservatism”. The various NPCs trapped in jail cells fortunately paint a more complete picture.

In any case, it means that the final boss is mankind itself, and you end up fighting to “save the world” explicitly against the population’s wishes. As proof, the final boss regenerates all of its hit points in an ability elegantly called “Will of the People“.

So in the end, the Phantom Thieves don’t just rebel against society but against human nature itself, and by extension their own nature. They willingly face adversity and challenge their essence, which sounds like Ubermensch growth 101 to me.

The meta game

But of course it wouldn’t be a proper post on this blog if it didn’t mention meta in some way. And I swear this is not just my own obsession, I mean, the game really IS begging you:

Presenting the confrontation of the main character and the “ante-christian” Akechi as a game run by a deity to try humanity allows for a lot of meta goodness. A game or challenge to try mankind and determine its worth is a frequent pattern in judeo-christian tradition, echoing of course the trial by the apple of knowledge.

Image result for good omens picture tennant

The constant references to the phandom are a reminder that in the real world, it will literally exist too. Sure, it will be the fan community of the game rather than fans of actual activists, but since the Phantom Thieves are kind of idealized characters in the game too, isn’t it pretty much the same thing? The game world and real world intertwine, and when the Phantom Thieves fad in the game world echoes the Persona 5 popularity in the real world. Just like the game world spent a year with the Phantom Thieves, so too does the real world spend a while with these characters, and as their adventure end, in both cases they will live on in the heart of the audience.

Image result for pokemon go trailer

What can we then make of Igor’s insistence about the existence of the game, and by extension trial? Is humanity in the real world also on trial, and is the player its champion? Is the game a mean to judge the fate of mankind? Is the player then, just like the main character, playing a game against the dark side of mankind/themselves? Is the game rigged for the dark side here too? As a J-RPG, it’s certainly rigged towards the player winning eventually… Does that mean that the player should, lest the dark side wins, refuse this deal, put down the controller, and “get out there” ? Is this a meta-critic of videogames in particular and entertainment at large as a force for self-indulgence, complacency and apathy?

Image result for videogame globe

The solution?

So in the end, does Persona 5 offer a solution to the questions it raises? Can we break free from the cyclical and vampiric system that ingests any opposition? As Žižek puts it, it’s easy to complain and rebel, but then what?

Most media who reach this point in the reflection shove off some vague answer about love. The Matrix trilogy is a good example advocating that there is no solution, there is no escaping the system, and maybe that’s what it ultimately is.

words cant express how much i love anime

But faced with an imperialistic and seemingly invincible system, the Phantom Thieves still act. And sure they do shove off some vague answer about your loving confidants as per tradition, but I’d like to see if there could be a bit more to it. They keep fighting against the collective unconscious, against mankind itself. As the False God reminds them repeatedly, they are defying the natural order of things. It is certainly reminiscent of Zarathustra’s invite to stand up to the natural tendency of decay to better oneself.

Image result for fight yourselfIs this a sacrificial motif in answer to impossible odds? After all, it fits the theme. The key may be in the perseverance within adversity. But it might be worth considering what they are persevering for.

Their response to the corrupt system that replaces one false idol by another is to kill God, the crystallization of mankind’s current beliefs. And then hope for the best. They do so on display, in a very public setting, under the public’s attention. So maybe that’s the best we can do. Sacrifice ourselves and denounce the hegemony of the System by trying our hardest to kill God, even if it’s most likely pointless, and make sure people are watching…

Image result for nietzsche anime

But for the main character, the “rehabilitation” is only complete after he accepts that the Phantom Thieves fad must end, and that they need to be forgotten. The final step of his growth is the acknowledgement that he may not be able to break the cycle, and the acceptation of his own limits. His best try is the most he can offer. Maybe, in a way, that’s the best we can do…

Best of Gintama

Gintama is probably the funniest shounen, and its success is pretty interesting, but it’s also extremely long.  Unlike some other shows, it’s not complete garbage, but I wouldn’t say the whole show is good. It’s a shounen and as such has its fair share of multi episode boring long fights (I personally think that as a shounen, it’s not really good).

So if you want to skip the boring bits and focus on the best part, here is my take on the subject. As usual, bold is the best of the best. I didn’t include any exposition because I don’t think it matters much, you can watch the pilot or read a wiki…

This is an excellent point to start, as Gintama’ has a lot less boring shounen “serious” content than the first iteration, and a lot more goofy comedy.

Gintama – the (actually second) movie

After that the show enters a dry spell with very shounen arcs like the Shogun assassination arc. The plot isn’t too bad, but it’s a shounen (slow, only battles, etc…) so watch at your own risk.

Fortunately, this takes a break with the “Porori arc” which brings back the fun and is altogether pretty awesome:

But as soon as it ends, it’s back to shounen mode for the Silver Soul ending arc, which is looooooooooong 😦 but you may want to do a little exception for

If you want closure, you can find it in

but you don’t really have to watch the whole arc, the end is interesting though:

Best of South Park

I once made a list of the most important/best South Park episode for a friend who wanted to see more but didn’t want to go through the whole thing, and I thought I’d share it here, kinda like I did for Supernatural. Contrary to SPN, South Park is actually a good show, pretty witty and sly, well written, not completely shit, so I highly recommend you watch it, but I can understand how a 20 seasons show can seem daunting, and how all the poop humor may obfuscate the brilliance of their nuance societal analyses, so feel free to use this list as a starting point. It should give you good insight on the most interesting and the most influential South Park episodes:

  • 1×01: Cartman gets an anal probe

 

  • 2×14 : Chef Aid

 

  • 3×06: Sexual Harassment Panda
  • 3×11 : Chinpokomon

 

  • 4×05 : Cartman joins NAMBLA

 

  • 5×04 : Scott Tenorman Must Die
  • 5×08 : Towelie
  • 5×14 : Butters’ Very Own Episode

 

  • 6×07 : The Simpsons Already Did It
  • 6×09: Free Hat

 

  • 7×01 : Cancelled
  • 7×09 : Christian Rock Hard
  • 7×11 : Casa Bonita
  • 7×12 : All about Mormons

 

  • 8×01: Good Times with weapons
  • 8×14 : Woodland Critter Christmas
  • 8×5 : Awesom-O

 

  • 9×4 : Best Friends Forever
  • 9×11 : Ginger kids
  • 9×12  : Trapped in the Closet

 

  • 10×3/4: Cartoon Wars
  • 10×6 : Manbearpig
  • 10×8: Make Love, not warcraft
  • 10×12/13 :  Go God Go

 

  • 11×10/11/12: The imaginationland trilogy

 

  • 12×04: Canada on Strike
  • 12×06: Over Logging

 

  • 13×12: The F Word
  • 13×13: Dances with Smurfs

 

  • 14×03: Medicinal Fried Chicken
  • 14×04: You have 0 friends
  • 14×05/06: 200
  • 14×11/12/13: The Coon trilogy

 

  • 15×01: HumancentiPad
  • 15×07: You’re getting old
  • 15×13: A history channel thanksgiving

Most of season 16:

  • 16×01: Reverse Cowgirl
  • 16×03: Fath Hilling
  • 16×06: I should have never gone ziplining
  • 16×08: Sarcastaball
  • 16×12: A Nightmare on Face Time
  • 16×13: A Scause for Applause
  • 16×14: Obama wins

Most of season 17:

  • 17×01: Let Go Let Gov
  • 17×02: Informative Murder Porn
  • 17×06: Ginger Cow
  • 17×07/08/09: The Black Friday trilogy
  • 17×10: The Hobbit

Pretty much all season 18:

  • 18×01 : Go Fund Yourself
  • 18×03 : The Cissy
  • 18×07: Grounded Vindaloop
  • 18×08 : Cock Magic
  • 18×09/10: Rehash

Seriously watch all of season 19, but if you need a highlight:

  • 19×06 : Tweek x Craig

 

  • 20×01 : Member berries

 

  • 21×02 : Put it down
  • 21×07 : Doubling down

 

  • 22×01 : Dead Kids
  • 22×06/07: Time to Get Cereal

Please reach out to me if you think I forgot anything, this is highly possible 🙂

Cruel angel thesis

One of the topics I’ve been pretty interested in is the dialectics between individuality and collectivity. It’s a topic that is echoed in a wide variety of artistic works, some of which we’ll brush over here. It’s pretty common to see plans along the line of the Human Instrumentality Project which aim to destroy individuality and “become one”, i.e. merge humans in some sort of community soup.

I think it’s so well spread because it speaks to something at the fundamental level of human psyche. Consciousness and awareness of self only allow a definition of self by opposition to the rest of the world. There is only a “me” because there is a “non-me”. Therefore the “me” depends on the “non-me” for its definition. And even worst, the “me” can only exists as such because it is perceived by others (part of the “non-me”): that’s the whole thing of Sartre’s Gaze concept.

In addition to this dependency, it seems clear that the feeling of individuality is necessarily tied to a feeling of isolation (vis a vis the rest of the world) because I’m just a “me” in the middle of all the “non-me”. Furthermore, adding to this suffering is the notable fact that this “non-me” resists “me” and may not be super compliant with my goals. So the “me” is completely at the mercy of a tyrannical “non-me”. No wonder people single out individuality as one of the fundamental source of the suffering and wonder about getting rid of it. I personally feel that it is the most fundamental struggle of human existence.

One of my favorite such examples is the catholic concept of Eden, which represent paradise and absolute happiness. Adam and Eve are denied this completeness when they start being self aware and therefore individuals. This marks the start of suffering, and the start of the yearning for an unattainable Paradise Lost, which may be the root of any quest of mankind for an absolute. This essentially sets the tone for all of the christian conception of the world. Incidentally, this mirrors human life and an idealization of the past in general and childhood in particular, which is often reported as a blessed time without worry before self-awareness and its troubles are fully formed.

Considering these hardships, it’s probably no surprise that the question is usually resolved by an ode to individuality. The Human Instrumentality Projects in fiction usually fail, and we’re presented with a portrayal of how important and good individuality is because it brings diversity, “free-will”, independence, the american way of life (TM) and all that stuff. And most importantly maybe, in all that suffering, art. Oh and value to individual life, which is what collectivists are often blamed with lacking. A notable example very dear to my heart is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy which ends up as a celebration of this individuality/self-awareness as a pre-requisite and motor element of scientific reasoning and human progress.

It’s worth noting, however, that it is not a clear endorsement. The “death of the ego” is often presented as a step towards enlightenment and wisdom, proposing a counterpoint to the idolization of the self. It seems a bit less influential in popular culture, at least in the West, though.

Anyway, in this rambling of pseudophilosophical BS I call a blog, I try my best to reason free of the influence of what we take for granted, which includes the idealization of individuality that kinda plagues our society. Not gonna lie, I’ve historically been rather pro-Human Intrumentality Projects, persuaded that self-awareness kinda sucks and we pretend its worth it because we don’t have a choice in the matter and we’re stuck with it, making it a pretty clear case of cognitive dissonance. Plus “support individuality because otherwise your life doesn’t have value” seems like a bit easy (regardless of how true) as a marketing gimmick. But my goal today is not to support an antithesis or fan the fire of the discussion around whether or not self-awareness is a good thing but rather to offer a synthesis to this dialectic.

There’s a good chance that the world is what it is no matter how one feels about it, so whether individuality is good or bad may just be a moot point. Furthermore, if the world is indeed deterministic and govern by laws of cause and consequences, there’s no such thing as free will, and this self-awareness and constructed individual are essentially an illusionary byproduct of the brain’s inner working, a more advanced form of a cat meowing when it’s hungry.

Individuality is harder to define than it seems, because identity is a hard topic. Metaphores like the ship of Theseus highlight the problem of tying identity to a materialistic mass of changing cells, when it’s very obviously what an individual is. If they are not the cells, identity and consciousness must be their activity pattern:  they are emerging phenomena resulting from neural activity, which means that they can be replicated not only on a computer, but also in another brain. If what I am is the way my neurons behave, then I can literally be, at least partly, living in someone else’s brain. Which is brilliantly portrayed at the end of Evangelion when Shinji questions his identity with regards to the “Shinji inside other people“.

This conception of the self as a process decorrelated from its substrate echoes nicely the one of the self as a meme (in the Dawkins sense) and sheds new light on the dichotomy between individuality and collectivity. The border between different individualities is more blurred than it seems. Inside of me lives part of my friends, and every author I’ve consumed, possibly literally if I’m reproducing faithfully their neural patterns.

As such the individual is neither a standalone wonderful snowflake nor an insignificant pawn, but an intricate agent in a complex system. An individual is to society what a neuron is to the brain. It doesn’t make it insignificant nor irreplacable (see Brian Tomasik who is passionate about the ethical implications), it’s simply an essential part of the system – mankind. The real cruel curse of consciousness is that it’s an illusion. But there’s no real telling where “me” stops and “non-me” begins, as there is part of “me” everywhere in the system, that will go on in their computing tasks long after my flesh body has decayed, like many little horcruxes rooting me deeply forever in this eternal system. 

 

Member that time mankind out-trashed South Park

I had really high hopes for the season 20 of South Park. Remember, it opened up on the introduction of Member Berries, in an episode where they brought in J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the national anthem (which results in the same national anthem, by the way).

It went on developing in the background an amazing storyline for these Member Berries, questioning the sense of comfort provided by nostalgia and its effect on society during a very special election season. And then it fell flat.

The reason is quite obvious. The showrunners, like a wide fraction of the world, were taken by surprise by the results of the election. Wisecrack details it in this brilliant summary video:

The storyline had to keep pace with the real world and was completely destroyed. Later, Trey and Matt went back to this issue, saying it was too hard to do this kind of satire when “satire has become reality”.

But as disastrous as season 20 was overall, and as much as I was disappointed when it aired, I now realize it holds a very important lesson as to why things came to be that way. South Park often holds a mirror to society, and the mess that this season ended up in echoes the mess in the real world.

Even though it was destroyed by Trump’s success, the show did, in fact, portray him as pretty popular. It just underestimated how much, and how strong the trend/effect it was analyzing was in the real world. South Park usually mocks mankind by outrageously exaggerating its worst aspects. But this time, mankind even outdid the worst exaggeration possible (which tends to make me think that the situation is pretty serious, but that’s neither here nor there). So in a way, this season made its point, even better than it planned to, at the cost of its own life.

Stan Marsh Rat GIF by South Park

Let’s disregard the hastily thrown together ending and focus on the first 6 episodes: the season, as it was following the election race, does interrogate the reasons for Trump’s success (and by extension the season’s own destruction, so meta). In the show, the major force behind Trump’s success, in addition to the “usual” conservatism, is the Member Berries.

Member Berries brilliantly capture the spirit of our time. Countless reboots are constantly being produced. Major studios are capitalizing on the same franchises over and over again. Star fucking wars is everywhere. We seem to be living in a live tribute to the past in general and the 80s in particular, with Stranger Things, Mr Robot or Ready Player One being the worldwide pandering phenomena that they are.

Nostalgia has become the major selling force. And the reason is crystal clear: that’s what people want. Capitalism is geared towards answering public demand, independently of whether it’s good or bad. And apparently that’s yet another Marvel movie.

The reason for this nostalgia crisis is most likely a fear due to the speed at which the world is changing. Now some people consider it’s not all bad. There’s a brilliant PBS idea channel on the subject:

But South Park shows us the dangers of this trend. I don’t think it’s benign. This comfort nostalgia bubble is akin to the filter bubbles of social networks that have pushed the topic of Fake News on everyone’s lips.

As I wrote in my article about USS Callister, I wonder if we’re on a dangerous slippery slope of pandering brainless entertainment, and nothing shows it more clearly than this nostalgia frenzy. It’s obviously ok to indulge in brainless entertainment every now and then, but doing only that leads to intellectual atrophy. Thought is build through challenge and encounter with new ideas. Thinking and evolving is work and effort, it’s not easy, so it makes a lot of sense that we have a natural tendency to run away from it. But we live in a world governed by capitalism that not only builds up on this natural desire but also encourages it in order to make easy sales. We need to be extremely careful, because every cent given to the Star Wars franchise (among others, it’s just an example, pretty much everything is like that nowadays anyway) puts more fuel on the fire that is this vicious cycle of self-indulgence.

Image result for south park superhero franchise plan

I personally tend to wonder if capitalism may be by essence incompatible with democracy, as capitalism potentially encourages people to be consuming as much as possible to fuel the economy whereas democracy requires people to be as smart as possible to make the best choices. I’m not saying either is bad, but I let you be the judge of the resulting combo:

American democracy reminded us once again of what is lurking in the heart of humans. Apparently a non neglectable number of people want to be ruled by someone who declared women should be “grabbed by the pussy” and who banned “science-based” and “evidence-based” from budget discussions. And sure the system is flawed, etc… but it’s still a pretty overwhelming number.

It’s obviously a very complex topic with a lot of nuances and discussions to be had. But this season of South Park captured an element that I think is essential, and that is very often overlooked. This ever present nostalgia  and pandering through brainless entertainment could be dangerous and we should all think twice before encouraging it and being complacent in it, regardless of our political views. Many disagree with Trump, but few disagree with Stranger Things. They may not be as unrelated as people tend to think. The South Park Member Berries story line culminates in this brilliant scene:

This goes back to the great philosophical question of the goodness of human nature on which there is already countless literature. It seems to me that human tendency to not want to think needs to be fought actively (cue Nietszche’s ubermensch reference), because it’s so easy to give way to the Member Berries and indulge in what’s comfortable.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the season of South Park that will go down in history as the season when mankind went further than satire.

– ‘Member stormtroopers?

– Sure, I ‘member.

– Not those stormtroopers! The real old ones. People want to ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.