Video Game Review – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I recently wrote a long philosophical review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Libertarians may want to read the review because the game actually is remarkably sophisticated (and very libertarian-compatible) in its critique of Corporatism and regulation. Also, it clearly distinguishes these from an actual free market. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a sophisticated analysis of Corporatism in a video game before.

I didn’t post the full review here because it is both rather lengthy and analyzes/discusses a lot of philosophical issues raised by the plot. Since most readers here are not Objectivists, my philosophical commentary is probably less interesting in aggregate to this blog’s general readership than the political-economic commentary I made.

Full review can be found at Objectivist Living, here: http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=11126

All comments welcomed!

Interpreting and translating

Whilst our system of government is a conservative enterprise, limited as it is by the rule of law and by a mostly static constitution, it is none the less an open system. There is a clear process by which the constitution, in light of new understanding or changed values, can be altered. It does not happen often but it does happen. This is the case with most modern democratic systems. Even the constitution of an oppressive nation like Iran has encoded within it the means for constitutional amendment. Although in the case of the Iranian constitution certain fundamentals, such as the state religion, can not be altered.

Much of religion has often struck me as a somewhat closed system of thought.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam and are each centered on a set of scriptures (the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran) that is closed to amendment and revision. They are not intended to be amended or updated. Although clearly the Gospel and the Koran are presented as extensions of the Torah.  Not being terribly religious I wouldn’t much care about any of this except for the fact that a large quantity of people on this planet are religious, some of them deeply so. It concerns me that people should wed themselves to a system of thought that is closed. In some regards it actually offends me. We should be open to new ideas and if the new ideas are superior we should abandon old ideas.

Over the last decade, whilst remaining an atheist, I have acquired a more nuanced understanding of the Christian faith. One thing that has become apparent is that whilst the written Bible is a closed text, the Christian faith relies on more than this written doctrine. It has a substantial oral tradition that evolves and supplements the closed text. The text of the Bible has an openness called “open to interpretation”. In fact a great amount of effort is expended trying to sell one form of interpretation over another. For instance whilst the Bible says that woman should not speak in Church (1 Corinthians 14:33,34) alternate interpretations based on the context of this passage allow contemporary churches to rationalize their way around the decree. Stories that if taken literally would represent quite a dire conflict with contemporary values are taken as allegoric or limited to a specific context and any such crisis is averted. To me it seems a strange system but who can question the enduring nature of something that has stood for over 2000 years. In one sense it creates a necessary illusion of consensus amongst people who in fact have quite a lot of disagreement. Continue reading

Pseudo-Marxist Ideology Can Pop Up Anywhere!

To those people in Sydney that occasionally like to get drunk at the Strike Entertainment Quarter at 122 Lang Road, Sydney (see here), one may have noticed they have placed a laser tag center there.

Now, as someone that once was more than happy to enjoy a game of laser tag, I found it interesting. Especially when their really, really cool video showing their arena happened to have a nicely EBM-Industrial-ish backing track (watch the video here).

This looked, to me, like a fun thing to do next time I was in Sydney.

And then I read their hideous excuse for a “plot.” Apparently their storyline centers upon “the battle for Sydney” being fought between “the resistance” and “the corporation” (anyone want to guess who the bad guys are?).

Many years ago, the people of this planet lived in peace and prosperity. But as is always the case with mankind, we wanted more. Desire created consumerism, consumerism created industry – and industry poisoned our world.
The signs were there, but they were ignored until it became too late. By the year 2030, global warming had accelerated out of control, and droughts had ravaged the land. Water began to disappear, and people became scared. Despite Government assurances, they feared for their survival – and the Great Water Riots began.

Oh dear… now isn’t this an insightful and intelligent piece of literature! [/sarcasm]

Even Cyberpunk literature of the 80’s could come up with some demented butchery of Frankfurt School critical theory to support its dystopian vision of the future. But ever since the constant plummetting of prices for computer equipment began making everyone a Capitalist (using the Marxist definition of the term), Cyberpunk’s technophobic corporate-statist nightmare has fallen greatly out of fashion amongst the advocates of Cultural Marxism. Even a libertarian like myself likes Cyberpunk, assuming it doesn’t gloss over the buddyness between State and Corporation.

But lets look at the quote and dissect it, shall we?

“Many years ago, the people of this planet lived in peace and prosperity…”
And then, it was ruined when “Desire created consumerism, consumerism created industry – and industry poisoned our world.”

So apparently, we managed to reach peace and prosperity without BEFORE industry came about! I wonder how that happened. Any ideas?

Note the title of this piece; “pseudo-Marxist” ideology. The “pseudo” is important, because this kind of narrative would make a Frankfurt School Marxist blush with embarrasment. The Frankfurt School argued that it was industry which created consumerism rather than the other way around! And Marx, for one, never scorned industry itself; he saw production as a natural (even automatic) process which humans engage in.

So, industry poisoned our world. What about the clean technology industries? Subsidy-sucking whores they may be, but they are still industries. There are plenty of clean industries which do not poison our world and scientists are coming up with a myriad of ways to clean up even dirty industries.

Even according to the ‘establishment’ scientific consensus the whole “global warming creates drought” fear is irrational. For all water that evaporates from some area, it will eventually rain down in another. And also, in the usual ‘ice-cap melting doomsday scenario’ preached by the more demented environmentalists, Australia will not have problem getting more water. Why? We’ll mostly be under water if the ice caps melt. The tropical areas will probably get more rainfall too.

Now, one can hardly expect a laser tag center’s backstory to be the height of good literature, but if I were to play a game of laser tag I would like to play a game without having a terrible, childish, badly-researched shallow-parody-taking-itself-seriously of Neuromancer shoved into several of my orifices. Actually, comparing it to Neuromancer even in a most unflattering light is an implicit insult to William Gibson.

And of course, one final point must be mentioned. A Laser Tag center uses multiple products, all of which are developed by industry and sold for profit. Indeed, the products required for this kind of entertainment are the same kinds of devices the old Cyberpunk literature feared would cause a corporatist dystopia. The game consumes electricity and thus contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. And Strike Bowling Bars are probably owned by a large firm as well.

Just like James Cameron using a massive amount of corporate finance and technology to make an anti-corporate, anti-technological film and selling it to customers in the hope of making a profit (Avatar); we have in this laser tag center a prime example of The Man Is Sticking It To The Man (in order to make a profit!).

Is that kerosene fog or hypocrisy that I am smelling?

On Bullying And The Debate About Corporal Punishment In Schools

The recent launch of anti-bullying campaigns in Australian high schools has brought up public discussion on whether or not the use of corporal punishment should be re-implemented in Australian education.

This, as is par for the course in newspapers, is accompanied by a stew of other articles complaining about our youth in decline. Youth binge drinking and violence against teachers are other examples. The Myth of Cultural Degeneracy is unfortunately alive and well, in spite of the fact that there is simply no conclusive proof things are actually worse these days. Really, the news just can’t find something else to panic about so they manufacture another worry to make us watch news reports.

The stabbing of Elliott Fletcher, a 12 year old student at St. Patricks Catholic boy’s school, is an undeniable tragedy, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is somehow indicative of a systematic increase in bullying as a whole. Regardless, the incident did trigger Kevin Rudd to speak on the subject of bullying, and the federal Opposition to introduce an anti-bullying policy.

Continue reading

As much literary merit as the Ikea catalogue

davincicode.jpegWhile working in Brisbane for the past week, I kept myself entertained with The Da Vinci Code each evening, if only to see what all the fuss was about.

Put briefly, this book is proof that predicting the book-buying market is a bit like predicting the stockmarket. Impossible, in other words.

It’s badly written, breaks every single rule anyone who ever attended a writing class ever learnt (like ‘show, not tell’ and ‘if someone shouts, don’t say said’ etc). The plot devices are blindingly obvious to those with even a modicum of intelligence (how an experienced cryptographer missed the simple anagram early on is ridiculous). And yet.

It’s curiously addictive. Brown knows his history. This is not to say the history is accurate. Rather, it’s an admission on my part that to twist it in such an accomplished way requires real knowledge and skill. On Wednesday I turned up bleary-eyed and foggy-brained to a contracts review meeting – after sitting up until nearly 2 am the night before reading the bloody thing. Discretion was clearly the better part of valour and I owned up, only to see knowing nods from around the table. We stopped clocking our hours and spent the next forty minutes trying to work out why everyone present (a mixture of equally astute lawyers and businesspeople) reacted so similarly. And got precisely nowhere.

I spent some more time thinking on the flight home this evening, and have come to the conclusion that the book is effective because it plays on modern fears and suppositions that we aren’t getting the full story, not only from the media, but from governments, corporations and statutory bodies as well. People I know whinge constantly about the feeling that they’re drowning in a sea of spin, that nothing and no-one is real anymore. Brown taps into this common sensation with aplomb, much as that other great conspiracy show, The X-Files managed to do. And yet.

The X-Files was almost uniformly excellent – well acted, well scripted, blessed with stunningly cinematic production values. The Da Vinci Code is – at best – uneven, at least to my eye.

Thoughts on the phenomenon, anyone?