January 24, 2008

As I think I’ve mentioned before, last semester we read epic poetry; the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One recurring theme was that of armor. Achilleus, in the Iliad, has made for him by the god Hephaestus a suit of armor that protects him from all attackers. Aeneas in the Aeneid has a similar suit made for him. Beowulf, however, goes into battle unarmored – the movie Beowulf that just comes out interprets this as nude – trusting in God to protect him.

I don’t know if nude is what the Beowulf poet meant, but battling unclothed has certainly happened historically – the celts, it is said painted themselves with woad and wore nothing else, believing the blue dye would protect them from harm. I don’t know what they thought when it clearly didn’t stop the pilum-throws and gladius-thrusts they suffered at the hands of the Roman army.  Battling in full armor can also be seen in medieval knights who wore full plate armor, covering even their faces.

This is all seemingly tangential, but I think in the end relevant, to my topic of the nature of clothing. It seems to me that clothing is really not fundamentally different from armor. Both are intended to shield you from the outside world. To not wear armor in battle is to declare that you do not need physical protection, that somehow you are safe from physical assault or simply do not fear death. To not wear clothing is to declare that you are not ashamed of your nakedness.

So it seems armor is protection against physical assault and clothing protection from being seen. Most people, I think, would say that, in protecting against sight, the basic goal is to cover up the genitalia. I think it’s more than that, though. Clothing tends not to just cover up what needs to be covered up, it makes us look less like animals and more like machines. Pants hide the fact that our legs are composed of different parts, and make them look like single-width cylinders. Shirts do the same for the torso and, if they are long, for the arms. I have even read that long coats are a good idea if robots take over the world because they’ll obscure the fact that you’re walking, not just gliding, and thus obscure the fact that you’re human. We like to cover up everything but our face and hands so that we can manipulate the world, view the world with our senses, but not be affected by the world directly – we are protected by our clothing. Put like this, clothing takes on an almost Gnostic character. Which shouldn’t surprise; according to Christianity, clothes are a result of sin – but they are also, strangely, a gift from God, who gives Adam and Eve real clothes after he discovers them wearing fig-leaves.

This almost body-denying nature of clothing applies to men, definitely. I know that many guys, including me, rarely if ever wear shorts, and many of those will also wear long sleeves and coats whenever possible. I’ll also note that it’s usually the more intelligent – some might say pretentious – guys who follow this practice, and the less-so ones who don’t. But the goal of female clothing is clearly different – they want you to look at them.

This doesn’t go only for the… well, sluttish way many girls dress today. Even modestly dressed women don’t hide the fact that yes, they have breasts, yes, their legs curve, yes, their face and their hands are not just floating there in midair attached to lumps of cloth. In other words, they don’t hide that they are attractive, in a not-necessarily-sexual manner (c.f. my earlier post on that subject, Amor).

Why the difference? Perhaps because men won’t fall in love with a girl they aren’t sexually attracted to – but, really, I think it’s more than this. Like I said, it isn’t primarily about sex, for at least some women. Some of it probably has to do with the fact that (and I don’t care if you think this statement is sexist) women tend to be more earthly than men, who seem to be much more strongly tempted by gnosticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; no, we shouldn’t be gnostic, but if males tend naturally towards hiding their bodies more I don’t think that means we have to fight that tendency.

At least, I don’t plan on doing so any time soon. Even if it is flawed, I figure it can’t actually be sinful, and I really would prefer to wear a trench coat almost every day. Besides being potentially gnostic, they’re just cool.

Golden Strawman

December 4, 2007

I’ll admit right now that I haven’t read The Golden Compass, nor seen the movie (which comes out tomorrow). So I’m not going to review the book or the movie. I’m just going to talk about in what sense the books are anti-Christian and whether they should be condemned because of it.

Now, there have been great works of literature that were anti-Christian, and I don’t know if we can condemn the Golden Compass and its sequels solely on the basis of their philosophical claims. And I’m going to ignore, for now, that the books and movie are directed towards children and the significance of that fact. Even without using those to condemn the works, though, it seems to me that the books and movie are both extremely deceptive in their presentation of their anti-Christian claims, and thus they are little more than the worst kind of propaganda.

To start – the author, Philip Pullman. has said that he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” That’s not an ambiguous statement – he’s attacking, or at least trying to attack, the Christian religion.

But in a sense, the books don’t attack Christianity; they attack the general idea of tyranny. (Incidentally, I suspect I wouldn’t like The Golden Compass if I read it because I don’t like works that preach about evils that don’t exist…) Essentially, Pullman claims that “every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

I’m not going to bother going into why – if someone finds this an interesting topic, I’ll make another post on it later – but this doesn’t really make any sense if you know anything about Christianity. Christians would agree with the idea that it’s evil to “control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling”. In fact, some Christian groups (the USCCB among them) have come out and said that the movie and book aren’t anti-Christian, they’re just anti-tyrannical and pro-freedom, both things that Christians are also in favor of.

The problem is that, even though the books don’t actually argue against Christianity, they claim to do so. They explicitly state that the bad guys are Christians, the evil organization is the Church, etc. (In the movie the evil organization is the Magisterium, which supposedly makes it less anti-religious, but it doesn’t actually do so if you know what Magisterium means.) Even though it’s just attacking a straw-man and actually promoting some Christian values, by presenting its attack as one on Christianity it makes itself anti-Christian – indeed, it becomes the worst kind of anti-Christian propaganda.

Essentially, anyone who reads the books or watches the movie without knowing what Christianity actually teaches will be convinced that Christianity is a great evil in the world – because who wouldn’t be convinced that an organization whose goal is to “control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling” is evil?

Free as in Freedom

July 26, 2007

When RMS (Richard M Stallman) announced GPLv3, he talked a lot about the purpose of Free software. He says there are four freedoms the GPL is designed to protect:

Freedom 0. The freedom to run the program as you wish.

Freedom 1. The freedom to study the source code and change it so it does what you wish.

Freedom 2. The freedom to help your neighbor, which is the freedom to distribute exact copies up to and including republication when you wish, and . . .

Freedom 3, which is the freedom to contribute to your community, the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions up to and including publication, when you wish.

I completely agree with these four points where software is concerned. My question is, should these same Freedoms apply to things other than programs, and if not, why not.

Take a piece of literature. Substitute “program” wherever it appears in the 4 Freedoms with “book”.

Obviously Freedom 0 should apply to it. If you have the book, you should be allowed to read it and interpret it however you want. To say otherwise doesn’t make much sense.

It’s the same with Freedom 1. I see no reason the reader shouldn’t be allowed to change the story in their mind, or even rewrite the book so they like it better. Many people, for example, might want to do this with Harry Potter.

Freedom 2 is clearly more controversial. It sounds absurd to say you should be allowed to distribute copies of the book to whoever you want. And perhaps it is. But why is it so absurd? It’s perfectly legal to lend a book to someone for them to read. Republication is a bit more extreme than that, but it’s the same concept, I think. Perhaps the problem is that making copies of the book (as opposed to just lending the book itself) creates wealth. You’ve created two copies of the book when you had one, which is somehow wrong and evil.

Freedom 3 actually seems less controversial to me than Freedom 2. If I write a fan-fiction based on Harry Potter, why shouldn’t I be allowed to publish it and let other people who are interested in fan-fictions of Harry Potter read it? The issue would be that if the modifications are too slight then you’re essentially using Freedom 2, not Freedom 3. So everything comes down to Freedom 2, which we don’t allow because… because of the economics of it?

That seems to be the case. You can’t let people steal an author’s work (even though you’re not taking anything away from them) by copying it and giving it out for free! If you do, how is he supposed to make money?!

Well, it seems to be working all right for the Free Software peoples… lots of free software is being created under this regime of freedom. The difference between software and literature is what, exactly? Philosophically I support software being free because it’s just math. If you discover a mathematical formula you shouldn’t be able to keep other people from using it. But I don’t really see why literature is different; all you’ve done is discover a combination of words that have a certain significance, why can’t other people use those same words? And what about music, which is just a given combination of notes, and art, and…?

As you can see, I’m drifting towards the view that there should be no intellectual property. I think there’s a lot to be said for that position. Intellectual property never did make much sense to me…what makes a story mine after I write it, exactly?

The main objection to this seems to be that people won’t have an incentive to create if they don’t get something back from their investment of time and energy. I don’t like this argument because it seems to say that artists are in it only for the money. I realize that some are; and if our economy was such that they no longer churned out pot-boilers to support themselves, would we be that much worse off? I think not.

The stronger objection would be that even if they did want to create and wanted to put energy into it regardless of money, they wouldn’t be able to support themselves while doing so. Indeed, I’m not sure how such an economy could work. I’m not an economist. To find out, I would say, look at how the Free software people support themselves and, if possible, emulate that system for all these other systems.

R Rating for Lighting Up

May 12, 2007

Here it is:
An article in the Boston Globe.

I would be incensed (pun intended), but I’ve come to expect it.

The MPAA has passed guidelines saying that smoking will now affect the ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R) that it gives movies. (It doesn’t say how it will affect it, just that it will.)

I don’t smoke (the primary reason being that I have no particular desire to and I’m under the legal age). But I always get irritated when I see people moving to curtail smoking – laws saying you can’t smoke in public places, that you can’t smoke in private restaurants, and now that smoking can’t be portrayed in movies without it somehow making it inappropriate for younger viewers. This is for the same reason that I don’t like laws requiring seatbelts to be worn, or the laws that alcohol can’t be bought until you’re 21 – if you’re a legal adult, you should be able to buy what you want unless the product itself is illegal (btw, I don’t drink either). It’s simply none of the government’s business – or, in this case, the MPAA’s.

If people want to take risky behavior, it must be because they think the tradeoff is worth it – and, if that decision isn’t hurting anybody else, the government should respect that decision. And the MPAA shouldn’t interfere with the art of film making by decreeing that showing people smoking in movies is somehow bad, or that people under a certain age are somehow unable to handle seeing someone smoke on-screen.

In fact, I’m probably going to start smoking just to spite all of these anti-smoking nuts. That’ll show them. Yeah! Uh… yeah.

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