The Mother of all Conspiracy Theories

You’ve all heard various conspiracy theories about “the Illuminati”, right? When you love reading conspiracies as much as I do, you see the Illuminati crop up all the time.  But for all the times I’ve heard about them, I never bothered to visit their Wikipedia page and ask: “just who are these guys?”

Well, turns out there was a historical group called ‘the Illuminati“.  They were an offshoot of the Freemasons founded in Bavaria in the 1700s by this guy Adam Weishaupt. But they came into conflict with the Church and were disbanded in 1785.

And just wait till you hear what diabolical schemes these scumbags had in mind! Are you ready to hear what the legendary, mystery-shrouded, secret society wanted? Wikipedia gives the grisly details of their nefarious doctrine:

The society’s goals were to oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality.

So… the famed secret society… the group whose name has formed the basis of all kinds of conspiracy theories… were a bunch of liberaltarians?

It’s a bit underwhelming to go looking for a sinister cabal of super-powerful malevolent cultists, and instead find the blog section at The Daily Beast.

Now, I do want to point out that in the 229 years since the society dissolved, considerable progress has been made towards almost all of the Illuminati’s goals throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Europe.  And, truth be told, I think that’s a good thing.

To a conspiracy theorist, this makes it look as if the Illuminati were secretly controlling events behind the scenes.  After all, how could their goals enjoy such success without the hidden hand that holds the world manipulating things? Pr-etty conve-e-enient, eh?

On the other hand, it could just be that Weishaupt and his friends foresaw that societal trends were going in that direction anyway, and were just ahead of their time.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet.  The best part is that in 1799, a guy named Augustin Barruel wrote a book called  Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism that claimed the Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. And you probably thought the John Birch society was who came up with blaming them for everything. Quoth the Wikipedia synopsis:

Barruel defines the three forms of conspiracy as the “conspiracy of impiety” against God and Christianity, the “conspiracy of rebellion” against kings and monarchs, and “the conspiracy of anarchy” against society in general. He sees the end of the 18th century as “one continuous chain of cunning, art, and seduction” intended to bring about the “overthrow of the altar, the ruin of the throne, and the dissolution of all civil society”

More than anything else, Barruel’s writing reminds me of Peter Hitchens whenever he gets on the subject of what he calls the “cultural revolution” in the 1960s. He too sees cultural change and social upheaval as a conscious effort secretly advanced by important people in society.  And who can say for sure if that’s wrong? Heck, Edmund Burke attested to the existence of a conspiracy as described by Barruel.

Conspiracies or coincidence? They report, you decide. But I’ll leave you with this: maybe the pattern is real, but there are no century-spanning conspiracies–it’s just that the same things keep happening over and over. “Condemned to repeat it”, like the fella said.

My review of the movie “Alien”

I watched the movie Prometheus before I saw this, which was a huge mistake; since Prometheus spoils the best things in the movie Alien. The mystery of the ‘space jockey’ was ruined; the surprise twist where one of the characters turns out to be an evil android was semi-spoiled,  and the method by which the aliens attack their victims was spoiled.  (I already knew about what happens to John Hurt’s character even before seeing Prometheus.)

Even so, Alien was still a far better movie.  At least there were plot points to be spoiled, as opposed to an incoherent mess of nonsense that was the plot of Prometheus.  Alien is a good, solid, workman-like horror picture.  The one thing that surprised me was how badly the special effects had aged. Compared with Star Wars of two years earlier, some of the spaceship exteriors and the “space” backgrounds looked quite fake, and the alien itself was, in some scenes, pretty clearly a guy in a costume.  (The lack of light in a lot of these scenes worked very much in the movie’s favor; not only being scarier, but also masking the fake costume.)

There was an extended scene with flashing blue and yellow lights at the end that nearly made me sick–I had to look away from the screen for a few moments.  As a rule, you don’t want your movie to be too hard for your audience to watch.  Moreover, I don’t really know what purpose these flashing lights served in the movie. It seemed like a steady, red light would have done as well.

Also, there was one scene that made no sense to me. At one point, while crew is hunting for the alien, Tom Skerritt’s character goes into some sort of maze of tunnels looking for it, armed with a flamethrower.  The rest of the crew is monitoring him on a display that shows his position and the aliens as dots on the screen.  When they see the dot representing the alien moving towards him, they tell him to get out of there.  Spoiler: he doesn’t. It ends badly for him. My question was, why didn’t the crew instead just tell him “the alien is coming from your left–turn that way and fire”?  Since the whole point of him being there was to kill the alien, why did they give up at what was really their best opportunity?

While some things haven’t aged well–the hilarious green-on-black text interface of the ship’s onboard computer being a good example–it’s still a very effective horror movie. And it must have been quite novel at the time to have a strong female lead, instead of her just being a helpless victim. Sigourney Weaver’s performance is terrific, although for as tough as Ellen Ripley is, I wondered why she let Ash keep giving everyone bad advice for so long before forcing a showdown with him.

So, given what a solid picture Alien was, how could Director Ridley Scott have subsequently thought “Ah, this Prometheus is a worthy prequel”? I know he didn’t write the script, but he must have had some creative control over it.  Enough to say “rewrite this so it makes some sort of sense”.

Ah, well.  Back to Alien. It wasn’t a great horror movie; if only because its remote setting makes the feeling of danger hard to personalize.  As long as I don’t go on any deep space mining expeditions, I’m safe from the aliens. But it was a good movie nonetheless, with its foreboding atmosphere and slowly building tension.  Although there are definitely some “gross-out” scenes, what I liked was the extent to which it relied on atmosphere; and quiet, dark scenes to convey the mood.

My thoughts on the election results.

A lot of my liberal friends are despairing now; what with the election results.  Personally, I’m actually not too worried. These things go in cycles.  I remember back in 2002 the Republicans thought they had a “permanent majority”.  Four years later they were all voted out in disgrace. (I exaggerate, but only a bit).

To an extent, this was a referendum on people’s dissatisfaction with the Obama administration, but more than anything else, I think people have a tendency to think “things are not great right now; let’s vote some other guys in.”  In two or four years, when things are still not perfect, people will get sick of Republicans and vote the Democrats in.

Liberal ballot initiatives, like raising the minimum wage, actually passed even as Republicans won.  That tells me people are more generally discontented with the status quo than they are mad at one party or excited about the other.

Of course, I suppose the fact that people are relying on either of the parties to fix the nation’s problems, when the past strongly suggests they can’t, is cause for despair.  So, ok; carry on despairing.  Forget I said anything.

A Halloween Poem

The trees are blue beneath the autumn moon;
The witches and the devils all cavort–
The creatures of the dark awake, and soon,
The King of Night shall hold his Court.

Whether in the gloom of lonely countryside,
Or on the garish neon city streets;
The Spell is felt by people far and wide,
And finds expression in saying “tricks or treats”.

‘Tis not merely some carnival of lights,
Nor yet a complicated costume ball;
‘Tis the exaltation of those magic nights
When all the world is held in Other Forces’ thrall.

The changing of the seasons brings along
A touch of the mysterious and weird.
As we acknowledge, in story and in song,
The spirit world that men have glimpsed and feared.

Be thou not afraid, my pious friend;
To hearken back to old beliefs of yore.
It would be utter folly to pretend
Such things were not here long before.

 

All The #GamerGate’s Men

As the preeminent video game critic of my time <insert laugh track here>, I feel compelled to weigh in on the recent series of events referred to as “GamerGate”.

As I have stated before, I absolutely despise this habit of appending “-gate” to everything that is considered a scandal.  Following this logic, you’d think the Watergate scandal was about water.  Attention, people born after the 1970s: the Watergate was an office complex. The scandal was called that because it centered around a break-in at said office complex.

Now, then:

The origins of GamerGate are shrouded in the mists of the internet, but the facts are these, as related by that always perfectly factual and unbiased source of information, Wikipedia:

The controversy came to wider attention due to the sustained harassment that indie game developer Zoe Quinn was subjected to after an ex-boyfriend posted numerous allegations on his blog in August 2014, including that she had a “romantic relationship” with a Kotaku journalist, which prompted concerns that the relationship led to positive media coverage for her game. Although these concerns proved unfounded, allegations about journalistic ethics continued to clash with allegations of harassment and misogyny.

Kotaku is a video game focused blog from the Gawker network. Being outraged at them for giving biased coverage to a given game is a bit like being outraged at The Chicago Tribune for giving biased coverage to the Chicago Bears. Or maybe being outraged at Weekly World News for giving biased coverage to Bat Boy.

Zoe Quinn’s game Depression Quest supposedly, according to the GamerGate crowd, got more favorable press than it merited, either because she was romantically involved with a critic (not true) or else because the gaming press generally was biased in favor of a game made by a woman.

Might the latter be true? Sure.  Remember, the first rule of journalism is that “Dog Bites Man” is not a story, but “Man Bites Dog’ is, because it’s unusual.  “Man Makes Game” is not interesting, because most games are made by men.   So of course the press would pay extra attention to her game; regardless of any extracurricular romantic activity on anyone’s part.

Now, I don’t know how much coverage the game really got compared to a lot of the triple-A titles.  I do know that I would never have heard of it if not for this GamerGate business. So they have not exactly done a marvelous job, if their goal was to correct what they saw as an imbalance in the game’s favor in terms of press coverage.

But things quickly went beyond Zoe Quinn and her game. First, internet troublemakers started publishing her personal information online.  People responded by saying the attacks on Quinn were “misogynistic” and constituted harassment. More troublemakers responded to this by posting those people’s personal information as well.

Among the people whose info was posted was actress and writer Felicia Day, after she wrote a post about “GamerGate”. This is noteworthy because Day’s biggest claim to fame is writing the web comedy The Guild, the final season of which culminates with a huge protest made by a bunch of gamers, who have something of a reasonable point, but undermine it with their insults, sexual innuendos, and boorish behavior.  Life imitates Art, it seems, and all that stuff has given the “GamerGaters” a bad name; and while their concern may be journalistic ethics, they have been completely overshadowed by the trolls on this one.

Putting aside all the sordid instances of harassment against female gamers/game developers/journalists that have been perpetrated by those allegedly affiliated with the “GamerGate” crowd–which invariably devolve into arguments over who is truly part of the “GamerGate’ crowd–I want to focus on what a singularly unlikely and useless thing it is to want “ethics” and “fairness” from gaming journalism.

First of all, we will never have unbiased gaming journalism as long as companies like Electronic Arts exist and have a seemingly endless supply of money to throw at promoting whatever re-hash of a game they are selling. (I actually don’t despise EA as much as many do; but I think they are a negative influence on gaming.)

I don’t know what an un-biased entertainment journalism industry would look like, to be honest.  I mean, what’s the idea?  the good games get coverage and the bad ones don’t?  Well, I mean, this may shock people, but there are disagreements as to whether particular games are good or bad.  I love KoTOR II; other people hate it.  I thought Half-Life 2 was a mediocre FPS; most people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Do people think we have an unbiased movie journalism industry? The truth is, which movies get reviewed and given awards is based on which studios decided to pay which journalists to review them, to submit them for which Academy Awards, etc., etc., etc.

Does this mean the gaming industry is doomed?  No; not really.  I don’t think that journalism matters that much when it comes to gaming.  I don’t make my gaming decisions based on what some review on Kotaku said; I make it largely based on what genre it is and whether or not Chris Avellone wrote it.

Integrity, honesty and ethics are easy things to ask for from journalists who are covering subjects like politics, weather, crime and so on.  We don’t get them, but it’s reasonable to ask for them.  It’s much harder to ask for them from people covering art and literature.  But the good news is, we don’t need integrity in gaming journalism; because we can just go right to Steam and download whatever strikes our fancy.  I don’t care that Destructoid gave Alpha Protocol a 2 out of 10; I still know it’s a very good game. And I’ve said so.  On this blog.  That anyone can read.

Do you want to see an example of what happens when gaming journalism gets hit with a truly innovative game?  Here it is:

If you’ve played the game, it’s hard not to cringe at some of the questions the reporter asks there.  It’s not her fault, because nobody knew what to expect from SO:TL, but the questions are in anticipation of a typical “choose your ending”-type military game, when Spec Ops is… let’s say… different. If you think Depression Quest is ‘not for typical gamers’, well, Spec Ops is actively against them.  You want to know more than that, play the game.  But my point is just that all kinds of games can flourish now; gaming journalism isn’t holding them back.

Ebola

The press is causing everyone to panic about the Ebola virus.  It’s terrible for the victims of course, and they have my sympathy.  What I am about to say isn’t to suggest that their suffering is not terrible, and I wish those suffering from it a recovery, and my condolences go to the families of those who have succumbed to it.

But–the press needs to get a grip.  Ebola is actually less communicable than the flu, or mumps, or other diseases that have been going around.  I’m not a medical expert, but everything I read says you will know if you were in contact with someone who could have communicated the virus.

It’s a terrible thing.  I wish the CDC had done a better job of handling it.  But the U.S. press is acting as if we are all about to die. In general, I’d say that panicking is not really a great response to a given problem.

Categories: The Media Tags: ,

I have been doing less with more.

I was thinking today about some of the great thinkers in history, and how the vast majority of the great minds had so little access to information compared to the average person in the present day.

It’s sort of sad when you think about it.  Take any great thinker from history, and then think about the logistics required for him or her to get the level of education they received.  They had to go to school, study, get books from libraries–if they were available at all.  If you were reading and you found a word you didn’t know, you had to go find a dictionary and hope you could find it in there. Not to mention that the mundane day-to-day tasks also took longer and were more difficult.  And yet, there were people thinking deep philosophical thoughts, inventing new technologies, writing great books, founding nations, etc. etc.

Compare them to me: I have almost instantaneous access to all the recorded knowledge in human history via the internet, I can have it translated instantly if need be, and I can do it while sitting at my desk.  On paper, I should probably be more well-educated and accomplished than the entire population of the world in the 1600s.  But I’m not.  If somebody from past times came to the present, they’d be appalled by how little I’d done with the wealth of resources I have.

Suppose John Locke had been able to access the internet.  He probably would have invented the perfect system of government in 10 minutes, if he kept up his past rate of productivity. How many times over could the great economic minds have solved the U.S. economic crisis in the time I spent watching cat videos?

I feel like an under-achiever, I guess is what I’m saying.

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