“It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive ‘natural liberty’ in their economic activities. There is no ‘compact’ conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the principles of economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately. We cannot therefore settle on abstract grounds, but must handle on its merits in detail what Burke termed “one of the finest problems in legislation, namely, to determine what the State ought to take upon itself to direct by the public wisdom, and what it ought to leave, with as little interference as possible, to individual exertion”…”—John Maynard Keynes (via ilyagerner)
“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.”—Daniel Dennett (via graceisred)
“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.”—John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (via ilyagerner)
“To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox: whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.”—from the Exegesis of Philip K Dick
There’s no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.
What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light-years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.
Energize the demolition beams.
I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.
”—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
“We apologise for the inconvenience. (God’s Final Message to His Creation, written in letters of fire on the side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains.)”—from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
“Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.”—Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
“When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.”—
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 53, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.”—Galileo Galilei
America’s greatest national security threats aren’t terrorism or foreign armies—they are a crumbling infrastructure at home, the depletion of natural resources, climate change, and an overdependence on what they call “defense and protectionism.”
…America’s best hopes for world leadership lies in classical left-wing tropes of conservation, soft power, and aggressive humanitarian work abroad.
“The idea that the birth certificate is the real story and Osama bin Laden is the distraction from it tells you everything you need to know about the people who are really invested in the birth certificate story.”—Rachel Maddow http://bit.ly/jjVRyw
“You know, the politicians call it socialism when they give a little money to the poor to keep them alive but when they give huge amounts of money to a big business to keep it alive they call it ‘subsidies.’”—Philip Vera Cruz in Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement (via whoisphilip)
But I’m not going to deconstruct the post. What caught my attention was the use of the idea of the city of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII.
I’m not even sure where to begin in order to describe Midgar or even Final Fantasy VII if you’ve never played or seen the game. But Midgar is where the action of the game begins, a massive sprawling city that at first glance gave me the impression of a giant space station floating in the void of space. The main character starts in a train station that evokes Victorian England and the Industrial Revolution, basically steampunk. But Midgar also has subways and slums and superhighways and Mako power plants that, because of the fact that Squaresoft (now Square Enix) is a Japanese software company and because the Mako has powerful teratogenic potential, make me think of it as a magical analog of nuclear power. Midgar is The Archetypal City, T.S. Eliot’s Unreal City at the height of the Industrial Revolution, embodying London and NYC and all the capitals of the developing world.
When I went to visit Manila in 1998, I thought of Midgar. Like every city, Manila is noisy, dirty, smog-filled, and crowded. Even though the Philippines is a developing country, it is possible to mostly ignore this fact if you stay in the City and pretend that you never left the industrialized world, sticking to tourist spots and hotels that cater to tourists, being driven around in a private car. But once you leave the city, the superhighways abruptly devolve into narrow winding two-laned roads, which eventually become dirt paths. The industrial, residential, and commercial sprawl gives way to wilderness, to places where there is no electricity except for what you can get from a diesel generator, where you can’t get a cell phone signal, where there often isn’t even running water, unless you count the rivers and the streams. The abrupt transition from Midgar to the surrounding countryside captures this exactly.
But as someone who has lived within sight of a city skyline for almost all my life, none of these images are particularly exotic. The industrial infrastructure of Midgar looks like it was completely lifted from the oil wells and refineries and storage tanks in Wilmington and Carson, a stone’s throw from where I lived for a few months as a child, in Harbor City, near neighborhoods that we now know are highly contaminated by the toxic byproducts of the petroleum industry, neighborhoods where the incidence of asthma and other respiratory problems is several times higher than other parts of the city. And even when I lived much farther away from the oil refineries, I still remember days where the smog was so thick it would burn your eyes, you could hardly breathe, and you couldn’t even see the skyscrapers from a distance of eight blocks. So the idea that Midgar was created as a completely mythical strawman dystopian fantasy world where leftists could play out their daydreams about rebelling against the system and overthrowing the corporations strikes me as odd. Any book written by Charles Dickens will show you the dark heart of this City, any book set in the Industrial Revolution for that matter will describe the dirt and the grime and the grinding poverty and the suffering, all of which Midgar alludes to. We—as a species—have been there, done that. Aside from the magical and spiritual elements in the game, Midgar is deeply embedded in the real world.
I also don’t think Square’s portrayal of corporations is particularly off-the-wall. The Shinra Corporation—the massive monopoly that controls the Mako plants, and which is also functions as the de facto state—in not the villain. While President Shinra, his son, his scientists, his paramilitary security forces, and his thugs are not pleasant people, they still have human motivations, namely greed, and a lust for power (which contrasts starkly from the completely deranged and ultimately nihilistic machinations of the game’s true antagonist.) Shinra is not evil in the way that Sephiroth is evil. Shinra is merely heartless, not truly malevolent. I don’t think this is much of a departure from how corporations really are. They’re only trying to make money. They just gotta get paid.
I’m also fascinated by the fact that the point of reference is not a book or a movie, but a video game. It does establish a temporal context. The game came out in 1997. By then, Clean Air Act provisions had successfully curtailed the infamous Los Angeles smog. While there are still days where the sky is brown-tinged, the only times it really gets bad now is during fire season. Ever since Lockheed pulled out of L.A. and the aerospace industry collapsed, the industrial infrastructure has receded significantly. The oil has apparently mostly dried up and I don’t really see the pumpjacks nodding in the oil fields like I did when I was a kid, although the oil refineries are still there. So maybe some of the imagery in Midgar would be less familiar by then, and seem more phantasmagoric. But to me, it’s an easily recognizable archetype drawn from the latter history of Western Civilization.
“When are we going to, as a country, stop pretending that there’s a level of empirical proof that will satisfy the conspiracy-seekers amongst us?”—JON STEWART, on Birthers, skeptical Fox News hosts (who are stoking doubts about whether bin Laden was really killed) and their ilk, on The Daily Show (via inothernews)
In the U.S., it’s only at most two generations since the most egregious structural racial inequalities were outlawed, and only about six generations since people could no longer be owned as property. I think it’s still too soon to be claiming that there are biological determiners of failure.
“We are, if the president is serious here, a nation that has narrowly constricted its marketable talents to the deployment of violence. We can’t manufacture much of anything, but we can kill you. We can’t fix our schools, or build adequate levees to protect a city like New Orleans from floodwaters. But we can kill you. We can’t reduce infant mortality to anywhere near the level of other industrialized nations with which we like to compare ourselves. But we can kill you. We can’t break the power of Wall Street bankers, or jail any of those bankers and money managers who helped orchestrate the global financial collapse. But we can kill you. We can’t protect LGBT youth from bullying in schools, or ensure equal opportunity for all in the labor market, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or any other factor. But we can kill you.”—
“Nothing could show greater meanness of spirit, than expressions of joy on the death of an enemy. What great reason, indeed, is there for it, when the army you fought with at Cheronaea, is lessened only by one man.”—
“But to hope for another man’s death, which could happen to you before it happens to him, or to rejoice that death came to your enemy, which needs must also come to you, is a stupid hope and an insipid joy.”—Petrarch
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”—