What happened to November? Is it just me, or did it seem to fly by really fast? I managed to read a few things anyway, but it has been a slow month for me on the art front with personal commitments in the background keeping me busy. I should be getting back to sketching and posting those and more complete work soon. I hope you’re all well and do feel free to let me know if you’ve read anything interesting lately. Here’s what I’ve been leafing through:
Plan for the Worst (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #11) — Jodi Taylor 4/5
The latest instalment of the adventures of Max and Saint Mary’s, a historical research institution ‘investigating major historical events in contemporary time’. In other words, time travelling historians. It’s a set up with plenty of scope and Taylor plays with that scope well. Although I was nearly put off when the series went through a bit of a dark period – lots of drama and bad things seemingly for the sake of bad things – it got itself back together and I remain hooked. This one is back to the right balance of humorous and serious with plenty of interesting historical events explored, including an intriguing and unexpected Viking cameo and the fall of Minoan Crete. The series suffers a little bit from “why the hell did they do that?” syndrome from time to time, but it’s forgivable over all for what amounts to entertaining reading featuring some quite lovable characters.
Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 book #1) — Scott Meyer 3/5
Protagonist Martin Banks discovers he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. So begins his journey. Another time travel series. This time, time travelling hackers. I’ve run out of fiction series to binge on, have been looking for some new ones and this one sounded fun. It is. Good, light fun, nothing heavy, nothing mind blowing either. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading more of the series.
The 50th Law — 50 Cent and Robert Greene 5/5
“Reality has its own power. You can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin. Now is the time to stop drifting and wake up—to assess yourself, the people around you, and the direction in which you are headed in as cold and brutal a light as possible. Without fear.”― The 50th Law
This is one of my favourite books. I’ve read it a number of times. Sometimes I give it a read just to get my head back on straight and this was one of those times. I love Robert Greene’s books, but was a little surprised when this one turned out to be my favourite. I guess I assumed 50 Cent was just another famous arrogant rapper. Even if he is, Greene makes him come over as a fierce willed, intelligent, insightful and formidable one too.
With 50, Greene seems to distil his most ruthlessly practical, reality embracing, Machiavellian side. It’s a headspace produced by a background I feel deep affinity with. Like 50, I grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, and fought my way out. In my case though, thankfully, there were no guns involved. Facing the facts of reality from a young age leaves deep marks on a person. I’ve been accused more times than I can count of being too cold, too real and too brutally honest; it’s the best way I know how to be. I refuse to bow to other people’s bullshit or get lost in my own. This book understands and nurtures that spirit in me.
“The empire fell well before the invasion of the barbarians. It collapsed from the collective softness of its citizens’ minds and the turning of their back on reality.”― The 50th Law
Cynical Theories — Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay 4/5
“Postmodernism has, depending upon your view, either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism.”― Cynical Theories
That may seem like a farfetched statement, I mean Postmodernism is just some harmless, nonsensical academic twaddle for scholars and artists with their heads too far up their own arses, right? Wrong. Postmodernism has evolved into a concerted attack on objective reality, aiming to replace consensus based on facts and tolerant secular liberalism, with reality as defined by authoritarian power. We are already seeing people purged from the public sphere for “wrongthink”, their lives and careers destroyed because they had the temerity to have opinions or quote facts that mobs backed by power don’t like. This is Orwellian and it probably should not be a surprise that it has emerged from our universities, from there pushed on youth groups and the education system more broadly via NGOs and left wing activists, increasingly with the explicitly stated goal of destroying secular Western culture and “whiteness” (being white is inherently bad according to these theories, because, they claim, with no sense of irony, being white is racist). Authoritarianism has often used the young to police their elders (Mao’s China springs to mind, as do the Hitler Youth) because they are often all too susceptible to manipulation and coercive groupthink.
I studied Foucault at masters level at university, apparently he is one of the founding thinkers of this evolution in Postmodernism. I agree very much with the author’s assessment that he would be spinning in his grave if he knew what his work had lead too. Foucault was a rebellious, individualist Nietzschean, famous for the line: “the soul is the prison of the body”. He fought against the notion that a person should be pressured by social forces to conform to an identity by reshaping their body or sense of self to match socially constructed essences; he did not wish people constrained or judged because of social constructs like: sex-based stereotypes, sexuality-based stereotypes, gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, stereotypes of mental health and social goodness. Yet here we are, with a theory in ascendance that judges explicitly on this basis and uses such stereotypes manipulatively, forcing people into adversarial categories via them and then celebrating the disruption and chaos caused. Instead of finding and celebrating what we have in common we are pushed towards tearing each other down over any perceived difference or slight, distinguished only by our victimhood and oppression.
In Woketopia we are all defined by our oppression and vying constantly for poll position as the biggest victim in order to claim the most power; while using that power to cause harm to those branded “privileged” is considered not just acceptable, but desirable. It is a toxic place populated by envious, bitter, petty tyrants. Somewhere to nuke from orbit, just to be sure.
Cynical Theories brings together a number of theories from the discourse pushing this world view, calling them collectively “Theory”, and tracks their historical roots and development. The book demonstrates Theory’s basis in, and growth from, the power-knowledge networks of academia into our everyday lives via activism and government. They are theories created by power for coercive purposes of just the kind Foucault pointed to. It is as if they have taken everything he fought against and become it. As Nietzsche warned: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster”. As an historian Foucault challenged traditional assumptions about progress, rationality and linearity. He did not see moving forward through history as necessarily leading to improvement, he saw that assumption as the product of power telling us that how we do it now is better, not because it can prove it but because it says so and anyone disagreeing can be punished. We are now seeing the very phenomena that he described weaponised by the very institutions that could have, and should have, successfully systematically challenged it.
This is not an easy book or an easy topic. I’m going to read it a few more times and makes notes in order to gain more clarity in a number of areas. The author’s were ambitious and did well, but I’m giving it a 4/5 because I feel they could have structured it a bit better. The last few chapters are the strongest and give the best clarity, but it takes a lot to get you there. I think the book would benefit from a little repetition in that regard, with some of what comes last at the start, helping strengthen the overall guiding framework of the book, perhaps with summations of main points at the end of each chapter. I don’t normally like that in a text like this, but with such a complex topic I think it would be beneficial.
The book succeeds in laying out the regressive, authoritarian nature of Theory, it’s disruptive and destructive influence in multiple areas of everyday life and its emphasis on division, hostility and tribalism. The book shows that Theory will take us backwards, not forwards, playing into the hands of the power hungry and the insane, by insisting that objective knowledge is not valid, useful or well intentioned, while also claiming it is in fact deliberately oppressive; conveniently creating a vacuum that naked power is all too happy to fill, often with those advocating for Theory, with no need to meet any standard of proof for its assertions. The book does also point to areas where Theory has a point and offers its own Liberal and secular solutions to these issues. Clearly the academics behind Theory need to get out and interact with normal people more, as even in areas where they do have a point their solutions seem unhinged.
What I found most disturbing was the spilling over of this social sciences madness into the hard sciences. When engineers won’t use maths because it’s “white supremacy”, and when doctors must withhold or misrepresent information vital to the health and wellbeing of patients because it’s “fatphobic” or “transphobic”, the very institutions we all need to survive are directly threatened.
Homo Deus — Yuval Noah Harari
Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War book #1) — John Scalzi
Planning to Read
The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War book #2) — John Scalzi
The Last Colony (Old Man’s War book #3) — John Scalzi
Spell or High Water (Magic 2.0 book #2) — Scott Meyer
21 Lessons for the 21st Century — Yuval Noah Harari