Friday, May 29, 2009

Restraining Voices

A year ago to the day, I posted the second part of a two-part post about high technology. About the promises made regarding the development of scientific knowledge, and the validity of technology’s constant promise to make the world a better place. It’s one of the opinions that I still hold strongly: that the pursuit of the answers to life’s mysteries should not be undertaken simply because questions still exist.

And now, having seen the movie Angels and Demons just recently, it seems like a good time to revisit the subject. Because one of the subjects that I didn’t touch on in any great detail is also a subject that is at issue for the characters of that movie: what role does society or religion play in the growth of technology? Who governs what questions we pursue? And how is one of the most age-old conflicts in history, religious tradition versus scientific progress, to be resolved in today’s world?

On both sides of the divide, arguments can be made against any interaction between the two. In Angels and Demons, one of the priests in the movie gives a speech to the College of Cardinals about the war that they are in, the war between the traditionalist Catholic Church and the science-based Illuminati. While that speech isn’t openly militant, that same priest reveals his true colors later in the movie, considering the development of antimatter and its characterization to be sacrilegious.

 Likewise, although it isn’t as present in the movie, from the days of Galileo and his persecution by the religions of the time, science has had little reason to like religion. The attitude expressed by the priest in Angels and Demons may lead some with those views to openly attack the development of technology, but the responses are far too often as intolerant and hostile as their provocation was. For the movie, the chosen response of the “Illuminati” (complicated story there…) was probably ever so slightly over the top.

The fault lies in considering it a war at all. The fault lies in thinking that religious beliefs are incompatible with scientific study. Certainly, it’s not regarded as unusual for even devout followers of a religion to turn to scientific study, and no small number of books professing to link religion and science have been written. We’ve come a long way from the days where scientists had to recant their studies or be branded as heretics.

The question, then, turns to the role that religion will play. Or should there even be one? With its ever-increasing separation from the levers of power, organized religion has (in the Western world, at least) lost much of its power to control scientific progress, it would seem. Not only is religion no longer inclined to continually decry scientific progress; even if they did, progress would likely continue unchecked, since heresy is no longer a crime as it was in older times.

And while I certainly don’t think that a return to that level of religious power would be a good thing, I do think I will mourn the loss of influence there. Because with its passing, yet another check on humanity’s completely unrestrained growth is gone. In his speech before the cardinals of the Catholic Church, in the movie, the priest in question advocated the Vatican’s striking back, firmly, at the never-ending progress of science. He suggested that they act as a restraint on the continued development of science, as a moderating voice.

And maybe that is a good thing. Maybe the world needs a God… not necessarily as an arbiter of our morality or as the final judge of our actions, but as a reminder that some mysteries will remain mysteries. No level of scientific effort will conclusively prove or disprove the existence of a deity. To living members of the human race, the question of a higher power will remain just that: a question, an unknown.

That, I feel, is what the human race needs right now. I feel like we stopped needing to answer questions about the world around us five or six major answers ago. I will not deny that our technological growth has brought with it major advances in the human condition, but I feel like the benefits we gain from continually pursuing mysteries have ceased to be the point.

Today, we don’t unravel the mysteries of the universe to better our condition. Either we’re simply questing after greater power (at a cheaper price) for ourselves, or we’re simply answering questions because they exist. And I think it’s about time that halted. I think it’s time that we started looking at why we seek for all the answers to the mysteries around us, and more importantly, came to grips with the idea that some of those mysteries will never have answers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Destiny's Commander

So theoretically I’ll be writing about relatively new things. For example, I’ll probably post something about the new Star Trek movie soon enough, since I saw that recently. (It was awesome, of course.) Realistically, though, I’ll be writing about whatever inspires me to write, as long as I haven’t done so before. And since I’m still sorting through my thoughts on the Star Trek movie, I’ll have to resort to the movie Wanted, which I also saw for the first time last weekend despite it not being new.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the basic idea is that there’s the secret society of assassins that preserve the balance of history and are directed by fate. Or something like that, I don’t think the plot was the strong point of the movie. Especially not after blatantly ripping off one of the oldest plot twists in history: “No, I didn’t kill your father, I am your father” and so on.

… Oh yeah. There may be spoilers for the plot of the movie in here. Should I have gotten to that warning earlier?

At any rate. Despite the plot not really being the movie’s strong point (I would have to give that role to the crazy things they were doing with the large amounts of weaponry they all possessed, or to Angelina Jolie), I’m going to tear apart the motivations of the heroes and villains anyway, for two reasons. One is because it’s kind of the point, that I can find lessons related to the real world even in a movie that maybe isn’t the most plot-heavy one out there. And two is because there’s nothing I love more than mercilessly mocking the rampant stupidity of your standard movie heroes and villains. (Well, okay, maybe video games or anime or… never mind.)

You see, the main character of the movie is your standard office drone who feels like his life is worth nothing and that he has no control over it, pointless as it is. About the only thing special about him, from his perspective, is that he’s got this weird anxiety condition that requires medication to control. And, of course, that’s not a good special condition that helps his self-esteem any.

The impetus that drags him out of that state is the aforementioned secret society of assassins. The leader of whom explains to him a few things, namely that his little anxiety issue isn’t a bad thing at all; rather, it allows him to do insane things (like, oh, shoot the wings off of a fly). Also that this could be controlled and directed to his benefit, and that his father was killed by a former member of this society that went rogue. He’s also the guy who controls the society and is the only one who interprets the fabric produced by this “Loom of Fate” that directs who the society is going to kill.

Putting aside the insanity of allowing imperfections in the fabric that a loom produces to direct assassinations for a moment, it would appear that all the power so far is with the society. That the leader of this society, to throw in the obligatory reference to the title of this post, has the power to command destiny. He reads the prophecies and the commands from fate (from a loom… urge to mock the ridiculous nature of this plot rising) and directs his subordinates to carry them out.

However, this gives one person all of the power. And in the most original plot twist ever, it turns out that that old adage about power corrupting was right all along. The leader of the assassins wasn’t acting on the orders of fate (from a loom… no, I’m not letting that rest) after all, but faking the orders to carry out assassinations for money or, as far as I can tell, for his own personal enjoyment.

That wasn’t the entire story though; he made a lot of noise near the end of the movie about being able to direct the course of history. And you know, he has a point. Barring the United States with its effective system of succession of leadership, assassinations have usually caused no small amount of a stir when they’ve been carried out, potentially altering the course of history. We can’t be sure, of course, since we have no idea what would have happened otherwise.

Besides, assassination isn’t really a tool of fate, and being a “thug that can bend bullets” (the hero’s characterization of the villain) doesn’t make you destiny’s commander. The destiny of a person will always remain in the hands of that person. People have the ultimate command over their own actions, and short of physical force, that command cannot be taken away. Sure, a person can be killed, but that amounts to little more than a reset button, a removal of the influence over destiny that a person had created.

The hero could have remained an office drone for his entire life, and never taken control of that life. But as he expressed at the end of the movie, he wasn’t going to do that. He took control as any person can. As anyone can choose to change what they do. Destiny and fate are not powerful or unknowable forces outside our ability to understand. Because we all have command over our own destinies.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


… Alright, I guess the first and most important thing I should do here and now is apologize to any of the people that have been checking this site at all in the two months now that I’ve been not posting. While I’m not going to get my hopes up regarding how many people have actually done so, I know for a solid fact that at least one person has. So for those of you that have been checking, I do sincerely apologize for not offering so much as even a quick note saying that posts weren’t coming anytime soon.

I could point to a number of different reasons why this has happened, but since I’m not really in the habit of making excuses, I’ll refrain from that and simply state the obvious: I haven’t been posting. Trying to say “well this is why” feels too much like making pointless excuses to me, so instead I’ll just vow to change my behavior. And that means posting again on this blog. (Although if you want the reasons, I’d be happy to give them; just ask and I’ll explain myself.)

And one of the things I really want to hit on in this return to blogging is my eternal nemesis: scheduling. As you all may have noticed, I’m really bad at planning these things. I would just write posts and put them up when I’d done, but since I tend to do my writing in spurts, I’d end up posting three articles in the space of five hours and then have nothing here for the next two weeks.

That said, though, I believe I will try to just put stuff up here when I finish it and to hell with a regular schedule. I’ll take advantage of the scheduling tools to space posts out if necessary. I’ll probably have no fewer than two or three days in between posts, and no more than two weeks at the absolute maximum, but other than that I’ll post things when I finish them from now on.

I’d also like to take this chance to redefine what I’m doing here with this blog, or at least re-state it. This blog is titled “A Video Gamer’s Perspective” for a reason, namely that I really feel that video games have been a major part of my life. I think that one of my defining labels is that title of “video gamer”, whatever that means, and thus feel it’s perfectly justified to label this blog as the perspective of such a person.

This holds true regardless of what’s caught my attention in any particular post. Sure, I’ll usually try to relate things to video games in some way. But in the end, there are almost as many of my posts with the “anime” label as the “video games” label, and that’s unlikely to change. I’m writing in the end about what I do for fun, which isn’t limited to video games.

And that leads me back around to what I do with this stuff in the first place. I’m not here to break new philosophical ground or come up with life lessons that have never been heard before. What I’m doing with the anime or the games that catch my eye is see what value they have beyond simple entertainment.

I’m not trying to be new and revolutionary with the lessons themselves, but rather where I find them and what reinforces them. I can’t even claim to be revolutionary in claiming that video games have worth; after all, that idea too has been discussed in scholarly articles and books written by those far smarter than myself. All I’m trying to do is explore individual games and see just how much of a waste of time they are.

This blog is on some level a challenge. It’s a challenge to the moral guardians and the religious fundamentalists of the world that refuse to view video games as anything other than a source of moral degradation. It’s a challenge to every parent that’s ever said, “That thing will rot your brain, you know,” to their kid sitting in front of the TV.

So let’s all see just what I get out of video games, or anime, or anything else I do for fun. Let’s see if video games are a moral sinkhole, or a waste of time. That’s what I’m here to do: to show through anecdotes and through my own example how these games are about the farthest thing from a waste of time that I can imagine.  I’ve got a good thirty or so posts on the topic already, and now that it’s summer, I’m in the mood to make that number grow.

Oh, and five days ago, my blog hit it’s one-year anniversary; my first post was on May 2nd, 2008. Since I kinda didn’t post then, we’ll just mark the occasion now. Let’s get back into exploring the world of an anime-obsessed video game fanatic. Hope you all enjoy the ride.