Thursday, July 29, 2021

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 9)

Roberto Montenegro, The Double (1938)

Picking things back up from a month ago...

The Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7) left me in awe, regardless of all the points on which I disagreed with Kant. Its ideas, insofar as I can say I understand them, continue to tantalize me.

What about the Critique of Practical Reason (1788)?

I began reading the first Critique with a sense of curiosity and fascination. My overall mood when delving into the second was one of excitement, even hope.

I'll be honest. I don't want to be an atheist, but I can't slot humanity in a position of teleological significance to the world, nor can I anthropomorphize the cosmos. At the same time, I can't deny the spiritual anemia I feel as a nonbeliever among other nonbelievers in a society that considers humanity the sole end in a universe of means and mere incidentals. I also would prefer that the facts didn't place me in the situation of assuming a hard determinism with regard to human behavior, but that's what seems most plausible. I can't simply will myself to believe something that's incompatible with everything I've come to recognize as fact. Even before reading the first Critique's exposition of the transcendental ideas as products of coherence-seeking behavior forming relations with objects that can never be given to human experience, I had an inkling that if I was ever going to come back again to believing in God and free will, I would have to be convinced of the necessity of those beliefs on the basis of their following from some other body of propositions I'm constrained to hold as true, at least provisionally.

And there are very good reasons to believe both. Studies suggest that religious people are happier, less isolated, and at least more generous than nonbelievers. A person fully convinced of the autonomy of his will is better equipped to take charge of his life than someone who has internalized the belief that he is completely at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Optimism can make a practical difference in one's affairs.

Sure, yes, the old criticisms are still warranted. Religion can be a hothouse for imbecilic textual literalism, sectarian groupthink, and the rejection of data in favor of dogma; the sanctity in which American culture holds the amorphous ideal of "freedom" was instrumental in eroding any sense of social responsibility or serious consideration for the collective good in the United States. But religion can also inspire humility and purpose, while the idea of freedom is a prerequisite for the concept of agency.

I went into the Critique of Practical Reason with the same hope that sold me on Hartshorne's Beyond Humanism (1937), sight unseen. I was looking for an loophole by which I could, at least for myself, reconcile the apparently incontrovertible facts of the situation with certain subjective necessities of belief. Hartshorne, as we've seen, left something to be desired. What about Kant?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

night notes

The pier at Ocean City, MD. (Not my pic.)

I've been visiting the shore towns of southern Delaware since before I could walk on my own. Even though I've become enough of a cynic in my old age to recognize the gauche avarice on which coastal resort towns are built, I retain a soft spot for them. I still visit Fenwick Island from time to time, and recently took a four-day vacation there with Shirley. I think we had more fun chasing ghost crabs across the beach with a flashlight after dark than playing miniature golf and meandering around the curio shops during the day.

There's a dichotomy in the region that's most apparent at night. It first struck me years ago as a teenager visiting the Ocean City boardwalk—a place which, to my imagination, encapsulates the ugly side of the American character as much as Las Vegas did for Hunter Thompson. Despite all the sand sculptures of Jesus and the youth groups lip-syncing and performing awkwardly synchronized dance routines to Christian rap numbers, this place is Babylon in miniature: a three-mile bazaar teeming with hucksters, hicks, baleful teenagers, middle-aged adults debased by drudgery and cable television, and children who ought to be too young for obesity, all hawking and consuming garish tchotchkes, warm and technically edible congealed grease, margaritas in soda cups (on which the myriad tattoo parlors depend for their business), T-shirts too déclassé for Spencer Gifts, and hermit crabs who've got to believe their Chesapeake cousins being devoured en masse in the seafood restaurants down the street got off easy. It could be anthropomorphized as a circle of faceless men made of neon signs, fried dough, unwinnable SpongeBob plushes, seagull dung, blaring Top-40 tunes, and lobster claw grabber toys ejaculating on the despondent face of human decency.

Don't get me wrong, it's a fun place to visit—provided you hold no strong opinions about the reality of social and/or spiritual progress.

Monday, July 12, 2021

notes on video games and my relationship with them

Sometimes I use Twitter. I'm not sure why.

The other day, I tweeted:

At age seventeen, I was still listening to Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails on a regular basis. I was just getting into Skinny Puppy, and was dabbling in Leæther Strip, the Electric Hellfire Club, Birmingham 6, and Wumpscut. All of it loud, abrasive, clanging, screeching, thumping music with an antiheroic (if not outright villainous) lyrical charisma, embracing the tacit philosophy that music ought to be a contact event. I suppose I understood then that a lot would necessarily change in two decades—but the insinuation that I'd somehow get to a point where most of the music I chose to listen to would be recordings of people from India playing the sitar and occasionally singing in a language I didn't understand might have been a bridge too far.

A longtime internet acquaintance pointed something else out:

Yes, well. Let's see here. When I was in my twenties I made a (relatively) long-running webcomic from ripped NES sprites and wrote (and rewrote) a series of essays about Final Fantasy. I haunted gaming message boards and IRC channels. I racked up hundreds of hours in Disgaea and Makai Kingdom, and probably even more playing online matches of Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I routinely drove forty-five minutes to play King of Fighters XI at an arcade in Wayne, New Jersey. I bought and played through seven—SEVEN!—.hack games, despite knowing in my heart that they were trash. I'm not certain if I ever self-identified as a gamer, but video games were more than just a hobby. They were my touchstone.

But I never stopped playing them! Why, just a few months ago, I wrote about the Valiant megaWAD. Last year I ploughed through Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 (and had nothing but good things to say about it), finally played and finished Cuphead, and fondly revisited Einhänder. Early into the lockdown, I kept the anxiety at bay with Lumines. And right now I'm feeling like it's finally time to try out Black Mesa, which Shirley's PC can apparently run (though my laptop falls far short of even the minimum requirements)—but I'm going to wait until the fall or winter.