Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jun 11, 2017

Wonder Woman

So, I finally got to go see Wonder Woman, and I have to say . . . I didn't really like it.  It had the same problems that other DC movies have had for me.  I think ultimately it all boils down to one issue, though--it's too much like very common forms of anime in a lot of really poor thematic concepts.

Here we have a perfect (or near-perfect) innocent superhuman who has come to pass judgment on all of humanity.  This is already a trite and over-done notion, but then there's no conflict, character arc, or decision to it.  "I come from Utopia to judge you, and, well, you suck, but I'm going to protect you anyway".  Superman vs. General Zod is the same thing all over again as Wonder Woman vs. Ares.

The main character is, effectively, an immortal, indestructible robot.  They're not functionally in any DANGER at any point during the movie, so it's pretty hard to laud their successes.  A person who has nothing to fear cannot be courageous . . . and they certainly don't get any credit for being PREACHY, either.

And "humanity" is meaningless in these movies.  It's just a formless mass for the hero to despise, or love, or save, or whatever, but always, ultimately, passive until the hero (or villain) comes along.  The romance is really meaningless because Steve never manages to articulate any values or exhibit any particular reasons to prefer him over anyone else--in fact, the three sidekicks have FAR more personality and much more deeply exhibited values than Steve Trevor does.  What's Steve Trevor's most exhibited personality trait?  "No, you can't do that.  Nope, that's wrong.  Don't do that.  Nope, you're embarrassing me.  Nope, bad idea."  Maybe he's supposed to be some kind of voice of prudence, but the writing of his part is so inarticulate that he actually comes across more like a twitchy teenager.  In the hands of a competent writer, he could have had a powerful character arc from "haha, I'm not going to get involved, not my fight" to, at the end, actually being the one to come up with the crazy plan to save the day.  Instead, he flops back and forth between worldly semi-virtue and being a flapping, useless duenna.

The real way it's like anime, though, was in the final climactic moment when Wonder Woman defeats Ares.  How does she defeat him?  Does she realize something important about herself?  Not really.  Does she discover something about Ares?  No.  So how does she win?

She does the anime thing and concentrates HARDER THAN EVER BEFORE and wins.  Yay!

This is pure magical thinking.  It is dull and meaningless.

And, honestly, it would have been much, much better if Diana had crushed Dr. Maru like a bug.  No, seriously.  That at least would have been a shocking moment of re-evaluation.

May 21, 2017

On the Slippery Slope

Slippery slope, as most people with any passing interest in logic generally know, is a logical fallacy.  It typically takes the form of a claim something like this:

Me:  "Oo, I think I'm going to have some chocolate.  It looks yummy!"
Someone else:  "Are you crazy?!  Chocolate makes you fat.  If you chocolate, you're going to get fatter and fatter until you die!"

What's wrong with this, and what makes it a logical fallacy, is that having a few chocolates doesn't require the consumption of yet more chocolates.  There's no magical force behind eating a chocolate that is going to possess my body and make me continue eating chocolate until I die.  Philosophically, this would be referred to as "necessity".  Chocolates don't necessitate more chocolates, so the argument is invalid.

This seems simple enough, no?  So why do people keep using "slippery slope" arguments?  You see them everywhere.  "If you let people get away with small transgressions, they're going to start making larger transgressions."  "If you inflate the currency, the spending is going to run away."  It's a logical fallacy, so why do people think that this sort of warning has any validity?

It's because there is a correct context in which the form of the "slippery slope" argument (that X leads to more X) is a valid one.  It never becomes logical in the sense that X necessitates more X.  It remains true that if people do X, they can still turn away from X at any time.  This is, in fact, the fundamental axiom of volition.  So how can this argument ever be valid?

It's valid, precisely because people have free will, that is, their minds don't operate automatically.  They can make choices.  This means that people need guidance on how to make choices, so that those choices actually lead them to what they want.  They need to adopt some method of operation, if they want that operation to take them anywhere.  The name for that method is principles.  Everyone adopts some principles, even if they insist that they don't and just do "whatever they feel like".  Doing "whatever you feel like" doing IS a principle, albeit an ultimately self-destructive one.  That's a side issue, for now, though. The important point is that in human thought, some principle or set of principles is always involved.

To adopt a principle doesn't just mean to sit there and dwell on it.  They are guides to accomplishing a goal.  To adopt a principle means to act on it.  And not just once, but all the time.  Consistently.  If I don't act consistently on any principle, I can't be said to have that principle at all.  It's not the same thing as being perfect--people can and do fail to carry out their principles, but on balance, they would have to act on it far more often than not in order for anyone to say that they adopt a given principle.

A principle, once adopted by a person, leads them in a consistent direction.  Their actions, taken under that principle, are pointed at a specific goal.  The more consistent they are, the more direct their course to that goal.  This is where you can begin to see the connection with the concept of a "slippery slope", of X leading to more X.  It's not that they've lost their volition somehow, it's that they've lined up their faculties behind this principle because they are using it to lead them to their chosen goal.  So, if they're doing X because their principle is to do X, you can safely predict that more X is definitely in the future.  In the absence of a change of principle, more X is on the way.

So, if you see a person or group adopting a principle to do X, you CAN make rational assertions about what is on the way.  And shouting "that's a slippery slope argument!" doesn't negate the truth of these statements in any way unless you can provide evidence of either a change in principle or how that principle doesn't lead in that direction after all.