2021: Well that was a thing

Sooooo… got any New Year’s Resolutions yet?

Find adventure? Travel more? Better work life balance? Less grinding of teeth?

Blahblahblah. Perspective has kind of buried all that. I expect I’ll be doing more of the same, except perhaps more frugally.

Bought tickets to three gigs this year and didn’t make it to any of them. None were cancelled. Just got crook. Which is a bit of a shit showing on my part considering the odds of catching a show with full mosh pit going forward.

Will be getting my booster next month, and remaining otherwise pretty isolated. I have to say I do like getting deliveries to my post office box though. Until this month, the regular walk to pick up a parcel from the comic’s shop first thing in the morning isn’t something I’ve done since 1995 – back when I last lived in Port Lincoln.

May have to drop the gym membership though. Get some weights. Take advantage of the increased amount of walking. Circumstances being what they are.

Not sure that’s a resolution though. Won’t hinge on the calendar date either way.

Travel interstate to see friends? Gawd. I want to. I’m not sure that’s in the foreseeable future though. But given how fast the medical response was in 2020, perhaps the unforeseeable isn’t actually that far off.

Also not a resolution.

What I can say is that I’ve learned a bit this year. A good part of that concerns the nature of good friends and good faith. (Short version: political compliance has a poor correlation with good faith, about as poor as contrarianism has, and there’s a marked difference between being an on-point-ally and decent fellow human. I knew this before, but my understanding has grown appreciably).

At any rate, I’ve got a bit of bad faith of my own going on here I need to confess to.

This post exists largely just to give me something for the year of 2021 in the archives. I think it serves that purpose admirably – or it will if I post it within the next three hours.

So… If you’ll forgive my ulterior motive – my perfunctory posting – I’ll wish you a Happy New Year. Or a not-too-shit one, at any rate. Don’t want to get those hopes up.

~ Bruce

No, it’s not “Darwin’s Law”

darwinThis one’s been irritating me for a while.

First some antisocial yokel with a poor education and possible low intelligence, along with their peers, decides to flout social distancing or isolation protocols, and stomp out into a densely packed public space in the middle of a viral outbreak as a form of ill-informed protest. The response? Someone sneers “oh well, that’s Darwin’s Law, isn’t it?”, as if the spectacle of social irresponsibility was evidence that an ironic social Darwinism was selectively afflicting the right wing.

Aside from being conspicuous mostly coming from lefties who aren’t supposed to be in for that kind of eugenic fantasy, supposed irony not withstanding, it barely stands up to scrutiny. Natural selection doesn’t work like that.

Put simply, if alleles for a hereditable trait give an organism a reproductive advantage in a given environment, then through that increase in reproduction the hereditable trait will flourish compared to its competing alleles that don’t share the advantage, or don’t possess it as strongly. Conversely, alleles that confer a reproductive disadvantage inhibit their own reproduction, comparatively speaking.

The end result: the genetic makeup of a population shifts towards being more conducive to reproduction within a range of environmental settings.

But there’s no Trumpist bleach-drinking allele, nor an allele for politically particular cabin fever. As far as I know, there’s no Florida Man allele either.

Perhaps then, what people mean is a more general “allele for stupid white trash-like behaviour”. That seems to be the inference right? Leaving aside the questionable politics of eugenic fantasy and classism, this still doesn’t translate to even half-decent Darwinian speculation.

Any allele (or alleles) that purportedly predisposes people to bad life decisions of the redneck kind may, hypothetically, in addition to life-threatening acts of social disinhibition, also predispose the redneck organism in question to contribute to an overabundance of unplanned pregnancies, and hence an abundance of descendants. So even if the entire population of the genetically redneck were infected with a pandemic infection due to genetically predisposed behaviour, if the mortality rate were more than offset by an associated increase in fecundity, then there’d be a resultant net evolutionary advantage, not a disadvantage to said allele (or alleles).

None of this considers the practical epidemiology either. There’s nothing to say that after a day at the 5G-Conspiracy Theorist Congregation, a Southern Neo-Brownshirt won’t go on to protest educated multiple “Libruls”, in person, and with much spittle-flecked gusto. There’s nothing to say they won’t travel back to their communities to infect more sensible neighbours through further acts of neglect – that the spread of the disease won’t go on to infect and kill indiscriminately regarding politics or intelligence.

Ask yourself; frontline workers – nurses, doctors etc. – how many of them are of of above average intelligence and education? What happens if they have to take care of sick protestors and get infected themselves? It’s hardly self-evident that this or any other viral pandemic is going to selectively exterminate the witless and their descendants.

So yeah, smarmily claiming “it’s Darwin’s Law” is hardly the best way to differentiate yourself from the ranks of the ignorant. It also isn’t a great way of differentiating yourself from an asshole.

If you have already, please re-consider before trotting off this nonsense again.

~ Bruce

More of the same

It seems the hand-wringing over “New Atheists” hasn’t abated in respectable circles, and is still as depressing as ever. Take this latest effort by Tim Robertson over at Eureka Street.

Like it’s 2006 all over again, we kick off with a retread of the “New Atheists do it too” retort concerning creation myths; an old standard still carries the tacit admission that there’s something to be embarrassed about in believing in creation myths. I guess I’d be more disappointed if I was religious.

Getting closer to the meat of things, Robertson portrays a “New Atheism” that views itself as being in line with a Humean kind the Enlightenment. This strikes me as more than a little odd, because ever since Harris’s The Moral Landscape, misunderstanding of and dismissiveness towards Hume could be portrayed as a fashionable trope of the “New Atheism”; from cod-moral realism, to dyspeptic rationalists* giving anti-Humean lectures at the pub, to train-wrecks involving the is-ought distinction like those described here.

If you’ve been around skepto-atheist circles during the past ten years, and you haven’t come across this anti-philosophical, anti-Humean schtick yet, you’ve either not been paying attention or have been incredibly lucky. “New Atheism” sees itself as anything approximating Humean? Phooey.

(And if the “New Atheism” did actually exist, you’d also think it’d be more Millian than Lockean, too, what with all the utilitarianism and the motivation to avoid all the peskiness involved in natural law.)

As for the matter of Dawkins and his eugenics tweet, and how this moves the “New Atheism” away from the Humean, I’m pretty sure Robertson is just being salacious here. Mentions of Dawkins and eugenics in close proximity may excite the usual audiences, but Robertson doesn’t really go anywhere with it so much as riff over the matter with a cheap jab and glib allusion to critical theory by way of Wikipedia. It’s all over a bit quickly.

An essay detailing why we should consider the referenced Dialectic of Enlightenment as a sound analysis, and how it applies specifically in cases like Dawkins’ might be interesting (and probably a good deal more interesting again if involving a case with a publisher other than Twitter). We don’t get that though. Is something like this expecting too much, or are we all supposed to be clever, to be “in” enough to just know where Robertson is going with this and give each other knowing nods?

(If you have the time, patience and curiosity, there’s a discussion on much the same topic that has the merit of being somewhat less conjectural or opaque than discussion centered on theory. Keith Stanovich’s concept of cognitive decoupling presents as highly applicable to Dawkins’ tweets and similar displays of reasoning. Points for dipping your toes in that are as good as any other can be found here and here.**)

The matter of eugenics and the Dialectic of Enlightenment pushed to one side, Robertson moves back to bromides, performing  a bit of splitting to present Dawkins The Biologist and Dawkins The Atheist as if they were somehow distinct. It’s a artifice of course, so that Robertson can present one as having failed to do the work of the other – in this case Dawkins The Atheist being a mean uninspiring sod, incapable of the “wonder and splendor” achieved by Dawkins The Biologist. A neat little trick of Manichean negation if your brain can manage it, I guess.

Of course religion is positioned as a purveyor of “wonder and splendor” itself, which Dawkins himself could have remained more like if only he’d stayed in his lane.

(This splitting does raise a question, though. How do you dissociate Dawkins’ tweet on eugenics from Dawkins The Biologist in the first place? Because we are trying to hang shit on the “New Atheism”, right? This is Dawkins The Atheist leading us towards scientific racism, not Dawkins The Biologist yeah?)

I can’t help thinking that deep down, this hope-trope is tied to another piece of apologetics: “The New Atheists have failed to contend with the hope brought by sophisticated, progressive religion! They talk about us like we’re creationists!”

The “New Atheists” – whoever they are on any given day – among others, treat religious moderates/liberals/progressives as if they are statistically or socially marginal, which in many, many contexts they are. In practice this often means just overlooking them. Does being ignored like that hurt so much that apologists still need to trot out the denials? “No, no. They’re talking about us!”

Maybe people need to get over themselves, yeah?

Getting back to hope; what’s to contend with anyway? I don’t just mean background levels of hope, or hope that the credulous can get behind. Why is religion portrayed as especially inducing of high-grade hope, more so than say worker’s clubs, group knitting or mosh-pits?

We’re challenged by Robertson to consider why the “New Atheist” bogeyman fails to inspire hope like religion or like Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn? It’s truly odd that Corbyn is presented by Robertson as an alternative given that this piece was published well after the bloodbath that was the 2019 UK general election.

The Corbyn rapture didn’t happen. And it’s less than hope-inspiring to have to listen to all the rationalizations for why prophecy failed to materialize. Yes, the Russians got involved. Yes, the Tories lied, even more so than usual. But no, none of this clinched it. It’ll all be just as much fun when the Bernie Sanders rapture fails to materialize and his more fervent followers – the hopeful ones – try to re-invent history so as not to look like followers of Harold Camping each time they pass a mirror***.

Robertson compares religion to this cascading disappointment and still finds the nerve to criticize “New Atheists” for slagging off religion?

This phenomena of Australian writers of a radical bend, or of progressive theological sympathies, crying into their beers and pissing and moaning about perceived slights from now over a decade ago, doesn’t inspire much hope either. I can understand religious people not liking The God Delusion. What’s not to understand? I can understand them not finding it inspirational either because outside of a particular subset of the ex-religious, who does?

I can understand people finding Dawkins’ tone-deaf tweeting annoying or uninformative. My suggestion is simply that if you don’t like the guy’s tweets, you treat him like someone who’s transitioned well outside their talents into a retirement full of awkward, eminently ignorable beat poetry. It’s not like you’ll ever have to worry that some nation will turn one of his tweets into policy.

What I do have difficulty understanding is why any curious, emotionally functioning, religious adult would feel the need to get Dawkins so long after the original narcissitic injury. Defensive, thin-skinned, grudge-holding types on the other hand – that’s easy to grasp. As is the idea of authors willing to pander to these sentiments to get published.

I’m not sure how sulky axe-grinding, or peddling ego-balms is a good fit for publishers of serious literature, though. Don’t ordinary religious people find these grudge pieces utterly depressing? Maybe they do and maybe more literary journals and should reflect that.

At any rate, you don’t have to be religious to find a failure of Jesuit culture depressing; we’re all humans after all. Unless you’re a sadist, the failure of other humans is something that we should feel on some level.

Similarly, if you have any care for Australian literature, the indulgence of pettiness has got to be pretty disappointing as well. I don’t think people are remotely as inured to this as some pretend.

~ Bruce

* Term borrowed from here, which is a good read in its own right. Apparently Sam Harris first coined the term, so I guess it’s nice to have something decent to attribute to him.

** I won’t endorse all the points made, obviously, but the discussion overall seems fruitful enough, and leads off into other conversations people may want to chase up.

*** Even if Sanders becomes president, his purported appeal won’t be enough for his supporters dream to survive Congress.

A strange thing happened…

At the end of last year I eluded to “the derailment of 2019”. I was planning, at length in 2018, and possibly well into 2019, to examine three texts: Kate Manne’s Down Girl, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules, and Karl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. I’ll still look further into Man and His Symbols and other Jungian material later, but Down Girl and 12 Rules won’t be getting the same treatment. It probably helps that Jung never got onto Twitter.

But first, a few summarized opinions regarding my reading of Manne and Peterson over the period:

  • Kate Manne’s criticism of 12 Rules (in the now hard-to-link-to Reconsider The Lobster*) seemed fair, and sufficiently accurate for the reaction of both Peterson and his fans to be regarded as hyperventilation.
  • I’m more than a little sympathetic to the treatment Manne gives to the phenomena of “himpathy” in Down Girl. More generally, this tacit deal where men are supposed to supply supererogatory sympathy to other men, not just in terms of sexual misconduct, shits me.
  • 12 Rules isn’t terrible in as far as most of its advice goes, but when I find it’s useful it just seems a rephrasing of something I’m already on-board with. The trick, it seems, is seducing you into thinking you’d not already realized these things yourself. In terms of justifications and explanations – cue lobsters, seretonin just-so stories and bowdlerized narratives about young male angst – I find the book particularly weak.
  • Peterson isn’t a fascist, he’s just a generic conservative. Some of the hyperbolic criticisms of Peterson seem devoid of historical perspective, and suffused with more than just a jot of social media tribalism.
  • I’m beginning to think that of all the Intellectual Dark Web types, Peterson may be the most sincere, and that he may harbour suspicions about the character of the other IDW members. (There are some glaring narcissists in the IDW, and Peterson is academically accomplished in the area of personality, so…)
  • Given some of the antics of Kate Manne’s fellow travelers on Twitter, and the behaviour of some of her colleagues from 2018-2019 (behaviour which she has endorsed, but which elsewhere has elicited an apology from an editor of the American Philosophical Association blog, and possibly a suspension**), I’m going to limit my interaction with her work to an as-necessary basis.


2018, just after beginning preparation to examine Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules: As a part of my ongoing health plan, I signed up for mental health counseling. There wasn’t a crisis involved. There was more the realization of the need for maintenance work, which is something I’m not terribly familiar with practically speaking. Self-care isn’t one of my strong point.

It’s not the worst problem to have, trying to work out how to hold on to an unprecedented level of mental health. But it is perplexing if you haven’t much experience.

Before this post gets critical, I’ll say this: I got something out of the process. I did learn a couple of tricks. The counselling also provided some useful perspective; where I sit in the bureaucratic scheme of things, what may have been going on in the past when I should have first received help.

But now: The weird. This is where my reading interests collided with my mental health care.

I was asked during counselling what my stressors were, and I stated amongst other things that the persistence of a generalized “himpathy” was one of them. I defined this “himpathy” for my counsellor with reference to Manne’s work; words to the effect of a extra serving of sympathy a community affords men that it denies others (not just in relation to sexual harassment). I gave an example recent at the time: The expectation of my sympathy in relation to the angst suffered by men witnessing a Gillette advert they didn’t like.

Weirdly it was suggested that I was somehow being too hard on myself. My stressor wasn’t the concept of “himpathy” it was the “himpathy” itself. Something like it has been bothering me for a long while, Kate Manne’s Down Girl just gave it a name. It’s not like I’ve been at myself with a cat-of-nine-tales at Kate Manne’s request.

It should probably be noted that my counsellor was male.

“Himpathy” is a stressor for me. I don’t want special sympathy on account of being male. I don’t need it. I find it repulsive. The quid pro quo in the scheme also means that I’m also expected to provide this sympathy. So I’m expected to pay a cost for something I didn’t even want in the first place.

Frankly, if I fucked up and got told off by even an intemperate feminist (gasp!), it’d be less stressful than having some bro mewling around, offering unsolicited sympathy with strings creepily attached.

Can you see the reversal my counsellor made? Who am I being too hard on? Who’s the presumed beneficiary of the extra sympathy I’m denying? The Guys.

The Guys got defended, and my stressor went ignored. In a counselling session that was explicitly supposed to be for my benefit.

At any rate, Down Girl got a bit closer to home thanks to counselling, and gave me a little too much material to know where to begin at the time.

Still, things got weirder.


A question was raised early on: Am I in any clinical sense dissociative? Thanks to waiting lists it’d take a while to answer rigorously, and in the interim the seriousness as the query was walked back a good way. But having made a booking with a clinical psychiatrist, why back out?

It was the nth day in a heat wave, and after four hours sleep owing to said heat, I traipsed uphill to the clinic through a humid morning. I was the first client of the day, but he was over half an hour late. To be fair, traffic into the area had been horrendous in the morning. There’d been similar delays in prior months with both my optometrist and surgeon. 

Despite the air conditioning, I had a good deal of difficulty concentrating. I’m not sure I wasn’t experiencing a degree of heat stroke. I can’t be sure the psychiatrist wasn’t effected either.

Such diversions! I didn’t have to say much at all to get this guy going off on tangents. I mentioned that I write, and that the response to the Gillette advert was a stressor, and off we went.

I got recommendations for a couple of advertising guys who obviously scripted their “conversations” with pre-determined conclusions. I got a recommendations for Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan and the like, who I pretended were new to me in the hope of speeding things along. It didn’t work.

For a few minutes, despite never being tied to anything diagnostic or therapeutic, this was all being written down for my reference; a barrage of contrarian suggestion like I was being talked at by an overzealous YouTube algorithm with a underdeveloped interest in personal information. At least I didn’t get Stefan Molyneux as a suggestion.

Then came the Jung soft-sell. Apparently arrogance – as deduced from an uncharitable reading of a short string of words on my part – may be my “Shadow”. By this point, between being baked and being blabbed at, I was wondering how someone could draw conclusions – any conclusions – given the scant amount of data I’d offered up.

Suffice to say, the question of dissociation, despite being mentioned by me, and being written on my referral, was not investigated.

When it came time for the health advice, most everything turned out to be Jordan Peterson. Barring the 600mg of magnesium a day recommendation, even the bits that weren’t Jordan Peterson were Jordan Peterson. I wasn’t going to follow the YouTube URLs that linked to his material, because at the time YouTube was being very, very aggressive with suggesting white supremacist and InCel material if you even accidentally went anywhere near anything like Peterson.

There was other stuff on the list. Stuff that didn’t scream Jordan Peterson. Stuff not entailing a YouTube URL. Stuff with embedded videos. Embedded videos that started off “Hi, I’m Jordan Peterson”. Jesus!

“When you Jordan Peterson first thing in the morning, be sure to take three Jordan Petersons with a Jordan Peterson before your first Jordan Peterson.” – I paraphrase.

Say, for a moment, neither you nor I could think of a single thing Jordan Peterson had ever said or done that we could find fault with. Wouldn’t it still be just a bit obsessive focusing on the guy, over and over like that? Even undergrads are eventually expected not to go to the same well over and over again in their sources.

I felt like I was a text in a first year Film Studies class. Eek!

After this deluge of Peterson enthusiasm, I didn’t know where to begin in terms of an extended critique. I feel dishonest when I don’t divulge context – which is a recipe for rambling to be sure – but this threatened to unleash a deluge. I put off responding to 12 Rules indefinitely.

Maybe it’s something for the distant future.

No disrespect meant to Peterson, but ultimately I think Jung is more timeless. In the long run a focus on Jung – weird as he is, as pseudoscientific as his ideas may be – I think will be more fruitful. There’s just a whole heft of history there.


Ultimately, I started getting diminishing returns out of the mental health process and opted out. This was after sitting in a waiting room for 45 minutes when I was supposed to be meeting a new counsellor. I was already considering making that my last meeting; a “lets close my file and say goodbye” session.

I never walked into that meeting. Instead I walked out and down to the local train station and started to wonder if I was more or less sane than the people who’d been paid to help me.  If I committed to taking care of myself, really taking care, could I say that I’ve got this?

The rational answer, I think, was and is yes. I don’t want to be the arrogant prick who thinks he knows better than the people with actual training, but my experience didn’t impress on me the absolute wisdom of the process either – not that such a thing should be possible anyway. People make errors of judgement. Mental health workers bring themselves to the process. Outsourced health care has its limitations. And again, I still got something out of it all.

If this is arrogance, then so be it. In this respect Jungians can consider my shadow accepted and embraced, if glibly***. Weirdness, on the other hand, I hope increasingly to compartmentalize and critique.

~ Bruce

* It featured in the Times Literary Supplement, but (old) links now only point to an error message (and at last glance, a Cormac McCarthy quote).
** Just trying to track down the details surrounding said apology is a real down-the-rabbit-hole experience, especially concerning the supposed suspension of Nathan Oseroff. With multiple updates, corrections, and talk of people impersonating editors, it’s off-putting to say the least.
*** How else would you expect a non-Jungian to embrace Shadow arrogance, if not glibly?

Adventures in Creepersville #03: Reality Warp

I’ve done geeky things. I used to play role playing games (RPGs) once upon a time. When I first played it was the late end of the Satanic Panic, which in rural Australia seemed to lag on for longer behind the heyday of the source moral panic in the US.

You know how many Satanists, or witches, or delusional people I was exposed to in those early years, thanks to Dungeons and Dragons or Battletech? None. Not one. Nada.

In fact, the first person geek-adjacent that I encountered who could be categorized thusly was someone who deluded himself that he had psychic powers. He had a lot on his plate both socially and mental health wise, and I certainly don’t wish him ill if he’s still alive out there. He introduced me to the better side of anime – the non-creepy kind – but at any rate, he had nothing to do with RPGs.

Nope. The RPG crowd were all a bit bog-standard Stranger Things, really. Mundane.

Then the mid-90s came around, and I was introduced to some new acquaintances, and a new RPG that was published under the banner “White Wolf”. You’d be fair calling the me of this period a cranky pomophobe; I had prejudicially little tolerance for anything remotely post-truth, and the “White Wolf” games were very post-truth. Think “that’s just like, your opinion, man” in gothic fantasist mode, with added lashings of affected-scholarship.

The pretentious references to fetishized academics, and the insular caricatures of “technocrats” and rationalists; blech. You didn’t have to be any kind of rationalist to find this stuff bothersome, but boy did some pages wind me up more than I should have allowed them to. The source books would have been a whole lot more tolerable if the authors seemed a little less impressed with themselves. Cerebral narcissism is always ugly.

At any rate, it was a small mercy that at least the gamers in question didn’t emulate this pseudointellectualism in its full ugliness. No. Instead, some of them imagined that they had magic powers and/or the ability to alter reality through sheer will.

When it’s the middle of a deep recession, a lot of people your age are out of work, and you’re scraping together funds for living in a dingy flat, you can get the impression that you don’t get to be too picky about the company you keep. Never mind what this may do to your own mental health, or theirs, or what your state of mind may do to your employability or educational prospects – you don’t want to be a snob, right?

Sometimes a young, trollish, bored individual will want to break the monotony with a bit of thoughtless, impulsive, consequences-blind fun. Why not? (Well, because it’s childish, obviously).

So rather than confront people about their delusions, or do something otherwise productive, a sceptical friend and I egged them on. One time we exchanged sideways glances while one of them attempted psychic healing. Another time we watched, all the time trying not to giggle, while they attempted to increase their “mana” through an amplification loop. This other time one of my flatmate’s friends hid with me in the bushes of a local park while we giggled and watched a couple of the guys attempting to draw power from the “node” of a “leyline”.

What are the odds that the “node” was on public land, and not in one of the neighboring private yards of the very-much residential area? And only just around the corner from the flat, too. How convenient.

I’m sure if I asked, I would have been told something along the lines that the “node” affected the minds of council planners, causing them to allocate the space as a place of public wellbeing. You never have to be wrong when you can warp reality though sheer power of will!

Their theology for the most part was lifted from Mage: The Ascension, which gave them the idea of others simply being “un-awakened” individuals who collectively suppressed magic through the power of their consensus: Sheeple, albeit magically. You could see this manufactured special status in any number of “metaphysical” bookstores or crystal shops in the 1990s; “my life is drab, people don’t think I’m special, but I’ll show them! I have a special relationship with reality!”

Yes you do, Moonchild. Yes you do.

Despite this having been a bit stressful to tolerate near constantly, and despite it helping to speed up the fraying of my own sanity, I don’t want to piss on these guys. They could be fun to be around. They could be creative. They tolerated a good deal of my bullshit when they shouldn’t have. And some of them had serious personal problems leading into the reality warpage to begin with.

At any rate, this low standard for grasping at reality left the door open for other sorts of weird-and-creepy. Of course a friend of my magic-believing flatmate’s magic-believing friend, visiting at one point, would inform us that women enjoy being raped. My mouth flapped-wide-open at that. I wanted to say something, but it was one of those “so obviously wrong, but so hard to find where you went wrong” type scenarios; I didn’t know what to articulate.

Suffice to say that despite my shocked muteness, that guy never got to enter my home ever again, and I haven’t seen him again in over twenty years. Good riddance.

Fantasy was the over-arching theme with these guys: Having reality your own way. Sadly you get a lot of that around geek stuff, and it’s a good part of why I don’t really do geek conventions. It’d be nice if fantasy would more readily stop at its genre boundaries and stay out of everyday life.

It bears repeating, time and again: You may want to help them, but unless you have a reliable support network, and preferably some clinical qualifications, there’s a severe limit on what you’ll be able to accomplish. Back then mental health awareness wasn’t what it is today, but encouraging people to get help should have been the prescribed action. I still feel that I failed some of these guys in that respect, and of course failed myself.

And whatever you do if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t do what I did, which was to fall into the trap of morbid curiosity: “What the hell is it with these guys? Why on Earth? I need more data!” You’ll just end up wallowing in an unhealthy, creepy environment. This is especially problematic if you already have mental health problems of your own.

Escape, and escape with anyone else you can get away with who needs to! Don’t let a feeling of disloyalty, a bleeding heart, or a post-truthy kind of inclusion born of a role-playing game tell you otherwise.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address an interest in the work of View Askew Productions, renting videos, reading comics, laughing about what terrified us, and bad habits acquired.

~ Bruce

Where’d Tahani belong?

Fair notice: Spoilers inbound.

So. The Good Place has finished. I have to confess that the last two seasons were on the brink of loosing me. Ironically, not being a virtue theorist, it was the relative de-emphasizing of character development that almost switched me off. That not withstanding, yes, the heartstrings were pulled by the finale.

(Although you have to wonder why Chidi wasn’t confident that he’d still wait around for Eleanor, letting her work her way through being able to let him go unselfishly, and then just sticking around after she’d achieved that state.)

In all of the almost-losing-me though, most annoying was the apparent stalling of Tahani Al-Jamil’s character development. God. The name-dropping didn’t stop. I don’t have the foggiest as to whether or not this was a considered creative decision, or just an afterthought, but given that the world’s having a narcissism epidemic, the Good Place’s answer to a Cluster B personality disorder could have been toned down more than a little.

This leads into where I’m having a problem with the story logic of the last season.

So the cosmic afterlife schema gets a major patch and reboot, and now there’s a test that people retake until they get in to The Good Place. Tahani gets in with the first cohort: the regular cast.

In earlier seasons, Tahani showed increasing self-awareness, even reaching an epiphany, but then continued with much the same behaviour even after being paired with obnoxious gossip-columnist John Wheaton. Sure, Wheaton was a part of a plot to make the experimental Good Place fail, but that’s all prior to the test in the final season.

Eleanor seemed on-mission and considered, Chidi overcame his indecisiveness, and Jason became less impulsive, all before the test to get into the good place. But Tahani’s final spurt of personal growth in the final season seemed to get crammed into a few scenes in the last episode, after the test.

I get that final seasons can get crammed and all that, and I enjoyed the final episode, but it would have been really satisfying to have seen a story logic in the final season as tightly sewn together as the first.

Tahani Goes To Hell is just going to have to remain fan-fic I guess.

~ Bruce

Adventures in Creepersville #02: Text-based Hell

If you allow yourself to be lax around creepiness, especially when you’re young and impulsive, the odds are high that you’re going adopt at least a little of the creepiness yourself. I don’t want to implicate mental illness in any of this, but I do want to confess to my own contribution to the culture of Creepersville – one where I was fully cognizant and culpable rather than just going balmy.

Cast your mind back to the early-to-mid nineties, and a couple of teenagers have just got their hands on a modem and the opportunity to use it without parental supervision. And they’ve got a list of local bulletin board services (BBSs).

Even back then, friend and I didn’t like creationism or puritanism. Science! Atheism! Secularism! Plus a gurning trollishness subbing in for a lack of a matured jocularity.

Creationists don’t like tits-out-of-wedlock, right?

The idea of breasts may seem a bit mild in terms of today’s deepfaked or photoshopped trolling, especially given the element of social media pile-ons. But the invasiveness of what we had planned was creepy, and the technological vulnerability we had in mind, while basic, was something we viewed opportunistically. Yucko.

So. The plan. We find a pornographic image – softcore preferably. We rename the file to make it read as if religious content (hard with the eight character limit of FAT16). Then we upload it to either a religious BBS if we can, or the religious sub-section of a more general BBS, along with a suitably religious descriptor.

Hurr-hurr. Brilliant! Right? As if we were the first to think of doing this. Well, we weren’t. Someone had beaten us to it. Hell, people had been doing this on BBSs through the 1980s.

See, we didn’t have thumbnails. These BBSs; text based. Hell, we didn’t even use Windows 3.11 to dial-in from. It was DOS 5.0 all the way. That was the beauty of the ploy (hurr-hurr); no graphical previews. No warnings.

So we set to downloading a VGA picture of some boobies over a max 14.4k connection – possibly with fallback to 12k or slower. Despite only being 320×240 with 256 colours, it took time. We went to get a snack.

Our BBS client had no capacity for displaying graphics once downloaded, and we didn’t want to waste a phone call disconnecting just so we could pop back out into the DOS prompt. We milled around on the BBS for another hour or so before disconnecting to plan the next stage.

So we fired up SEA by Photodex, who as of writing are finally closing up shop. (I used to love SEA. That *plink *sound it’d make when it’d finished rendering a picture to the screen? Loved it. All those SVGA demo pictures? Magic.

Farewell Photodex.

SEA, it turned out, got a little bit tainted that day. We expected to see PGR-12 to MA-15 rated breasts. Instead we found that we had downloaded was a picture of what appeared to be a woman attempting to copulate with a pig. I expect the woman’s horror was worse than anything we experienced of course, and it raises issues of human trafficking and so on. Horrible.

More immediate to our teenage selves was the fact that a BBS run by an adult, had had someone – presumably an adult – upload a bestiality picture with a misleading filename, only for it to be downloaded by a pair of teenagers. Yeah, disclaimers were signed and all that, but still.

Suffice to say, our plan of trolling Christians with boobs went out the window immediately, and no plan resembling it was ever considered by either of us ever again. In a sense, we got a taste of our own medicine, albeit preemptively and in a much more vile manner.

Sure, we still gurned through more of the 1990s; we were still a bit adolescent. But we certainly had our limits, and we knew explicitly what some of them were.

“If this is what it’s like for us, then maybe we shouldn’t do it to someone else, yeah?”

Context-devoid, misleading text descriptions were still an issue later on, even when we’d moved to FAT32, Windows and HTTP. There were still misleading links. Even the thumbnails would mislead on occasion.

Right click, “save link as”; get all those Star Trek: Voyager pictures for your friend, right?

“Hey, where’d you save the Star Trek pictures?”
”In your documents folder.”
”Um, that’s not Star Trek. That’s anal sex. What’s anal sex doing on my computer?”
”I… I… …”

But text seemed pretty good at misleading, especially when people used filenames to identify content over P2P without the ready availability of file-hash block lists. Viruses. Surprise pornography. Worse.

At a friend’s place in 2004 I tried downloading something over a P2P network that these days you’d look for on YouTube. Instead, and without warning, I wound up with graphic footage of the 1987 suicide of Bud Dwyer. Yay for surprises.

I’ve heard of people witnessing worse just as a result of trying to download music video clips over P2P. Certainly, P2P networks have been apt to become cesspits best avoided.

Stewing in a culture of creepiness, despite knowing your own values; you have to wonder to what extent it erodes you. Friend and I never took to 4chan and never would have, but we were relatively comfortable with Something Awful in the early aughts (yes I know, a lot less extreme). Still, if we hadn’t been unwillingly embalmed in Internet creepiness as much as we had been, would we have even been comfortable with Something Awful?

Would we, free of these experiences, be different people? Would our aesthetics and our ethics have been less disjointed?

Both friend and I experienced similar mental health issues over much the same period later in the 1990s, so you have to wonder how much that was exacerbated too. Sure, you can brush off the discrete events as having impact, but in a culture that facilitates this kind of thing there’s climate to consider. A climate which while you may not notice, affects you all the same.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address RPG fantacism, where as a young adult I collided inescapably with dissociative fantasies you literally wouldn’t believe. Oh the joy.

~ Bruce

Adventures in Creepersville #01

This could almost just as well be titled “Adventures in ‘90sland”, given that my tolerance for the appearance of creepiness begun a rapid atrophy around 2002. Beyond that, my stories of creepiness are a bit piecemeal, and a bit residual, the creepiness not holding near as much real estate in my social space. Which is not to say the aughts won’t feature.

Anyway, I thought I’d start this series off with a tale from back in the day, where we have a guy who took it for granted that “The Guys™” would always just like certain things, and moreso, those things in combination.

I have to confess I used to watch professional wrestling as a kid. Keep in mind that as a kid in rural South Australia in the ‘80s, unless it was a good day in summer and you had a decent antenna, there was a choice of two television stations; GTS-BKN and the ABC. When a few kids started watching something, it went viral in the schoolyard, and then the rest of us at least had our reference points even if we weren’t that interested.

Eventually you’d see some of this stuff at the video library in your teens, and it was a case of “okay, let’s hire some of this shit we’re familiar with in case the other stuff turns out to be terrible.” And if you’re like me, there’d also be a period of morbid curiosity in your late teens and early 20s as to why you ever watched this stuff – and so you watched even more to find out. But beyond that, eventually you’d realize you’d have been better off all along watching Care Bears or going for a bushwalk.

In my case I have other interests, some of them electronic. So when someone claims he’s got bootleg video footage caught via a homebrew satellite receiver a retired electronic engineer friend whipped up, it gets my attention. Until he mentions that the footage is professional wrestling. And mentions it again. And again. And again.

Eventually, being capable of feeling pity, and like some women who’ve been pestered for dates by guys with poor grasps of personal boundaries, I gave in and watched said bootlegged wrestling. So of course I liked this stuff, right? I must have. I mean, I remembered parts of wrestling from my youth, so there were cultural references that I got, and besides, I have a penis. I’m a guy. Why wouldn’t I love it? All the guys love wrestling. Well, actually, no.

I do however, also like the idea of the MIPS architecture. Yay RISC. I liked and still like the idea of SGI workstations like those used to render the graphics for Terminator II and a number of other blockbusters of the era. Costing tens of thousands of dollars though, I had to opt for time with a scaled-down version; The Nintendo 64.

You know what was a great test of this system’s capabilities, a real work of software engineering? Wrestling games of the late 1990s. My brothers bought some.

Here’s some advice from with someone with experience: When someone is obsessively interested in something that you are not, and when these people don’t readily respect personal boundaries, do not meet them half way. If you like MIPS, and they like wrestling waaay too much – don’t raise the issue of MIPS and wrestling in the same breath. If you do this, they’ll take that as full and unqualified affirmation and they’ll treat you like a liar when you back away later on.

“She finally went on the date with me after I asked her the 10th time! When I asked her in an awkward spot that made her vulnerable if it was a good date, she said “YES”! Now she says she doesn’t want to go on another date with me!!! She’s a liar! SHE LIKED THE DATE WE WENT ON!”

It’s like that guy, but with wrestling instead of a date, and The Guys™ instead of women. Imagine him getting shouty, and correcting you by telling you what you like. “DON’T LIE! YOU DO LIKE WRESTLING! REVISIONIST HISTORY!”

It’s probably not surprising then that guy assumed that other guys just liked a lot of other shit without them saying so. What was really novel was this one time I paid a visit to said guy, and he endorsed a product I’d never heard of and am doing a good job forgetting the name of. (Do not inform me of the answer if you just happen to know).

Basically, we’re talking a case of “Nuts and Gum” being spruiked to someone with bad teeth and nut allergies, albeit in magazine form; a wrestling news magazine that was also a pornography news magazine.

For crying out loud. I’d already indicated to this guy that I found parts of anime disturbing – i.e. the dubious sexual politics. Why he thought I’d be interested in pornography news I have no idea, other than to suggest that it was just because I have a penis. Why he thought he could even be this candid in the first place should have been a mystery, but I guess I was just in denial about how clueless he was and still is – call it supererogatory charity.

Ever since, I’ve wondered if he just needs to come out to himself. I don’t expect him to out himself to others, but the thought of him perusing a hetero spank bank interleaved with homoerotic machismo just so he can lie to himself about what arouses him, is sad beyond words (which is to say nothing of what working for the publishers must be like for the women involved).

People like these are a good part of why personal barriers exist, and why you need to be extra-observant of your own around some folks. If you’re not careful, and you allow your standards to be eroded by them, you can at least superficially start becoming like them. If you’re afflicted with a mental illness at the time, this can be a very unpleasant experience, so a bit of social hygiene is indicated – don’t let anyone tell you you’re being snobbish.

Even if you can’t articulate why this kind of stuff makes you uncomfortable, be confident that taking the next exit out of Creepersville is the right choice. That and yes, wrestling fans can be icky. No surprises there, really.


Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address some BBS-related creepiness from the early 90s, where as a teenager I intended to do something trollishly stupid, only for it to backfire in a massively creepy fashion before it even began. Call it a cautionary tale.

~ Bruce

Farewell 2019

I’ll not tell anyone off for treating this like it’s the end of the decade, but for me, I’ll be continuing to observe that the first year of a decade is year one, and the last is year ten; 2020 is the start of the 20s, but the last year of this decade. I will however, give a little more slack to myself regarding a prior New Year’s resolution; the one where I resolved not to have any more resolutions.

* Sorta-Kinda-Maybe Resolutions for 2020 *

1)  Be more wary of people presupposing their own compassion.

We all have bias blind spots – the gaps in our cognition that prevent us from seeing some of the other gaps in our cognition. These gaps tend to get worse regarding values that we strongly identify with.

If you see yourself as super-rational to the point of it being self-evident, you’re going to be both more motivated and enabled to dismiss evidence to the contrary out of hand. If things heat up and get polarized, this can accelerate to the point that you’re spouting word-salad like it’s the most rational thesis you’ve ever read.

The same is true, I think, for compassion, the bias-driven subversion of which is perhaps best exemplified by an ideation I saw on social media a few years back: “SHOW SOME EMPATHY YOU PIECE OF SHIT!”

I’ve seen subtle warning signs, in meme form, travelling among people who I know are a good deal more compassionate than most. I hate the idea of kind people being drawn down that path, if only because they’ll probably end up regretting it. But also because the mere thought of it delivers a big hit to my faith in humanity.

Now I just have to work out how to raise the matter without being a condescending jerk.

2) Maybe maintain a  writer’s journal. Maybe post it here.

I’ve been puzzling over and switching between formats for note-keeping on the book I’ve been trying to write. Recently I’ve realized I have big changes to make to the book, and that’s generated a bit of a crisis for me in the re-ordering department.

I’ve been using Scrivener, and other bibs and bobs, but as far as notetaking goes, none of it’s ever really stuck. Maybe I should just write mini-essays about my writing difficulties in blog form?

3)  Essays on the state of and need for Humanism, posted over at Medium.

I have a Medium account. I haven’t started using it yet. If I put the effort into writing something of half-decent essay quality, I’m thinking that I’ll need to post it somewhere where A) it has a better chance of being read, and B) where I’ve still got my hands on some of the publication controls.

I’ll not consider lit-journal submissions until 2021.

4) Unpacking some of the derailment of 2019, and then moving on.

Things happened. Curious things, if not exciting things.

5) Less tolerance for post-truth politics.

I’ve never been a big-T Truth type of person, and at various points I’ve to varying extents had an aversion to being tied down to anything approaching metaphysical certainty concerning realism vs nominalism or factionalism. That being said, confidence in empirical truth is another matter, and I’m confident that some bullshit is precisely that.

Humanists have been warning about false balance, a new dark age of pseudo-science, and so on for decades now, and for their efforts they’ve copped misplaced and uncomprehending accusations of certitude from people with all the epistemological prowess and unearned confidence of a Film Studies student who’s mainlined distillate of Freud. Sure, some of the philosophy backing the Humanists up in this fight has been sketchy, and some of the warnings have just been hot air and anti-Continental prejudice. But it is a bit galling seeing people who’ve been hand-waving sophists in the past, now pretending to be deeply aggrieved at the post-truth aspect of Donald Trump’s politics.

If you’ve generated credibility for Vandana Shiva’s nonsense about terminator genes, propped-up false balance in respect to the safety of anti-retroviral drugs, advocated teaching the “controversy” about vaccines, made equal time for moon landing conspiracy theorists or Flat-Earthers, or made space for the methodology of “evidence based” homeopathy studies, a series of outbursts levelled at climate change denialism isn’t going to get you out of the sin-bin. You’re a part of the post-truth context. You’re a small causal part of the environment that made it easier for the climate change denialists in the first place.

There may be limits to our ability to grasp at truths, but that doesn’t make it arrogant or in any way wrong to have some degree of confidence in our knowledge. If you can’t grok the maths, then maybe respect the labour that went into it?

I’ve been accused of intolerance in this respect, but really, I haven’t been nearly intolerant enough, and I’m a tad ashamed of it to be honest.

6) More environmental stuff?

I’d planted thousands upon thousands of trees by half-way though the ‘90s. I’d finished my science degree with a Environmental Systems major a decade ago.

You’d think I’d have more to say about the environment, wouldn’t you?

7) Book reviews?

Should I bother? I kinda want to get back on the wagon in this respect, but see “4” above.

I do have a backlog of books, but I don’t like committing to something only for it to be derailed for the umpteenth time. 2020 will be more organized, but I’m not sure of everything I’ll be able to fit in, or what you’ll be able to see of much of it.

I resolve to consider things.


In a few hours, 2019 will be in the past. There were distractions, but ultimately it feels as if it was an uneventful year. Maybe I’m handling stress better?

At any rate, I’ll not be drinking tonight, or watching fireworks. Quite boringly, I’m now going to bed.

Happy New Year!

~ Bruce

The only attack is on your sanity

Muslims aren’t banning red tulips
Atheists aren’t banning Christmas
Feminists aren’t waging war on men
Jacinda Ardern didn’t abuse Australia
Jews aren’t forming a Blarite conspiracy
Charlie Hebdo didn’t attack immigrants
Monsanto didn’t release a “terminator gene”
Anti-harassment isn’t anti-Humanism
Metal music isn’t harming your children
The UN isn’t a Satanic conspiracy
Pizzagate was never real
Wind farms aren’t a health hazard
Jordan Peterson isn’t a Nazi
Anti-retrovirals aren’t a eugenic plot
Vaccines don’t cause autism
Encryption advocates aren’t terrorists
Internet filter opponents aren’t child molesters
Criticism of Hillsong isn’t bigotry
Trump’s impeachment inquiry isn’t a coup
Veganism isn’t an anti-masturbation plot
Opposing “sex-work” doesn’t “demonize sex workers”
Loathing Pell isn’t anti-Catholic
”GLB” doesn’t magically make someone anti-“T”
Considering elders isn’t anti-millennial.

The attack is on your brain
Get your adrenalin firing, use you as a tool
wind you up, watch you go, do what they want.

Maybe they need a bulwark in the comments
Maybe they need a useful fool
Black and white thinking helps you oblige, makes you feel good.

The slightest suggestion of truth and you let the dopamine surge,
in withdrawal, after the let down, you’ll deny your own rage.

The cycle repeats. The army of binary thinking flesh-bots has another new recruit.
Demagogues of all stripes ratchet things up another notch.

~ Bruce