Thursday, July 9, 2009

Because I Could Not Stop For Neo-Geo

How's this, gods of AP English: knowledge brings sorrow in the sense that knowledge is the conscious awareness of change, and therefore time, and therefore death. Righto, let's get this show on the road.

My partner came down with a mild case of brain cloud recently, and I spent a great deal of time lying around keeping her company and reassuring her that she retained basic language skills. Because you can only watch so much prime-time-in-the-daytime without going insane--we will, of course, make exceptions for Smile Time, Microscopic Disease Ninja, or anything pertaining to Rose McGowan--I spent a great deal of time on my DS. In the waning days of the illness, desperate for new content, I booted up my long-dormant Wii to see what demos were available for download.

Not much, in turns out, which is why I ended up wandering into Virtual Console. For those unWii'd among my readership--one, two...excuse me, sir? Are you reading, or just passing through? What's that? You're just a janitor mopping this part of the internet? Sorry to have bothered you, carry on--Virtual Console is basically a big collection of emulated games from previous, long and not-so-long extinct systems. The big sellers are predictable: Zelda, Mario, etc. The rest of the list is more interesting.

Hello, TurboGrafx? They bought the rights to TurboGrafx games? Because I'm pretty sure they only sold three of those things in the states, to me and two other kids from Boca Raton. (Oh, and Harold, Robbo, if you're reading? Fuck you.) And they have Y's I & II. You all remember that, right? A port of two PC games, way too big for the dominant storage medium of the day, let alone those pathetic HuCard things. A game so epic, it could only run on a strange technology believed to have been reverse engineered from a crashed spaceship, something called a "Compact Disc Read-Only Memory," or CD-ROM for short. Seriously future shit.

And now, just shy of two decades later, I have a Wii. The Wii is a casual system, at the bottom of the price ladder, and its wireless internet isn't great. And I don't have the strongest signal on the bottom floor. So it might take a couple of minutes for Nintendo to beam me a copy of Y's I & II from outer space.

Because, hey. We live in the future.

Toejam & Earl, nice. Ecco the Dolphin! Memories of being a Genesis fanboy flood my sensory perception apparatuses. Samurai Shodown, kickass! It only took me sixteen years to get access to a decent version of that game! Cybernator? Hrm...M, Me...fuck, no Metal Warriors. Goddamn socialists. And hey, M.U.S.H.A.

Wait, M.U.S.H.A.?

I never played that game. Never really wanted to. I saw a review of it in a gaming magazine I read eighteen years ago.

And I read about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, too. And Clay Fighter. And...shit, all of these.

And I am a child, disaffected, misanthropic, snobbishly disobedient, and spoiled rotten, looking through gaming magazines, a world of fan cultures (we didn't call them that then) and semiotic systems (nope, not them either) that still seems small enough to be kind of manageable. On the consoles, at least.

Those systems are gone, of course; I still have some of them, but at this point they're retro kitsch and not an object of serious veneration. What fills me with a quiet sadness I cannot easily identify, let alone explain, is not the realization of how old these memories are, or the mere shock at their resilience in the face of more pertinent data, such as my blood type, or why my girlfriend was angry at me the previous morning. What slows my breath and chills my bones is the memory of a trite story, of childish pride. I remember, suddenly, how very, very important this all was.

And it's important to me now, of course. The descendants, anyway. But not like that. I wonder sometimes if I'll spend the rest of my life seeking, consciously or not, that sense of mastery-belonging-comfort.

I was a gamer kid. Weird, and shy, and defiantly ungrateful, but not a bad kid at that. And then I went to college, where I discovered drama and, appropriately, acted like a dick for a while. And now I'm here (wherever here might be today), looking for work, looking for angles, looking for hope, and I'm not sure what the hell I am, and whether or not I'd be better served by selling all this shit off, cutting my losses at three published articles, and getting a job with a drill.

The good news, however, is that Samurai Shodown, even after sixteen years, is fucking amazing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Project Darkside: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Black Mage

So, a few moons back, I'm playing Assassin's Creed, and thinking about good and evil, in games, like you do. Particularly in D&D, where the "payoff" for good or evil is so nebulous. More to the point, in a polytheistic universe with no dominance of celestial force in favor of good, what is evil? The best I could parse out was a general distinction between altruism (good) and selfishness (evil). This is a simple binary, by now intuitive to most people, backed up by common sense, personal experience, and not reading Ayn Rand.

This got me thinking about evolutionary psychology. (The group/self binary, not Ayn Rand.) I don't know what to make of evo psych as a science or social science; only the sexiest bits filter out into the mainstream press, and it's anyone's guess what the real research looks like at any given time. The stuff that's well-publicized, at least, tends to be a heady mixture of racism, sexism, and bullshit, and it's been argued that the field basically boils down to explaining modern behaviors (of which there exists little reliable evidence) by noting procedural similarities with ancient behaviors (of which there exists even less reliable evidence). Most of what you read about evo psych will fail to even accomplish the first of those two--if you want to explain why blonde hair is considered desirable by a significant majority of the species, for example, you first have to establish that it's actually true. (In case you were wondering, it turns out that it's because blonde women are more flammable than normal, non-blonde women, which makes them a valuable source of warmth in the cold Bronze Age winters.) David Livingstone Smith's Why We Lie was quite interesting and informative, and seemed to fall prey to precisely none of the huge methodological problems demonstrated in the shit you see in the Emm Ess Emm, so maybe the field's chock full of talented, sensible people who are drowned out by a couple of fame-whoring shitheads. Who knows.

That said, evo psych--not just people who claim to work in the field, but people discussing "natural" morality in general--tends to asume that selfishness is the default, and that works fine for reciprocal altruism. (In a shout-out to my demon-hunting brother, it is truly wonderful that our textbook example for altruistic behavior is derived from vampire bats.) But what about "pure" altruism, in which no obvious survival benefit presents itself? One current answer is that "pure" altruism is basically a glitch; early human societies may have presented few opportunities for altruism that didn't provide a likely survival benefit, so our genes don't account for the possibility. Ok, makes sense enough. Just because a behavior is widespread/universal doesn't mean it's necessarily adaptive, but could also be a spandrel or a malfunctioning of an adaptive behavior due to a change in context.

But really, do those circumstances exist even now? The theory above is meant to explain the Mother Theresas of the world--fuck off, secular contrarians, you know what I mean--but can we say conclusively that she did not benefit from her work? Because we sure as hell did. Missionary and humanitarian work within Christianity have historically yielded huge benefits for Christian cultures, establishing a cultural beachhead in what might otherwise have been hostile lands; while we're at it, poverty in general is a persistent security risk to pretty much everyone. But still, the benefit to the individual seems negligible, even if the benefit to the group--nation, in poli-sci terms, or just a general sense of "people around you"--is significant. Egoism generally assumes that altruism can only be "rational" when its benefit is fairly direct, fairly certain, and can reliably be calculated rationally. ("Rational" is a word I'll be using, and misusing, quite a bit. Bear with me, and try to tolerate some bendy definitions. Have a drink first, if that helps. I'll wait here.)

(Back? Ok.)

So we have the libido--which just means "drives" in early psychological usage, not specifically sex, although sex is certainly one of the strongest--which provides for selfishness, which encompasses reciprocal altruism. We also have this other, nebulous "moral feeling" that sometimes directs some of us to varying degrees of less-reciprocal altruism. (Or maybe we don't, but lots of philosophers think we do, and hey, sake of argument.) It's been suggested that this second urge is social, and not rational (assuming, of course, that they can be separated), but there are problems with this as well. Niebuhr uses the example of the individual whose moral feeling places him in conflict with, and therefore in danger from, his group to suggest that "conscience," his term for this nebulous "other" feeling, cannot be wholly rational or social.

So what if conscience isn't a glitch of the libido, but a key part of it? What if self-preservation, the drive to keep breathing, keep eating, and keep fucking, and make sure one's children survive to adulthood to do the same, has developed ways of presenting itself that are purely survival oriented, but not (consciously) rational, and therefore not calculable, in their expression to our consciousness? In a review of Christopher Strain's Pure Fire, a work concerning self-defense ideology in the civil rights movement, the author was criticized for including essentially suicidal actions under the rubric of self-defense. But there are, perhaps, different kinds of suicides, some quite life-affirming--there's some fine work on the social identity of suicide bombers that would seem to support this idea. Niebuhr's example, like Strain's, just means that the individual in question had determined, though not on a conscious or rational level, that staying in his current community "as is" constituted sufficient uncertainty and terror to be functionally equivalent to suicide, and a less pleasant one than a de facto suicide brought about by direct action.

So, essentially, what we have here is hard to pin down within the philosophical schools with which I'm familiar. In its early, pen-and-paper conception, I called it ethical nihilism, which is apparently a phrase both vague and in use, so here I use the more humble "Project Darkside," or simply D. It's egoistic, certainly, but not rational. It leads to a kind of enforced altruism (or "altruism," if you please), for reasons to be discussed, but doesn't require a god's-eye view like utilitarianism. It is ultimately consequentialist, but posits moral actions with no clear consequences in sight. More to the point, it encourages no particular actions, but seems to do a good job describing how people actually live; yet, by its insistent directionality it seems to be proscriptive as well as descriptive. It posits that morality is not a duty, per se, but but something that arises, emergently, from the chance interactions of horny people who don't want to die. Things like aggregate happiness, respect for free will, or adherence to rules derive their value from their contribution to the needs of the libido, and may be provisionally discarded when it's convenient to do so, i.e. when they cease to contribute. (And there it is, folks, the sentence that can be quoted out of context to undermine my credibility in anything I say or do in the future. Public office, here I...stay quietly away from!) Which is where it gets a bit creepy.

Because we can't accurately imagine the past or recreate lived experience from texts, D suggests that morality is entirely contextual. The treatment of women as property--or, if another of my pet theories is correct, the creation of the concept of "property" as analagous to women--might be so historically pervasive because, under different material/cultural conditions, it was actually beneficial overall. It's clearly not now, but when someone disagrees, all the ethical nihilist feminist may offer in reply is that the enslavement of women is detrimental to one's ability to keep breathing. (Conveniently, it allows said feminist to morally add, "...because if you keep doing it, we'll kill you.") So it's pretty damn relativistic about rights in general, and rights advance only by economic pressure and the threat of violence, but is that really so different from now?

Now, the theological implications. It's obviously compatible with atheism, and a rationalist would say it requires atheism, but a fan of D would make a rather crap rationalist. If religion is viewed primarily in terms of its value as tribal affiliation, things get muddier. It's fairly compatible with transcendentalism, or unitarianism, or the American civil religion, of course; interesting, since those traditions all draw heavily from Europe, but are also as American as cherry pie. Or, well, you know.

In more old-school religion, D is oddly compatible with the doctrine of total depravity. In fact, it might be the doctrine of total depravity, with a weirdly sunny eschatology tacked on. Simply put, if the sum of all human kindness and decency is an unconsciously calculated selfishness, it's easy to see exactly what's wrong with the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We can't be moral because we can't even conceive of what real disinterested love would be. Or, for that matter, real faith in God. Faith is instead something we believe provisionally and socially, and through that loophole, you could drive a camel.

Now then. Back to the games.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The media effects paradigm has been validated!

So, the girlfriend is still sick, three and a half months since she became too ill to attend class, and we're still trying to figure out why. I'm coping with the uncertainty by spending an inordinate amount of time with my DS.

On that note, I picked up Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, mostly for her benefit, as I'm not as into GTA as most of my particular subgroup, it would seem. I liked San Andreas a whole lot, but mostly because of the RPG elements that have been absent from the more recent iterations. But, after having failed to complete Fire Emblem more times than I care to admit, I gave Chinatown Wars a try, and was pleasantly surprised. Then, something disturbing happened.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has completely desensitized me to market capitalism.

Oh, it started out as a way to break up the monotony of the story missions. A little E here, some downers there. Buy low, sell high. Not complicated. But soon, without any conscious effort, I began looking at the numbers more closely. In describing the game, I found myself using the term "ROI" in reference to my purchasing patterns. I began purchasing additional safehouses in key neighborhoods to lower the risk of getting pinched with six grand of smack on my person. (No, it still doesn't have any concept of "prison," but losing a hundred bucks and all your guns is a hell of a lot less threatening than losing a hundred bucks, your guns, and some small packages that were the fruits of an entire hour of gameplay.) I once found myself very frustrated when I couldn't afford to make a purchase I needed for a mission. I wasn't broke, you see; I had assets out the wazoo. The trouble was, I had no liquidity. Everything I had was tied up in weed, which nobody was interested in buying because the goddamn Jamaicans were flooding the market with their cheap shit, just like fucking Microsoft. Prices were low, and stayed low for some time. I hoped that perhaps I could influence the market by executing dealers with shotguns, but this failed to have any appreciable effect. I've recently opened up the ability to hijack shipments of specific gangs' merchandise, and I'm eager to see if that will give me a bit more of an edge.

So for now, I'm back to advancing the story, idly wondering which behaviors of the market are being modeled, and which ones aren't. If I buy up/steal and hoard all the coke I can find, can I create demand through scarcity? In a more robust sim, would it be prudent to put more resources into buying off the police, to both reduce my risk and inhibit competition? Should I tolerate the comparatively low ROI for weed transactions due to the inherently lowered risk of a smaller initial investment? Or should I be patient, maximizing profits by means of carefully planned, high risk ventures in powder? Even more disturbing than that, I find myself idly wondering about reading up on currency markets.

For God's sake, we really shouldn't let kids anywhere near this. Lord knows what they'll pick up.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hey Kids, Do Ya Like Violence?

So, we've had a few shootings recently. Brings me back.

We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of Columbine, an event I've spent far too much time writing and thinking about in a world that also contains rape, slavery and Battle for Wesnoth, and the subject of a new book by the guy who really got me into internet journalism. (Not that I consider what I'm doing now to be journalism, but...y'know, internet journalism is cool.) And I'm proud to say that Mortal Kombat was not mentioned at all in the recent shooting of three police officers by a crazy guy who thought Obama was going to take away his guns.

Granted, I'm not sure why he felt that shooting three police officers would be an effective way of preventing this. I'm fairly certain his guns are now in the possession of the Philadelphia police, which seems to be the opposite of what he wanted. And even if Obama had taken them, he could have held onto them for at least a few more weeks if he'd just stayed at home watching TV like the rest of us. But anyway, he shot them, and I hope he was satisfied with that result, because it's kind of too late to change course for him at this point.

And then, with much fanfare and at least a little organ music, entered the blogs.

Distilled, some rather avant-garde, largely wordless posts from the left digging up old video and text of The Clinton Chronicles, G. Gordon Liddy's famous exhortation to aim for the head or groin of armored ATF agents--which I can only assume he picked up from Metal Gear Solid 2--and the modern-day Martin Luther who took an armed stand against the medieval tyranny of the Unitarian Universalist Church. The right picks up the ball and insists that the left should be ashamed for trying to criminalize speech on the specious grounds that the aforementioned clips, or conservative sensibilities in general, cause this kind of violence. And some of the posters seem to agree about the causation, and some are more vague, and I thought it deserved a think.

I've written stuff I'm not proud of. Which is not to say that I think it's dangerous, or that I'm not a total attention whore about urging people to read it. I have, however, written a thing or two that I'm proud of, but I'd never actually want published. Case in point, a short story written in my late teens called Last Will and Testament, which is basically an emphatic defense of suicide that borders on celebration. It should go without saying that I don't exactly agree with the protagonist, in the sense that there are around ten ways to kill myself located in the room I'm typing in, and I've not opted to avail myself of any of them. But I like (my memory of) the story, I like its parsimony, its rhetorical force, and its general shamelessness. But I really, really wouldn't want it falling into the hands of a random teenager I don't personally know. So that, apparently, is my line. That's the idea I wouldn't want to express in public for fear of what someone might do with it. I don't know if it's morally necessary for me to have a line, and I can't really apply my line, by analogy, to anyone else's work. They can draw their own lines; it's really not my job.

I don't believe that causality is as simple as yes/no when we're dealing with something like human relations, a subject so ridiculously complex that it only makes sense to deal with it in terms of metaphor and analogy. But I do think that, were I the kind of person who had disliked Clinton's policies to the point that I had (if not actually believed or endorsed) tolerated the kinds of insane conspiracy-mongering highlighted in these posts, to the point that I didn't actively ridicule them, I'd want to take this moment to stop and consider what I had said, and what I had done, and what I had implicitly or explicitly defended or repudiated.

Because, even if there's no causality, these ideas matter. Ideas matter for their own sake, and ideas about politics--ideas about power, and justice, and how rights, duties and resources ought to be allocated in a world of finite resources, fluid wealth, and unfathomable social complexity--ought to be respected. The processes of politics, maybe not. I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with thinking that representative democracy is, at its heart, pretty stupid. And I'm certainly not suggesting that there's anything wrong with treating politicians with no more respect than any other human being of similar character. But human beings matter, once the sun's up and all the trendy nihilists have eaten their pancakes and gone to bed. And politics is about us, about who gets paid, and who gets shot, and who gets left alone. It might not be a noble endeavor, but we are fucking stuck with it, for no reason other than because we are human.

I am not a principled conservative, and my imaginary readers may form their own opinions as to whether I am, by default, unprincipled, unconservative, or both. But were I a principled conservative, I'd want to look at the shooters, and look at their opinions, and take a careful account of where they differed from my own. And then I'd want to look again, to see where they seemed similar to my own, and see if that made me look at my own ideas differently. I'd think about my own writing, and how to express those ideas more clearly and more forcefully: if not to be more civil, or more safe, but only to be more honest.

Imaginary conservative reader retorts, why don't those other asshat bloggers and assorted media whores have to do this?

Well, shit, I hope they do. I think crafting words into communicable ideas is pretty much the most awesome thing about being human, and it's part and parcel of consciousness, rationality, and the very idea of intentional action. Words fucking matter. I think political discourse, in the main, probably ought not to be conducted via stream-of-consciousness or automatic writing. But when the "Bush/Hitler" stuff gets brought up, I can only say...yeah, kinda stupid.

On the other hand, Bush's government did kidnap and American citizen, Jose Padilla, take him to a legal phantom zone, and torture him until he lost his mind. His staff did write memos that granted the office of the president theoretically unlimited power, even if we do not honestly believe he planned to suspend elections and start building concentration camps. He did either a) start a war on false pretenses, or b) start a war by accident, from a bad reading of widely criticized intelligence. He did, publicly and repeatedly, utter false statements about Iraq's WMD capabilities, even if we didn't notice because Clinton had publicly and repeatedly uttered the same false statements. WMD experts knew Clinton was wrong, and they knew Bush was wrong, and we spent four ridiculous years arguing with each other over the largely irrelevant point of whether or not these false statements constituted lying. He authorized torture. I said that before, but I think it's important, so I'm going to say it again:

Oh my fucking God the President of the United States authorized torture. Of anyone. Prisoners of war, foreign civilians, American citizens, your mom, anyone. He made it legal for the government to waterboard anyone they felt like.

These things are facts; they are well-documented, and to deny them or dismiss them is to opt out of social reality and voluntarily take up the identity of a schizophrenic. This makes them a bit different than, say, claiming that Obama's volunteer corps thing is a) mandatory and b) suppresses religious practice, since in this case, but a) and b) are ridiculous fucking lies. Bill Clinton did not murder Vince Foster and half of the state of Arkansas. In 1994, ATF agents were not about to kick in the door of every American who had legally purchased a handgun. These things did not happen. So I'm hesitant to argue that it's equivalent to things like Bush=Hitler, which identifies itself as hyperbole by the very fact that it is literally absurd. Hitler died in 1945. In Germany. You can look it up. The Red Army got custody of his body, and in all likelihood they did something truly hideous to it. George W. Bush cannot be, literally, the same person. Are we all clear on this? That making a literally absurd claim is not the same thing as making a literally possible but factually untrue one?

Lastly, there is one more point that tends to come up in these arguments that deserves mention: the Bush=Hitler people don't seem to have actually murdered anyone specifically because of what they feared Bush would do, despite whatever horrible paranoid fantasies the left might have been feeding them. This isn't bragging, and it isn't an attempt to criminalize speech. It's just a suggestion if we are going to talk about consequences and tragedy, we would probably do well to focus on tragedies that have actually happened as opposed to imaginary future tragedies that might reassure us of our own innocence.

I really did use the word "fuck" quite a bit in that post. Which, I suppose, leads to a nice mea culpa to end on: I do talk about politics in a largely improvisational, stream-of-consciousness sort of way. More accurately, I think about politics that way, and then carefully and intentionally form sentences deliberately constructed to look spontaneous. It's not just politics, I do it with everything. Unless I've tried to date you in the past, you really can't imagine how irritating it is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's true. It's science.

Since the birthing of the science-fiction genre from the sticky womb of the romantics--it was a difficult birth, as the mother was in poor health, having received more than a few machinegun slugs from the modernists--we have imagined many futures. Some are the bright, utopian dreams of the Christians and the Marxists; others are the black, dystopian nightmares of the Nietzscheans and the LaRouche Democrats.

But the one thing we all seem to agree on, in every iteration of the future, is that there will be co-ed showers.

One might think upon this, and wonder exactly where our predictive priorities lie.

PS-Tonight's Dollhouse hinges on the fact that one of the male dolls, when showering with Sierra, gets a boner. Leaving the plot itself aside, do you think they mentioned that the role would require ogling a naked Dichen Lachman when the actors were auditioning for the role?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This I Believe, part I

Last night, I ended up staying up far too late, and found myself politics and philosophy on Facebook. Which in turn reminded me of just how confused my ideas about this stuff are. So, as much for my own benefit as anyone else's, I figured I'd lay down some baselines.

My formative moral influences are Christian. Partially because I grew up in Western civilization, and partially because of more direct parental influence, and a great respect for non-violent resistance and pacifism. So I start with a basic idea that violence is bad, and ought to be avoided.

Ok, pretty simple here, and few people would disagree with that under most circumstances. Where I started getting into trouble was, if violence is so bad, why the hell do we have armies? Or, for that matter, cops?

Because law enforcement is, fundamentally, state-sanctioned violence. That's not an argument about the validity or morality of law enforcement, but that's what it is. Contrary to what I always enjoy reading from Dennis "Marx was right, marriage really IS prostitution!" Prager, laws are not a psychic expression of a citizens' collective moral values. A law is nothing more and nothing less than an authorization of the state to use violence against its citizens under certain, carefully delineated circumstances. Some people might quibble with this, stating that some (most) infractions are dealt with via alternative means such as fines. Well, ok, you have to pay a fine. And if you don't pay it, alternative means of acquiring it are employed. If that doesn't work, agents of the state are authorized to kidnap you for the length of your trial and, if applicable, subsequent incarceration. If you run, they are authorized to chase you down and subdue you by force. If you fight back, they're authorized to extend that force. If you fight back enough that the agents' lives are in danger, they're authorized to kill you.

I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with any of this--well, I did as a kid, and will discuss that in a minute--but this is what law is. Right or wrong, it's serious business, and ought to be taken seriously.

As a kid, I had a fundamental problem with the idea that any freedom, even the freedom to do violence to others, would be so unevenly applied between the state and its citizenry. There are reasons for this, many of them good, but we're in flashback mode now. I grew to identify as an anarchist. As I got older, and got into gnosticism and deontological ethics, I made the connection to Christianity. How can one be morally ok with any form of government when said government depends on institutionalized violence for its very existence?

"Well, because otherwise you'd be dead," was the common answer. And that works out ok if we assume that life matters more than principle. It seemed/seems to me that the Christian, pacifistic reply to this claim, however, is some variant of "so the fuck what?" Doesn't this world belong to the sinners anyway? Isn't this entire enterprise founded on martyrdom? In this sense, a "Christian state" becomes something of a contradiction in terms. An army of pacifists? More to the point, even Christian leadership of a democratic state presents some issues: if a president believes that martyrdom is a higher good than "defensive" killing, it doesn't seem like something that'd be wise or moral to put into practice if the voters don't agree. Martyrdom is one thing; volunteering others for martyrdom is trickier.

But, leaving aside Christianity for the moment, even a baseline belief that violence is wrong on a basic and transcendent level makes it difficult to interpret law enforcement morally. The most commonly employed argument is a utilitarian one, the "necessary evil" referred to in Common Sense: violence directed towards a net reduction in the total violence of a system is moral. The death of a multiple murderer is an evil to be balanced against the good it creates, i.e. a less fearful populace and a few lucky individuals who avoid being murdered by that particular person. But utilitarianism has its own problems that I don't particularly feel like going into here; suffice to say that this argument always kinda rubbed me the wrong way.

So what's left? Pacifism, I suppose, would seem to be the conclusion, except I'm not sure it's possible to practice it. I can sit here and promise not to kill, even in self-defense, and it might sound moral or crazy or both. I can even make it more ambiguous and promise not to kill in defense of others. But the society of which I am a part--there's extensive documentation on this, no matter how much of a shut-in I might be on a given day--has already taken extensive action on my behalf to ensure that I don't have to. Armed, uniformed men and women walk the streets of the city in which I live, and when something happens, they check it out, fill out a great deal of paperwork to ensure a record of the event, and when possible, arrest people who are then tried and imprisoned. I benefit from the violence done on my behalf, funded by my taxes and moderated by representatives elected by people like me. And, short of finding an unclaimed patch of land somewhere in the Massachusetts area that has no legal jurisdiction, there is no way for me to opt out of this system. I cannot avoid benefitting from the violence of others. And thus, as a citizen, I must accept that the violence done in my name is, on a psychic level, my own.