Blog 9-27-17 – Breaking Down

It is now deep in September after a wonderfully productive July and August. Over those previous two months I was able to keep up a good posting record of almost every day, with basically four art supply reviews a month. Now in September I’ve missed more than half the days and most of the posts have been comics and not written posts (not that the comics are bad: I love doing them), and I feel like I should explain myself.

The long and short of it is that I started school again, and I’m now grateful that I didn’t attempt to bring back an actual posting schedule in the last few months. My goal is still to post something every day, but lately I’ve been sort of creatively zapped. I am recovering, though, (I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am) and I should be picking up the pace soon (“should”). I hadn’t anticipated that this would be much of a problem, but I haven’t been back to school in several years, and it appears I just didn’t remember.

And on a bit of a tangent, as part of my “recovering” I am beginning to work on project for the Alpine Artwalk 2017, so be on the lookout for updates and new things becoming available.


Book Review – The Screwtape Letters (By: C.S. Lewis)

The Screwtape Letters is that C.S. Lewis book that you didn’t read after the ones you read in school. Unlike (but kinda like) his more famous fantasy novels, it is a Christian Apologetic (is there a better term for that yet?) series of fictitious letters sent by a bureaucratic devil (Screwtape) to his junior nephew (Wormwood). And it attempts to explain how to avoid temptation and straying from faith by telling you how to do the exact opposite, with Screwtape instructing Wormwood as he attempts to tempt his first “patient”.

There are 31 letters, and my book also contains the later-written Screwtape Proposes a Toast, that follow the Screwtape side of the conversation as his nephew attempts to sway the soul of an unnamed British man around the time of the Second World War (though not really, as the demons don’t know “time” as we do), which is about when the text was written and published in the newspaper. They read at times like essays, but do keep the flavor of correspondence throughout, and discuss how turning away from God in both large and small ways will eventually lead to the soul being cast into hell to be devoured by the devils. And with each letter (though they don’t necessarily go in “chronological” order) you can clearly read Screwtape’s increasing frustration and disappointment with Wormwood’s failure to tempt the man.

While it is impressive how well Lewis can keep the “opposite day” style presentation up without contradictions arising, there are some that pop up here and there. The most common of these being the veneer of politeness as each letter ends “Your Affectionate Uncle, Screwtape”, which seems like something the office workers of hell wouldn’t really attach to things they send. Even with it obviously being a lie, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t use something more cold and business-like. There are a few other inconsistencies like that which always seem to pop up when representing devils, as manifestations of evil are hard to rationalize. Through most of the book, though, the motivations and desires of the demons are surprisingly understandable, and that makes the message of how easily one can be turned away from the Lord more powerful.

The book does a very good job of encapsulating the teachings of the modern Christian philosophy, and does so in an entertaining way, not just with a reverse perspective, but with the snippets of story that can be found every few lines that hint about the larger narrative both on earth and in hell that really give the reader the sense that the story is happening in a world. And this method of storytelling, coupled with the fact that Lewis is generally a good and engaging writer, smoothes over most of the rough parts of the book. There are still times that I’m not sure about how things really fit together, for instance I was sure that “our Father Below” (“Satan”) was either imprisoned in hell, or not present there but out in the world sewing lies and deceit, but of course the book is an interpretation meant to focus on a point, and not get mired in the details of things like where “Satan” is, how soon souls enter hell, and how exactly did the power structure of the fallen shake out once they were cast out of heaven.

The notion that there is an office to work at, a college to attend, and quotas to meet for devils is, of course, a ridiculous one, but as it is meant to be more of a representation of a system definitionally unknowable to men on earth, it is allowed some leeway in how it goes about it. I feel it’s more for introspection and self-analysis than really to “teach” you something directly. I won’t be making any life choices off of what I read in The Screwtape Letters, but while reading, things were brought to my attention, debated, solidified, or organized in my head that wouldn’t have likely come up otherwise. And unlike so many other texts, this one provides another useful way of approaching a problem by looking at it backwards (like the recent {at the time of writing} CGP Grey video: 7 ways to maximize misery) and seeing the result opposite the one you want to achieve, or what those who oppose you are looking to get you to do.

And, in as much as it’s trying to tell you the best way to live your life closely to God, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been said before. If you want to call it “advice” it’s solid (if you actually interpret and don’t take it from the devil’s point of view), but everyone is going to have their objections. There isn’t anything earth-shattering or miraculous, just competently executed restatements of ideas that have their roots stretching back sometimes to before Christianity.

So is it a good book, then? Yes. But of course, it isn’t for everyone. Like many of his strictly Christian writings, this is a book for Christians. It isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, and, while it is quite entertaining regardless, some might find it a bit preachy. It’s a quick read, and not particularly dense or stiff, indeed I’d call it a fairly average novel that I’d probably recommend to my friends, especially if they have some connection or ideas about the source material.

Cultural Snowballing Part 2 : How it Grew

(If you haven’t read the previous part, I suggest you do, though it isn’t necessary.)
One of the other problems that could be considered an effect of cultural snowballing is people’s tendency now to “tune out”. It seems like more people than ever are advocating “unplugging” from modern life, whatever that happens to mean to them in particular.

People’s attitudes have gotten worse toward people who use advertising (which seems absurd) and those who try to sell merchandise to support themselves. (strangely, people who just straight up beg for money on Kickstarter, Subbable, and Patreon seem to get much less of a negative reaction). This negatively affects entry into markets which require a lot more serious involvement. One of these is board gaming, which requires serious thought, space, setup, and a good amount of time devotion. I recently attempted a Kickstarter for a board game, and people (even though many people say they like the “little guy”) just aren’t willing to devote the money and the time to a game that was made by one person on a shoestring budget, because if it goes wrong, they’re out a lot, too. (That would’ve worked a few years ago maybe, and especially about a decade ago when platforms such as Kickstarter didn’t exist.) This isn’t helped by the fact that there is huge growth in the market (as there is in many markets: this is just one example) and more established companies are pushing out more and better new products, making entry much more difficult. People who could previously have played every new game every year are now faced with choices, and people generally don’t like more choices. But they do like some choices.

Remember when Myspace was really the only social network (of course there were others, but who’d really heard of them?) and then Facebook came along and everyone switched, and then for a moment it looked like new social networks were popping up and dying all over the place. It seemed like it would just be a cycle of never-ending account imports. But, by the time even Google+ rolled around, people were so tired of the choices no one even used it (people only use it now because of Youtube-based statistics jacking). People like choices, (Myspace and Facebook) but not too many choices (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, etc.).

How in the world does that relate to cultural snowballing? Well, in essence it is cultural snowballing. And when confronted with a huge pile of board games or social networks, people do the same thing that they do with “‘The Maltese Falcon” and “The Searchers”: they forget about them. This makes things both easier and harder for the new. On the one hand, new things have a huge problem getting noticed over established giants that people already see, and people often don’t have the time to look at anything else. But on the other hand, if something new does get noticed, the world turns into a huge positive feedback loop as people forget about the old things and start noticing this crazy new thing.

Things just keep getting bigger and bigger. Even new things seem to come with the prerequisite of already being big before becoming super. If it’s already too much to take, where can it go from here? The first answer seems to come in the waves of culture that have become more the norm now. There are certain eras of culture that sometimes last a decade and sometimes a few weeks. These waves are surprisingly well illustrated by the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. By my calculations, this challenge should have reached every human being in the United States in just under 18 days. Soon after that, everyone in the world would be doing it. But not everyone is. This particular challenge caught on, which so few things do. It ping-ponged around for just long enough to be picked up by some celebrities, who of course challenged other celebrities. Eventually the celebrities ran out of other celebrities to challenge, and since they had all done it everyone else was dying to do it. For several days I lived in fear that someone in the world would challenge me, not because I don’t want to support ALS, but because I don’t have the means to dump ice on my head nor the funds to donate to ALS research. Anyway, the math made my fate to look like a jerk on the internet inevitable, but strangely enough, no one challenged me. Things died down before ever getting to me. (this is except for several “community of thousands” challenges, which I think almost no one accepted.) This didn’t seem right, but it happened. People either got sick of it, just didn’t do it, or ran out of important people to challenge. And suddenly the unstoppable cultural juggernaut came slamming into a brick wall to be washed out and forgotten until people browse back through their Facebook feeds. (but ALS research did get MILLIONS of dollars from the thing, which is AMAZING!)

I am not qualified to provide answers for the mysteries of both how that got big and how it just stopped, but it is a speeded-up example of what I’m talking about. All of the things we’re expected to know in time run out of relevance (though this one didn’t,exactly-) and then we simply forget. The money dried up and the time people were willing to devote to it went down. Suddenly everyone’s lives are “normal” and something else big will come along. This has happened on a much larger and longer scale with other cultural things, like comic books, comic book movies, video games, vampires, zombies, etc. Now not each of those things pushed the others out, but they did push some other large cultural block out of the way to get where they are now. It just keeps happening.

Again, this might not be a problem. New people do need to get into the market (although the newspaper comics industry doesn’t want you to believe that). And the breaking of an old cultural snowball for a larger one seems a good way to do that. But, on the other hand, it could create a wide rift between people and success, and successful people and their fans.

Either way it looks like it’s here to stay and possibly speed up. So I’d just suggest you prepare for the avalanche.