When I deconverted from Evangelical Christianity, I started reading philosophy. Academic philosophy provided a more rigorous discussion of the existential questions that held my attention. A subject that's interested me a lot has been the idea of moral responsibility, and whether we can retain it in a naturalistic universe. Arguing in the negative was Galen Strawson in Freedom and Belief, which I gave up half-way since I found it a bit too technical.
Something more accessible (but perhaps less robust) was Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility. If a human being is just a computer made out of meat, how can they really be responsible?
Here's some representative quotes:
There's an interesting discussion on how and why freedom is illusory:
Perhaps the most compelling passage was his defense of Robert Harris, a serial killer with a horrifically abusive childhood:
Something which found its way into Beta Male was a discussion of genetic predispositions towards violence:
I find analytic philosophy to be really interesting. Philosophers start from basic, foundational intuitions, and construct arguments on top of them. The problem is that somethings these intuitions lead to conflicting arguments, which is what you would expect from a brain that was built for survival and reproduction, not truth tracking. John Danaher over at philosophical disquisitions phrases it thusly, in an excellent overview of Waller's book:
Which side wins this particular debate? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell. Both have presented valid arguments for their side, but both of those arguments rest on principles of responsibility that are, at best, intuitively supported. The question then becomes which principle do you find more intuitively compelling. Obviously, based on his thought experiment, Mele thinks his principle is more compelling, but Strawson, no doubt, finds his more compelling.
Integrating philosophy into a novel is a difficult thing. It has to be done organically, because it's easy to make your characters talking mouthpieces for a particular ideology or mental framework. And when that happens, they cease to be characters, and become utilitarian machines for conveying arguments. Of course, that's not what a full rounded person is. Striking the balance is hard, but not impossible.
Then there are the sections where Strayed could go deeper than she does. In one, a woman writes that the man who knocked her up isn’t terribly interested in being involved with her or the baby. They have a tenuous relationship and he leaves—probably seeking another nulliparous woman. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart applies here, but it isn’t story-driven or personal enough to merit inclusion. The fundamental forces are there but ignored.
This, my friends, is why people hate evolutionary psychology.
Leo Babauta is an outstanding blogger and writer, whose books I highly recommend. He writes about the practical application of zen and mindfulness in our modern, hyper-connected, super stressful lives. It's a voice a balance in a system that's always demanding more and more. He's one of the people that really sold me on the benefits of meditation (which have been huge for me, in both my personal and professional life). Here's a couple of his posts that I loved:
Anyways, I highly recommend you check his shit out.
When I write, I always listen to music. The music sets the tone for the scene, and it makes the entire creative process filmic in nature. Having sketched out the scene on paper beforehand, I watch it unfold in my head, transcribing the events down onto the screen.
Here are some of the awesome songs I listened to white writing the novel:
Mazzy Star has this deep, peaceful melancholy to their sound. Most of the tracks here are like that, because that's the kind of emotional mindspace I wanted to tap into when I was writing. Even when Michael, my protagonist, is full of rage, it's an anger that comes from sadness.
My favourite Naked and Famous song. Love the video, no matter how little sense it makes.
Love the pathos here (yeah, it's an Emo book, haha). Used it for a scene where Michael runs into his ex girlfriend in a nightclub.
I'm a huge Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor mark. Neither of them had anything to do with this song but goddamn, it's a good one.
I love love love this rendition. Bon Iver's talent is simply amazing. Words fail me here.
This minimalist remix was equally rousing. Reminds of Asia, where I wrote most of the fourth draft.
I want to write books the way Dallas Green writes songs. Simple, clear, true.
It's not all dark. Resolution is an outstanding track, made even better with Kygo's remix.
Kygo's talent as a producer is really amazing. Saw him in person in Canada about a year ago. Great show.
Tycho's minimalist, stark sound really gets me into the focus zone.
Icelandic shit is some good shit. Most of his stuff sounds the same but it's the good kind of same, like how every Nickelback song sounds like the same Nickelback song (which I love).
Discovered Houses into the seventh draft. Something about their sound is just so beautiful.
Music is powerful because it makes us feel something.
That's the same reason narrative is powerful. They're different paths to take to the same place: of being moved by a sincere, affecting piece of work.
"All you have to do is write one true sentence.
I'm a huge fan of Mark Manson, a writer I really admire. He's kind of a generalist who writes about all sorts of things. Here are some of his thoughts on confidence, which you should read in their entirety:
No, the solution to the confidence conundrum is not to feel as though you lack nothing and delude yourself into believing you already possess everything you could ever dream. The solution is to simply become comfortable with what you potentially lack.
“You can not die of grief, though it feels as if you can. A heart does not actually break, though sometimes your chest aches as if it is breaking. Grief dims with time. It is the way of things. There comes a day when you smile again, and you feel like a traitor. How dare I feel happy. How dare I be glad in a world where my father is no more. And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did, and giving up your grief is another kind of death.”
So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.
WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things with a large, all-encompassing work?
From a Wall Street Journal interview.
I've never been a huge anime fan, but recently, a friend of mine introduced me to some of the more popular contemporary series like Death Note, Code Geass, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and the like. When you watch a lot of these series you start to see interesting recurring themes that, while they have Western analogues, they're not quite the same. One of the most interesting recurring themes in anime is this idea of overcoming terrible, horrific suffering, and preventing your will from breaking. In anime, the will is everything.
In Hollywood movies, there's always the moment where the hero is on his last legs, about to break, before he turns it around. The Japanese do the same thing, except when their protagonists are on their last legs, they're really on their last legs. Above all, they've suffered.
It's a neat trick, basically torturing the hero so that you empathize with him, and then reversing the power in the situation and giving you a vicarious emotional payoff. Even though you know what's happening and that you're having your strings pulled it doesn't affect you any less.
For context, in the clip below, the main character (Kaneki) is hallucinating, hovering on the precipice of completely psychologically breaking. He's been tortured for hours, having had his fingers and toes repeatedly amputated (due to superhuman regenerative abilities, they grow back). For the entire season of the show, he's espoused a philosophy of nonviolence and pacifism as a tool for solving his problems. I've probably never seen such a devastating take-down of pacifism as a workable philosophy:
I loved, loved the cinematic way they bring you down and then right back up. It's a testament to the direction of the series.
And of course, here's the vicarious revenge-porn payoff:
A narrative is a form of manipulation, but we are willing participants. I think a lot of superhero/superpowered protagonist stories are vicarious male power fantasies that appeal to low status men, whether deliberately or not.
I've watched this scene countless times, and it heavily influenced one of the pivotal scenes in Beta Male.
The trick to making you like a bastard for a protagonist, it seems, is to make his enemies even bigger bastards.
People think I get most of my inspiration from books, but that's actually the least common source I draw on.
I get inspiration from everything: from the quiet, tender moments that exist only in my memory, from the sky when it glows bright red orange at dusk, from the compassion of other human beings, from film, from anime, from television, and music.
This performance from Bon Iver is quite possibly my favourite live performance of music ever.
Language is a limited medium. No matter how hard we try we can't capture all the beauty of a particular moment, all the emotion, in a sequence of written symbols.
Songs like this, though. They make me want to try.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis