Charlie's Blog: January 2016


Low Information Diet

There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.

There is a scene in The Razor's Edge where Bill Murray is on a very cold mountainside with his many books. He is shivering and freezing in front of a small fire when the fire burns out. In an epiphany, Murray starts burning his books, and this acts brings enlightenment to him. I think about this scene often when I contemplate going on a low information diet.

Tim Ferriss deserves the most credit for popularizing the concept of a low information diet. Basically, you decide to stop following the news and other streams of information that add little to nothing to your life. I have written about this topic before in various posts, and the reason I struggle with it is because I am an information addict. This is the curse of the internet, and I am grateful that I do not own a smartphone to exacerbate the problem. The smartphone is the technological hip flask for today's information junkie.

Despite my continuous struggle with this problem, I do have one success in the battle. I am someone who was deeply involved with Facebook, and I quit that thing. To this day, I am proud of that accomplishment. I can honestly say that my life got better as a consequence of getting off of that infernal platform. Now, I am trying to quit Twitter. If Facebook is heroin, Twitter is cocaine. It's not as addictive, but it is still problematic.

The reason social media is so addictive is because it is an endless supply of very interesting but useless information. Social media sucks time and focus into a vortex of gossip and cat pictures. Twitter is more respectable than Facebook because journalists use it so much. But both platforms provide very little information that you need to know.

I am a big fan of edited aggregators. For instance, the Drudge Report is an edited aggregator. Instapundit is another one. Basically, these people read the news and filter out what they consider most relevant and important. My personal favorite is Google News. Sites like these actually save you time instead of wasting it. I spend about 10 to 15 minutes with Google News in the evening, and I am done with the news.

Social media acts as a filter and editor, but it does it in a different way. A site like Google News merely separates the kernel from the husk. Facebook and Twitter take those kernels and ferment them into hard liquor which is distilled into a purer and more addictive form. That is the key. Filtering and distillation are not the same things. Filtering removes the extraneous. Distillation also removes the extraneous but concentrates the interesting into greater and more potent quantities. All addiction comes from this concentration of substances. The coca leaf is a mild stimulant on par with espresso, but cocaine extracted from the coca leaf is one of the most addictive drugs on the planet.

I am someone who used to like drinking whiskey, but I found myself developing some alcoholic tendencies. My response was to become a teetotaller which works but means missing out on alcohol's favorable attributes such as relaxation and sociability. What I know is that I can drink beer in moderation but not whiskey. Likewise, I am fine with the internet when it is just email, Google News, and Feedly. But Twitter is my information Jim Beam. So, I am attempting to quit Twitter AGAIN.

I think I will be successful this time because I always learn something from previous failures. It took me a few tries to quit Facebook. But I have learned something about information in the process which is to see that information is not egalitarian. You really are better off not knowing some things. There are benefits to adhering to a low information diet.

What I have noticed about being free of a smartphone and Facebook is that most of the people around me are divorced from reality. It's like the story of the guy running on a beach with his headphones who never heard the plane that crash landed on him killing him. The pilot could not fathom why the guy just didn't run a few feet to the left or right. That guy totally missed the most vital information he needed in his life which was the approach of that plane. Likewise, stories now abound of people crashing their crashes or walking in front of buses because of their absorption in their smartphones. Distracted driving has now overtaken drunk driving as a leading cause of traffic accidents and fatalities.

The reason drugs and alcohol have such bad reputations is because of their ability to divorce us from reality. How are social media and smartphones any different? At least the drunk at the bar can have a conversation with you. The smartphone zombie cannot. I have already had social occasions ruined by smartphone addicts who can't put the devices down. Dinner with friends and family is now a waste of time.

Being free from this endless distraction is like a breath of fresh air. The thing you have to get over is the nagging feeling that you are missing something important. Just remember one thing. The really important stuff gets known whether you like it or not. I stopped following sports years ago, but I know that Alabama just won the championship. I will now promptly forget it. You just have to get used to being deliberately ignorant of some things. Some things aren't worth knowing.

I am going to win this battle. It is worth fighting. There is more to life than a screen.


Batman Versus Superman

Don't talk like one of them. You're not! Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don't, they'll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve.

A movie is coming out featuring a battle between Batman and Superman, but I don't care to see it. I suspect that it will be really bad. This post has nothing to do with that movie. It has to do with politics.

Batman and Superman are two of the most beloved superheroes in comic book history. The reason for this is because they are archetypes like Apollo and Prometheus. They have been rendered both campy and serious depending upon the creative direction of the artist or director. I will deal with them in their serious depictions.

Superman is the first great superhero. He is essentially the character that made the superhero. The problem with Superman is that he was and remains just a little too super. The guy can fly and do just about anything. He is virtually immortal which he makes him very boring. So, Batman comes along. Batman is totally not Superman. He has no superpowers at all except being rich. He is simply a man who makes the most of his limited resources. Naturally, Batman is fascinating where Superman is boring. Batman is a human being. Batman is real.

The reason people have always wanted to pit these two heroes against each other is because they are an argument between the ideal and the real. Superman is the ideal man. He has extreme power and a Boy Scout personality that borders on naivete. Batman is relatively weak and dark. The man has suffered in life. Batman has touched reality, and reality has made him what he is. This is important because both represent the two main philosophies warring for political control in America today.

Superman represents the progressives and the liberals. Basically, extreme power should rest in the hands of the supremely benevolent. It is OK that Superman is a virtual god among mere mortals because we can count on his goodness and good intentions. As for the bad guys in Superman, they are merely misdirected and cartoonish. What makes them bad are their bad intentions. The chief rival of Superman is Lex Luthor. Basically, Luthor is a mere mortal who is a genius rich guy with bad intentions. It doesn't take much to see that Luthor is virtually the same guy as Batman.

Lex Luthor is a conservative. He is described in Wikipedia this way:

The character is a power-mad American billionaire, business magnate, gifted scientist, inventor, philanthropist to the city of Metropolis, and one of the most intelligent people in the world. A charismatic and well-known public figure, he is intent on ridding the world of alien superhero Superman, who Lex Luthor views as an obstacle to his megalomaniacal plans and as a threat to the very existence of humanity.

Basically, Lex Luthor is a Republican. His values clash with Superman, so this makes him a bad guy. Yet, Bruce Wayne is also a billionaire and all the rest. Why is Batman a good guy where Lex is a bad guy? It really comes down to context. Batman would be a supervillain in Metropolis.

Batman is a conservative. This is why he seems so dark. In the world of Superman, people are basically good, and they just need serving and defending from a swell guy like Superman. Metropolis is an inviting and friendly city where everybody is just swell. This comes from the progressive idea that humanity is basically good. If there is bad, it comes from bad ideas and simple errors. This usually means being a conservative.

Gotham City is a dark place. This is because humanity is dark and fundamentally evil. This is how conservatives view the world. Conservatives believe in original sin. Gotham is awash in crime and corruption and is always on the edge of collapse.

This dark world is where Batman finds himself. He is a dark hero much like the dark world he inhabits. Yet, Batman does not turn his back on this world. It is not Heaven or Utopia, but it isn't Hell either. It is doubtful that Gotham could ever be Metropolis, but it can be redeemed. This is where Batman comes in.

The key difference between progressives and conservatives is their relationship with reality. Progressives do not live in the real world. They live in a fantasy world. The world is a dark place. This is because humanity is a dark race living after the Fall. Batman knows this. Batman's job is not building Utopia but preventing chaos and hell. This also explains Batman's archenemy--the Joker.

The Joker is chaos and nihilism. Life is an absurdity and a joke, so the Joker represents this absurdity in his persona. He is beyond the mere criminal. The Joker revels in chaos for its own sake. His worldview is dark like Batman's except for one key difference. The Joker does not believe in a redeemable humanity. Humanity is sick like him. Any virtue on the part of people is an illusion. If Superman denies original sin, the Joker denies the imago Dei.

Batman is the ultimate hero because he deals with the world as it is. But he remains above it. He is a vigilante but in a very limited sense. Batman does the job that the police either can't do or won't do. But Batman refrains from killing. As much as possible, he works with the police, and Batman is content to let them put the cuffs on the bad guy. The system may be flawed, but Batman supports it anyway. That system is what keeps it all from falling into chaos.

It doesn't take much to see Batman as a Burkean/Kirkian conservative. Superman is a child of the Enlightenment with its unreality. Batman is fundamentally a Christian. This brings us to a question. Which is the better hero?

Batman wins the battle for one simple reason--REALITY. Ask yourself a question. Which city represents the world better--Metropolis or Gotham? The fact is that no city in America comes close to being Metropolis. But Chicago and Detroit are definitely Gotham City. You don't have to imagine Gotham City because it already exists.

Superman could never save Gotham City because he would have to destroy it utterly. He could never turn Gotham into Metropolis because Metropolis requires basically good and decent people. This is why progressives end up killing a lot of people and destroying law and order when they get into power. Part of it is naivete about human nature which allows guys like the Joker to run unchecked, and the other part is futility. Batman succeeds because he aims lower. He accepts that the world is rotten but not beyond hope. Batman just needs to preserve law and order and keep the chaos at bay. Batman acts as preservative by not being naive, by using his limited means to the best possible effect, and refraining from becoming the thing he fights.

Other comics and heroes represent other worldviews and strategies. Comic books have had a long history of dealing with political themes and ideas. This makes sense when you consider that good vs. evil is in the ethical realm, and politics is an extension of ethics. Spider-Man is essentially a libertarian. Spidey has some superpowers, but they don't amount to much. He is a kid, and he basically does good more for his own sake than for some greater good. Iron Man is a neoconservative because he loves weapons and gadgets, works in the military-industrial complex, and has a more positive view of things than Batman. Captain America is a bit like Superman, but he is more nostalgic than utopian. He represents the good ol' days that never really existed. Then, there is the man who occupies virtually the same world as Batman but responds to it very differently--the Punisher.

The Punisher answers a question that many people have asked about Batman. Why doesn't Batman just load up some guns and kill off the bad guys? Why doesn't he put a Glock to the Joker's skull and blow his brains out? The Punisher is Batman without Batman's primary "weaknesses" which are morality and restraint. Basically, the Punisher preaches that evil is overcome with greater evil.

Is the Punisher's strategy the correct strategy? Of course not. Would crime vanish if the cops shredded the Constitution? Would war end if we nuked all of our foreign enemies? The Punisher is really no different than the Joker. Where does the Punisher come from? The answer to that is obvious. The Punisher is Superman pushed into the real world of Gotham and made a real human being. Lacking the power to make Utopia, he jettisons the only weakness he can rid from himself which is moral restraint. You may laugh at this, but how do you explain the hope and change progressive Barack Obama using all the abuses of the federal government to push his agenda? The implication behind the Punisher's strategy of lawless vigilantism is that the good will emerge when the bad are eliminated. This would be the bloody purge of the French Revolution or the mass murders of the communists. The problem with that approach is that you end up killing everyone because all human nature is corrupt. The superhero just becomes a supervillain just like the Joker.

Batman is the ultimate hero. He acknowledges the fallen nature of human beings but does not believe humanity is beyond redemption. He restrains evil in the world and also in himself. And his efforts are not to build a utopian society than can never be but make the most of what is here. If anything better comes along, that will have to come from God. This dark view of things may be depressing, yet people enjoy Batman. Batman is a comfort. He gives hope that good can triumph even if the battle is unending and not always fair. The irony is that his weakness makes Batman more heroic than Superman. The ultimate superpower is not superstrength, heat vision, or an arsenal of guns. The ultimate superpower is to be virtuous and good in a world of evil. This is the essence of conservatism.