Quotulatiousness

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

December 3, 2014

QotD: Money in the “paradise of the real”

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Money is a symbolic system, the purpose of which is to facilitate exchange and to act as a recordkeeping technology. That money is so very important to our everyday lives and yet has no real connection with physical reality is the source of many apparent paradoxes and contradictions. These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.

Measured by money, things look relatively grim for the American middle class and the poor. Men’s inflation-adjusted average wages peaked in 1973, and inflation-adjusted household incomes for much of the middle class have shown little or no growth in some time. The incomes of those at the top of the distribution (which is not composed of a stable group of individuals, political rhetoric notwithstanding) continue to pull away from those in the middle and those at the bottom. The difference between a CEO’s compensation and the average worker’s compensation continues to grow.

But much of that is written into the code. If, for example, you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end (that being $0.00 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, and if you have growth in the economy, then it is a mathematical inevitability that incomes at the top will continue to pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from the imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. This will be the case whether you have the public policies of Singapore or Sweden, and indeed it is the case in both Singapore and Sweden.

Purely symbolic systems are easy to manipulate, which is why any two economists can take the same set of well-documented economic data and derive from it diametrically opposed conclusions.

With economic models, we are a little like Neo in The Matrix, before he takes the red pill: We are not in the real world, but in a simulacrum of it, one that has rules, but rules that can be manipulated by those who understand the code. Economic models and analysis are very useful, but it’s worth taking the occasional red-pill tour, leaving behind the world of pure symbolism and taking a look at the physical economy.

Welcome to the paradise of the real.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

June 17, 2013

Orwell, Huxley, and the world we’re in

Filed under: Books, Government, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

In Salon, Andrew O’Hehir considers the separate strains of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Philip K. Dick that predicted the way we’d be:

In 1946, two years before writing 1984, Orwell wrote an essay about the new form of social organization he saw on the horizon. He predicted it would do away with private property, which didn’t happen – but if we suppose that his idea of private property meant individual autonomy and freedom from debt slavery, this starts to sound more familiar:

    These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new “managerial” societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.

That vision of the future, so much more sober than what we’re used to calling “Orwellian,” sounds eerily like the world we actually live in (with a few doses of Ayn Rand thrown in). So far as we know, our Huxley-Orwell hybrid society emerged organically from the end of the Cold War, rather than resulting from an apocalypse or a grand plan. It’s almost a case of life imitating art, as if Earth’s rulers had selected the most effective elements from various dystopian visions and strategically blended them. But I’m not sure we can blame all this on a secret meeting of the Bilderberg Group, or some Lee Atwater ad campaign. As in The Matrix, we chose the simulacrum of democracy and bumper stickers about “freedom” instead of the real things. We chose to believe that our political leaders stood for something besides rival castes within the ruling elite, chose to believe that a regime of torture and secrecy and endless global warfare was a rational response to the tragedy of 9/11. We still believe those things, but our dystopia is still messy, still incoherent, still incomplete. Which means, in theory, that it can still be undone.

June 28, 2010

Marketing secrets revealed

Filed under: Humour, Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

An absolutely brilliant post at The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs tells you all about the reality of marketing:

It’s a pretty safe assumption that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve seen “The Matrix.” And you may or may not remember the scene where a kid explains to Neo that the trick to bending a spoon with your mind is simply to remember that, “There is no spoon.”

So it is with marketing. One thing I learned very early in life, thanks to intentional overuse of psychedelic drugs, is that there is no reality. As a guy at the commune once put it: “The reality is, there is no reality.”

So some guy says his iPhone 4 is having reception issues. I say there is no reception issue. Now it’s his reality against my reality. Which one of us is living in the real reality?

There’s a two-part answer: 1, there is no real reality, and 2, it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is which reality our customers will choose to adopt as their own.

[. . .]

What I realized many years ago — and honestly, it still amazes me — is that most people are so unsure of themselves that they will think whatever we tell them to think.

So we tell people that this new phone is not just an incremental upgrade, but rather is the biggest breakthrough since the original iPhone in 2007. We say it’s incredible, amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, overwhelming, magical, revolutionary. We use these words over and over.

It’s all patently ridiculous, of course. But people believe it.

H/T to Chris Anderson for the link.

May 12, 2010

When politics takes on religious attributes

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

Frequent commenter Lickmuffin sent this link, discussing some interesting notions from the 2008 US presidential campaign:

Cast your mind back to January 2009, when Barack Obama became the president of the United States amid much rejoicing. The hosannas — covering the inauguration was “the honor of our lifetimes,” said MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews — by then seemed unsurprising. Over the course of a long campaign, hyperbolic rhetoric had become commonplace, so much so that online wags had started calling Obama “the One” — a reference to the spate of recent science-fiction movies, especially The Matrix, that used that term to designate a messiah.

It all seems so long ago now, as one contemplates President Obama’s plummeting approval ratings and a suddenly resurgent Republican Party. Yet it’s worth looking closely and seriously at the election-year enthusiasm of media elites and other Obamaphiles, much of which was indeed, as the wags recognized, quasi-religious. The surprising fact is that the American Left, for all its claims to being “reality-based” and secular, is often animated by the passions, motivations, and imagery that one normally associates with religion. The better we understand this religious impulse, the better we will understand liberal America’s likely trajectory in the years to come.

January 29, 2010

Even more evidence to support Agent Smith

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

Remember the point in The Matrix where Agent Smith explains that he’s decided that humans are actually viruses (“Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure“). Here’s even more to support his point of view:

When, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome. This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.

On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome.

All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere “junk DNA”, but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know.

January 8, 2010

Agent Smith was right after all

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:47

Remember that little scene in The Matrix where Agent Smith is sharing some of his philosophy with a captured Morpheus?

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

Well, he was close: we’re apparently part-virus:

People may not be quite the humans they think they are. Or so suggests new research showing that the human genome is part bornavirus.

Bornaviruses, a type of RNA virus that causes disease in horses and sheep, can insert their genetic material into human DNA and first did so at least 40 million years ago, the study shows. The findings, published January 7 in Nature, provide the first evidence that RNA viruses other than retroviruses (such as HIV) can stably integrate genes into host DNA. The new work may help reveal more about the evolution of RNA viruses as well as their mammalian hosts.

“Our whole notion of ourselves as a species is slightly misconceived,” says Robert Gifford, a paleovirologist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, affiliated with Rockefeller University in New York City. Human DNA includes genetic contributions from bacteria and other organisms, and humans have even come to rely on some of these genes for basic functions like fighting infections.

In the new study, Japanese researchers found copies of the bornavirus N (for nucleoprotein) gene inserted in at least four separate locations in the human genome. Searches of other mammalian genomes also showed that the gene has hitched rides in a wide variety of species for millions of years.

July 20, 2009

Oh, it’s okay . . . manufacturer claims the EATR is vegetarian

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:47

Take back all the panic-mongering in this post. Cyclone Power Technologies assures us that their battlefield robot (the disturbingly named EATR) is on a strictly no human corpses diet:

Many commentators, our own Lewis Page included, not unreasonably took this vague “biomass in the environment” concept to mean anything EATR could get its robotic claws on, including humans.

Some press reports went further, suggesting EATR would suck nourishment from corpses as it went about its unholy business.

Cue an entertaining press release (pdf) from Cyclone, which stresses that EATR is “strictly vegetarian”. The company explains: “Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes ‘human bodies,’ the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips.”

Cyclone marvellously adds: “Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.”

July 14, 2009

The next step towards a robot-centric army

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:02

Stepping out of the Matrix back-story and moving to replace the human soldier, the EATR:

A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.

Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site.

That “biomass” and “other organically-based energy sources” wouldn’t necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they’d be plentiful in a war zone.

Just a tad creepy . . .

H/T to Alex Haropulos for the link.

(Cross-posted to the old blog, http://bolditalic.com/quotulatiousness_archive/005581.html).

Update, 20 July: Oh, it’s okay. They claim it’s a vegetarian. It’s not going to snack on the battlefield casualties after all.

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