Thoughts on Fiction

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Moral philosophy is the project of generalizing approaches to decision making with the purpose of maximizing the chances of optimal outcomes. It is a system of measuring the desirability of actions in the same way that the metric system is a tool for measuring physical properties. It is essentially a practical tool for everyday decision making. The problem arises when these guiding principles (generalizations) start to be viewed as having some innate value, as if they are cosmic rules that exist outside of human opinion. They do not. They exist because they are helpful and practical. That is all morals are.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:12 (two years ago) link

It's possible to use rhetoric to justify any moral stance. Internal consistency is used as a standard for judging the validity of a moral position.
The "rational pursuit of happiness" sounds like a baseline value, but everyone's idea of what makes them happy is so varied that I wonder if it's really useful.

I've come to conclude that moral principles are, in fact, entirely explained as nothing more and nothing less than opinions. We decide what we want to call good and bad. We then use rhetoric to justify these opinions because we are taught to discount personal opinion as a sufficient basis for judgment.
It would be better to be honest and own up to the idea that people hold their opinions with high regard. The act of voting in a democratic election is driven by opinion. We accord opinion with the highest value when it comes to politics. Supreme court decisions are opinions.

Opinions can change. Philosophy exists to serve our opinions, not the other way around. Our opinions are primary.

It becomes a complex exercise because it quickly becomes meta. We hold the opinion that we want rational ideas of fairness to guide our moral decisions. But that desire for rationality is itself an opinion.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:46 (two years ago) link

eleven months pass...

OK wow, it's been a long time since I posted here.

I agree that morality and the desire for rationality are opinions, but they're darn near inescapable ones. If you ask, "Why be rational?" you've already accepted the validity of rationality. If you ask, "Why should I be moral?" you've already accepted that there exist some good things which you should do and some bad things which you should not do. The questions "Why be rational?" and "Why be moral?" are empty of substance.

I also agree that there aren't "carved in stone" moral principles that apply to every situation without exception. Even Jesus pointed out that obeying the commandment of resting on the Sabbath is stupid if you have to save a life on the Sabbath.

Actually, though, the reason I came here is because of the latest Rick and Morty episode. The one where they fill in Rick's backstory with BirdPerson. I was pretty lukewarm towards it, but the fandom is going nuts about "finally getting some plot." I really think there's a generational divide here. I'm almost 40, and I can't imagine being this much more excited about backstory than about a well-written episode.

Kelpie, Monday, 16 August 2021 19:32 (one year ago) link

Look at this fan-made graphic. I cannot imagine getting this excited about plot minutiae.

https://i.redd.it/jqotysk8fqh71.jpg

Kelpie, Monday, 16 August 2021 19:36 (one year ago) link

My pet theory is that over the last few decades the world has gotten so unbelievably ridiculous, and the traditional institutions (religion, nations) that used to provide an anchoring salve of an explanatory coping narrative have gotten so inept at it, that people will look for a comforting lore and tradition wherever they can get it, and if that means Rick & Morty backstories are more comforting and stabilizing than say Catholicism or national politics, why wouldn't the kids latch onto it?

But I disagree that this is a generational divide -- the Trump-aged Q-anon nuts probably have flowcharts, too!

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 02:00 (one year ago) link

I agree that Rick and Morty backstory is more inspiring than Catholicism or American politics. I remember when the sauce craze broke out, someone commented that social aspirations seem meaningless, so people might as well aspire to get Rick and Morty sauce instead.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 17:07 (one year ago) link

three weeks pass...

They're going even more nuts for the finale episodes, even though all of the backstory revealed is stuff the fandom had figured out already. One fan said, "I don't care if there's no jokes, just give me the information!"

Kelpie, Thursday, 9 September 2021 22:23 (one year ago) link

It occurs to me that you could be very lazy and rake in a ton of money by scrolling fan forums and stealing theories. Fans love it when their theories turn out to be canon. I wonder how many writers are doing exactly that.

Kelpie, Sunday, 12 September 2021 19:10 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

Since Denis Villeneuve has been the subject of a number of posts here, I'm adding my impressions of Dune 2021.
I have never read the Frank Herbert novels. My only knowledge of the story comes from the David Lynch movie, which I adore.

So my impression of Villeneuve's film is.... WTF?

It's just a more austere and slower-paced redo of Lynch's film. I don't get it. If this is an accurate adaptation of the novel, then the novel's narrative is terrible.
The Harkonnen are simply evil in this telling, without even the driver of gleeful decadence. The Atreides clan go to Arrakis because they are ordered to go by the emperor. It's not their choice, they have no motive, everyone is just acting out their assigned role. Paul's arc is to follow magical dreams and fulfill prophecy. It's Lord of the Rings-level awful.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 2 December 2021 07:09 (one year ago) link

If the DV version casts Paul as the literal chosen one, that's a shame. It's very much not the intent of the novels.

https://www.brightwalldarkroom.com/2021/11/30/a-self-fulfilling-prophecy/

Blair Gilbreath, Friday, 3 December 2021 03:36 (one year ago) link

When the Duke dies, Paul is forced to take on the burden of becoming the new leader. In terms of drama, a moment like that is a rich opportunity for a hero to tackle the unsettling mix of emotions anyone would face. It is both a tragedy that the father is dead, but also the culmination point of the heir who has been groomed to rise to replace him. There's no sense of anything changing in Paul's attitude. I can't help but think of Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, when the boy becomes king and the sense of loss felt by Falstaff. There needed to be some sense that Paul had other interests which he has to sacrifice because the moment arrives too soon for him. There was none of that.

He is drawn to Chani because he saw her in his dreams. That's it. How about giving us some sense of her being an interesting person in her own right?

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 05:36 (one year ago) link

When telling a story like this, if the viewer can't imagine things happening in a way other than what we see happening, everything feels preordained.

Here's a tip: to write a good story, the way the events unfold should be one of many imaginable paths, and ideally not the best one. In this movie, it's hard to think of how things could have unfolded in a way other than they did. The sudden attack doesn't feel like a tragedy or a crime because there really was no agenda the viewer was hoping to see carried out that the attack prevented.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 05:50 (one year ago) link

Thanks for posting the review. I was amused by the the writer's citing her love of Lord of the Rings as a way of understanding her attraction to the novel Dune.
As it relates to the topic of this thread, the love of lore is alien to me. I can't understand the idea of reading the sequel to a novel to find out what happened in the lives of fictional characters.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 06:29 (one year ago) link

I went into it expecting to dislike it (as I disliked BR2049 on two viewings, and thought Arrival was fun at first but dropped quickly as I had time away from it) but I loved it. I have read the book but also disliked that - it was 12 years ago, I remember nothing, and don't think I got any of the intended meaning about it being a deconstruction of white savior narratives or whatever.

Because of reading recently about Herbert's supposed intentions, I had a far more interesting perception of the events of the film. The Atreides are scumbag imperialists just like the Harkonnen. Paul I read as beginning to embrace the messiah thing because of the ego high this would naturally give to anyone. There are subtleties in Chalomet's performance that I believe indicate this, as well as little hints such as him supposedly "knowing their ways" - he knows their ways because he's been studying film strips in his room a lot, not because of an innate destiny. The people on Arrakis have been primed over centuries to expect a messiah, so they're ready to believe.

So to me it's more Lawrence of Arabia, which is about an egomaniac who acts like a god (with some skills and strategic/tactical knowledge to back it up), rather than a straightforward fantasy story. If it was the latter I'd lean towards agreeing with you on a lot of things.

The aesthetic also did work for me very well and I was sorry I didn't see it in IMAX.

J.P. McDevitt, Friday, 3 December 2021 08:08 (one year ago) link

three months pass...

A superb thread, with a lot of interesting discussion. It almost feels like we got the USC class for free.

Peter, when you say "art's function is to exercise the mind's capacity to find meaning" what's meant by "meaning"? A traffic light gives meaning but we don't call it art. Is there a specific sense of the word?

(My view is that art must be created with the intent to be art. Maybe that's tautological, but I don't believe that art can be "found", or is something that naturally exists. A person can drop LSD and gain deep cosmic realizations by staring at a plate of mashed potato. So what? It's not enough for something to have meaning - there has to be an active creative process for it to qualify as art.)

Coagulopath, Tuesday, 29 March 2022 21:22 (eight months ago) link

re: Dune.

The books actually share some ideas with AF. "Okay, you're free. Now what?" It's about a person who becomes the chosen one, completes his Hero Quest(tm) and then has all the walls collapse in on him anyway. Paul's rise and fall in Dune Messiah has the air of a Shakespearian tragedy.

I haven't read them since I was 15. They're quite old and some of what they do (like lengthy expository monologues from inside the hero's head) certainly isn't in vogue these days. I think Dune was published within a couple years of Lord of the Rings.

The movie was good. Some great shots etc. Just relieved to see a SF movie that tries for a tone and doesn't ruin it with SNL comedian improv and "dialog" consisting of quips and one-liners.

Coagulopath, Tuesday, 29 March 2022 21:51 (eight months ago) link

two months pass...

"when you say "art's function is to exercise the mind's capacity to find meaning" what's meant by "meaning"? A traffic light gives meaning but we don't call it art. Is there a specific sense of the word?"

This is a good question. When someone asks "what is the meaning of life?", they are in fact asking "what is the meaning of meaning?"
The word can mean different things at different times. A data point that signifies a scientific fact can be said to carry meaning, but I'm not talking about that kind of correlative property.

I don't believe in the existence of God. Neither absolute nor objective morality exist. In the same sense that moral goodness can only exist because there are conscious beings, meaning can only exist if there are minds capable of appreciating it. Humans invent meaning. Humans can also be said to "find" meaning as an instinctive impulse to detect patterns. It's what makes us human.

Peter Chung, Monday, 27 June 2022 23:32 (five months ago) link


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