34 completely nonsensical things in Spectre (spoilers, obviously)

I saw Spectre, the latest James Bond movie, last night. I was already underwhelmed walking out of the theater, and Spectre is one of those moves where the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Here’s a chronological list of plot holes and other problems I came up with in the shower this morning. Spoilers ahead.

  1. Why did M tell Bond to kill that bad guy in the beginning? What was so important about him? He was apparently just a cog in Spectre, who was later replaced by a guy whose greatest talent seems to be gouging people’s eyes out.
  2. If that bad guy was important, why wasn’t the rest of 00 section informed? Because M suspected Spectre had connections to the guy who would be taking over British intelligence? But that was true of the bad guys in the last 3 movies too, because they all worked for Spectre. If Spectre had the power to stop 00 section from interfering in their operations, they would have done it before now.
  3. Why did the building explode after Bond shot those dudes? Maybe I missed something. I thought maybe somebody else was also trying to assassinate this guy, but that never comes up.
  4. What did M mean by “don’t miss the funeral”? Was that her way to get Bond to meet the villain’s ex-wife? And if so, seriouslyThat’s the best guidance you can give our hero, who is trying to save the damn world? Is that her cheeky way of saying, “Dude, Monica Bellucci will be there. You’ll know what to do.”?
  5. How did M know that Spectre would wait until after the funeral to kill Monica Bellucci? The movie would have ended pretty quickly if they had taken her out on the way to the funeral. And what are the odds that the assassins show up at exactly the same time as Bond?
  6. Um, James Bond and Monica Bellucci are having sex now, I guess? WTF happened?
  7. “BTW James, a meeting of the super secret evil organization you’re after happens to be taking place in 20 minutes just across town. There’s literally no reason for them to be in this city at all, but that’s what the plot requires. Oh, and they don’t check ID, but remember your magic Spectre ring, because that will get you in even though they know one of those rings is missing.”
  8. “All the leaders of the most evil organization in the world, all in one place? Probably not a good time to call in an airstrike. I’ll just sniff around a bit.”
  9. [In Italian] “Does anybody know why we’re speaking Italian? Oh, we just switch to the language of whatever country we happen to be in? Ugh. Better brush up on my Mandarin for next week.”
  10. “Does anybody want to challenge Italian Dennis Leary’s claim on the vacant leadership position? Ah, I see a very large man has stood up. What are your qualifications, sir? Oh, you can gouge a guy’s eyes out! Good show! That’s the one talent that our organization lacks!”
  11. “Hey, James Bond is here! How do I know? Uhhh… surveillance, I guess? Maybe I let him in or something, just to toy with him. Anyway, stop him! No, not all of you. Just one guy, preferably the new guy who can gouge people’s eyes out.”
  12. So James Bond was injected with nanoblood that allows him to be tracked across continents, but they didn’t LoJack the $6 million car?
  13. I can totally see why that car was worth $6 million. It was bullet proof and had an ejector seat.
  14. The “Pale King” was mentioned in the very first scene in the movie. Why didn’t Bond have Moneypenny look him up then? And if they know who he is, why isn’t he in custody, rather than sitting at home in his basement?
  15. Thallium poisoning: when you want your victim to have plenty of time to betray you before he finally dies weeks later.
  16. Why would anybody think “L’American” was a person? The first thing I would do is Google it, find the hotel and cut out the middleman. But then the middleman is a cute young blonde, so maybe not.
  17. “I’m super good at surviving, so I’ll hide in this glass cage at the top of a mountain.”
  18. “Hi, remember me? I’m Q, who has no particular reason to help you. In fact, you’ve always been kind of an asshole to me, like that time you stole that $6 million car from me right after I risked my job to help you, which, as we’ve established, I had no reason to do in the first place. Anyway, I’m here to help you some more.”
  19. “Fortunately for you, I’ve brought my laptop and USB Spectre ring analyzer, and… OMG you were right, James Bond! This ring proves all of your foes are connected and that your antagonist, whom we thought was long dead, is still alive! Because if this ring carried any more back story around with it, Frodo would be trying to throw it in a volcano.”
  20. Spectre has the resources to launch terrorist attacks at will, and James Bond is traveling across country on a train… so let’s just send one unarmed guy after him again. Is Eye Gouger busy?
  21. If a mouse going into a hole in the wall means there’s a secret room behind the wall, then my apartment in college was the Taj Mahal.
  22. In secret agent school, they teach us to punch man-sized holes in plaster walls, in order to uncover…
  23. …a room so secret that it’s impossible for anyone to get to it without punching a hole in the wall!
  24. No one’s been in this room for 20 years, and it’s in a third world country where the electricity goes out three times a day, but the Apple IIe is still running the same program that the girl’s father was looking at when he was last here.
  25. A secret facility in the desert, because… well, let’s face it, the best parts of this movie are homages to better Bond movies, and at this point even Quantum of Solace looks pretty good.
  26. But how will we break into the… oh, I guess the bad guy sent someone to pick us up. That’s nice.
  27. Surprise, James Bond! I’ve had you under surveillance this entire time! Which means… uh, I could have stopped you at any time, I guess. But I didn’t, because despite my position as the most powerful supervillain in the world, I frankly still have quite a bit of unresolved stuff from my childhood. It’s actually kind of surprising I’ve gotten this far with such a crippling mental handicap.
  28. “I shall drill into your brain and cause you to forget the woman you love, because I am an expert on brains, and that’s how memories are stored. Or not, I guess.”
  29. Let’s put some kind of fuel tanks in the middle of this facility so that one minor accident would obliterate the whole place in a gigantic fireball.
  30. “At midnight, the new system goes online, and then we will have the whole world under surveillance! Which, as we’ve repeatedly established, we already have! So I’m not really sure what the big deal is. But hey, TICKING CLOCK!”
  31. James Bond is on his way to see the bad guy, when he is attacked and kidnapped, and taken… to the bad guy! Well, that was actually kind of convenient. Thanks for the ride, guys, but I must escape your custody now. POW! BAM! [goes inside, sees helpful BOND GO THIS WAY ===> sign]. Bond thinks to self, “Wow, this supervillain is so clever that he actually planned for me to get captured and then to escape in exactly the way that I in fact did. I wonder if this is some kind of trap. Nah”
  32. “I, the supervillain, will now torment you with pictures of people who have died because of you, even though if my plan worked, you wouldn’t remember any of these people!”
  33. “Do you trust me? Do you remember that scene a few minutes ago where we established that there was some kind of cargo netting down below us for some reason?”
  34. “Yay, we stopped the bad guys!” Except, uh, nothing has really changed. The whole surveillance system (and the political/legal regime that put it there) is still in place, and presumably Spectre can survive the capture of a couple of their leaders, as they’ve done several times in the past. Sure, they destroyed the desert facility, but clearly that place wasn’t vital to their plan anyway. But whatever, dudes, I’m off with a hot chick and another stolen car!”

Advance copies of Mercury Shrugs and more!

Ah, poor neglected blog. I’ve forgotten entirely to update you regarding my latest Kickstarter!

For those who haven’t yet heard: yes, I’m writing a fifth Mercury book, titled Mercury Shrugs. The book is still taking shape, but you can expect time travel, parallel universes, explosions, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the return of some characters we haven’t seen since Mercury Rests. You can get an advance copy and lots of other awesome stuff by supporting the Kickstarter. Get an advance copy for as little as $5! And for those who haven’t yet ventured into the whimsical world of the ornery angel Mercury, you can correct that now!



Mercury sale and contest winners (and a second chance for the losers)

A quick note to let y’all know that Amazon has the first three Mercury books on sale for $5.97 (or $1.99 each) on Kindle! That’s over a thousand pages of irreverent fun and startling insight (OK, maybe just the first one) for less than the cost of something that costs six dollars! Act now and you can also get the fourth Mercury book, Mercury Revolts, for $1.99 as well. Because I love you. Get the Mercury books now!


In other news, I recently I did a signed paperback giveaway. I got a little busy finishing up Disillusioned, but I’ll be mailing books out to the winners tomorrow. The winners are:

  • Andrew Kwon
  • Mik Mordant
  • Karen Taubmann Johnson

(I hope it’s ok I used your names; let me know if you’re embarrassed of winning a book, on the lam, etc. and I will remove your name from this post.)

For those who didn’t win, I’m giving you another chance: Sign up for my email list before 5pm EDT today and you will receive email instructions regarding how to enter. I will be giving away signed copies of the Mercury books, Distopia and City of Sand. What are you waiting for? GO DO IT!


Burning down the house

I’m really supposed to be finishing up a book, but I’ve been putting off doing a post about this whole Sad Puppies/Hugo Awards deal for a while now, and if I don’t do it now, I probably never will. I doubt there are many people waiting for yet another blog post on this issue, but I occasionally get questions from people wondering what this whole kerfuffle is about, so here’s my take.

Burning HouseFirst, a bit of background: The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious awards in science fiction. The Hugos are fan-based awards: anyone with a membership in the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) can nominate a work, and after the nominees are announced, this same membership votes for winners in a variety of categories. The awards are given out at an event called Worldcon, which was in Spokane, Washington this year.

For many years the Hugos were the gold standard of quality in science fiction writing. A few years ago, however, some science fiction writers began to complain that the awards had become dominated by political concerns: rather than going to the best stories, these writers believed, the awards were being given to writers for superficial reasons: either because the work adhered to a certain political ideology at the expense of quality writing (pejoratively called “message fiction”) or because the author herself was a member of a cliquish in-group that is open only to persons of that ideological persuasion.

Sad-Puppies-3-smallThe concerns of these mostly conservative and libertarian-leaning writers were dismissed (and laughed at) by the WSFS, so the writers took it upon themselves to solve the problem, as they saw it. This group jokingly referred to itself as Sad Puppies, because “boring message fiction is the leading cause of Puppy-Related Sadness.” The Sad Puppies, spearheaded by authors Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia, came up with their own slate of science fiction works, which they believed were worthy of recognition based purely on the quality of the work. The Sad Puppies slate included several female and non-white authors, and authors of a wide range of political persuasions. The Sad Puppies encouraged their readers to read the works on the list and vote for them if they thought they were worthy of a Hugo Award. Nothing the Sad Puppies technically broke any rules, although many people accused them of cheating or gaming the system.

Complicating matters is a separate, unaffiliated group called Rabid Puppies, led by author Theodore Beale, who sometimes goes by the pseudonym Vox Day. I honestly don’t know that much about Vox Day, but as I gather that he’s unabashedly sexist, racist, and opposed to homosexuality [EDIT: I’ve been informed that this characterization is false. As I say, I know very little about Vox. Feel free to investigate him yourself]. Vox put together his own slate of works, which overlapped with the Sad Puppies slate. As far as I can tell, there has been no coordination between Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and Correia has repeatedly stated that he disagrees with Vox Day on many things, doesn’t particularly want Vox’s “help,” but ultimately can’t do anything about Vox putting together his own Hugo slate. In Correia’s words: “Look at it like this. I’m Churchill. Brad is FDR. We wound up on the same side as Stalin.”

The Sad Puppies campaign went viral, apparently tapping into a vein of anti-political correctness fervor among science fiction fans. Opposed to their campaign was a group of Internet activists commonly referred to as “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs. I avoided the term SJWs for a while because I thought it was needlessly pejorative, but then I found out that many of the SJWs, like authors John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig, use this term unironically for themselves, so that’s what I call them now. Despite (or because of) this resistance, the Sad Puppies’ slate swept the nominations. This drove the SJWs into apoplexy.gallo

In an attempt to fight back against this “hijacking” of the Hugos, the SJWs spewed all manner of lies and hatred, often deliberately conflating Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. It isn’t difficult to find samplings of this bile; just Google “Sad Puppies racist” and you’ll find plenty of it. As one small example, here’s a quote from a Facebook post by Irene Gallo, the creative director of TOR.

There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.

Sounds terrible, right? Of course, every statement in this excerpt is a lie. Specifically:

  1. The Sad Puppies are not an “extreme right-wing group” (and they certainly aren’t neo-Nazis), and I challenge anyone reading this to fit a shred of evidence indicating they are.
  2. The Sad Puppies have never called for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy.
  3. The Sad Puppies are not racist, sexist or homophobic (as mentioned, their slate includes several women and people of color; Brad Torgersen himself is married to a woman of color and has a mixed-race child; Larry Correia is Hispanic). Of course, particularly classy SJWs dismiss even this indisputable evidence, witness the supreme douchebaggery of SJW extraordinaire Arthur Chu (who was selected to be on a “diversity” panel at this year’s Worldcon!):
    (A “shield” is SJW-speak meaning “a person you can point to in order to excuse your own racism.” In other words, Brad Torgersen married a black woman and had a child with her so that he could go execute his racist plans with impunity. Clever Arthur Chu has seen through the facade.)
  4. There was never any concerted effort to “gather Gamergate folks”, although there is certainly some overlap in the groups, as both were started in resistance to what was seen as social justice activism run amok. (For those who don’t know, GamerGate was a movement ostensibly aimed at exposing corruption in video game journalism. The movement is widely disparaged by SJWs.)
  5. “Bad-to-reprehensible”? Seriously? Taste is subjective, of course, but I’m wondering where Jim Butcher’s Skin Game or Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars fit on Gallo’s “bad-to-reprehensible” continuum. Anderson’s book is published by TOR, for fuck’s sake. Why didn’t Gallo, as TOR’s creative director, prevent this dreck from being published in the first place?

After a public outcry, Gallo was forced to issue a half-assed non-apology to the public, but tellingly her peers in the SF community stood by her, completely ignoring her lies and gratuitous insults. Some, like the now-thoroughly discredited Gawker, hilariously denounced TOR for “giving in” to the Sad Puppies. Did these people not know what she had said? Did they not know she was lying out of her ass and tossing out baseless, blanket insults? Or did they just not care?

It is important to note that while the hubbub over Gallo’s post was one of the more visible examples, it is by no means unique. This scenario has played out hundreds of times over the past year:

  1. Someone on the Social Justice side making absurd, inflammatory comments about the Sad Puppies.
  2. Puppy defenders point out the lies and ad hominems.
  3. Other SJWs come to the defense of the person making the attack, shouting down dissenters, calling them “sea lions” (a pejorative term for commenters who share a common criticism) and, of course, racist, misogynist, and homophobic. These slurs are so common among SJWs that they are yawn-inducing.Those familiar with the GamerGate phenomenon will recognize the pattern.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Okay, but that’s just the Internet, right? Somebody says something crazy, and everybody loses their shit for three days arguing about it. Eventually things settle down and the truth comes out. Right?

Well, no. Not if you’re fighting against the SJWs, because the SJWs and their allies control nearly every major media channel. I know, this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s true. If you Googled “sad puppies hugo awards” before this past weekend, you would see:

  1. This DailyDot article, which contains the line “This year’s nominees were announced on Saturday, and most of them came directly from a Gamergate-affiliated campaign known as Sad Puppies. By bloc-voting for a specific slate of anti-progressive authors, editors, and fans, the Sad Puppies managed to game the selection process in every major category,” along with quotes from such objective observers as professional victim Brianna Wu and the aforementioned King of the Douchebags Arthur Chu.
  2. This essay in The New Republic, which claims “[N]ominations for women and non-whites have risen in recent years. That trend has upset right-wing fans who say they’ve been marginalized by affirmative action gone mad—and who organized a successful nomination campaign to undo these gains in diversity, creating an unprecedented party-line slate which has led to the stacking of this year’s Hugo ballot largely with white men once again.”
  3. This article from The Atlantic, which states “The prizes have been targeted by voting blocks opposed to progressive efforts to recognize more women and writers of color. But trying to undo change in an increasingly diverse world is futile.”

And on and on. Articles in Slate, io9, The Guardian, Salon, and dozens more publications all decried the Sad Puppies’ efforts to stifle diversity, when even a very cursory investigation of this topic would tell you that “stifling diversity” has never been the Sad Puppies’ goal. You could argue that a slight decline in diversity is nevertheless the consequence of the Sad Puppies’ actions (and this is true only if you use a very superficial definition of diversity), but to state flatly that this is what Sad Puppies was all about from the beginning is sheer dishonest hackery. And despite the fact that all these news outlets seem to be have no trouble procuring quotes from SJWs, very few of them ever bother to even contact Brad Torgersen or Larry Correia for comments. Correia recently stated that The Guardian, which has written several anti-Puppies hit pieces, has never contacted him.


But this sort of “journalism” provides cover for the SJWs; they can support their positions with quotes from respected publications like The Atlantic and The Guardian. And God help you if you’re a Sad Puppy supporter engaged in a debate with an SJW and you toss out a link to a Breitbart article, even if it is a more objective account than anything published in The Guardian. You’ll be laughed at for relying on an unabashedly conservative source; it doesn’t seem to occur to these people that liberal sources are also sometimes unreliable.

Sadly, those who aren’t familiar with the SJWs’ tactics and their close ties to the media understandably take this coverage at face value. Everybody knows that the Sad Puppies are racist, homophobic misogynists, and who wants to be on the same side as that? Anyway, “social justice” sounds like a pretty good thing, right? Who could be opposed to “social justice”? Of course, “social justice” has nothing to do with actual justice; it’s just a euphemism for cultural Marxism. But Leftists (sorry, progressives) have never been above abusing language to manipulate the masses.

The end result of this battle between the SJWs and the Sad Puppies was something of a draw: although the Sad Puppies swept the nominations, the SJWs struck back by voting “No Award” in all the categories where there was no non-Puppy contender. Both sides are claiming victory. The Sad Puppies argue that they have proved their point, which is that the Hugo Awards are dominated by politics. After all, it was a reaction to the Puppies’ supposed right-wing politics that prompted the “No Award” votes. SJWs, who don’t understand that the Puppies’ intention was never to promote a particular ideology, are patting themselves on the back for stopping the barbarians at the gate. George R. R. Martin, no fan of the Puppies, makes the case for a Puppies win:

Most of [the rules], frankly, suck. And the mere fact that so many people are discussing them makes me think that the Puppies won. They started this whole thing by saying the Hugo Awards were rigged to exclude them. That is completely untrue, as I believe I demonstrated conclusively in my last post. So what is happening now? The people on MY SIDE, the trufans and SMOFs and good guys, are having an endless circle jerk trying to come up with a foolproof way to RIG THE HUGOS AND EXCLUDE THEM. God DAMN, people. You are proving them right.

I think GRRM is being a bit disingenuous when he implies that suddenly the SJWs started acting politically only as a reaction to the Puppies (SJWs are people for whom picking a restaurant for lunch is an excruciating political decision, for fuck’s sake), but I give him credit for seeing the reaction for what it is: an overtly political maneuver to prevent the wrong people from taking over the awards. You can argue that it was a justified maneuver, but to argue that it was apolitical is pure sophistry.

The SJWs, not ones to leave their echo chamber if they can avoid it, are gleefully congratulating themselves on their victory, and their lapdogs in the media are playing along. This Wired article, after bizarrely implying that there were no women, gays or minority in science fiction until sometime in the past few years (presumably as a result of the tireless efforts of the SJWs, without whom no social progress has ever occurred), goes on to congratulate the progressives for beating the Puppies. Somehow the author also manages to make room for the batshit crazy assertion that “GamerGate makes a political movement out of threatening with rape any woman who has the temerity to offer an opinion about a videogame.” The Guardian, meanwhile, crows that “diversity has won” (because when nobody wins, everybody wins, I guess?) and repeats the same old lie that “The Puppies have riven the SF community this year by organising a reactionary vote in protest against the increasing number of women and writers and colour who have been winning the awards.”

Those opposed to the politicization of the Hugo Awards, to say nothing of the larger SJW assault on culture, might very well despair at this point. The SJWs take over an institution, silence their opponents, and then get their “journalist” friends to paint them as heroes. But I don’t despair. I smile, and this tweet (Joe Hill’s, not my response) is why:


In Joe Hill’s (and John Scalzi’s) magical Social Justice Land, the Sad Puppies are the Grinch, out to ruin his fun sci-fi celebration with his cool SJW pals. And as a Puppy supporter, I’m supposed to be sitting here dejected that the Puppies’ dastardly plan failed. But see, I’m not. I’m glad they had fun at their little party. Who doesn’t like to have fun? A bunch of like-minded people getting together over drinks and congratulation themselves on how great they are sounds like a lot of fun to me. Next year I might even go to the party myself, although I will likely be the guy standing in the corner by himself, because my political and religious leanings make me something of an outsider at these events, but that’s my cross to bear. I certainly won’t begrudge others having fun.

Here’s the thing, though: the social aspect of the Hugo Awards is all they have left. The “social” in “social justice” turns out to refer to just hanging out with people. The SJWs are claiming victory, but if they “win” again like this next year and the year after that, the Hugos will have become an awards ceremony that doesn’t give out any awards. It will literally be just a party that authors attend to drink and congratulate each other, with no bearing on anything that happens outside that room. So am I upset they are having their little Social Justice Who Party? Absolutely not. If anything, I want them to do more of it. I want Arthur Chu, Brianna Wu, John Scalzi, Joe Hill, Chuck Wendig, David Gerrolds, Irene Gallo and all the rest to sit in a big room together, wearing fancy clothes, sipping champagne and telling each other how smart and brave and progressive they are.

Awards? Goodness, no. We don't do that anymore.

“Awards? Goodness, no. We don’t do that anymore.”

Meanwhile, outside that room, science fiction will move on without them. Maybe the WSFS can fix the process to prevent the awards from being dominated by politics, but I doubt it. Any “reforms” will likely end up just pushing the corruption underground, which will have the effect of rewarding the sort of cliquish, secretive whispering campaigns that the Sad Puppies were fighting against while eliminating overt campaigns like the Sad Puppies slate. The Hugos will become, more than ever, the Social Justice Awards. And that will just erode more of what little relevance the Hugos had left. Eventually even the excuse for the party will start to seem pretty flimsy, and all the Whos in Whoville will look around in dismay, wondering what happened.

That’s too bad, because the Hugos really did mean something at one point. Maybe they can still be saved; thanks to the Sad Puppies campaign, the Hugos received a record-breaking 5,950 ballots, indicative of an unprecedented level of interest. But to leverage that interest would require a caliber of leadership that I don’t think exists in the WSFS. These are people who see a massive increase in interest as a problem to be solved. For now, they’ve solved the problem by burning down their own house. It’s a dubious strategy, unless your goal isn’t to save the house, but rather to keep the wrong people out at all costs.

So drink up, SJWs. Enjoy the party while it lasts.

For the hell of it paperback giveaway!

Because I haven’t done one of these for a while, I’ve decided to do another “for the hell of it” book giveaway. I will be be giving away a signed copy of the book of your choice to three randomly selected people who sign up for my email list by midnight EDT on Tuesday, August 18. That’s all you have to do. Just enter your email address in the form below. I won’t spam you, although I may send you occasional updates about my books (usually once a month or so). You can unsubscribe at any time, but it will hurt my feelings a little. Oh, and your odds of winning are pretty damn good, because usually when I do this I only get five or six entrants. #truthinadvertising


Fine print: this offer is only open to U.S. residents who have not previously signed up for my email list. All books will be signed upside-down. Offer good while supplies last; right now I have copies of all the Mercury books, DistopiaSchrodinger’s Gat and City of Sand.

What do you have to lose except your dignity, which you weren’t really using anyway. Sign up now!

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Flags, collectivism, and quantum physics (seriously)

Adam Gurri has posted a followup to my post about the subjective meaning of flags and other symbols. It’s well worth a read. In it, he argues essentially that I’m hung up on the whole subjectivity/objectivity framework when there’s, like, a whole other world out there, man*:

Rob complains that I “elevate intersubjectivity to the level of objectivity,” but that’s simply a symptom of being stuck in subject-object thinking. You begin to think “objective” is a synonym for truth.

Well, yes. I think that a proposition that is objectively true is, um, true. I don’t really see any alternative.

But Adam suggests that instead of seeing things in terms of subject/object, I should maybe try looking at them as true or false:

Rob trips up because he think truth just is objective truth. But the subject-object distinction is very young, compared the the distinction between truth and falsehood.

He goes on to provide lots of reasons to think that the Confederate flag is a racist symbol, concluding that anyone who claims that the flag is not a racist symbol is therefore holding onto a falsehood.

I would point out that members of the Confederacy proclaimed that the cornerstone of their cause was “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” I would also point out that the designer of the flag argued that “we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race”. Finally, I would point out that the flag was not even flown by the state of South Carolina after the Civil War until 1961, precisely to signal its position on the Civil Rights Movement, which was mounting at the time.

Notice, though, that the reasons Adam gives for this proposition are what most people would call “objective facts.” So the statement “the Confederate flag is a racist symbol” is (objectively) true because of these (objective) facts. The whole subject/object versus true/false thing would seem, then, to be a red herring. It doesn’t really make any difference, at least in this case, whether we say something is “true” or “an objective fact.” The result is the same.

But for the sake of argument I’ll adopt Adam’s language, so that we end up with:

“The statement that the Confederate flag is a racist symbol is true.”

Or, more succinctly:

“The Confederate flag is a racist symbol.”

But notice as well that all of the facts Adam cites in support of this proposition are incidences of people expressing their belief that the flag is a symbol of a racist ideology. He points to the beliefs of “members of the Confederacy” and the “designer of the flag” and the presumably racist motivations of government officials in flying the flag after 1961. In other words, his entire argument rests on the subjective beliefs of other people.

So we are left with an argument that is essentially: “This flag is a racist symbol because these individuals believe/believed it’s a racist symbol, and if anyone would know, it’s them.” If the intent of this argument is to show that the proposition “The Confederate flag is a racist symbol” rests on more than an aggregate of subjective beliefs, it fails.

Another example Adam gives of a symbol that supposedly has meaning over and above its aggregate subjective meanings is the dollar:

This is not about adding up percentages of people who believe a dollar is money. A dollar is money. It can certainly cease to be money. But when that happens, it is unlikely to look like a process where fewer and fewer people agree with you that it is money. If you’re just looking at subjects, it happens like a cascade—all of a sudden you can’t find hardly anyone who thinks money is money.

But isn’t this exactly what happens in the case of hyperinflation? In fact, that description seems like a pretty good summary of what happened in the Weimar Republic prior to World War II: The Reichsmark gradually lost value until eventually more and more people accepted the fact that it was no longer money in any real sense.

Fewer and fewer people agree with me that this is money.

Fewer and fewer people agree with me that this is money.

The abruptness of the final phase of this process, from the loss of 99%+ of the currency’s value and the final acceptance by virtually everyone that it was no longer money, seems immaterial to me. Sometimes beliefs are communicated very quickly. So what? Of course, the paragraph uses the weasel words “look like,” and I will grant that depending on your vantage point, it may not look like that is what is happening. But that doesn’t change the fact that that is exactly what is happening.

Yes, a dollar is money. This is a true statement. But here’s the thing: money is a concept that is fundamentally linked to value, and value is a concept that is fundamentally linked to (wait for it) subjectivity. There is no value outside of an individual’s preference for one thing over another. A dollar is money because you can use it to pay for things, and you can use it to pay for things because people value it. So to say “a dollar is money” is to say nothing more than that a dollar has subjective value to various people.

Now at this point Adam is reading this and going, “Seriously, dude? You’re going to insist that the most meaningful way to talk about money is in terms of its subjective value to hundreds of millions of individual people? You don’t see how awkward and unwieldy that is?”

So let me to clarify that no, that isn’t what I’m saying. There are certainly times when it is useful to talk about money as something that has (what I would call) objective value over and above its subjective value. I would even grant that such statements can be “true,” given a certain framework of other premises. What I object to isn’t the use of different sets of terminologies for different circumstances, but the importing of terminology from one set of circumstances to another.

As an example, consider the entire body of classical physics. No one would argue that classical physics isn’t useful. On the other hand, it also happens to be completely wrong. This isn’t an overstatement. All the physics you learned in high school has been completely debunked. Feel free to research the matter yourself. Read Feinman’s lectures if you don’t believe me.

Fortunately for aerospace engineers and the like, classical physics is still an extremely useful approximation. It’s so useful for determining behavior of the objects you’re likely to experience in your daily life, in fact, that high school physics textbooks contain such lies as Force = mass x acceleration without even an explanatory footnote. For almost all practical purposes F=ma is true.

The only time you’ll actually run into a problem using classical physics is when you try to explain the behavior of very small (or very large) objects. If you try to use classical physics to predict how one atom will react when struck by another atom, your prediction will be laughably, absurdly wrong. That’s because the so-called “laws of physics” that we “know to be true” don’t really kick in until you’ve got a whole bunch of atoms to work with. Sound familiar?

In essence, we have two different sets of rules for physics (although in reality classical physics is a subset of quantum physics), and you have to know when to use each one, or Very Bad Things will happen. If you prove something on the macro level with classical physics and then try to apply that knowledge to individual atoms, you will fail spectacularly. Similarly, if you’re a panelist on CNN, you can probably safely assert that the Confederate flag is racist. If you’re sipping moonshine with Jedediah the hillbilly in his cabin, you might want to consider a different approach.

Remember, the issue isn’t which approach is “correct” or “true.” The issue is which approach is more useful. If Very Bad Things start to happen, there’s a good chance you haven’t picked the most useful approach. I noted in my previous post that collectivist logic applied at the individual level results in some very troubling conclusions:

After all, if people are to the nation-state as cells are to a human being, then executing a few dissidents should bother us no more than excising a suspicious mole.

Adam’s rejoinder to this is:

First, as David Hume pointed out long ago, pointing out the consequences of a theory does not make it false.

But remember, we’re not talking about what’s true or false. We’re talking about what’s useful. And if your theory results in the conclusion that it’s acceptable (or even desirable) to execute dissidents, I would venture that it is perhaps not the most useful theory to use under the circumstances.

Regarding my contention that collectivist logic leads to totalitarianism, Adam responds:

The idea that believing that groups have no ontological status outside of aggregating individuals will protect us from tyranny seems to overstate things quite a bit.

I agree. Of course, I never said it would. What I said is that we should be careful not to assign to groups attributes which are properly the domain of individuals, such as “consciousness, intention, or moral authority.” Groups have, by definition, properties that their constituent members do not possess. I’m not objecting to that idea. I’m objecting to (1) assigning particular attributes to a group without compelling reason to do so; and (2) applying conclusions derived at the group level to individuals (as I’ve already detailed above).

Let me add, too, that this isn’t some fanciful slippery slope argument about collectivist logic someday leading to totalitarianism. I see examples of both (1) and (2) on a daily basis, and there is a clear connection between those two errors and the encroaching power of the centralized state. Books have been written on this topic, but I’ll just give one obvious example: Politicians often speak of the “common good,” which is evidently some sort of good that benefits the nation as a whole. The problem is that each of these politicians has a different idea of the “common good,” and they seem to be unable to agree on any objective criteria for determining what that good is. So we take it as a given that the “common good” exists, and that it is an admirable goal, despite the fact that nobody seems to know what it is.

The libertarian explanation of this curious state of affairs is that there is no common good. There are only individual goods, because each individual values things differently. The idea of a common good is an illusion resulting from treating groups as if they were individuals. In other words, we’ve anthropomorphized the group, granting it attributes that are properly the domain of the individual. That’s an example of error (1) above.

This error leads directly to error (2), applying collectivist logic at the individual level. Now that we’ve decided we must pursue the “common good,” we find that certain troublesome element stand in opposition to this laudable goal. Some of these troublemakers even deny the very existence of a common good! We weigh the “common good” of the group up against the selfish desires of these dissidents and find that the group’s needs are more important. The dissidents (a very small group in the scheme of things) are eliminated, and society continues to progress toward its ineffable goal.

On a group level, this makes perfect sense. Again, if individuals are cells in a the body of the state, then eliminating dissidents is comparable to excising a suspicious mole. The health and survival of the state is the main concern. Of course, on an individual level, this solution is horrific. But if you don’t accept that the individual is sacred and that there is a specific set of rules to be used when dealing with individuals to avoid horrific outcomes, it’s very easy to fall into that trap. Every collectivist society has.

One final point: the illustration of classical versus quantum physics is illuminating in another way. Although it may appear that quantum physics is only used in certain rare situations, quantum physics is actually the more comprehensive of the two systems. Classical physics is simply a set of approximations that are useful in certain special cases. All of the properties of classical physics are actually the aggregate of quantum properties. They don’t look that way to the untrained observer (or to the trained observer most of the time), but it’s true. Again, does this sound familiar?

It may seem like groups are completely different things from individuals, and there are certainly handy rules that we can use for making sense of the behavior of groups. But in the end, groups are simply an aggregate of individuals. Individualism is the default system. Collectivism is the special case. Unless you want Very Bad Things to happen, never use collectivist thinking when individualism will suffice.


*Adam does not actually talk like this as far as I know, but it’s more fun if you picture him talking like The Big Lebowski.