January 08, 2015

Irony and Hypocrisy: Terror attacks on NAACP and Charlie Hebdo

Fascism: a political and social philosophy which believes conformity creates order, order creates harmony, harmony creates peace, and peace creates happiness.

Charlie Hebdo is, in my never humble opinion, a useless satire magazine that barely turns a profit by attacking anyone and everything either through the use of crude sexual innuendo or by casting aspersions on their beliefs, heritage, or both. It has always contained the kind of sophomoric humor that most of us abandoned at the age of twelve. The staff and stakeholders of Charlie Hebdo are neo-Marxist revolutionary wannabes who would very much like to dismantle the modern world of capitalism and high finance in order to transform both France and the European Union into a Communal Utopia where people such as themselves can become rich by playing the court jester at social functions.

The NAACP began life as America's premier civil rights movement. For the past two decades as the fortunes of black Americans have become tied to their individual talent and initiative rather than their skin color the NAACP has become increasing irrelevant both socially and politically. In an effort to hold onto the federal, state, and charitable funding that keeps it alive and feeds its staff, they have grown ever more hysterical and delusional in both their political activism and their exploitation of neo-Marxist "progressives" in American media. NAACP propaganda is behind the violence and destruction in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as traffic and commerce-blocking protests in Baltimore, Portland, New York City, and several other places.

Even though I profoundly disagree with everything Charlie Hebdo and the contemporary NAACP represent, I would never advocate legal action or physical violence against them. No matter how hateful, disparaging, or irrelevant a person's opinions are they are always entitled to their own mind. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a free society. That means we must tolerate Al Qaeda terror magazines, French political satire magazines, and racist groups claiming to fight racism. Until someone acts out on their belief through violent actions such as riots, fire bombs or gunfire, they are entitled to believe whatever they like. A person's beliefs are not dependent on social norms. Their actions, however, are.

I find it ironic that two organizations dedicated to demanding the rest of the world think and feel a certain way have become victims of other people who also believe they have the right to demand everyone around them conform to their own reality. Charlie Hebdo is at its heart a fascist group demanding conformity to neo-Marxist, collectivist ideals. The men who shot up their offices, killing twelve people and wounding eleven more, are also fascists demanding the world conform to the constraints of Shari'a and Islamic limits on freedom of expression. Those three men believed they were acting in a way necessary to improve social order and conformity to Islamic law. The twenty-three casualties believed they were acting in a way necessary to improve social order and bring about conformity to their own utopian ideals. Publishing pictures of the prophet Mohammed begging for anal sex is a hateful, offensive act designed to incite anger and through that anger, bring about change. Killing the people responsible for those images is also a hateful, offensive act, albeit, one that is designed to exact vengeance rather than improve society. My point being, both actions are at their core, fascist actions aimed at improving social conformity because both Charlie Hebdo and the Islamic radicals who shot up their offices believe that it is only by achieving conformity to a single utopian worldview that everyone can achieve happiness.

Likewise, the NAACP has become a subversive and destructive organization that inspires violence among hundreds of ignorant people by constantly insisting old white men are somehow magically responsible for the inability of high school dropouts and drug addicts who happen to be black to find jobs and improve their livelihoods. Rants, public speeches, sermons, op-ed commentaries in major news outlets, and published books are the forum used by the NAACP and its beneficiaries to spread hate and discontent among black Americans whose real need is not freedom from oppression but freedom from ignorance. Tens of thousands of lives could be improved if the NAACP would go into black neighborhoods encouraging young blacks, especially young black men, to stay in school and use condoms. Instead of going to where the problems are and offering tutors and life coaches, the members of the NAACP hide behind a wall of media teaching young black men that dropping out of school, having children with multiple women, and taking drugs is part and parcel of "black culture" which they should embrace as their very own means of "sticking it to the man". The person who bombed (or attempted to bomb since very little damage was done and no one was hurt) their offices in Colorado believed that by silencing the NAACP he could stop the violence plaguing American cities and prevent them from inspiring more riots. Both the NAACP and their attacker are displaying fascist core values. The NAACP wants all black Americans to drop out and party down, the person who planted the bomb wants all black Americans to sit down and shut up.

The real enemy of social cohesion is the demand for conformity. Regardless of where that demand comes from, when we demand all people conform to a certain religion, a certain political view, or a certain lifestyle we are denying them their basic right to be human and to act in accordance with their own concept of happiness. If a person wants to drop out and get high they have every right to do so, until they resort to criminal activity to support their drug use or until they plant children in the wombs of multiple young women and then refuse to support those children. The moment their choices infringe on the freedom of someone else to pursue happiness they lose their own right to do so. Society has an obligation to protect the pursuit of happiness but it does not have the right to define that pursuit!

There is both irony and hypocrisy at work in the violence directed at Charlie Hebdo and the NAACP. Irony because at their core, both the victims and perpetrators of this violence believe the same thing: they believe they have the right to define everyone else's pursuit of happiness. Hypocrisy because both the victims and perpetrators believe in social conformity while acting in ways that create social chaos. Fascism, whether inspired by religion, politics, economics, or philosophy, is the great enemy of freedom. It pursues its goal of social conformity by destroying or denigrating everyone and everything that stands between it and its imaginary utopia of one great global society that functions as a single mind.

January 07, 2015

Not exactly a New Year's Resolution

This year for New Years I have resolved to not make any New Year's Resolutions. After all, like most people, my resolutions don't last much beyond the first week. I am making an effort to do more writing, which also means my always sporadic blog posting is going to become even more irregular than it already is. For the first time in half a decade, I have also decided to take another crack at game programming. I mean, if no one out there can make a game I like then the only choice I have is to make it myself, right?

In December I spent some time participating in "Alpha" testing for two new games: Project Gorgon and Valiance Online.

Project Gorgon is a classic sword and sorcery fantasy game. Since it is still in the very early development stages it has plenty of problems (NPCs who are missing body parts, using one character model to represent multiple enemies, and so on). On the upside, all of it's game systems are mostly intact. It is possible to create and delete characters, explore the game world, run a wide variety of missions, explore the innovative skill-based character progression system, communicate with other players, and trade with other players. Considering how rough some of the "Pre-Release Open Beta" tests I've participated in were, this game is off to a really good start.

Valiance Online is billed as a "spiritual successor" to City of Heroes. Nothing will ever replace City of Heroes in my heart, not even if I make it myself. This means that any game which claims to be designed in the same spirit is going to have to go a long ways to impress me. Unfortunately, Valiance Online falls far short of the mark. It is possibly the least complete, least functional pre-release test I have ever participated in. The one thing it does have going for it is I could not find a single hole in the map. Even Project Gorgon has a couple holes in the map. However, there are a dozen NPCs that offer missions which cannot be completed. The few missions that can be completed have poor connections between the mission start and the mission goal. Whatever tool they are using to design missions does not script the mission completely from start to finish, which makes it a bad tool. This does not bode well for their future as a game, or even as game designers.

There are a handful of groups out there trying to create a replacement for City of Heroes. All of them are collections of former City of Heroes players with some degree of skill in programming, computer graphics, computer storytelling, etc. These four are the ones I know of which have the best potential to actually have a game in the market sometime in the next two years:
Valiance Online
Heroes and Villains
City of Titans
Atlas Park Revival

Yes, despite all of the problems with the current version, Valiance Online does have a working map, the ability to create characters, a few enemies, and a few missions. It's off to a rocky start but even a rocky start is better than no start at all. None of the others have anything more than a forum and some concept art. There are rumors of licensing deals and secret projects floating around all over cyberspace, but the four above are the only ones that look to me like they have a realistic chance at producing something I would be willing to hand over hard earned money for the privilege of playing. Make no mistake. Playing City of Heroes was not some kind of right or entitlement. It was a great privilege and a great honor to be able to experience Paragon City, the Rogue Isles, and Praetoria. Countless hours of hard, hard work went into making, maintaining, and improving City of Heroes. There were good times, there were bad times, but mostly there was an endless variety of player characters, hundreds of missions, and even the Mission Architect which allowed me to make my own missions and play through them. No game has ever offered the variety of play that City of Heroes made available and not a day goes by I don't miss the freedom to log on, create a completely original character, and then run through a couple hours of game play.

Watching the five games mentioned above does get me to thinking, though. Software tools have come a long ways since the first time I used DOS batch files to make my computer talk to me. While it is true that Pascal confused me, C++ nearly drove me insane, and good old C proved useful but limited, C# is made to be as simple as sliding together graphical elements and running a compiler to produce a working prototype. For database interfaces, computerized information terminals, and the like, most C# environments will allow even a non-programmer to slap one together in a couple of hours. Programming a game, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal, but still, there are now tools out there which make it easier than it has ever been.

One of those tools is called "Unity". While not as simple as most C# environments, Unity is designed to be a game engine and only a game engine. It is specifically designed around the idea that it should be possible to go from concept to prototype in less than a week. And while a prototype is not a complete, working game, if the prototype does prove pleasing, Unity has all the tools available to take the next step and produce a working game. It doesn't happen overnight. Two of the five projects mentioned in this post use Unity as their foundation. While that might not seem important, those are also the only two of the five that have a working Alpha test out there. That's right, the one thing Project Gorgon and Valiance Online have in common is both games are being built with the Unity3D game engine and IDE. I find that very encouraging. The Unity Asset store has hundreds of graphic sets, sound sets, basic games, textures, and other components. Anyone with a background in programming should be able to download the free version of Unity, drop a couple thousand dollars in the Unity Asset store, and cobble together a working game. To transform that working game into a commercially viable product will take some time, but there are literally hundreds of mobile phone games out there right now which were built on the Unity2D game engine using components from the Unity Asset Store. One of the big reasons so many mobile games look and feel exactly the same is because they are using the Unity game engine and Unity online store.

I'm looking at all this and I just can't help thinking to myself that if some of these other people can do it, so can I. After all, I've done a bit of computer programming here and there. Nothing worth mentioning but enough that I know the difference between an object, a method, and a pointer. I bought a couple of Kindle books from Amazon about game design, the Unity game engine, and C# programming. As long as I'm sitting here in Tokyo I might as well read up on it a bit and see how it looks. I'm writing something everyday, so the writing part of my New Year is off to a solid start. Reading programming books is more productive than staring at a Japanese television screen. Besides, now that City of Heroes is definitely never coming back, I don't have much else to do with my free time. I might as well grab a few books and a copy of Unity and see how it goes. Knowing me, nothing will come of it. I am notorious for starting things I cannot complete. Still, pretending to study game design is better than staring at the walls slowly going insane.