Bad Reasons to Prefer Star Trek over Star Wars

Star Trek and Star Wars are in many ways incomparable.  One is a series of movies and the other is a long running set of TV shows that also happen to have movies made from them.  They are also very different kinds of scifi.  Each, while being versions of space opera, is very different in flavor.  Star Trek often flirts with hard scifi, trying to keep their show grounded in extrapolations from current science (or at least as grounded as a show with faster than light travel can be), while being difficult to shoe-horn into one scifi category in virtue of being a long-running TV series.  Star Wars flirts with fantasy tropes, sword-and-sworcery, and Shakespearean and mythological themes.  Both are great.

But then let’s ask Bill Nye which is better:

(First, can I just mention as a side-note that this is probably the first time I’ve ever heard the word shakespearean used as an insult?)

So Star Trek is better because Star Wars has magic and is Shakespearean.  He then goes on to praise Star Trek for (basically) its flirting with hard scifi.  So he likes hard scifi better than science fantasy.  But this is part of what frustrates me about the science popularizer turned new atheism evangelists that are populating the world now and have won the world over.

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They’re fundamentalist atheists.  The fact that the Star Wars universe features a religion is enough to put Bill Nye off of Star Wars.  Really?  That a work of fiction features a religion is a knock on that work?  No interest in understanding what the function of the religion might be in this work of fiction, it features a religion and that makes it stupid.  It’s like a fundamentalist baptist swearing off a movie that has a sex scene in it without taking the time to think about the function of the scene in the narrative of the film.  Bill Nye is going to have a bad time if he dislikes any fiction that has religion, magic, or ghosts.

Now, maybe there is a way Bill Nye could have expressed a similar sentiment about Star Trek without coming off sanctimonious and idiotic. He might talk about how since he has a passion for science he likes hard scifi as well as utopian views of the future and thus likes Star Wars better, but from his response he takes the very presence of any of these elements in a work of fiction is a knock against it.

But there’s a broader point here to discuss than Bill Nye having adopted fundamentalist atheism.  When we’re talking about which set of works is better in some set of works, is liking the setting of one more than the other any reason at all to think that the one is better?  Maybe you can give this as a reason you like one thing rather than another.  But the setting is nothing without the rest of the work.  The setting might contribute to the quality of a work.  And you might prefer things in a particular setting (I really enjoy future dystopia and post-apocalyptic settings).  But the setting alone a work does not make (or break: you can probably pick any possible setting and there has been really bad and really great work that takes place in that setting).

In an upcoming blog I will be discussing some really great aspects of Star Trek as a series and the interesting points it raises.  But today, I’m just ranting about Bill Nye’s discussion of the issue.

Tune in every MWF for new and interesting things that I have to say.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Summarizing Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Divine Names: Part 1

I’ve recently started reading Pseudo-Dionysius'(PD) The Divine Names with the intent of including him in a history of philosophy syllabus.  What I have read and known regarding PD has all been either through quotes from Thomas Aquinas and from secondary source describing his views and influences.  What I found was very interesting.  PD’s work is at once insightful into the deep hiddenness of the divine while also very beautifully written in a poetic style.  It smacks of the style of the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.

The first portion of The Divine Names is devoted to establishing PD’s approach to philosophical theology.  PD holds a very neo-Platonic view of the deity.  The deity, for PD is wholly other and nigh completely inaccessible to human reasoning.  He expresses deep gratitude for the scriptures in giving we mere human beings something to go on in understanding the divine.  The idea is, if it hadn’t been for scripture, we wouldn’t be able to even say anything true about the deity.

So Pseudo-Dionysius sets up the problem of the work as follows:

  1. All we can (naturally) know about God is that he is beyond human conceptualization.
  2. But the scriptures say true things about God, which inform us about the divine nature.

The puzzle to be considered in the rest of the work is how to make sense of all the true statements the scriptures make about God when we are in such a state of poverty with respect to knowledge of the divine.

So how do we make sense of useful (and true) talk of a deity that is radically beyond natural human cognition?  Hopefully PD will inform us as we journey through his work.

Click back every Monday Wednesday and Friday for more discussion!
Peace be with you!
-JS

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Why are Vampires so Sexy?

Vampires are so sexy.  You’ve got the incarnations of Lestat in the movie versions of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Queen of the Damned, Selene in Underworld, and Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned (may she rest in peace).  But who can forget the super sexy Edward Cullen in the Twilight saga?  No one is who.

Some argue that it’s the influence of books and movies like Twilight that vampires have become explicit sex symbols in some sort of nefarious plot to exploit young people’s sexuality.  But this isn’t true (well maybe twilight is build to exploit young people’s sexuality, but it’s not the source of the sexiness of vampires).  Vampires have always been sexy.  But why?

Because vampires are symbols of sex and sexual desire.  Since Bram Stoker the  story of a vampire has been a seduction story.  The vampire is a supernatural monster built out of the vice of lust.  Classically vampires are portrayed as undead creatures who are seductive, have generally (Twilight excluding) have lost much of the ordinary human ability to feel, and are consumed by the desire to feed.  (The act of the vampire bite so obviously parallels sex and deflowering that I’ll only mention it and not describe it in its detail)

The classical vampire story is like Jekyll and Hyde but for sex instead of for booze.  A vampire is consumed by a hunger for blood and is obsessed with exchanging a particular kind of bodily fluid with someone of the opposite sex (usually this is also a male vampire with a classically virginal woman, adding a creepy power dynamic to the relationship).  The story centers around the innocent human being seduced by the vampire.  After giving in to the overtly sexual seduction, the innocent human being receives an unpleasant surprise.  The vampire is allowed to penetrate the innocent human being with his teeth.  This human giving in to such the seduction and allowing the “bite” results in one of two results.  Either the human is dead or the human is turned into yet another monster consumed by lust, living forever with the one all consuming desire to feed.  The death is the lucky fate, as otherwise one has turned into the very monster that was the source of fear for the entire movie or book.  Vampires appeal to us because of our fear of losing our rationality and being consumed by our base desires.

Vampires are usually a kind of morality tale about the dangers of seduction and sexual activity.  Vampires are the embodiment of all consuming lust and sexual desire.  That is why vampires are so sexy.

Now, there’s also an interesting question of whether series like Twilight interestingly undermine our expectations for the vampire genre or simply exploit it’s built-in sexiness to appeal to young people, but that’s a question for a different time.

Leave a comment!  Tell me what you think about the vampire genre. Why are vampires so sexy?  Let’s talk about it.

Stay tuned every MWF for new content!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Pseudo-Dionysius and Others: Academic Dishonesty?

I’m reading some Pseudo-Dionysius this summer.  Pseudo-Dionysius had a deep effect on the development of medieval philosophy.  But Pseudo-Dionysius is a fake.  He wrote his works masquerading as Dionysius the Areopagite, a Greek philosopher converted by Paul’s sermon on Mars hill in Paul’s discussion of the unknown god.  The medievals didn’t know this, and payed deep homage to Pseudo-D’s work.  Pseudo-D wrote beautiful mystical theology that was influenced deeply by neo-Platonism, a philosophical movement that emphasized the otherness and unknowability of God.

I think his work has a lot of value and should be appreciated by anyone looking to understand medieval theology and philosophy in any sort of deep way.  But this raises the question: Ought Pseudo-Dionysius to have written his works?  At first it seems like a clear case of academic dishonesty that we, in the modern world, are ultra-sensitive to.  But before the modern era such issues were less stringent.  There were all sorts of categories of work that were accepted in pre-modern times as perfectly honest works that were derivative works.  For example, there were whole genres of work that would be illegal today that were accepted as important forms of literature in the middle ages.  There were commentaries, in which you heavily quoted from another work and then gave original thoughts about the arguments (like a reaction video but in text).  There were even works where you just collected a ton of quotes on the same subject together, being a curated collection of quotes from others.  These are all fine, and I think a reasonable person would consider them ethical.

But then there are works like Pseudo-Dionysius.  If we are looking at it from the outside in terms of whether it should exist, it’s tempting to place it in the same kind of category as the other fake works from the first several centuries of the church like the various gnostic “gospels”.  It seems we instinctively see these very late gospels that falsely claim authorship as dishonest  works.

But I’m not so sure with Pseudo-Dionysius.  Pseudo-Dionysius work is very important in western history.  But can a work be both academically dishonest and deeply important to the history of western philosophy?  Next time I’ll talk about what’s good about Pseudo-Dionysius’ work, and consider this more closely

Tune your dials to jsententiae.com every MWF for more content!
Peace be with you.
-JS