A Modest Proposal

for preventing the meat industry from being a burden to our moral sensibilities and solving the ethical omnivore’s dilemma

cw: cannibalism, descriptions of violence

As noted satirist Taylor Swift points out, “We’ve got bad blood, you know we’ve got bad blood.” She was of course referring to the agriculture industry, which yeah, has lots of “bad blood”. For ethical omnivores, this presents a dilemma. On the one hand, animal products such as eggs or milk or meat can only be obtained through the prolonged suffering and early death of that animal and most people will agree that prolonged suffering and early death is something to be avoided as much as possible. On the other hand, meat from an animal has a very particular taste and texture that is difficult to obtain in any other way.

To avoid animal products would involve a certain amount of inconvenience and, furthermore, would mean missing out on this particular taste and texture and mouthfeel. A dilemma indeed! Most people get past it by eating those things, but feeling a little bit bad about it. This works, in that most people don’t die, but feeling bad kind of sucks.

Well, I’ve got a solution! My plan – new kind of meat, if you will – will make it fully possible to continue producing and eating animal meat without experiencing any of the guilt experienced alongside the meal. This kind of meat is better on any dimension which the ethical omnivore might consider. The meat is found in abundance, and would completely reduce the need for factory farming. In fact, the animal in question is something of a pest and reducing it’s numbers would greatly reduce the drag on the environment. The meat would also be far more humane than current practices, both in terms of the lives lived by the individual and the method of killing required.

Observant readers will no doubt have guessed which animal I am referring to, it is of course the white human heterosexual cis man. Basically, I suggest we eat some white dudes. Here’s why.

Eating white dudes eliminates the need for factory farming

I think everybody can agree that factory farming is just unambiguously bad. For an in-depth discussion on just how bad and why, I recommend Jonathan Saffran Foer’s Eating Animals, or the common sense that says that if you put a bunch of individuals in a confined, cramped space and then kill them, they won’t have a fantastic time. With white dudes, we don’t need to do any of that stuff because white dudes are everywhere.

By my calculations, more than three million white dudes live in Sweden alone, and many times more than that can be found in the rest of Europe and the America. I mean, eventually I guess we’ll run out of white dudes, but right now they’re plentiful and since when has “eventually we’ll run out of it” ever stopped us from exploiting a resource? But yes, it’s true that day will come but, that would surely not be for at least a couple of years, and in that time, the practice of factory farming could be completely eliminated.

Killing white dudes would greatly reduce the drag on the environment

Proponents of hunting argue that shooting wild animals is necessary to keep their population in check so that they don’t run amok in the environment. Clearly, this is more true for white dudes than for any other species. Did I mention that white dudes are everywhere? They are!

Therefore, if any animal is in need of culling, it is humans. A reasonable objection at this point may be that white dudes represent only a small fraction of the population of humans. However, my counterargument is that by targeting white human males specifically, we may be getting rid of the most violent and destructive members of the species.

Men are disproportionately likely to be the cause of driving accidents, over-represented among violent offenders and most damningly, white dudes are much more likely to be CEOs or otherwise high-ranking members of large multinational corporations – the entities perhaps most responsible for CO2 emissions and for the devastation of the Earth. A targeted culling of the white dude population would therefore be sure to have significant benefit for the surviving members of the species. Therefore, although an ethical omnivore eating white dude meat may feel some guilt at being the indirect cause of another being’s death, they can rest safe in the knowledge that that death has ultimately increased the amount of good in the world.

White dude meat is humane

Furthermore, human meat is humane. Any ethical omnivore knows that killing an individual is acceptable as long as that individual has led a more or less happy life. In this aspect, white dude meat is superior to any other meat available on the market right now. Though they face certain restrictions in that they may not harm others (though these restrictions are pretty unevenly enforced, and do no apply to non-human animals), the overwhelming majority of white dudes are free to go about their lives as they wish.

This is in direct contrast to farmed animals in even the highest quality farms, who are still limited to enclosed spaces and kept indoors for most of the winter months. Furthermore, compared to other categories of human, white dudes are uniquely positioned to have good lives – they need not worry about being questioned on the basis of their identity, in fact society as a whole bends over backwards to cater to their needs. Therefore, if we are to choose meat based on whether the individual had a happy, fulfilling life, white dude meat is by far the superior option.

White dudes do not take up moral consideration

Lastly many people object to eating certain animals on the grounds that they possess specific qualities. In the case of dogs or cats, these qualities may be a certain sense of cuteness or playfulness. In any case, the ethical omnivore need not worry when it comes to white dudes, as very few white dudes have ever been called “cute”. So don’t worry. White dudes are generally quite ugly! Anyway, this principle is only ever unevenly applied, since I think baby lambs are plenty cute and people seem to eat those anyway. Also, as we eat more of them, I’m sure we’ll be able to overcome any residual attachment.

Another quality many people call a a dealbreaker is sense of morality. That is, if a being is able to reason and have morality then we shouldn’t kill it or eat. I don’t disagree with this argument completely. However, this is the beauty of white dudes. They are uniquely positioned to not have a good moral compass. Think about it. White dudes spend their whole lives sheltered from any kind of scrutiny, discrimination or constantly having their ideas, opinions and existence questioned simply because of who they are. It’s kind of inevitable, then, that their empathy and perspective taking muscles kind of atrophy. They begin to imagine themselves as ultimate rational and objective arbiters and feel justified in inserting themselves in the middle of any argument and annoying everyone. Try as the want to, they just can’t become good at morals, unlucky for them, lucky everyone else as unethical people can easily be turned into ethical meat!

White dude meat is meat!

Of course, all these considerations – factory farming, the environment, living a good life – they’re all important, but as any true ethical omnivore knows, there is one consideration that trumps all the others: Taste. This can be seen from how popular meat-free alternatives like beyond and impossible burgers are becoming. They sort of taste like meat and lots of people are eating them. It’s good that there finally there are options for people who don’t like suffering but are understandably unable to abstain that particular taste of meat, but I have been reliably informed that it is still possible to taste a difference.

But white dude meat is actually meat. There is no difference! Where meat-free burgers offer a rough approximation of the thing, white dude meat is literally meat! It tastes like meat, it looks like meat and smells like meat.

Now, I’ll be honest. I have not actually tasted white dude meat. And, uh, “what does human meat taste like,” isn’t exactly something I’d like to have on my google history. But come one. It’s meat. Of course it tastes like meat. It’ll be fine!

Conclusion

Eating meat is tough, especially if you have conscience. The taste and texture are fantastic, but killing and torturing individuals is bad! It used to be, the only solution to this problem were two bad options: Not eating meat, which is a small to moderate annoyance, or feeling bad. Well, no more, with my white dude plan. Admittedly, this doesn’t solve the problems associated with eggs and milk, which still require painful suffering and death, I’m still working on resolving that one. In the meantime, I’m sure all the important people are going to want to get on this straight away.

“Against Superheroes”

0.1 A Warning

This article is going to be a little different than the stuff here. You might say I’ve gone off the deep end. It’s a culmination of a line of thinking that I’ve been working on for a while now. That means this is going to a long one. And a dense one. That’s your first warning.

I don’t like superhero films. Well you might have figure from all the posts I’ve made about the topic.

But these posts have all been about individual film and the problem goes way beyond individual films being bad.

Simply put: The genre is rotten at the core and at a fundamental level incapable of telling complex, interesting stories for serious adults (to be fair, not a category I consider myself a part of).

More than that, the stories superhero films do tell aren’t just bad, they’re actively evil. Unintentionally or not, they promote a worldview that is toxic and hinders social change. So yeah, if you like superheroes, maybe, uh, this post will make you feel something. That’s your second warning.

A quick heads up: I’m going to do this annoying thing where I differentiate between superhero films and Superhero films. Yes, I realize it’s pretentious, no, that’s not going to stop me.

Clearly I’m not a person who gives a heck.

1. I put on my robe and hipster glasses.

So the first – and maybe the most important thing – about Superhero films is that they’re super mainstream. I don’t mean mainstream in the sense that lots of people watch them and the make tons of money, though the certainly do both of those thing.

So what do I mean? Well, If you recall my discussion on Mass Effect 3, you’ll remember that I somehow arrived at a definition of mainstream as being about agency and clarity. The characters control events and everything is super clear. I, uh, don’t know where I actually got this definition from, probably film studies, but it feels like a good definition to me.

From this definition it seems obvious to me that super hero films embody both of these concepts. The Superhero (capital S, keep up) narrative is about an exceptional, usually super-powered individual fighting for the cause of Justice (yeah, I’m going to keep going with these unnecessary capitalizations) against a Villain. Importantly, stopping the Villain is what brings about Justice. Obviously, what Justice is varies a lot, but just substitute in “the greater good” or whatever. This narrative is mainstream, because the whole film hinges on the exceptional individual (agency) and we know that he – usually he, anyway –  is the good guy (clarity). As literal superhumans, superheroes have more agency than anyone and it’s almost always a given that they’re the Good Guys. Agency and clarity. I’m not so contrarian that I think that’s automatically a bad thing. In the case of Superhero films, it is a bad thing, but I’ll get to why later on.

Also, fine, I’m going to stop this needless capitalization thing.

First, let’s take a look at why this mainstream-ness makes makes Superhero films attractive.

My original idea was to just google “attractive superhero” and use the first picture that pops up. This is my impression of the expression I made when I realized my mistake.

2. Super agent man

Obviously, the concepts of agency and clarity are intertwined, but I’m just for the moment going to pretend that they’re not. So. The reason agency is appealing is the same reason it’s unrealistic. It’s a power fantasy. Obviously, super heroes have superpowers, but more specifically, they have the power to solve their problems. Consistently.

If a problem isn’t solved now, we can be pretty sure it’s going to be solved later in the film or in a later film. This is the promise of the superhero film. In our real lives, we don’t have this power, and we don’t have the same amount of agency. This doesn’t make Superhero films categorically different from other mainstream films, just hyper charged.

Seriously, this is a dumb joke, because the concept of hyper-reality doesn't *really* have anything to do with the point I'm making here.
“Would you even say… hyperreal?”
No, Baudrillard, go back to your hole.

It’s not realistic, but it’s not meant to be on any level. As audiences, we know and accept that. But we still revel in the power fantasy. However, The consequence is essentially an elevation of the individual, or (ugh) the Individual, who is capable of (double ugh) Saving the Day.

What’s interesting about this intense heightening of agency and individualism is that it actually ends up minimizing agency. I’m talking specifically about the agency of everyone else.

Because the narrative requires the hero to be the hinge around which everything revolves, everyone else become essentially bumbling idiots. Henchmen, police, people like that, are just there two show how good the bad guys or the hero is. They’re there to be mowed down.

This is actually even worse when you consider how the genre treats bystanders. Essentially, the films, in their relentless elevation of “the innocents” actually devalue them. Protecting innocents is something that every true Superhero values above all else. It’s hard-wired into the DNA of the genre. You can see it in Superman, Wonder Woman and all of the Avengers.

And this is good! I mean, I don’t think that innocent people deserve to die. But especially in the large scale, “the innocents” start becoming a thing rather than a people. Because you don’t really get a sense of them, aside from as a part of large crowds. The bigger the budget, the more the “innocents” become abstracted. And in abstraction, we lose the very thing that makes them worth saving – their humanity. Instead of individuals, they are just large mass of “innocents”.

This especially troubling when we consider that for a lot of these films, the heroes aren’t all that successful. There is no way that no one died in those scenes in Man of Steel and Age of Ultron. But we don’t see it and because we don’t see it, we don’t feel it. This makes them even more abstract and makes the actions of the heroes oddly decoupled from consequence. This is troubling on a very deep moral level, but more importantly, it robs the films of their emotional resonance, because if wan’t feel it, why does it matter? (And, y’know, bad morals are important, but bad aesthetics is even worse.)

If the films are fantasies that invite viewers to picture themselves in the role of superheroes, what the films are saying is “you matter” and “you can make a difference” and “other people kind of matter too, but not as much, and they only matter in this vague abstract kind of way.”

3. Punching problems

The real world doesn’t need superheroes. Seriously, what are the problems facing the world? Global warming, systemic inequality. What can a superhero do to save us from those problems? Nothing. Real world problems are vague and do not easily fit into the Superhero narrative. So, to have something for the hero to do, the films need to invent new problems, or seriously simplify existing problems.

“But who cares, they’re just dumb films, right”

Well, I care. And also, let’s talk about violenc. Because the thing that Superheroes are good at is some version of fighting. To be “super” is to be “super good at fighting”. This sweeping generalization is something of a sweeping generalization, but not by that much. This means the kind of obstacles superheroes face are the kind of obstacles that can be overcome by punching. This means for the films to work they have to invent new villains or making real-world problems punchable. Let’s get bogged down in some specifics.

Wonder Woman’s portrayal of trench warfare is basically nonsense. It probably got me more worked up than it should have, but I want to reiterate how little this is the fault of the film, it’s the fault of the film genre. My reservations about this are stupid, even if they are accurate, but they stem from the fact that the film is forced to twist an incredibly difficult and complex problem, to an injustice that can be solved by punching. In this case, she punches enough germans and “liberates” the village. Evil punched, justice achieved.

The genre needs there to be a clear good guy and a clear bad guy and a clear problem that can be solved. Some superhero films want to tackle morally complex and difficult questions, but the form won’t let them. This problem is easily sidestepped by making up fake problems. As I discussed, Christopher Nolan creates tons of false Dilemma’s in the Dark Knight. He makes the heroes choose between mass incarceration and lawlessness, as if those are the only two options. Zack Snyder asks is it ok to kill if we know that the person is evil and will never stop killing others? Never mind the fact in real life, we can’t know for sure that a person is evil, that they will never stop killing others and “evil” as a thing doesn’t really exist. But at least Man of Steel pretended this was a dilemma, Age of Ulton just took this as a given. Snyder upset the fans, but his solution is actually the logical conclusion of the worldview the superhero genre invites. Too bad, it’s a messed up worldview.

Wonder Woman poses a similar pseudodilemma. Diana Prince has the view that people are good, but they are corrupted by the spirit of Ares driving them to war. Later we find that, indeed, it’s not so simple, and people can sometimes do terrible things. The film creates a  dichotomy. Either people are good and being driven to do terrible things because of Ares or maybe there are just bad people.  Diana chooses to accept them even if they are sometimes bad, and that’s one of the films chest-thumping moments of triumphs.

What’s completely missing from the story is the institutional and structural forces, building up, leading inexorably to the war. For example, the geopolitical pressure put on Germany, being squeezed in between two superpowers, which dictated certain strategies and actions, like going through belgium and being extra creative (read: cruel) with their weaponry. Of course this is too much for a super-hero film to get into, but that is precisely my point.

More than that, the superhero genre prevents the film from being really, truly, subversive. I’m not trying to take away from the triumph of Wonder Woman. It deserves it’s moment in the spotlight and it matters that non-men have someone like them they can look up to, someone like them beating up the bad guys. Representation matters, and if we are to have superhero films, I would rather that they are equal, with all genders and colors and sexual orientations represented. Representation is a great step forward, but it is not enough. To analogize, it would be better if all fossil fuel companies were run by an equal mix of genders and colors and sexual representations, but they would still be spewing out fossil fuels that mess up the planet.

Superhero films are like fossil fuel companies in this analogy, and because of the limitations I’ve outlined, they cannot be truly subversive of the status quo. And that’s the point. Because everything has to be clear

4. Conclusion

All right, hold on to your hard hats now, because shit’s about to get real. What I’m saying is, I’m about to drop some Gramsci on y’all. That’s right, everyone’s favorite italian neo-marxist Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci.png
I mean, to be fair, I’m mostly just mentioning him to have an excuse to link this picture. Look at that smoldering ball of handsome intellectuality.

Gramsci had a whole bunch of ideas, but what I’m going to talk about is the idea of the cultural hegemony. Basically, it’s an attempt to explain why the oppressed masses don’t rise up against a ruling class that is obviously oppressing them. The answer, to Gramsci, is the cultural hegemony. A set of ideas present in our culture which prompt the oppressed masses to act against their interest.

I’m not saying that Superhero films are the one thing standing in the way of the socialist revolution. Buuuut. I am saying that the Superhero narrative is the latest and greatest invention of the cultural hegemony. The ideas expressed in the superhero form, the ideas I’ve outlined precisely align with the neo-liberal, military industrial status quo.

In the section 2, my point was that Superhero films flatten other people and invite us to see the world as one where we matter and other people are kind of, sort of, in the background, and matter, but kind of not really. The point of my third section was that superhero films invite us to consider the world as one where problems are solved in a very specific way, mostly by punching.

And this is exactly what the system wants. It wants us to believe that we matter, and not other people, that we don’t need help and if someone does need help, it’s not up to the government to do anything. If problems can be solved on an individual scale then we don’t need to change the system. We don’t need to work together on a larger scale, we don’t need to change the world.

Post-script

Ok, yeah, obviously there isn’t some massive conspiracy by Marvel and DC to enslave the proletariat. They just want to make kick-ass films with cool explosions. But the ideas are swirling around in a capitalist culture. These ideas and the films promoting this message caught on because they are seductive, and probably because of accident and a whole bunch of reasons that I can’t explain. Now they’re out and they are bad ideas.

Wonder Woman and the Trenches

Ok, I’m weird. I know I’m weird. I seriously debated whether I should even publish this. It feels a bit sacrilegious. A good, feminist super-hero kicking ass is what people have been asking for since, well I don’t know, for a long time. Myself included! This film means a lot to a lot of people. So, if you did like this film, don’t let me rain on your parade. I’m a pedantic nerd. I have unreasonable standards. Is this film a triumph of feminism? I don’t know, a lot of people smarter than me seem to think so.

I’m just going to say that I didn’t like it because of the historically inaccurate portrayal of trench warfare.

Yes, it’s stupid. But here’s a picture of naked Chris Pine!

So yes, I, for one hundred percent real, could not enjoy Wonder Woman because it did not accurately portray the realities of WW1 trench warfare. There, I said it. It just feels like the whole film – the whole film – was put together by someone who has a vague idea about WW1 gleaned pop-cultural osmosis, but nothing more.

Let’s start with how she starts charging across the trench. Let’s take a moment to consider her motivation for doing this. She’s listening to villagers and people there talking about they didn’t have food and medicine and stuff and that riles her up enough that she wants to go climbing over the wall. And take out the machine guns and so on and so on. And she does, and it’s awesome.

But that fundamentally does not change the situation for those villagers. They still don’t have food and medicine and whatnot . They’re situation is fundamentally unchanged by the allies gaining a couple of hundred of meters of ground. But it’s actually fine for Diana Prince to not get that. She is a newbie to the world, she cares and she has emotions, but she doesn’t know all that much. It’s fine that Diana Prince the character doesn’t get the complexities of warfare. But then, Wonder Woman the film also turns around and forgets this. Like, those people aren’t given another thought. She crosses the trench, kicks the Germans out of the village and everyone is happy etc etc, but those people are still there. Still starving, still no medicine (or whatever it was that their problem was, look I don’t have the movie in front of me, I can’t go back and double check). And now they’re forgotten by the film.

But let’s move on from those guys. They’re depressing. So let’s talk about the village, because what the hell is going on in the village? Seriously. Why the hell are they so happy to have been liberated from the Germans? So the front line has been moved to the other side of their village? What happens when the Germans counterattack, which was the literal strategy of the Germans. I’ll tell you what happens. Their village gets engulfed by fighting. Agan. And we just watched at least one church get completely wrecked.

But that’s what freedom looks like!

If I was living in that village, I wouldn’t be celebrating, I’d be really angry at the people that just wrecked my church, and practically guaranteed that my village is counterattacked. Which you know, then is exactly what happens, with gas, but whatever. So why are they happy? It doesn’t make any sense.

And this brings up the question of why is the village even still there? It’s four years into the war, if there’s anything the Western front is famous for at this point it’s vacillating back and forth over a small patch of ground. If your village is right by that front, you’ve probably packed up and headed away a long time ago. Like, a long time ago.

But this gets at the films wider misunderstanding of what “the front” was and what no-man’s land was. In the film’s portrayal, no man’s land is the hundred or so meters between the two trenches. All that getting through entails is getting enough men across one point and that’s it, you’re though, and all is good, and you’re able to kick the asses of the troops on the other side, who are caught completely flat-footed.

You know who also thought it was this easy? Literally most of the World War 1 generals for most of the war. They didn’t have Diana Prince, but they did have tons and tons of men. You know what WW1 is not famous for? Lots and lots of men storming the opposite trenches and ending the war. The thing is, that does not mean that lots and lots of dudes never got across the trench. Sometimes a whole bunch of them did. But you know what waited for you when you got across the trench? Another trench. And then another trench. Losing the first trench was literally part of the strategy, especially for the Germans. And that village? It wouldn’t have been full of happy people, it would have been full of angry booby traps. See, the thing about no-man’s land was, it wasn’t that stretch of land between the trenches, it was a massive swathe of areas, many kilometers wide. Wonder Woman storming the trench almost single-handedly was cool and very awesome, but it was also, on a very fundamental level, not how trenches work.

My final angry sticking point is the small matter of the disaster our heroes are trying to avert. Because, again, if you have even the slightest inkling of how World War 1 works, you know that the idea of a new kind of gas being the turning point of the war is completely ridiculous. The reason mustard gas wasn’t used more often wasn’t that the allies developed gas masks, it was that it was fundamentally not very useful as a weapon. Well, the gas masks were certainly part of it, but the thing about gas is that it’s not like an explosion. An explosion affects a limited area and then it goes away. Gas affects a large area and then it moves. You can lob canisters over to the other side, but if the wind is against you, then it will just blow over to your side and suffocate your guys as well. A more deadly gas just compounds that problem. So why the hell is a new kind of gas such a problem for the allies? Because the filmmakers have decided that it is.

Together, these moments ruin the film for me. I get that that makes me a pedantic nerd of the nerdiest and most pedantic kind. I get that Wonder Woman is meant to be a kind of power fantasy and letting stupid historical facts get in the way of that is missing the point. I get that. But, I don’t know. Maybe the problem for me is that with all these inaccuracies ruin the immersion for me. It’s not a world where I can lose myself in, it’s a world created by people and what happens in the story is not contingent on the rules of the universe, but on the rules of what the writers thought would be cool.

Having said this, I’m coming at this from a place of pain here. I really, genuinely wanted to like this film. Just like I really, genuinely, wanted to like Star Wars. I guess that’s also why I got so emotional about The Force Awakens. If I could let all this stupid bullshit go, I would. I also get that there is something terribly uncool about what I’m doing here. Here’s this awesome feminist triumph of a film and I come in my reedy angry nerd voice and “um, actually, there’s no way someone dressed in a miniskirt is going to survive in no-man’s land.”

I’m sure everyone’s glad I’m here to point out this is not how it happened.

So… I’m sorry?

Your Life as a Cow

Ok. I’m going to do that thing that non-vegans hate. I’m going to preach to you. Don’t worry, I’m only going to do it once, and it won’t take you very long. On the uh… cosmic scale that is.

But before I begin, I want you to consider this question: do you consider all humans to be equally valuable? Doesn’t matter what you put into “valuable”, do you consider all humans to be equal? Like, regardless of, well, anything, are all humans worth the same? If you don’t think that, well, I guess I’m not going to convince you of anything, so you might as well stop reading.

The rest of you are still here? Good. So. If we accept that all humans are equal, I want to ask, what makes humans more valuable than animals? Our whole society is premised on the idea that humans are worth more than animals, so it sure is worth considering. I mean, putting them in tiny cages for their entire life, forcefully inseminating them or kill them, and using them to test medicine and cosmetics is pretty strong sign to me that we don’t consider their lives valuable. So. What are we basing this on?

Like, honestly, what’s the justification for that? Why do we consider humans more valuable than animals?

Ok, I swear, this post is going to be more than just me asking rhetorical questions. Or is it? Yes. It is.

Getting back to my original question, you might answer that humans are smarter than animals. Sure, that’s true. Humans can make amazing artworks and feel bad about procrastinating. Can a dog do that? A cow? A cow can’t even procrastinate. It just eats that grass straight away, and it would never even occur to a cow to spend the whole afternoon ostensibly watching Netflix, but really just feeling bad about not eating that piece of grass. So that makes it ok that we eat that cow. My straw-man enemy might argue. Ok, I’m being unfair. Tackle the strongest version of your opponents argument and all that.

I’ll grant that there may be something qualitatively different about human and animal thinking. Humans have complex cognitive worlds, and are self-reflexive and though some animals seem to have a self-concept, most don’t. Even so, this line of argument is connecting worth as a being to cognitive capability.

Let’s just think about that for a second. Because if we apply that to humans, that doesn’t seem quite right. We don’t think some people are worth more as people because they have a higher IQ. We don’t think babies, children, or people with cognitive deficits are worth any less. Again, falling back to the point that humans and animals are qualitatively doesn’t solve this problem. It’s easy to imagine a human who suffers from brain damage or some other kinds of cognitive deficit making them cognitively equivalent to a cow or a dog. Does that mean that it’s ok to  kill that person and eat them? And if that’s not ok, then why is it ok to do that with a cow?

Obviously it’s not, and I think a lot of people know that deep down.

In fact, a lot of people now, have sense that eating animals is bad. I get the feeling that not being a vegetarian is something shameful. A lot of people are starting to eat less and less food every week. And that’s great! Every time you don’t eat some cow, that helps the world. Carbon dioxide decreases, and fewer beings suffer unnecessarily.

And I get it. If you’re used to doing one thing you’re whole life, just switching over suddenly is hard. I was in the “eating less meat” group for years before I went full vegan. It sucks! Guess what? Meat tastes great! A lot vegans will tell you that vegan food is both healthy and filling and that’s true, but guess what’s also true? It’s not meat. Sure, when you cut out anything animalic, what you have left is food that is, generally, healthier. The proportion of vegetables to non-vegetables in a vegan diet is way higher, but there are still tons of unhealthy stuff. There are lots of great meat-substitutes, but they are not meat. They’re not the same. My point is, becoming a vegan, and that’s what I’m asking you to do, is not a small ask. I’m not ask nothing from you. I am asking you to give up something. That something may not be as much as you think, but it’s not nothing and I get that.

Here’s a harsh truth though. You know when I said that eating meat feels shameful to a lot of people? Well those people are feeling right, because it is shameful. Eating meat is shameful, and if you do it, you should ashamed. If you eat animal products, you are propping up the systematic murder and torture of millions, billions of creatures. Creatures who, morally speaking, have the same rights to not be tortured as humans. That the countries and societies that view themselves as the most human and enlightened are complicit is this, responsible even is a goddamn moral.

I’m sorry, I know that I am coming off as the shrillest, most stereotypical kind of shrill stereotype of a vegan, but the simple truth is that as society we perpetrating an injustice on a massive scale, and I can’t not say anything about that anymore.

That said, that was really, really harsh, so I’m going to offer some comfort now. It is not your fault. I don’t blame you for not being a vegan. I really don’t. I want to make that absolutely clear. I don’t imagine myself sitting on the moral high horse looking down at all the moral peasants walking far below my moral horse. And you guys, I am flawed in so many ways, it would be weird for judge anyone. So I won’t. I don’t blame anyone. Not even you, Danny.

And the reason for this is simple. The entire animal industry, actually the entire system of capitalism is built around insulating us from the consequences of our actions. We are shielded from the ethical and moral implications of the meat and dairy industries incredibly effectively, in everything from packaging to commercials to the way our language is structure (we eat beef, not cow; we eat pork, not pig). Billions of money have been spent preventing you from having to worry about all this stuff. So how could anyone be mad when the odds are stacked against you in this way?

And if you think I’m contradicting myself, I’m not. You can still be ashamed, should still be ashamed, even though it isn’t your fault. Those are not mutually exclusive. Take me for example. I’m coded as “white” and “male”. That means I am raking in the benefits of the way other white men before me have systematically exploited and subjugated everyone else and continue to do so. That is not my fault, I had no nothing to do with those guys, but I am still ashamed of this and, furthermore, I have a responsibility to actively do what I can to make the world a better place.

And I guess that’s a pretty good place to end this piece. It’s not your fault, but it’s still bad and it’s bad if you are part of propping up the system. And look, let me leave you with this thought from Spiderman.

For those who don’t have youtube or can’t watch, what Spiderman says is “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”

The thing we can do is not eat meat. The bad things that happen is the terrible suffering of animals. Superheroes generally suck, but in this case one of them has a point. Let’s be Spiderman. Together.

Tony Stark, Marxist Superhero

Here is a weird fact: Iron Man 3 is one favorite superhero films. I have an unhealthy fascination with all the Iron Man films – yes even the second – but the third was always my favorite. It makes some fantastic points, and it is heartbreakingly close to making a genuinely clever systemic, anti-capitalist critique of the world. It fails, obviously because it is a superhero film and superhero films are the worst (more on this soon). Even so, I like I can’t fault it for trying and even though it fails, it fails in an interesting way.

Plus, it has scenes like this. This is funny!

So, I’m going to get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, Tony Stark is a weird figure to point out as a Marxist superhero. He’s super rich and he makes money owning things and selling things. But as I pointed out in my first ever article, he’s not a self-made man. He inherited most of his wealth, and, as I also pointed out, he got a large dollop of help from the government. And he’s not a ruthless capitalist. When he realizes that weapons kill people, he stops making weapons. He steps down from the business of making money to focus on philanthropy full time. In that way, he’s more like George Soros or Bill Gates, if those guys’ idea of philanthropy involved fighting aliens in mechasuits.

And, for some reason, giant bunnies.

And the thing is, all of Iron Man’s villains are also millionaires, just like Tony, and they all sell weapons, just like Tony used to. If Tony Stark is the good millionaire, they illustrate what a bad millionaire looks like. And invariably, what a bad millionaire looks like is a capitalist who doesn’t have any compunctions other than making money. Unlike Tony. So what the films are teaching us is that people with money have a responsibility to pay something back to the community, or they are assholes.

Iron Man 3 is where the series really steps up the critique. Like all the other Iron Man films, three features a foreign terrorist threat, but it’s a fakeout. Instead, the real villain is the aforementioned evil millionaire. It might have been a while since you watched Iron Man 3, so I’m just going to remind you of the plot. The bad guy, Killian, wants to sell a thing that makes soldiers awesome, but the thing keeps exploding, so he hires an actor to go on TV and claim he is the Mandarin and he ordered the explosions as part of a terrorist attack. So instead of being an evil dude who kills people to make money, he just wants to make money, and the killing is sort of incidental.

It might seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but I’m not. Because, more so than his previous villains, the thing driving him is capitalism. Capitalism is driving the company to cut corners and increase production. And then hire an actor to pretend to be a terrorist and then orchestrate a coup to place a puppet on the presidency. Basically, in the film, the terrosist threat is literally a fake conflict meant to obscure the damage done by profit-seeking companies. I mean, like, how much more on the nose can you get? Maybe not a lot.

Into this mix, however, the film implicates a third player: the media. The film spends a lot of time showing us the behind the scenes process of filming the Mandarin videos. It’s easy to forget with all the exploding Iron Man suits, but the final fight is meant to be a carefully staged terrorist attack. The plan is to make it seem like the president is killed by the Mandarin and then install the vice president as a puppet for the corrupt oligarchs.

Somehow that plan involves putting the president into an Iron man suit and suspending him fifty feet in the air. Look, a film can be a scathing critique of capitalism and also not make a whole lot of sense.

In other words, the film literally calls out the narrative of the threatening terrorist as a cover for the capitalist take-over. The simple story of the good guy fighting the bad buy is a distraction cooked up by the capitalist system – including the media – to obscure the real damage the system is doing.

The second part of what makes this an interesting film is the Iron Man suit. The film seems to be somewhat conflicted about what the suit represents. On the one hand, it is obviously Tony Starks super power. Without it, he’s just your average genius inventor playboy philanthropist. With that established, two things seem to be true about the suit for Tony.

On the one hand, it is a place of refuge. He flees to it after his first panic attack. A panic attack brought on by memories of a foreign assault on New York – with images very reminiscent of 9/11. And building more and more suits is also explicitly called out as a way for him to find solace after that attack.

On the other hand, as much as the suit is a cocoon, it is also a source of isolation. The suit – and by extension, the super-power – is preventing him from having a meaningful relationship with others and with himself.

Here’s a picture that isn’t silly, or weird, or random. It just… illustrates my point. Huh.

Having the suit wrecked in the middle is presented as moment of revelation, a chance for Tony to get back to his true self. By the end, Tony realizes that the suit is preventing him realizing his full potential and he destroys it because he’s awesome all on his own.

And I think I might lose you a little bit here. Buuut what is the suit? It is a weapon. And it is an industrial thing. So I think it’s pretty fair to say that the suit is Tony’s last link to the military industrial complex. Yeah, I dropped the MIC word. With that in mind, Tony’s reliance on the suit after the New York attack plays out as a kind of mirror of United States turn towards the military industrial complex after the 9/11 attacks. If we stretch this metaphor even further, then, what the film is saying is that just like Tony is misguided to turn to his suit, America is misguided to turn to the military industrial complex.

And yet. For all these valiant attempts to make smart points, the film can’t get out of the constraints of the genre, or the constraints imposed by the marvel studio system, though I expect those two are essentially the same thing. The film devolves into the simple narrative that it seems to want to critique. Aldritch Killian becomes just another bad guy for Tony Stark to punch. The Iron Man suits swoop in and save the day. The final fight is just one big spectacle that distracts and contradicts from all the other points it was making. Because it is a super-hero film, it has to hit those beats and in doing so, it becomes a worse film.

The Dark Knights Fakes It’s Way to Moral Ambiguity.

Huh, this might be my catchiest title yet.

Look, I’m going to be upfront here. The Dark Knight is not a bad film. I first saw the film when I was 19 and 19-year-old me thought it was the bomb.

This is 19-year-old me. I was going to make a joke about how little I knew back then, but man, this look is pretty dope.

Even now, I don’t think it’s a bad film necessarily.  Like, it’s a competent action film. But watching it now there’s something… troubling about it.

“I’m just a dog chasing cars,” the Joker says.

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with,” Alfred says. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Those are cool-sounding quotes. Like, Nolan knows what he’s doing when he’s writing. It’s no wonder 19-year-old me was blown away.

But, the thing is what those quotes are saying is quite simple.When the Joker says he’s just a dog chasing cars, he means that being a jerk is just in his nature. He’s just like that. And the world has people like that, Alfred says. Some people are evil and they can’t be reasoned with because their evilness comes from a rot at the core of their being. This is why you need people like Batman.

This a simplification. Of the world I mean. The world isn’t like this.

Look, I’m not saying psychopaths don’t exist, or that it’s not ok to have villains who are psychopaths and just evil. In fact, as far as inexplicably evil psychopaths go, Heath Ledger’s Joker is incredibly charismatic. But The Dark Knight wants to have a simple story about good and evil and also make a complex film that riffs on current events.

Let me explain. A lot of internet ink has been expended on how Batman is basically George Bush and the Joker is Al-Qaeda. I buy this. I’m on board with this. For you weirdos who don’t obsessively follow the deep comic book analysis sites, I’ll do a quick rundown but to be honest, I’m mostly basing this off Cracked again.

Actually, for those keeping track, this is the same article that inspired my very first blog post. I guess that article really blew my mind.

Since I guess we’re doing this now, here is a picture of me, roughly around the time I read that post. Seven years ago, for those keeping track. This probably is a pretty accurate representation of my state of mind,

Anyway, the gist of this argument is this. Basically, the Joker is unpredictable and randomly blows shit up, like Al-Qaeda. Batman has the support of the government, like George W. Bush. In the end, a pivotal reason reason why Batman is able to catch the Joker is that he turns every phone into an echo-locating listening device, which is exactly what George W. Bush did to catch Usama Bin Laden. And for those really keeping track, yes, I did this exact joke structure in that first post as well. Uhh, getting back to the main point, there’s even a bit where Batman flies to Hong Kong to do a bit of extraordinary rendition. You know, like W. did.

So the film wants to say something profound about the world while also being a simple story of good versus evil. The effect of these two impulses is a message saying that the world can be reduced to a simple story of good and evil. And this is problematic.

This picture has nothing to do with the article, but by now I’ve gotten lost in the rabbit hole of old facebook photos. This is a pretty weird photo right? Anyway, last one, I swear.

What this does is that in the middle of these explosions, the film sends a message about how to deal with terrorists. This message tried to be the gray, morally complex thing that the film is aiming for, but it doesn’t actually work.

Think about the two most questionable things Batman does. He flies to a different country an extradite a foreign national and listen in everyone’s phones. To it’s credit, the film indicates an awareness, at least, that these things are morally questionable. Is it ok to infringe of privacy in the name of safety? The film asks. What about flying over to foreign country we don’t have legal jurisdiction and kidnapping a foreign citizen? Is that ok? Maybe they’re not ok, the film implies.

But then, when it comes to it answering these questions, the film comes down squarely on the side of “yeah, no, those things are totally fine, keep doing them.” Because doing the morally questionable thing is what allows Batman to win. In the end, making the tough choice is what saves the day.

Yes, it’s ok to invade people’s privacy in the name of security, but only if you feel really, really feel bad about it.

This was actually on my Tinder profile for a while. For some reason, it didn't work out so well.
Ok, I lied when i said the last picture was the last one. Buuut, this picture is totally relevant because I, uhh – hey look behind you, it’s an eagle! Another close save.

Also, another thing. This gets a little lost in all the explosions, but there’s another aspect of the film that is downright astonishing from a today’s perspective. Basically, the situation is that Gotham is a super-corrupt crime heaven. Harvey Dent’s plan to stop this is essentially to use a legal loophole and lock up all the criminals. Incarcerate them on a… massive scale. Incarceration en masse, if you will. I feel like think about this hard, we can probably come up with a catcher term.

Anyway, the film is 100% on board with this. It is the solution to the problem of criminality. Harvey Dent, the film assures us, is A Good Guy, at least until he turns evil. The film wants to leave no doubt about. He was One of the Good Guys. And massive imprisonment is what Harvey wants. He’s all about that. His entire plan for solving the crime problem in Gotham is “lock everyone up.”

Fine, I guess at least one of my pictures has to have something to do with the article. Whatever.
And also to look smoulderingly handsome, but that’s such an integral part, it goes without saying.

And it’s kind of crazy to think about, but the whole dramatic arc of the film hinges on this one fact. This is why Batman takes the fall in the end, to allow the city to lock up all the criminals, because if everyone finds out that Harvey Dent turned evil, they won’t be able to lock everyone up. The film, super for real, believes that the way to solve the crime problem is to lock everyone up. I feel like this is a pretty snowflakey blog, so y’all should be clued in, but if anyone was wondering, mass incarceration  isn’t great.

So, in a very 2008 way, the film wants us to consider the troubling dilemma, “is it ok to restrict liberties to ensure freedom and security?” But like the question raised by that other DC property, this is pseudo-dilemma. It’s the dilemma you pose if you have already decided on the answer. Because in the real world, it’s not at all certain that more intrusive surveillance actually prevents terrorism, and it is certain that mass incarceration doesn’t reduce crime. So the film pretends to be asking these Difficult Questions and tackling these Weighty Themes, just like Man of Steel, but the starting premises undercut any pretense of complexity. In this case, the starting premises are that increased surveillance is effective against terrorism and that mass incarceration reduces crime. If you couple that with the premise that some people are just evil for no reason then you have starting premises that are definitely going to lead to some places like fascism.

FASCISM!

Lord of the Colonial Baggage

Gandalf doesn’t like what I’m about to say.

This post came about mostly as a passive-aggressive response to an argument I had on the internet. This is the benefit of having your own platform. If someone is wrong on the internet, I can put my thoughts out there in a way that means I don’t have to confront them about anything. And now someone is wrong on the internet, so I’m doing that. And because my thoughts are important and matter, I’m going to share them.

The issue is whether or not Lord of the Rings is racist. And the answer is, yes, it totally is. So let’s lay it out. I’m actually going to ignore the whole “free men of the west” thing and I’m going to ignore the easterlings. Instead, I’m just going to focus on one thing: the orcs. I feel like not enough people are talking about the orcs.

The orcs, as they are shown in the series, are literally a race of cannabilistic brown-skinned subhuman barbarians. They are without exception shown as bad beings, varying from sneaky and brutal and evil to hulking and brutal and evil. Their society is impoverished, artistically, materially and intellectually, and the only thing they ever seem to have any aptitude for is killing and torture. This is pretty much exactly what colonial europeans thought of the indigenous people in the lands they were occupying. So you know, that’s kind of… not great probably.

“But wait! But wait!” The strawman version of my imaginary opponent says. “It’s not racist! You’re forgetting that the orcs are actually descended from the elves who were taken by Morgoth and twisted into horrible monsters for his own purposes so it’s not their fault that they’re cannibalistic and barbarian and intellectually impoverished.”

Yes, this may be a straw-man version of an argument, but it isn’t all that far from real counterarguments I’ve seen real flesh-men (i.e. as opposed to straw-men) make.

To be honest, I’m not really sure how to respond to it, because I’m not sure how it refutes my point. It doesn’t change the basic nature of the way the orcs are depicted. It’s not like Tolkien discovered the world of Middle Earth in his closet, fully formed. It was all made up and Tolkien, could have, if he had wanted to, portrayed the orcs in a different light. Any different light. But he didn’t.

“But come on, bro,” my straw-man says (I don’t know why my straw-man is a bro, just go with it). “This isn’t real life, this is fiction. Orcs are orcs, not people. In fact, if you think the orcs are meant to be Africans, maybe you’re the racist one.”

Sigh. No. So, for the record, I’m not trying to be holier than anyone. As much as it hurts to admit it, I’m pretty sure I carry around a whole bag of implicit and explicit bias that comes from growing up not having to think about these kinds of issues. I mean, I had a brief period in my early 20s when I was actually kind of a super jerk. But, I’m pretty sure that pointing out racism doesn’t make you a racist. Right? Secondly, these may be fictional works, but the way they are described makes it easy to draw parallels to the real world, like I did. Saying that they are made up doesn’t change that.

And look, you can say that Tolkien was drawing from his experience from fighting in The Great War and that the orcs are meant to be Germans and nothing else and that he had complicated views on the whole thing that was colonialism. You can say that Tolkien was super not racist because of this other stuff he said and did.

But that doesn’t change the fact that books are there and the ideas they express are there. And when those ideas happen to be about how certain races of people irredeemably behave in certain ways and that means you don’t have to feel bad about killing them that’s, like, not cool.

You Guys Should Hella Play Life is Strange

 

Life is strange is not a perfect game. It has many flaws. I won’t go into them, I’ll just mention that the actual gameplay is sometimes a slog and the ending is maybe a bit of a bit of a disappointment. Chloe is sometimes grating, the plot doesn’t always make a lot of sense. None of that matters though. In my head, the way I will always remember it, Life is Strange is a perfect game.

Life is Strange does one thing really well, and that is character. It might actually be the only thing it does really well, but it does that one thing so well, by sheer force of will it elevates this game from simply great, to an honest-to-god experience. I hate it whenever someone says “you have to read/watch/listen to/play this thing.” But guys, you HAVE to play this thing.

You play as 18 years old Max, returning to her home town Arcadia Bay after having been gone for five years. It’s mostly scripted, your role as a player is to walk Max from scene to scene, and sometimes choose what she says when she talks to people. There’s also some puzzles that you probably won’t remember (except for the bottles. Grr, the bottles!) and there’s a time travelling dimension element, but that turns out to be surprisingly inconsequential.

So characters. Pretty much every character is a well rounded, psychologically believable person. Sometimes its immediately apparent, at other times it sneaks up on you. You think you know someone and then they surprise you. The person who had for the longest time been a boring stereotype turns out to have a whole new layer to them. Several layers. The strength of these characters is enough to even power through the occasional clunky dialogue. You just accept that this is a world where teenagers unironically say things like “hella awesome” and “go fuck your selfie”.

And then there’s Max. By god there’s Max. Because you play as Max, you develop a special relationship with her. You see everything through her eyes. When you look at stuff, you hear her thoughts on them. Mostly, stupid throwaway comments, but they’re funny, even when they’re corny. Playing Max feels like playing as a person. More than that though, because you make Max’s choices, you are part in the creation of her as a character. Or maybe it happens organically. My Max is insecure, awkward, a little clumsy, loyal to a fault and fiercely mistrustful of authority. Some of that is the developers choices, some of that is my own projection, but it is projection that the game allows me to do, encourages me to do. When Max is faced with a choice, I’m not deciding what I would do, I’m deciding what Max would do. Would she steal money from the disabled fund to save her friend? (No.) Would she kiss her friend on a dare? (No.) Would she date the boy with a crush on her? (No.) With every choice, I have a stronger sense of her character. It’s role-playing in the table-top sense of the word. And it works. It works so well.

And then there’s Chloe. I think Chloe tries a little too hard, her laughs, her attitude, it’s all a little forced. I wouldn’t be friends with Chloe. But I’m not Max. Max adores Chloe, but their relationship is a little rocky, Max didn’t keep in touch when she went away, and it’s strained it, but watching them reconnect, playing them reconnect, is a pure joy. It’s such a rare thing in a game, to see a friendship – especially female friendship – take center stage like that. To see it handled so confidently, that was something I hadn’t seen done. The moments that I cried – and there were a couple – were to do with their friendship being tested the hardest. Max is awkward and weird, Chloe is pose-y and forced, but together, what they have, is beautiful.

There’s some other things I want to say. In many ways, it’s such a confident game. How often does a game allow you to just sit down, watch your surroundings, maybe strum some guitarr, and just contemplate. Life. Old memories. Latest events. And the music. My god the music. If this game had nothing else going for it, just the music would elevate it to something worth playing. The music just fits. Maybe the songs aren’t always the most awesome (though, mostly they are) but they just complement the scenes so well, elevating both.

What Life is Strange shows, reminds us, is that if you get character right, get it goddamn right, then you can get a lot of other things wrong and still make the perfect game. Go play it right now, and then come back and we’ll talk about all the choices we made and all the people we met.

Hear My Nerd Voice Doing Nerd Things

My good friend Danny Robertson is in the middle of making a Podcast about the DnD advdenture he’s having. He made the excellent choice of asking me to join (or finally agreeing to let join, which is the same thing really).

A lot of credit should go to Tom McMinn, who excellently DM’ed the whole thing, and to our co-players Lewis MacLaglan, Ian Horton and Erin Fulton.

So if you want to take a break from reading my nerdy texts and listen to me doing something equally nerdy, but slightly different, definitely tune in!

The Problem With Modern Medicine

So medicine. Obviously, the pharmaceutical industry is evil. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. But how is it evil and why and what are the alternatives? Those are important questions. A lot of people see the pharmaceutical industry as essentially one giant conspiracy, with tentacles controlling scientists, doctors and the government. Like, literal tentacles, I assume. Therefore, anything put out by the pharmaceutical industry is automatically suspect and you should always go for alternative medicine, which is not evil.

 

Obviously, I disagree, I mean, I don’t think the pharmaceutical industry consists of literal octopus people with literal tentacles literally controlling doctors with their telepathic bursts of energy. That would be silly.

 

By BenduKiwi (authorupload) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
OR WOULD IT? Yes. Yes it would.

But it’s interesting for me to think about why people think this way about the pharmaceutical industry. So why do people think this way? Well, it’s because big pharmas makes medicine that sometimes doesn’t work, sometimes drastically so. They charge more for medicine than they should, especially life-saving medicine. And a bunch of other stuff, but mostly those two. Obviously, this is evil stuff, but it’s important to remember where that evilness comes from.  Now you could make the argument that it’s evil just for the sake of it, but that’s not really a very convincing argument, is it? I mean, people are never just evil for the sake of being evil. I’m not even going to source that. It’s easier to just assume that it’s because of profits. So let’s go with, big pharma is evil because they love profits.

 

But look. I’m being a bit harsh. Everyone loves profits. Loving profits doesn’t make you evil.  I love profits. I’m pretty sure I’m not evil. The problem is the structure of how we create and sell medicines, which messes the incentives way up. TThe source of the problem is that the people producing the medicines – remember, evil corporations – are also the people selling the medicines and they are also, a lot of the time, the people who are funding the scientists in charge of testing the medicines.

 

This is what leads to all that shady stuff has happening. Ben Goldacre has written a lot about this. This structure gives the drug making companies an incentive to fudge the details, to sell stuff that’s not ready for consumption and to just cut corners as much as possible. One of the easiest way to do this is to simply not report any findings that don’t go the way companies want them to go. Another is to exaggerate the finding that do go their way. All in all, yes, it’s not the greatest system. As we’ve established, shit gets messed up.

 

By BenduKiwi (authorupload) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I mean, are we completely sure this guy isn’t a literal octopus person in disguise? LIke 100% sure? I’m just asking questions!

Here’s the thing though. This is something that’s really important, but it can easily be forgotten. The problems, dramatic as they may be are still happening kind of on the margins. Highly publicized reports of wrongdoing are highly publicized because they are unusual. Most of the time, medicine works. Reasonable people can disagree on how big the problems are, how systemic they are (I would probably lean towards pretty big and pretty systemic) but the thing is, the basic framework of medicines work. Or kind of works anyway. Near enough. Cancer treatment is a thing. Antibiototics are a thing. They do what the labels say they do, most of the time, at least. And the thing is, people are getting healthier. For example, child mortality is at historic lows and decreasing , and life expectancy is at historic highs and increasing. Obviously these are just two pieces of information, but fewer children are dying and people are living longer. Seems like we are doing something right. But sure, you could argue that any rate of mismanagement is unacceptable, and this would be a pretty persuasive argument.

 

But what does this mean, in practical terms? Well, for one, it means that if the system is broken, it’s broken because there aren’t enough checks on it, aren’t enough balances to make sure it doesn’t kill people. If the problem is that the people making medicines are also the people in charge of testing whether they work then the solution is to change the system. A lot of people suggest alternative medicine, but I don’t see how that doesn’t also have the same problems. It is also made by people who stand to make money and those people also are in charge of making sure it doesn’t kill you. Only, instead of having to go through a rigorous, if biased, testing procedure, they have to go through nothing.

 

Opting for something outside of the modern medicinal framework not only does not fix the main problem, the incentives – making money – are the same for alternative medicine companies. Actually, it’s worse, because it actively removes the system we have put in place to stop companies from gaming the system. What makes companies evil – any profit making company – is that though they are driven by people who can be nice or mean or whatever, but the logic of their structure requires them to put profit over any other consideration, unless constrained by some exterior force. Companies selling alternative medicine are just as evil, and if they are any less evil, it is only because they are smaller than big pharma, about a tenth of the size, in the US, but growing fast.

 

Obviously, there’s the massive conspiracy hypothesis that I mentioned earlier. That is, that the whole system, companies, scientists, governments, are all bought and paid for by big pharma, and everything we read in “reputable” journals is just humbug. In this telling, all medicine is a lie, to further the capitalist machine. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a socialist at heart, and I bleed as red as anyone, but this is quite an extraordinary claim. For me, and hopefully you, to change your mind, would require pretty extraordinary evidence. I haven’t seen this evidence. My claim is much simpler. It is simply that drug companies are evil, and they do everything they can to make money, but they are constrained by a system that forces them to occasionally make good life-saving drugs and they make these in a very grudging sort of way and try to game this system as much as they can. This doesn’t mean the state of medicine is great, or even fine, but it certainly means it’s better than any other alternative available to us right now.