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I've been getting more interested in thinking about politics recently. I've always maintained a strong interest, but the developments of recent years have pushed me to seek a better understanding the grounds of my beliefs, and of the beliefs of others.

With that in mind, I thought I could start up a meta thread, which will be used to link to other discussion threads on particular topics. I will update this initial post with links to those other threads. I'd like to request that this thread is used only for meta level discussions about what kinds of topics you would like to have linked back to here.
================POLITICAL SUBJECTS======================

What is politics?

Discussion and Debate - The Philosopher's Plaza / What is politics?
« on: September 17, 2023, 08:23:40 AM »
What it says on the tin. What is politics? How are we to understand this element of human life? How can we define it? What are its extensions? Let me start with some thoughts of my own here. A basic definition of politics is very broad. If we head on over to Wikipedia, we get this definition:
Politics (from Ancient Greek πολιτικά (politiká) 'affairs of the cities') is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.
Following this definition, human societies are, we might say, inherently political. This is because all societies have some form of power relations, and all societies have some manner by which decisions are reached, which is reflective of those power relations. From here we get the refrain: "Everything is political." Which means, everything we do can be connected in some way to the structures of power that exist between people, and the decisions that we make on the basis of those structures, or about those structures.

Going forward, I will refer to this definition as the basic definition. It appears to say something meaningful, but it is also very broad. Here I will make one important claim: as with many broad definitions, I think this basic definition can actually work to obscure other alternative, more specific definitions of politics and the political. The Czech philosopher Jan Patočka (1907-1977) has once such interesting alternative definition that I want to explore here. It concerns the connection between politics, myth, and philosophy. In his book Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, Patočka argues that politics and philosophy have a unitary beginning. He understands both as arising out of a shaking of accepted meaning. What he means is something like this: It is only once we start to question our myths, and with it the established social order, that we become aware that we do not truly know. What does this mean?
For Patočka, in the mythological world, answers always come before the questions. You can certainly ask a question. But it is a question posed to an established understanding. You can imagine an Ancient Egyptian or Archaic Greek child asking their parents why it rains, or what thunder is. There is an answer that can readily be given to such questions. In such a world, we certainly still have politics in the broad sense. Wherever there is a society, there is power, after all. But we do not have an awareness of the political dimension of human life as something distinct from our mythological framework. To extend on his point using my own language, the Emperor of Ancient China or the Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt was an intermediary between the powers of gods or heaven and the world of everyday human affairs. They were not rulers in the modern day sense. They were responsible for upholding order, or lawfulness, that is imbued with a kind of cosmological significance. For example, the Nile River needs to flood regularly, so that the surrounding land receives the rich silt that benefits agriculture. The Pharaoh was responsible for helping this to occur through ritual. Meanwhile, in China, too such flooding might become the thing that needs to be prevented, and the Emperor had his part to play here through performing the correct rituals. A mythological people are therefore at home in the world. That is to say, the world makes sense for them, through their myths.
But in Ancient Greece, we see a kind of rupture with this mythological understanding, where a new space opens up. A space where questions can come before the answers. Patočka thinks of politics and philosophy as having a unitary beginning, because in the sense that he understands them, both activities are really only possible once this rupture has occurred. A space must first exist, within which questions can genuinely be asked, a space that refuses to be covered over once more by any new answer, that might assume the stature of myth, or absolute authority. This space is characterized by the mode of wonder. Hence we have the figure of Socrates in the Theaetetus speak of wisdom beginning in wonder (thaumazein). Patočka understands such wonder as a "wonder in the face of the world", a wonder about the fact that there even is a world to begin with, and a wonder about our own position in relation to it, a position defined by fundamental ignorance. Let's put it another way: Only once we realize that we simply do not know, can we start to ask genuine questions. The questions we ask about the nature of things includes the nature of human affairs. What is justice? What is morality? What laws ought we to have? And why? No certain answer is available that everybody agrees upon, or that is sanctioned by an absolute central authority. Rather, different people offer different answers, and they attempt to justify those answers by giving reasons.
To boil this down a bit: Patočka offers us a way of understanding the difference between "activities associated with making decisions" (the basic definition of politics), and people actually gathering together and having arguments about such decisions. The former definition is so broad that it can encompass the actions of an ancient Theocratic Empire, as well as modern party politics. But the latter definition is focused specifically on the emergence of this awareness that we now have, that we ourselves can (and must) decide how we ought to live. This understanding of politics, for Patočka at least, first appears for a time in Ancient Greece.
Some closing thoughts: I really appreciate how this narrow definition cannot be easily subsumed under some other specific (theoretical) interpretation of human beings as having a certain nature. We have a bunch of such interpretations that have emerged in modern times, and they have their associated interpretations of politics. For example, maybe we think of human society as a kind of organism, and politics as a process of mediation with the 'surrounding environment' (like classical pragmatism). Or maybe we think of human beings as 'inherently selfish', and therefore much of politics (understood as the mere organization of the social body) ought to be left up to the invisible hand of the market. Etc. In an age of scientism, naturalism, and (dare I say it) very partisan politics, we need to continually reinvigorate this "space for genuine questions." I also appreciate the connection this definition has to collective responsibility in the so-called modern age. We are the kind of being that does not know. We might think this, or that. But ultimately, in the domain of politics, as with philosophy, all we have are our arguments. This situation calls on us to be responsible for ourselves and our beliefs. We can abrogate our responsibility, and refuse to engage with politics. We can try to retreat from it into modern myths, or unthinking tribalism, but that responsibility is there, nonetheless.

Discussion and Debate - The Philosopher's Plaza / Belief in NHI
« on: July 30, 2023, 11:34:19 AM »

Given the recent events in the U.S., I was wondering if anybody would like to discuss the UFO rabbit hole. Specifically, the nature of collective unusual beliefs that unidentified aerial phenomena are technical craft piloted by non-human intelligence (NHI).
There is a whole host of other associated beliefs or claims that form a kind of ecosystem. Here's a few examples in no particular order...
- Governments around the world are conspiring to hide the existence of aliens from the public (since the 1930s).
- Governments around the world are conspiring -with- the aliens for nefarious purposes (a possible takeover). 
- Aliens have visited Earth since ancient times and had contact with ancient civilizations  (Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods?).
- Aliens are abducting people and conducting experiments on them.
- Aliens have mixed their DNA with people (Starseeds)
- Aliens can communicate with people telepathically. 
- There is a factional war going on behind the scenes to try and bring the truth to the public (known as 'disclosure').

And so on.
I think most of these theories have been presented in the X-Files. It's a bit like the approach that Deus Ex took with conspiracy theories in general (assume they are all true). So, it works as a pretty good smorgasbord of every major UFO theory.

I'm interested in understanding more about how such ideas have spread, historically, and what kinds of general psychological theories or principles might help to understand this phenomenon of belief in non-Human intelligence (NHI) visiting Earth. 

A few working assumptions...
1. UFOs / UAPs are real -unidentified- phenomena. Some small number of these phenomena cannot currently be explained and are genuine mysteries.
2. We can believe the accounts given by many individuals who have witnessed such UFOs / UAPs (pilots, military and civilian). By this I mean, we can believe that they had the experiences they claimed to have. But with the important proviso that "experience" always includes a psychological component (interpretation), or is even produced by the subconscious (hallucinations, projections). At some point, the distinction becomes a bit blurry. "To see is to believe", yet "there is more to seeing than meets the eye (ball)".
3. We can deploy Occam's razor to explain the social phenomenon of widespread belief in NHI visiting Earth. That is:
- The psychosocial UFO hypothesis is capable of explaining the phenomenon of widespread belief.
- This hypothesis is significantly more simple and (logically?) likely than the alternative that NHI actually are visiting Earth.
- Therefore, we should opt to go along with this hypothesis. 
I'll start with a few handy links to get you into the topic if you need to get up to speed.
Digging Into the Mythos (Ongoing)

The Vril Society (Mythos - Nazism)
The Roswell Incident
Project Sign
The 1952 Washington DC UFO Incident
Barney and Betty Hill Incident

The recent hullabaloo...

We start with the Pentagon UFO Files (2020).
UFO & UAP 'Need to Know' News Documentary with Coulthart & Zabel (August 2022).
The Article by Leslie Keen for the Debrief (June 5th).
News Nation interview of David Grush by Ross Coulthar (12th of June).
Ezra Klein interviews Leslie Kean. (20th June).
The House Oversight's national security subcommittee hearing (26th of July).
Post-Hearing Roundtable 
 A skeptics review of the Grusch interview.
Some reporting on Elizondo's promotion of the UFO story, and his connection to Harry Reid
A skeptics review of the hearing
And then, we have some interesting discussions of the subject from a psychosocial perspective.
Carl Jung on Flying Saucers.
A Skeptoid investigation of the 1994 Ruwa Zimbabwe Alien Encounter (Garry Nolan seems to think this incident is one of the most convincing of UFO encounters. Yet there is quite a lot of evidence against taking it seriously.)
This article on the popularity of the 'Starseed' idea goes into the Forer effect.
Why We Want to Believe in Aliens (Apparently, people believe in aliens are less likely to believe in religion. This points to a common connection: The desire for meaning.)
Exploring the Psychology of Belief.
Mental Health and the Paranormal.
The relationship between schizotypal facets and conspiracist beliefs via cognitive processes

A relevant book by Mick West: Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect

Finally... with respects to the 'social' part of 'psychosocial', I think we cannot ignore very real attempts at 'social engineering' with respects to unusual beliefs. Here there is seemingly quite a bit of documentation of CIA involvement over the years.

Hello all. Here's my next Earthsea review. ;-)

As with my review of A Wizard of Earthsea, I will dispense with any plot synopsis and try instead to mention a few things I found so striking about this work.
I didn't finally read Earthsea until this year, when I purchased the first four books as a single volume. Given my previous experience with fantasy, my expectation after finishing The Wizard of Earthsea was that the next book would be, more or less, a continuation. A "sequel" where Ged would be the central protagonist yet again. After all, when I started to actively read fantasy novels in the early 90s, the genre was already well into the era of sprawling sagas. I imagine that if you wanted to get your first fantasy book published at that time, the pressure was on to pitch it as "Book One of the X Trilogy". Publishers were looking for the next Feast, or Eddings, or Jordan. You'd establish a world, and some large narrative arc, get the readers invested, and then keep them coming back for more.

So it was delightful to have this expectation upended. The first few Earthsea books were written before that fantasy trend really became established. Le Guin is -revisiting- Earthsea to tell another tale told in that world. But with fresh ideas. A fresh perspective. Ged is still an important secondary character, but he does not appear until we are already a third(!) of the way into the book. And he is much older. Many important events in the world have occurred in between these two books, and this is left to our imagination. Again Le Guin is very restrained with doling out background lore. She is content to show us glimpses of a wider world, just enough necessary background to help the foreground of this particular story to stand in relief.

And what a story it is. Like Wizard, Tombs is also a book aimed at older children and young adults. So it makes sense that, like Ged, our new protagonist, the High Priestess Arha (the Eaten One), is a young person who is undergoing her own journey into adulthood. And again, like Ged, the struggle that Arha must overcome is a kind of figurative darkness. Again, our protagonist must learn to change their mind in order to overcome that darkness. The difference is that while Ged's darkness was something unleashed by his own pride and spite, Arha's darkness was instilled in her. Rendered internal by ancient forces of power and domination. Where Wizard is Taoist, perhaps Jungian, Tombs is a step towards a more political, feminist thesis, about power, about ideology, about belief.

Throughout Tombs, Le Guin shows herself to be the master of pacing. A lot of reviewers have commented on having a hard time at first with the opening of the book, which struck them as too slow (I didn't have this problem myself). Yet once they reached the middle, and the plot shifts gear, they realize that this seemingly slow start was actually essential. The impact of the second two thirds derives so much from the initial portrayal of Arha and her life.

I want to add that the tombs themselves are a wonderfully evocative setting for the story. A maze of passages that must be traversed without light, purely by using ones sense of touch. The slowly building dread reaches a superb crescendo at the very end.

Finally, I was yet again left quite agape at the quality of Le Guin's prose. Particularly at the very end of the book, which was extraordinarily beautiful. Rather than simply bringing the story to a quick conclusion after the final major challenge has been overcome, the story lingers a while with Arha and Ged. We are treated to vivid descriptions of the landscape that they traverse, which meld together with sparse conversation and thoughts to show a kind of re-establishment of perspective for Arha, who must now dare to begin her life again. What must that feel like? What would that mean? Le Guin really wants to explore these kinds of weighty themes by means of the narrative arc, rather than the themes acting as mere set dressing for the dramatic tension of surmounting a challenge.

After being seriously impressed by A Wizard of Earthsea, I was quite amazed to find that I enjoyed Tombs even more. It is easily one of the best books in the genre ever written.

Maybe this section can have a "what are you playing" thread like the gaming section does. ;-)
Anyway, first a little me update:
I have been getting into tabletop gaming (board games and card games rather than wargaming) since my vision issues kept me away from PC gaming for over a year now.

It's been a real revelation to discover just how much has been going on in the boardgame space over the past few decades. I'd seen glimpses of it here and there. Now and then I'd wander into the game store, see something that looked interesting, and grab it. So I had a few games in my collection. But I wasn't a hobbyist by any means. Now I am a fully fledged hobbyist boardgamer, with a 30 + game collection, including plenty of mid-to-heavy euros like A Feast For Odin, Brass Burmingham, Food Chain Magnate, and Concordia. ;-) (Just an aside, but gosh, Youtube really has made it easier to get into a new hobby so much faster. Within just a few months I had a pretty good grasp of the landscape of what was out there, and what I wanted to play.)
So, what am I playing?

At the moment, I have a recurring Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion game going with some friends. We are still trying to get through mission 4. We failed on our first attempt, and had to pause our game mid-way through the second. I'm hoping we make it this time. ><
Also, we just had a great 4 player game of Concordia on Saturday. It was my fifth time playing it I think, and it only grows on me more each time. The card system is really quite genius in how it integrates the point scoring multipliers, forcing you engage with this subtle decision matrix from turn one.

Hello all. ;-) I'm writing a series of book reviews on Good Reads. I thought I could share my reviews here as well.

I want to get into the practice of thinking more about my impressions of a book. I thought that writing down these thoughts can help me to expand the reading experience and deepen my appreciation of good writing. This is a bit of a goal of mine in part because I'm going to need to write a lot in the future for Innkeep.

I'm going to avoid any plot details in this review, focusing just on my general thoughts on what impressed me so much about A Wizard of Earthsea. Really, this is a review about being surprised. And surprised three times over.

While I enjoy reading SFF, I always start a new book or series with some trepidation. One of the things that makes the genre so special is what can also make it a real chore: the creation of entirely new worlds by the author, with their own geographies, mythologies, languages, societies, histories, politics and so on. Even when a world is artfully deep, cohesive, and organic, the reader still has to move through that initial disconcerting phase of not knowing what the heck is going on. Who are these people? What is this place? What are the rules of magic here? Or what is the kind of technology they are using? Etc.
I find this initial phase of adjustment can make it really hard to enjoy a new SFF book. My mind wants to reject the reality of the names of all the places and people, refusing to take that vital step of suspending disbelief. My internal monologue is something like: "Well, you just made this all up, didn't you? Why should I feel invested in caring about this?" So long as I can get past the initial stage the feeling always passes. I start to "buy in" to the world as I get used to it, and have a good time. But I -do- need to get past that initial stage, and it's usually not easy. This difficulty has made me tend to shy away a bit from reading new SFF.
A Wizard of Earthsea was the first book I had read by Ursula Le Guin. (Somehow I had missed her work entirely as a teenager when I once really plowed through SFF). So I didn't really know what to expect. What first surprised me was that I was already on board after two or three pages. Honestly, I should say that I found that almost shocking. I am used to needing whole chapters of reading before everything feels suitably established for me to suspend my disbelief. I think part of this reason is how economical Le Guin is with deploying lore. She has a laser focus on the beating heart of the story she wants to tell, and dispenses with everything else. The lore is there, but it is strictly contained and doled out only as needed. The focus is always on the situation facing the main character.
Another thing that surprised me about A Wizard of Earthsea was just the pure quality of the prose. I will need to re-read Tolkien to see what I think of him as an adult, but having read a bit more SFF again last year and this year, Le Guin is easily the best. I must admit that there were certain sentences and paragraphs where I had to just put the book down and take a moment, they were so overwhelmingly good. There is a sense of poetry in Le Guin's prose. She can draw on the lyrical feelings of words to really take you beyond mere factual representation and into the sublime. Her accounts of sailing, of the elements of wind and rain, in particular, are as good as I have ever seen (Perhaps you could find similarities here with Homer, Melville, or Patrick O'Brian).
Finally, I was surprised at how Le Guin's story was so thematically deep. Superficially, it is a coming of age story, of a young man becoming a powerful wizard. But really, it is so much more than this. We should be very wary of analyzing literature in the sense of trying to "discover the underlying meaning" that the author secretly wants to tell us. Literature is not when an author dresses up an abstract position in pretty language, with the reader then tasked to undress it. The prose and the story already is the meaning. And yet, you can detect here so many interesting influences and ideas, that we can call this book philosophical in a broad sense. There is some Nietzsche perhaps. Some Heidegger. There is some Taoism. And it comes across through the language. It is a whole experience.
A Wizard of Earthsea immediately placed Le Guin as one of my very favorite authors. It is a must-read for anyone who enjoys good prose, let alone for fans of SFF.


Hi all! I'm working on a micro-CRPG / sim called Innkeep. It's a bit of Ultima 7 style classic CRPG, meets a modern day-by-day narrative survival sim like This War of Mine, with thematic ideas taken from Les Miserables (think, the crafty master of the house character, Thenarndier).

Basically, I wanted to try and capture elements of what I like about CRPGs (narrative progression, interesting characters, the feeling of being in a world), but with a static location. The idea I had was to have a game set in that classic RPG location, the humble inn, where you are the one wearing the apron, and the people of the world come to you. You serve them food and drink. You tell them about recent rumors, and maybe share a joke or two. You hire bards to play music and keep everybody having a good time until late. And then you rob them. In their sleep. A little bit...

The game will have some light sim elements. You need to manage your stock of food, drink, firewood and candles. There is serving to be done, and you will need to do a bit of "creative" cooking. But the core focus of the game is really about "looking after" your guests. In the evening while serving, you are on the lookout for identifying which guests you want to try and steal from in the night. You need to eavesdrop on conversations, observe them at a distance, and use your silver tongue to try and wheedle out some clues. Once you have your mark, then, in the dead of night you can let yourself into their room, prying open backpacks, wiggling rings from fingers, slipping chains from necks. If you have done your job properly, they should be far too drunk to notice a thing. And with that extra cash you can keep this show on the road, despite the difficulties of wartime scarcity. The idea is not to force you to play a mustached villain, but to have a bit of fun, and at the same time to try and push you towards having to make choices about who you will or will not rob, and why (a bit like with Papers Please).

Ever since I started part time work on the project a few years back I've kept track of my progress via dev diary videos on youtube. Maybe check out an early video to see where I was starting from (like, can-use MS Paint but don't know what a layer is computer drawing skills), and drop in on the most recent video to see where things stand today. It can help you get a sense of how far I've come, and what kind of game it is shaping up to be. Then if you are on twitter, consider giving me a follow. I also have a site for the game here, (although I'm still in the process of upgrading it so it might be missing a few links). I'll keep an active eye on this thread so I can answer any questions you might have, but I also have a discord channel if you want to chat more directly. Finally, you can learn more about ongoing development and get access to extra stuff like music tracks (by John Halpart) at the Patreon page.



The Welcome Hall - Start Here! / Hi guys.
« on: April 30, 2015, 10:24:22 AM »
A few weeks back an admin from these forums contacted me on Twitter and suggested I make a thread over here about the game I'm developing. It's taken me some time to get round to it, but here I am.

My name is Daniel, and I'm currently working on a game called Innkeep! in my spare time. I've been an avid PC gamer for some 16 years starting with playing stuff like Magic Carpet, Outpost and Ultima Underworld on my friends 486 dx. Baldurs Gate I & II and the original Fallouts were kind of a golden age of gaming for me. Then I started to find my way back again when I discovered Dwarf Fortress in 2008, got on Steam in 2010, and gradually started following more and more indie titles in development. The last couple of years have been a blast. So many great indie titles. Gunpoint in particular though was what finally pushed me to start making something in game maker as well.

I've always been fascinated with games. That dovetailed pretty well with being introduced to Tolkien when I was only about six or so. You can imagine that my little brain nearly exploded when I saw MB's board game Heroes Quest for the first time.  I must have played it hundreds of times. When my friends and I got bored of the scenarios I'd invent new ones for us to play. I did something similar with little choose-your-own adventures. Later on I mucked around with game design as a teenager back in the 90s using Quick Basic and did quite a bit of work on a text-based adventure / RPG where you were a detective. It had a night/day cycle, hunger, transport around the city via taxi with talkative drivers, all kinds of amazing stuff that nobody ever saw. But I lost all the copies I had of it... Heh. Ah well. From 1998-2004 or so I also did some building on a Wheel of Time MUD. I guess that establishes my nerd credentials. These days I'm working as a translator/interpreter for an animation studio in Tokyo. But I hope to be returning to teaching/research in a less crowded place in the near future.

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