In Defense of Nationhood

Are nations evil?

The question would seem to be worth asking, since vast numbers of people currently seem to be acting on the belief that they are. Everyone has always agreed that some nations are evil, and that all nations sometimes do evil things. But that old understanding turned on the basis that the things a nation does can be evil – like things that a person can do. In contrast, the perception currently sweeping much of the civilized world seems to claim that it is the state of nationhood itself which is evil.

But is it?

The Random-house college dictionary defines a nation thus: “A body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its own unity to seek or possess a government particularly its own.” That seems to be a fairly reasonable description of the concept. And I readily admit that there is abundant room for abuse in that concept. But for those of you who reject it, I have to ask – with what would you replace it?

A specific group of people, attached to a specific territory, with a government specific to them. That is our definition of nation, correct? If we rule this idea out as ‘barbaric’, ‘racist’, ‘tyrannical’, or ‘bigoted’ what options are we left with?

Either we have to abandon the ‘specific’ and say that all people, everywhere, should be governed by a universal government, or we have to abandon ‘governments’ and ‘bodies of people’ entirely and say that people should exist in a fragmented state without any form of law or group organization.

If we reject the nation we are left with a choice between a world state or total anarchy.

Now, some people do seem to act like they want these things. But let’s really consider the ideas for a moment.

There seems to be a confusion in some circles of anarchy, the absence of all law and order, with freedom, being free to run your own life and have your natural human rights respected by others. But they are not the same thing. They are not even compatible.  An individual can be ‘free’ in a lawless society only by being the the most powerful person around.  In other words, the only way a human can make other humans respect his rights without law is to be strong enough to enforce them himself, would be to be the strongest person around in an area with very little population pressure. Tarzan might be free in the jungle (most of the time). But we don’t live in the jungle. And very few of us are physically analogous to Tarzan. Only those with the personal strength to enforce their rights, and sufficient space to avoid large numbers have ‘freedom’ in anarchy. Which brings us of course to the fact that in anarchy there is nothing to protect the weak and slow from being preyed on by the strong and unscrupulous. The weak have no rights in anarchy. They still posses those rights human beings. But they have no way of enforcing them.

“But why are you expecting that everyone will be so evil?” I’m not. I’m assuming that there will be individual evil people. And because decent people no longer have any framework to protect each other with, the evil people will have to be dealt with on an individual level by the decent people – and then it comes down to sheer power.

“But what about friends and family? The stronger protect the weaker!” Well I agree they should. But now you’re veering into group organization and the state of tribehood. And that might be a very sensible thing to do. (In fact there seems to be evidence for the small tribe being the social structure most suited to human psychology, and historically it is the most prevalent form of human society.) But that would no longer be anarchy at all. We now have a specific group people with a specific organization (however small). In fact, we have left anarchy behind and put our feet on the steps of nationhood.

“But what about the other option? What about the world state?” The idea has been floating around for some time. Numerous peoples have attempted to make one. In the ancient world, the Persian empire sought to subjugate as much of the world as possible. The Roman Empire turned vast swaths of Asia, Europe, and even Africa into provinces of a Roman state. The spirituo/political ideology of Islam commands it’s adherents to work and fight for the spread an Islamic State across the world (an attempt which continues openly to this day). In the 20th century there was a concerted effort to forcefully apply the communist ideology to the whole globe. It’s far from a new idea.

I think most of us can agree that had the above attempts succeeded, they would not all have been unmitigated utopia. In fact, in so far as they did succeed, many of them exacerbated rather than alleviated the dangers of barbarism, racism, and tyranny. They did not all do so equally – Rome (in spite of its undemocratic imperialism and what is by modern western standards terrible barbarism) is famous for having brought on the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, among its provinces. On the other hand, it is doubtful that the world ever saw another massacre like the class-cleansing of the early communist states. And all of them – even the best – had by necessity involved slaughter to create, and then top-down control to maintain.

“But” – some of you might be saying – “we don’t mean that kind of world state. We don’t mean an empire. We mean a good world state.” Quite so. Quite so. And you have thereby put your finger on the beginning of the problem with the concept.

A universal government would be a government like any other. Its sheer size and ubiquity would not make it any less capable of the crimes smaller governments commit. “But what about racism,” you may say, “and war. It would do away with those, wouldn’t it?” But would it? People would still be jostling for power in such a situation and those different ‘interests’ would still sometimes be expressed racially (and sometimes religiously, and sometimes economically, and sometimes by locality….). And if it became politically convenient for enough ‘interests’ with pull on the state to attack a particular group, to whom would that group turn, when all the world is under one colossal thumb?

And war? Even worse. To assume there would be no war under such a circumstance is not only to assume that the state is so powerful, omnipresent, (and competent) that it can intervene and prevent all local squabbles before they happen, but also to assume that everyone is uniformly complacent with the state of affairs and no one ever decides they want to run things closer to home. In fact it assumes that not only would this world state have very tight and efficient police control, but also that there would never be any revolutions against it. The first assumption seems to me to be both alarming (large, heavily controlled regimes are rarely ‘nice’ entities) and naïve. For large organizations are not usually extremely competent. The second is ridiculous. There would be attempts by this or that group to either break away from or radically alter their position within the state. And so there would still be war – but instead of there being war between nations, it would small factions against a megalith with the globe’s whole power behind it. It would be exchanging wars between nations for revolutions against a powerful, omnipresent state. The only way I could see to avoid that would be to follow North Korea’s example and crush and confuse the entire population into such a state of petrified submission that they never dared dream of stepping out of line. I think we can agree that that is hardly a utopian idea. (And who knows how long that could strategy work, anyhow.)

So no – a world state in itself would not fix any of the problems that nations are susceptible to. Those qualities of size, power, and omnipresence which would make it a world state would not prevent it from committing the same crimes as nations. What they would do is allow it to carry out those crimes on a vastly larger scale.

“But the type of world state I’m thinking of wouldn’t commit those crimes!” Well, if you’re talking now about building a government so well designed that it didn’t commit any of the crimes governments are susceptible to, you’re now simply talking about ‘how to build a good government’, and not ‘nations versus world state’ at all.

So, not only would the world state be subject to the same dangers as nations, those dangers when they arose would be more terrible due to the enormity of the power behind it. In fact, the world state might be more susceptible than small nations to many of those crimes.

When one single state rules the globe the entire world is subject to whomever gets ahold of that power structure. Even if we assume for the sake of argument the (highly unlikely) proposition that this world government would start out in good hands, we have no way of ensuring that it would stay in good hands. By democratic process? Why would the process which is considered so inadequate in the case of the nation suddenly be inviolable when applied to a world state? Also, strict democracy gets harder and harder the bigger the groups in question get – they get more removed from the actual voter/citizen. It might still be technically representative, but at such a scale, the distance between the citizen and the representative would be enormous, the connection tenuous at best. The actual amount of control the people would have on such a system would be so small as to be negligible in practice. Only very large interests indeed would actually have an effective say in what the state became. And this state run primarily by large, powerful ‘interests’ would have legal control of the entire world, would have the entire power of the globe behind it, and would, to maintain its existence, need to be in the habit of putting down any dissent.

All this without assuming any intentional evil on anyone’s part. This only assumes that the state will attempt to uphold itself and the interests controlling it will pursue their interests. But assuming there will be no direct evil is assuming far too much. In actual practice humans will be just as selfish, foolish, and power-hungry as before, but some very few of them will have power over all the others.

No one in known history has ever achieved world domination before. Do we want to start now?

Now, I know that not everyone who is condemning the nation actually wishes to do away with it entirely. Probably some people are now saying that they never wanted a great big top-down megalith, they simply wanted all the nations to bond together in terms of understanding and peace.

If that is what is in question, I will have have to ask whether you mean independent nations being on terms of alliance with each other and having certain agreed upon treaties about behaviour? Or whether you mean nations being subject to an international entity?

If the latter, if in fact the nations are subject to an international entity, then you have the world state.

If the former, you simply have what most civilized nations have agreed upon for a long time.

So, I am at a loss as to what anyone thinks would be gained by doing away with nations. I am at a loss as to why people hate the concept of nationhood itself. Like any human institution it leaves room for evil. But as long as humans are evil, all human institutions will have some evil in them. The problem of human authority containing some evil is not solved by replacing authority with sheer power, nor is it solved by making that authority universal and omnipresent.

If nations are not in themselves any more evil than the alternative, why are we trying to hate them? This hatred is in some cases taking very extreme forms. Some insist that to love one’s nation means only to hate people of other nations. But how is that? If I love my own kids, does that mean I hate my neighbour’s kids? No indeed! In fact, if I don’t love my kids, I’m not very likely to love my neighbour’s kids either. If I allow my love to become an obsession which over-rides all human decency, that does open the door to problems. But the issue was not that I loved them. The issue was that I became blindly obsessive.

This is a point which I think could stand to be better noticed. We have been telling ourselves for many years – as well we should – that we need to love the stranger, love those who are different from us, love those who are far from us. This is true. ‘Love your enemy’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ says Christian theology. But it is a twisted inverse of that which is being pushed right now. ‘Hate yourself’ and ‘hate those things which are close to you’. Hatred of the things which are ours is no key to loving the things which are not! In fact, if we do not love the things near to us, how shall we love the things which are far? If our own people are to be reviled, what makes any other people to be loved? And how shall we love them, having trained ourselves in hatred where we should have learned love?

It seems to me to be a terrible mistake. Impartiality in applying justice is important. But impartiality is not hatred. This teaching the self to hate the things one would normally find easiest to love is not going to increase the self’s love for the distant – it will simply make love more imaginary. If love is pushed farther and farther away, and hatred is pulled in close, it is actually hatred that you are training yourself in. Love becomes a phantom, hatred becomes your real attitude.

We learn to love our universal neighbour not by hating our physical neighbour, but by loving our physical neighbour and then learning to apply that to all as much as we can.

No country is perfect. And love for your country should not be set up as an idol. But loving and working to protect your country is the first step to both bettering your country and to learning to have respect for countries in general. And only by maintaining your country as a sovereign nation can it protect the rights of those within it.

TERRIFIED OF TRUMP? Here’s why you shouldn’t be.


So, we have a new president. Donald J. Trump has taken the oath of office and and now holds the highest office in the land. A great many of us have greeted this event as a great victory for freedom. …. But many of us are yet wary. And some of us are terrified.

Well, I am all in favor of always maintaining a certain amount of wariness. Always keep your eyes open. But for those who watch this event in pure horror, I have a few words to say.

You can relax, Donald Trump is NOT a bigoted monster.

He really isn’t. I know they’ve screamed it at you all day long for months. But it is a lie, a bold-faced falsehood to manipulate you. I personally abhor racism. Early on in his campaign, when I was attending to the democratic nomination and catching only what was said about him (rather than listening to what he actually said), I believed him to be a monster as well. I was wrong. I was lied to. And when I investigated what he had actually said and done, the deception was revealed.

Donald Trump has not attacked racial minorities. He does not threaten women’s position in society. He has not given the non-straight community to reason to fear. He does not promote religious persecution. He has not espoused hatred of foreigners. … Over the course of the year the major media institutions have taken things Trump has said, and by strained argument, perversion of facts, and sometimes whole-cloth invention, attributed monstrous meanings to him.

  • Donald Trump HAS pointed out the high level of criminal activity among people who enter the country illegally.

    • Their Story – Trump hates Mexicans.

There simply is a high level of crime among that demographic; that’s the statistics. That wasn’t about Latinos as a race. It wasn’t about Mexicans as a nationality. He didn’t even try and make out that all people who enter the country in a criminal fashion are bad people. (In fact, he made a point of saying the opposite.)  But factually speaking, the illegal traffic across the border does indeed bring crime and drugs into the states – that is well known. And yes, there is a disproportionate level of rape cases among people involved in the smuggling. These are simply facts. To try and swing a mere reporting of some unpleasant facts about a (relatively) small group of people (who happen to mostly be Latino) into an attack upon the entire Spanish-American race is a job so big, so far out, that I am genuinely impressed that they convinced so many people.

  • Donald Trump HAS has put emphasis on upholding the border laws.

    • Their Story – Trump hates immigrants and is starting an unprecedented border tyranny

No, there’s nothing unprecedented or hateful about it. Trump has emphasized that the border regulations which America (and every other nation state) has always had, need to actually be enforced. That’s not revolutionary. It’s just basic, ubiquitous national security. Go anywhere in the world, and try and just walk into the country. Not going to happen. I can’t even drive from New-England to our good friend Canada without offering identification and an account of myself to the authorities on both sides of the border. The famed and feared wall is not about oppression – it’s simply about enforcing the existing law. American citizens who have immigrated here are not in any danger on account of this. You’re an American citizen!  People who are living here against the law are indeed in danger of being sent back and made to come in legally or not at all … as they would be anywhere else. People who try to come in without legal permission will be stopped. That is not something new. It is ubiquitous. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with race.  That they managed to swing this as revolutionary and racist is truly mind-boggling. 

  • Trump HAS recommended entry restrictions on some groups

    • Their Story – Trump intends to persecute racial and religious minorities.

We are at war. We are not at war with a nation but with an ideology. This makes it messy. But we are certainly at war. And our enemy is as evil as any we have ever faced. Torture? Yes, burning and crucifying people is back in style in the Middle-East. Slavery? ISIS sells little girls as sex slaves. (I understand it makes a significant portion of their revenues.) Murder? They glorify the killing of civilians. Genocide? They slaughter not only other races and religions but even their own. This is our enemy. And they have not only threatened to bring the fight to us, they have done so. Americans and Europeans have died over the past year in attacks by Muslims in the ISIS promoted fashion. While we are at war, restricting entry in some fashion is not only reasonable but necessary. Not all Muslims are terrorists, of course, but a percentage of them are. By restricting the immigration of foreign Muslims into our land, we are not persecuting them, and we are not saying that they are all evil as individuals. We are saying that a significant percentage of Muslims are supportive of violent radical policies such as those of our fiendish enemy – because they are – and so for safety’s sake we’re keeping the door closed while the fire-fight is on. Certainly, this has absolutely nothing to do with harassing American citizens of any ethic background. It’s simply a step to keep foreign enemy warriors from infiltrating us.  For those of you who are concerned about the innocent Middle-Easterners who have been displaced by the chaos, you’re perfectly right something needs to be done – like stopping the chaos so they can go home.

  • Trump HAS chosen a vice-president who doesn’t like gay marriage.

    • Their Story – Trump is a threat to people with unconventional sexual identities.

At no point in his campaign has Trump threatened or demeaned homosexuals.  To hear the media talk, you would think he had. But he hasn’t. Perhaps you are remembering that incident where a Trump supporter burned a gay flag? … The guy was gay (still is actually). He burned the flag symbolically to represent the danger he perceived his fellows to be in … from Hillary’s policies. It was an anti-clinton ad talking about the danger she would put his community in. Perhaps you didn’t watch Trump’s presidential nomination speech back last summer? I did. Donald Trump did something which I didn’t think I would ever see. He got the entire convention hall full of republicans to cheer for the safety of the nation’s LGBT community. He has openly noted the danger of bigots attacking based on their sexuality, and condemned it in no uncertain terms, promising to be a protector to the LGBTs of America. If you are gay and worried … its okay. The media has been using scare tactics to manipulate you. No one’s going to persecute you. It’s all right.

  • Trump HAS been a cad.

    • Their Story – Trump is a misogynist.

Yes, Trump is a cad.  Yes, respectable people are embarrassed on his behalf for his indiscretions.  He’s a libertine.  Nobody’s arguing that.  But a very big deal has been made about him being the perpetrator of sexual assault – the main incident about which this narrative was spun was a video in which he was bragging about how easy slutty women are when you’re rich – bragging in very coarse terms. Now this was in horribly poor taste, but it wasn’t about assault, it was about promiscuity, it was about how loose women ‘let’ rich guys take liberties. Let. If you want to criticize him as a lout and a womanizer, that’s fair. In fact, I’ll join you. But to act like that is evidence of assault is dishonest.  His philandering and his coarse words are unworthy of a president. But er, being a philanderer does not translate into being a misogynist. A misogynist is someone who hates women, not a libertine. And there is absolutely no evidence that he does hate women. He’s willing to subject individual women he dislikes to the same scorn he shows to men he dislikes – but that’s a gender neutral tendency. He hired the first woman to successfully run a presidential campaign.  His daughter Ivanka grew up to be quite an independent lady. He has at no point suggested the inferiority of women. He has at no point suggested that they should have their right infringed …. Oh wait, yeah, there was this one thing. He doesn’t think women have a right to kill children. But, might that not be derived not from a negative consideration against women’s right but from a positive consideration for children’s rights? (Just, something to consider.) In any case, there was at no point a statement in the campaign attacking women. Girls …. you’re fine. Trump has no plans to let you be enslaved. (That was Hillary.)

  • Trump HAS spoken of American Blacks as living in bad conditions

    • Their Story – Trump hates blacks.

Actually, my ability to comprehend things is starting to give out at this point. The infamous statement about the terrible state of some black communities was in the middle of a passage in which he was talking about the importance of increasing opportunity for the black community. That was a pro-black speech. It was the exact same issue the left is always touting … that blacks don’t always have it very good, and that needs to change. How on earth they have managed to make anyone think that it was racist towards blacks I have no idea.

Oh, and finally, the Antisemitism thing … his grandchildren are all Jewish.  We just had a Rabbi give the first invocation at the inauguration ceremony.  He certainly hasn’t verbally attacked Jews or suggested persecution. I don’t even know where they think they can stick that.  

Now, tell me, where is the hate?  Because I don’t see it here.  The main hatred I have seen all year is the vicious attacks on Trump and his supporters as bigots and racists and xenophobes and every other ism under the sun.  Time and time again what Trump has actually promoted has been ignored by the media, who simply promote their same old script whether anybody’s following it or not.  Trump will cry for better opportunities for blacks – and they screamed how he was insulting them.  Pence debated his opponent beautifully and was congratulated by Trump – so Huffpost runs the headline that Pence has earned Trump’s ire by being too good and showing him up.

No better example can be given than that which happened today.  Donald Trump said this:

“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.
These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans……..
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.  We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
The Bible tells us, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable ………..
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
You will never be ignored again.
Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.”

Moments later the NBC commentator said “Wow, that was divisive!  I mean, he was appealing solely to those those populist fans of his!  Did you notice how divisive that was?!”

Aaaaaand so the lies go on.  They don’t even try to make them plausible.  They are apparently hoping you weren’t watching.  They are counting on you listening only to them, counting on their use of ‘isms triggering such terror in you that you cannot think or see.  That is hateful behavior.  That is deceptive and divisive behavior.   It is deeply insulting behavior.  They directly contradict what is boldly in plain sight and expect the average American to believe them.  And to what end, do you ever wonder?

Trump is obviously a very flawed man.  By all means, be wary.  I am too.  But don’t take to the streets vaguely shouting of isms.  Don’t scream ‘literally Hitler!’ at the guy with Jewish grand-kids.  Don’t lambaste him for attacking things which he has publicly defended.  Criticize every specific thing he does which is wrong.  But do not, I adjure you, simply take a great big pack of negative feelings from the MSM and run terrified of a non-existent threat.  It grieves me to see so many well meaning people so angry and terrified …. of a cartoon villain put forward by CNN.

So, I don’t know what will happen over the next four years.  But let’s remain calm, and deal with what actually happens, not with vague lies.  Let’s not believe false reports of hatred, and respond with hatred.  Let’s not let anyone else do our thinking for us.  Let’s give everyone, including our new president, a chance.  You should be vigilant and cautious.  You should always be vigilant and cautious.  But you don’t need to be terrified.

So, I say with President Trump:

God Bless You, And God Bless America!


The Enemy Within: A Criticism

For those who do not know, the plot of this episode revolves around a transporter malfunction. For some reason the transporter starts splitting the beings who come through into two, one with their good qualities, the other with their bad qualities. Of course, before anybody figures out what is going on, Captain Kirk beams up from a planet.  Two persons who call themselves Kirk beam up to the ship, one mild, the other raging. Now they have to figure out not only how to fix the transporter so they can beam up the rest of the landing party before they freeze to death they also have to figure out how to fix the captain.

Let’s start with what is either physics or metaphysics. Not ‘how could the transporter have accomplished so bizarre a feat?’ but, how could the ‘good … cells? molecules? quarks?’ be differentiated from the evil ones? Let’s take insanity. If a man is insane (and not from external removable pressure on the brain) you cannot do surgery and ‘remove’ the ‘bad’ cells, while leaving the ‘good’. It’s not that simple. You have to heal the whole brain. You don’t have good cells and bad cells. Since the good and evil in men is not physically separable like that, the transporter couldn’t have done it.

But supposing it did. Well, then you’d have everything that was Kirk spread out over two persons. The transporter converted him from matter to energy, then back to matter in two bodies … both of those bodies are going to be only half as large as the original Captain Kirk. Or at least neither as large (one might theorize that one might be smaller than half, and the other therefore larger) since there’s only so much mass in the original Captain Kirk. (Just imagine it … Three foot high Captain Kirk running around screaming “I’m the Captain!!!!)

But, let’s forget these points, and just say, it happened. Okay, so now we have two Captain Kirks (both apparently his full five foot ten or whatever), the one with EVERYTHING that is good in Kirk, and the other with absolutely EVERYTHING that is bad in him. Alright, let’s take a look at what we’ve got. We’ll call them Kirk One and Kirk Two. Kirk One is all of Kirk’s Goodness. Kirk Two is all of Kirk’s badness.

So what’s good? Let’s take an easy one, and one that the episode actually noticed, and say that gentleness is good. Okay, so Kirk One will have all of Kirk gentleness, and Kirk Two will have all of Kirk’s inclinations to cruelty and harshness.

Let’s take an important one, love. Kirk One will of course not have any more love than the original, but it will be free of the evil elements in it which trammeled and perverted it; all of the bad in his love is now in Kirk number two, and Kirk Two will of course have gotten love’s opposite evil, hatred, untempered by the good things in Kirk’s nature that restrained it before. (Of course, this is a little simplified, while Kirk Two will not love anyone or anything, and Kirk One will likely not hold hatred for anyone (that would be evil and belonging to his counterpart), Kirk One would probably still be able to hate the qualities of such things as evil and ugliness in themselves, for that is the ‘right’ and therefore ‘good’ response to them.)

Now let’s take pride and humility, pride not as in the noble, the honorable, but as in the antithesis of humility, which is evil. Now, along with his many good qualities, Kirk seems to have a significant share of this dangerous vice. Kirk number two is going to have the biggest head in the galaxy. Kirk number One, will obviously have Kirk’s humility, and without any pride mixed with it, so it seems inescapable that Kirk One, lacking any pride at all, cannot do ought but be humble, and stop thinking himself quite the pinnacle of mankind he often seems to think he is, while Kirk Two will think himself great enough to tear God from his throne.

Selflessness, or the antithesis of selfishness. Kirk really can be extraordinarily selfless, it is one of his strengths. Remove ALL his selfish impulses from Kirk One and tack them all of Kirk Two. Kirk number Two will be incapable of so much as slowing down to avoid hitting a smaller person the corridor (not that he’d be able to care about knocking them down anyway), While Kirk number One, being completely unselfish, will be able to act without being influenced by his prejudice in his own favor at all. Which brings us to:

Justice. Kirk does care about justice. Kirk One will inherit that from him, all of it. Kirk Two will have not the slightest interest in it left in him. No injustice will phase him, for the concept means absolutely nothing to him, since justice, being a good, has been entirely given to his counterpart.

Mercy. Kirk is quite capable of being merciful, and also of being vengeful, look what he did to Mudd. But Kirk One, having kept the mercy and lost the vindictive tendencies, would have forgiven him. While Kirk Two, having kept the vindictiveness and lost all trace of mercy, would be just as bad as the Mirror Kirk with his ‘destroy the Halkans’.
It is long since time we mentioned Courage. None of these virtues could exist in any strength without it. Certainly Captain Kirk is brave, Kirk Two will have NONE of that bravery, leaving him, by default, the most cowardly thing in creation, this will make him not only unable to act selflessly if he wanted to (which he can’t), but incompetent to an insane degree, he will be able to do nothing which might in the slightest provoke him to fear. Kirk One will be brave without a hint of cowardice, able to unhesitatingly face death by torture for a friend, or walk (or sail) into a mouth of flames to keep a destroying robot from reaching a planet … (Er, hmm, come to think of it, even the mixed Kirk could do that one.)

Strength of will is of course closely related to Courage, and it is beyond all shadow of a doubt that it is good to be strong of will. Strength of will can be used for bad purposes, courage can be used in evil causes, but it is in itself good. Kirk number One, inheriting Kirk’s very significant share of the enviable attribute, will be exceedingly strong of will, Kirk number two will of course have none, since if it is good, he cannot have it.

Wisdom, and foolishness. If we are truly separating all that is good from all that is evil in Kirk, we must make this distinction as well. Kirk has ample amounts of both, unlike many who have just enough sense to get along and just enough foolishness to get themselves into trouble now and again, Kirk swings from the one extreme to the other. He is capable of both displaying excellent judgment (wisdom), and extreme foolishness. Kirk number One will still need to increase in wisdom to be as wise as he ought, (and since he is also humble enough to learn this shouldn’t be a problem), but he will be bogged down with less foolishness (not to mention that arrogance which got pawned off onto Kirk Two). And Kirk number Two? There has never been such a fool as he’s going to be! Wow, a spiteful, cowardly, weak willed, cruel, self worshiping remnant of a man, Kirk number Two is looking pretty sorry if you ask me. Without a scrap of courage, he can’t even be vindictive and self promoting very effectively. With his complete foolishness he shall never be able to do anything halfway sensibly, for you recall, he had to leave his sense to his counterpart. This guy is incompetent in the extreme. Kirk number one on the other hand …

Lust. Most will agree that this was a great weakness of the original Kirk, indeed a vice. But sexual desire is in itself a good thing, it is when it is twisted that it becomes evil. Therefore, Kirk number One will be left that desire, free of all its impurities and unlawfulness, from everything in it that was evil. He will now be beyond behaving in any but the most excellent and upright fashion in that regard, retaining wholesome desire. And what will Kirk number two have left? A poor shrimpy thing, utterly and wholly loathsome, yet only a vile ghost of a thing.

And reason, you may balk at this one, but didn’t we say we were trying to divide EVERYTHING good in Kirk from everything evil? And Reason is a good, therefore, Kirk number One will get ALL of Kirk’s reasoning ability. Irrationalities, those were evils, are now all in Kirk number Two, and Kirk number one, can now reason far more clearly. He may even prove to be more logical than Spock. For while his faculties for reasoning may be inferior to Spock’s, Spock will still have to contend with the irrationalities in his mind, which Kirk number One will now be free of. And Kirk number Two, I do not know, but I would hazard a guess that he would be hard pressed to figure on his own steam that if you put two and two together, you get four. That would after all be doing a good thing, called reasoning, which we have established that he cannot do.

Now we’ve covered a lot of ground here, but we set out to divide Kirk completely, leaving nothing good in the one, and nothing evil in the other, so let’s keep going.
Life is a good. Kirk has life. That life goes to Kirk One. And with no life, this leaves Kirk number two, by default, … um … dead, and that is an evil, which is in keeping with his character. So, this stinking, evil, loathsome, spineless, barbaric, idiotic, fool is now not only completely incompetent and self-destructive, he isn’t even alive.

Existence is good. It looks like Kirk number Two is gone.

And where does this leave Kirk number One? … Infinitely better off, I should think. Kirk (as now we must call him for there is no other) has not yet perhaps reached perfection, to be what he truly ought he must grow grow in wisdom and love and humility and understanding, perfection is after all, a great deal more than the absence of evil, but look at him!

Courageous, gentle, merciful, loving, just, humble, iron willed, and exceedingly rational …. who would suggest, who would be fool enough to consider, that Kirk should again be saddled with the petty vindictiveness, the cowardice, the self absorption, the vile twists, again bogged down his irrationalities? Because it would help him? Heavens no! He is infinitely better off without all that nonsense. Because the other stuff is, after all, Kirk too? No more than the Rigelian fever virus in his blood was him, or the beginnings of arthritis in his arm. No indeed, those twists, those perversions, those diseases in his soul and flesh, were but mars upon him, twists which, separated from the good things in him, ceased even to exist at all, they were so nearly nothing, they had no substance in themselves, diseases which, removed from their victim, perished, and were no more. And Kirk himself is left, all that was ever Kirk, is here. Kirk number one is not just the only Kirk that’s left, he IS Kirk. The disease is gone and only Kirk is left. Had they not been separated, the disease might have overcome him, true, it could have continued its twisting, till he was twisted past recognition, it could have eaten away at him, till Kirk himself was all but gone. But since it is the disease that is gone, Kirk is now freer than he ever has been before, free to think without irrationalities, to love without selfishness, to command with wisdom and reason, to fight and to kill if need be, to argue in the times when argument is needed, to kiss when it is right to do so, to do everything as well or better than he did before, to continue to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before …

But of course, as I started out by saying, there is no way that Kirk could ever achieve this by physical means such as a transporter. No, it’s much more difficult than that, a much longer harder road, requiring a much different sort of aid than a transporter, filled with the danger of the disease winning, and Kirk being destroyed by it.

But if it HAD HAPPENED it would be insanity to try and recombine them the way the episode insists they must. It is the shallowest treatment of good and evil that I have ever seen. It doesn’t go all the way of course. And it fails to recognize what is good and what is evil, it fails to make sense of its own propositions. It is completely foggy headed. In it, the ‘good’ Kirk is incompetent, indecisive, and fearful, and no explanation for this is ever given. It cannot, even on the episode’s own terms be cowardice or lack of reasoning ability, for it is clearly displayed that it is the good Kirk who will listen to reason, while the bad Kirk throws fits, and it is the good Kirk who will face hard things, and the bad Kirk who becomes hysterical at them. So, what did the good Kirk’s inability to command without the bad Kirk stem from? They never explain this. They seemed to be assuming that decisiveness is bad or something, and then based the whole plot on how incompetent Kirk would be without decisiveness, without investigating into whether their assumption makes any sense. Well it doesn’t. The whole thing is ill thought out, (or never really thought out at all), the ideas behind the story don’t make sense, and the story doesn’t make sense even within those ideas.

But perhaps the most annoying thing about this episode, is that they seemed to think that they were being profound.

Star Trek Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

Severus Snape and James Potter – A Hero and a Jerk?

Warning! Humongous Spoilers! Don’t proceed if you don’t know the story!

It is, I have noticed, not terribly uncommon among the readers of Harry Potter to characterize Severus Snape solely as a hero – on account of his arduous, painful, and extremely important work in defeating Voldemort, and James Potter as merely a lousy, no-good, jerk – on account of his teenage tendency to bully people (especially Snape). I consider this an overly simplistic take on two complex and fascinating characters.

Firstly, if by ‘hero’, you mean someone who was fighting valiantly on the good guys side – who was seeking to bring Voldemort down, taking orders from Dumbledore, working with the Order of the Phoenix, trying to protect Harry Potter, and such things, then James Potter qualifies just as well as Severus Snape. In fact, he qualifies better, since he always was on that side, and Snape switched to the ‘good side’.

Now there is no denying that James Potter truly was a terrible jerk. His teenage behaviour to Severus Snape was inexcusable, there is no question about that. Lily, the woman who was later to become his wife, hated him at the time because of it. His son became sick at the thought of it. His dearest friend, who shared his guilt, could not, as a responsible adult, deny he did wrong. James was cruel, and he was – as Snape so often liked to point out to James’ far more innocent and sensible son – extremely arrogant.

But what was Severus Snape? He was wronged yes, abused yes. But he was no innocent victim. He too behaved badly as a school child. And I am not merely referring to the fact that he was clearly every bit as willing to hex James as James was to hex him. (Severus Snape invented the infamous levicorpus. I can’t help but wonder who its first victim was.) I am referring to the fact that he behaved so badly, or at least sought out the company of people who behaved so badly, that Lily, his best friend, seemed to fear that he was getting mixed up in things worse than even the hated James. “Evil, Sev.” she called it. Neither boy, not James, nor Severus, was innocent.

And then let’s fast forward a few years. Where are James and Severus, themen? Severus Snape, once Lily Evan’s close friend, is now a death eater, fighting and spying for Voldemort. It looks like Lily’s concern was justified. And James? The hated James? That stinker, that incomprehensible jerk? James is married to the Lily who once hated him.


How did this shocking development come about? I think we can rule out right off the bat the terrible solution which occurred to his son in the first pangs of disillusionment. There is no evidence that Lily married him unwillingly. Indeed, from the manner in which the couple was of spoken of by those who knew them, from the little snippets we see of their short time together, I’m going to venture a guess that they were a very happy couple. But the gentle Lily of their school-hood could never have been happy married to the mean James of that time. Therefore, either Lily ceased to care about being nice … or James became a lot nicer. I turn in disdain from the first suggestion. The answer is obvious. There is no evidence for so repulsive a hypothesis, and very much against. So I believe that we are left with the conclusion that James matured into someone Lily could love. Sirius Black did indeed state right out that James’ furious feud with Snape personally did continue in some manner or another right up into the beginning of his relationship with Lily … but Lily wasn’t stupid. I think that the conclusion that James the man was a much better person than James the boy is a sound one.

The available evidence seems to back up this hypothesis. James’ co-partner in boy-hood crime, the wild and reckless Sirius Black, was not a bad man. He was a good man in a flawed and human way. James’ death was clearly deeply grieved by genuinely decent and good hearted people, (Hagrid and McGonagal for instance). And Harry never suspected the dark blot on his father’s boy-hood until he saw it with his own eyes, for it does not seem that his name generally carried that mark. Severus Snape apparently never saw James as anything except the bully of chapter twenty-eight/book 5 and perhaps it would be asking a lot to expect him to. But that did not seem to be the general impression that the adult James left upon everyone else.

Nor even altogether the boy James. I do not here refer to Sirius’ insistence that “lot’s of people are idiots at fifteen … he was a good person …” which seemed too much like an ashamed but affectionate party uncomfortably attempting to defend a beloved but guilty party. No, I refer to something more specific. Snape liked to scoff at it, sneer at it, pretend it was nothing. But Lily and Dumbledore did not scoff. I mean of course the unfortunate instance in which young Sirius so idiotically told Snape how to get into the Whomping Willow passage. Snape insisted to others that James was only saving hisown neck. This was not true. If Snape had been killed by Sirius’ idiocy, Sirius and Remus would probably have been in trouble. But not James, because (for once) he was guiltless. And yet, he risked death at the hands of a friend, to save an enemy. He hated that boy, he was willing to abuse and humiliate him every chance he got … but he was also willing to risk his own life to protect him.

7814ac5ff65a473c96ac5ddf6a08bb0fWait a minute! … Sound familiar? It should, because it could just as easily have applied … to Snape himself. Whatever else he may have been, for good or ill, Severus Snape was a downright stinker. He did not physically abuse his students (it was Hogwarts under Dumbledore), but he never hesitated to insult, humiliate, and inconvenience those he disliked when he had the chance. Now, admittedly, he had excuses. He was a terribly, morbidly unhappy man; living all those years with a broken heart and a bleeding conscience. And he was naturally predisposed to hate Harry Potter, little James look-alike whose birth lead to Lily’s death! But these excuses do not excuse his behaviour. He hated far too much, he hated so much that he never even knew Harry at all, he was forever hating a phantom James which seemed to completely obscure the real boy. And his behaviour to the utterly innocent Neville was without good excuse. However unjust it may be to hate someone for their father and for having been born, it is even more unreasonable to hate them for their date of birth. Yet hate him he did, so much that the thing which thirteen year old Neville found most frightening was his Potions teacher. James, it appears, grew up. All those years later, Severus Snape was still bullying school-boys.

 I should like to take a moment and address a related issue which I have come across from time to time. It has been alleged that Lily Evans did wrong to Snape by noEllie Darcey-Aldent accepting his apology after calling her mudblood. The allegation has some reason behind it. We all should forgive everyone who wrongs us, no matter how badly. But I can’t help but feel that those making the allegation are missing what was actually going on. Snape had been becoming something very bad. He had been consciously and knowingly associating with the death-eater sympathizers, allowing their ideas, words, and goals to become his. Lily tried to stop him, to persuade him to not go down that path. But he went anyway. She stayed by her friend for a long while – probably hoping that he’d eventually grow out of it. Well he didn’t. He let himself slip farther away from her into the death-eater mindset. When he finally called her mudblood, it was not a particular specific injury which could be just put behind them – it was the audible, public expression of what he was allowing himself to become. Yes, he was sorry! Yes, he would have called the words back if he could have. But the problem was that that act was only a symptom. He went and apologized – deeply, sincerely – for the act. But (as I understand it) it wasn’t the individual act that Lily was really so upset about. He was apologizing for the symptom, when what was grieving her was the disease. So she broke ties. And who can blame her? She could not be the close associate of the person he was becoming. Now, we all know that he eventually did turn over that new leaf, make that about-turn that Lily had been so long campaigning for … but it took her death (as a direct result of his actions) to do it.

I think that part of the reason that we are left feeling Snape to be solely a hero, and James merely a jerk, is the backlash factor.

James is Harry Potter’s father … the man who everyone always compares to Harry, who died fighting Voldemort, the dead hero, the unknown but beloved father – who is abruptly revealed to have been a very flawed teen, capable of nastiness which utterly shocks his more kind-hearted son. The whole old image is dashed to pieces. We, and Harry, are horrified not just because of what he was, but because we had expected something so different. In the shock of disillusionment, it is easy to forget that the things we knew before were true too, and instead of recognizing him as a complex, flawed human being, capable of evil as well as of good, we find it easy to just reclassify him into the jerk box.

And Snape? For all of Harry’s schooling, Snape is the jerk. He hates Harry, and quickly teaches Harry to hate him. He is rude. He causes inconvenience whenever possible. He is to be avoided, because he always causes trouble. In fact, Harry’s never even sure whether he’s really trustworthy … whether he’s really a traitor and a spy or not. He hates Harry’s godfather. He hates Harry’s favourite professor. He hates Harry’s dead father. He hates Harry. He hates and hates and hates. Then he murders Dumbledore. That is it. Our mind is set. Snape, the traitor, Snape, the death-eater – how did everyone not see it all along! Then … our mental image is stood on its head. The villain we thought we knew is gone. The man we thought was only hate … is revealed to have been acting, for years, for the sake not of power but love. It is a narrow love, but love; a love for which he gave up his ambitions, worked with those he hated, and laboured long in great danger. We discover that nothing was quite as it seemed. That on that fateful night on top of the tower, it was Snape who was the wronged one; Dumbledore caused his own death, and Snape was the unhappy instrument. That so many of the things we blamed him for were done on Dumbledore’s orders. That his very brutality towards George was an accident perpetrated in an attempt to save a man that we hated him for hating. That he, Severus Snape, was the unknown helper in the forest. That protecting Harry for his mother’s sake, has been his highest priority for sixteen years.


And we are shocked. We see for the first time, his heroism, his staunch bravery, his unwavering dedication to many of the same goals as Harry. And we applaud him. We forget that his faults were real too; that he has honestly and truly been cruel to everyone for years, that his love, while deep and unshakable, is narrow, hemmed in by oceans of hatred, that even in his attempt to do good … he still did much wrong. And in our amazement, we move him out of the traitor category, into the hero category.

‘But Snape was a hero!’ you say. Well, so he was, poor man, and it would be a hard heart that could spare him no sympathy … but he was also a jerk. ‘James was a jerk!’ you continue. Regrettably and undeniably he was … but he was also a hero. My intention is not to vilify Severus Snape and praise James Potter, but to point out that the two of them are not so easily classified as is sometimes done, but are complex and multifaceted characters, with strange similarities an well as differences; both worthy of both praise and blame. Both of them were brave … and both of them were bullies. They both hated unreasonably … and they both loved deeply.

Harry Potter Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

As Regards The Re-appearance of Commander Shepard

(Warning, major spoilers ahead. Do not proceed unless you have completed all three major instalments of the Mass Effect video game series.)
Mass Effect 2, Horizon. Most M.E. players will remember the mission immediately; the yellow grass in the glaring sunlight and the black clouds of seekers in the smoky sky, the trapped colonists frozen in the dark stasis fields, the ghastly scions and terrible praetorians. But in spite of the unprecedented victory against the Collectors which the mission was, and despite the still horrible death-toll to the colony, what many players will remember most specifically is what happens after the battle, when Commander Shepard’s old ship-mate unfreezes and finds him (or her) there.
The internet rings with complaints of the marine’s harshness, intractability, and unreasonableness. If all the posts are to be believed, then deep resentments were engendered that day. The marine does the unthinkable, and refuses to accept, support, or join Shepard’s mission, they even go so far as to criticize Shepard over it and become distraught. And they walk away from their old commander.
Ouch. Yeah. Nobody likes that scene. (Or at least, I’ve never met anyone who did.) Depending on the playthrough – what kind of person Shepard is, which marine is there, what Shepard and the marine have been to each other, how Shepard chooses to handle the marine’s shock – both the content of the scene and its effect upon the player and the characters can vary. But the fact always remains … the marine vehemently reproaches Shepard, tries to argue Shepard out of the mission with Cerberus, and turns their back on Shepard.
Why? The marine is supposed to be Shepard’s friend! In some play-throughs, they are Shepard’s beloved. What happened?
But, let’s back away from Horizon and the marine for a little while. Because this post really isn’t about the marine, it’s about Commander Shepard, the Illusive Man, and what could have been.
From our comfortable ‘meta’ position as players, we can see well enough what is going on with Shepard and Cerberus. We know perfectly well that Shepard is real and acting freely. We can see what the Collector mission is all about, and how it is likely to unfold. An astute player will be aware that the Illusive Man is probably not telling Shepard everything and will keep their eyes out to avoid being manipulated. But the player knows what’s up.
It is easy to forget that this pleasant point of view is one that the characters inside the story do not have … not even Shepard herself. (Just for convenience sake, I’m using a feminine pronoun – I played Femshep.) Since she has an ‘inside’ perspective, she knows a great deal more than most other characters can – she knows who she is, she has a great deal of evidence about what she is undertaking. But that unsettling comment Miranda Lawson makes about a control-chip … until the moment in the Collector Base when it stands within Shepard’s power to give the Illusive Man this power he desires or to withhold and destroy it, she really has no proof that there isn’t a chip.
Because there could have been. Shepard was totally in the power of the Illusive Man for almost two years. If he had wanted Shepard primarily as a tool, he could have done it. And he could have used her very dangerously. I can only think that he didn’t because her chief value in his eyes was symbolic. While she was of course very useful, she was first and foremost not a weapon, but propaganda; the symbol of humanity against the reapers. That she be the genuine real deal was more valuable than that she be a dependable asset. But what if he had primarily wanted a tool?
If we look at it from an outside perspective, away from the player, from Shepard, the simplicity of the situation vanishes. The matter becomes cruelly complicated, the possibilities of what might be going on are suddenly multifarious.
A renowned Alliance soldier is spaced in battle, her body is lost in the void. It is accepted that she is dead. Two whole years later, a person who appears to be this same soldier enters the galactic stage, working with a known terrorist organization of great power and technical ability.
What exactly is this soldier?
Well, it really could be the soldier. But it could be an imposter. And yet again, it might be technically the soldier … but with something wrong. Any of these three, and the many possible variations they contain, would be reasonable to postulate under the circumstances. I’d like to take a minute, and explore a few of the possibilities here.
If really the soldier …
  • Shepard could have just been rehabilitated in secret, and is just coming back into the world now because she’s finally recovered. She’s still everything she was before, just has found herself in peculiar circumstances. (We have the benefit of knowing that this is the correct one.)
  • Or Shepard could have been much less badly hurt in the space battle than believed, and since then been living undercover purposely; perhaps working by choice with this organization due to a change of allegiance.
If the same soldier, but messed with …
  • Shepard could have had that control chip. Very very easily. This might not alter who she is, but it would very much alter what she has the freedom to do, perhaps even what she has the freedom to see.
  • Considering that she had been in the hands of an organization like Cerberus, brainwashing would have been a very real possibility. It could even have been theorized that those two years of absence might have been used not for healing her, but for twisting her. It could have been a very confused and psychologically damaged Shepard who reappeared; one deeply under the manipulative influence of the Illusive Man.
  • It could have been really Shepard, alive, aware, and there, but with some other will acting through her. Creepy, I know. But theoretically there are ways the Illusive Man could have done this. Shepard would have been little better than a prisoner in her own body.
  • She could have been simply indoctrinated. Not long afterwards, most Cerberus operatives were.
If an imposter posing as the soldier …
  • It could reasonably suspected that it is a Shepard clone. That thiscould have been done is so well established that such a clone actually appears in a M.E.3 DLC – and causes havoc.
  • An android is at least a superficial possibility.
  • Plastic surgery, facial transplants, voice synthesizers. This theory is easily disprovable, but could have been easily postulated by those who knew little. (Clearly, it wouldn’t have gotten past Commander Bailey of C-Sec.)
  • It could have been Commander Shepard’s real body, Commander Shepard’s own brain, working and functional, but with Shepard herself gone, and someone or something else in her place. (Yes, creepy again, I know. Sorry, this is a creepy subject.)
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the possible villainies which Cerberus could have perpetrated with and upon Shepard. It is merely to explore some of the possibilities which a person within the story could reasonably theorize. And if you look at the reactions of different characters and groups to Shepard’s reappearance, there are indeed a range of responses.
For a lot of people who knew Shepard only by reputation, the reaction was simply: “Hey! I’d heard you were dead! Weird!”
But when she returns to Alliance Command, they are so confused as to what happened, that they put her under house-arrest and take months to not make up their minds what to do with her.
Aria T’Loak, self-declared ‘queen’ of Omega, states straight out “That could be anybody wearing your face.”
Gianna Parasini (the corporate detective from Noveria) seems to assume that she had been undercover or something, and avoided asking awkward questions.
Tali Zorah, Shepard’s spunky Quarian friend from the fight against Sovereign, temporarily fears an imposter. Depending on the play-through, this can be brought to light or remain unsaid. If Shepard tells her at Freedom’s Progress something that only the two of them knew, Tali will then and there accept completely that Shepard is real and can be trusted. She still can’t go with her, since she’s got her own mission to worry about. But she doesn’t have to think about it for months before deciding to trust her.

Garrus Vakarian … bless his innocent heart! The idea of a fake Shepard or twisted Shepard clearly never even occurs to him. Such deceptiveness is not a concept Garrus seems to find easy to grasp. He is naturally a little reckless (okay, we all know Garrus, he’s crazy reckless!) and takes situations as they come without too much critical examination. By the time the idea of something being wrong is brought squarely before his notice, Shepard’s genuine presence has already rendered the idea preposterous.

Liara T’Soni was not quite in the same position as the rest of the galaxy. After all, she had helped to arrange this. She had given Shepard to Cerberus with the understanding that they were going to try to revive her. They were a pro-human organization, and they wanted to help the human hero. Voilà! Here she is. (Yes, I know Liara took a risk in giving them Shepard. I guess I’ve just been analysing the enormity of the risk. But I can’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone – especially in retrospect – could possibly have the heart to blame the dear girl!)

David Anderson, Shepard’s commander. It is difficult to say exactly what he thought. He never tells us directly. From the content of his message to Shepard, he thought the reports of her being alive were unlikely to be true. When she shows up on the Presidium, he treats her as though he assumes that she is Shepard, quite friendly and helpful. In the play-throughs where he is councilor, he reinstates her Spectre status. … But then he won’t give her classified information – security risk, he says. My guess is that Anderson did not know, and knew he did not know, and decided to stand back and watch her prove herself … or not. He treated her kindly, and was to a certain point willing to help her, but not trust her. Not yet. Of course, by the beginning of the M.E.3, when the reapers attack, he has clearly made up his mind.
This brings us back to the marine.

(It is difficult to talk about generalities. While I know there are a number of different ways this story arc can play out, the version I myself am most familiar with is one with Staff Commander Kaiden Alenko and a primarily paragon Femshep, in a serious relationship, where Shepard is actively seeking reconciliation. So, I write with that version in mind, but I believe that most of what I have to say applies quite broadly.)
I am aware I may be playing with fire. So be it.
Well then, the marine is shocked by the Cerberus connection, tries to argue Shepard out of working with them, and then retreats. Why would he do that? … In light of what we have just been examining, I don’t think his reasons are really so terribly obscure.
Firstly, there is just the fact that she is working with Cerberus. Please remember what Cerberus is, not only in the broad view, but specifically to Kaiden Alenko. From the player’s point of view, it may mean chiefly the irritating shady guy funding the mission. From some of Shepard’s alien friends’ point of view, it may mean merely that Human supremacist organization which doesn’t like them. But from Kaiden’s point of view, they are not only the evil terrorist organization he is currently assigned to fight, they are ideologically everything he stands against. Think for a moment of the racist agenda, the secret, cruel experiments, the terrorism, the treachery, the willingness to do whatever evil is convenient in the name of future benefits for a favoured group. And then think of Kaiden, and his decency and compassion, his unbigoted respect of persons regardless of race, his principled rejection of using unethical means in pursuit of whatever ends. He will of course have just learned the real culprit in the kidnappings. But that Cerberus was not to blame here specifically doesn’t change what it is. Cerberus is the enemy. And Shepard is with them. This alone would cause shock and horror. That his friend, his comrade-in-arms (let alone his sweetheart) would willingly do something as wrong and foolish as allying with this monster appals him. Of course he challenged her on it. Any friend in his understanding of the situation would have to. He tries to dissuade her so vehemently because he truly believes that she is making a terrible mistake which will seriously endanger both her and others.
But of course, it wasn’t just that. There was also the whole ‘what is the soldier?’ question. And as we have seen, that really is very complicated. Kaiden seems to assume at first, as thoroughly as Garrus, that of course it’s Shepard. And for those first few moments he is just glad to see her. Once the Cerberus connection is brought to light, this happy assumption is challenged. Right there, while they argue over the merits of the Cerberus mission, he openly suggests that she may be being manipulated by the Illusive Man. His fears moved into the second category (see above). And, as we find out later, they move even farther, into the third category – he realizes that this might not be Shepard at all. This fear is not brought directly to light until M.E.3, on Mars. Kaiden doesn’t speak it openly on Horizon. But in retrospect it is clear enough. When exactly this last terrible possibility arose in his mind is never stated directly. I am inclined to think it occurred toward the end of that conversation. But that he realized it at least by the time he sent that message to Shepard is evident – that quiet little ‘if’ … if you are the Shepard I remember. Taking into account both what he said in that letter and the fears he revealed later on Mars, we can come to a fairly clear picture of his response to that question, ‘what is the soldier?’.
He didn’t ‘answer it’ at all.
Instead, he considered the situation, came to an understanding of what the the possibilities were, and then chose none of them, but remained in conscious doubt for months … until he had proof which one was correct.
Meanwhile, he tried to act in a fashion appropriate to any of the theories. He tried to be kind and supportive to her. He reached an understanding of how she – if it was her – could be doing all this in good faith and perhaps even wisdom, and so encouraged her as well as cautioned her. And at the same time he tried to be firm and cautious lest he allow her to betray him and others into a Cerberus plot. And all the while he was in that terrible doubt, no longer clean grief – but balancing precariously between hope and fear. Was she really all right and back again? Was she enslaved? Was she gone? Was Shepard herself still in that form? He did not know. And so he waited to find out for real.
I don’t think he gets enough credit for this response. Not only did he think the matter through more thoroughly and come to a better understanding of the situation than most characters did, not only did he manage the really quite formidable feat of succumbing neither to the hope nor to the fear and maintaining his rational scepticism, but he took her seriously enough to realize that it was necessary to do so. The fact that he retreated, that he withheld from her his confidence, and doubted her, has seemed to some to be an act of disloyalty. It wasn’t. It was an act of faithfulness. To the Alliance, yes: he could not abandon his command and his remaining men, break his orders and disregard his oath – to run off on a Cerberus mission. To Principle, yes: he could not do this thing he thought was wrong because it called him in a voice he loved. But it was also an act of faithfulness to Shepard herself. What if it was not Shepard? If he did these things he believed (however mistakenly) were wrong for her, and gave everything (be it loyalty, friendship, or romantic love) which had belonged to Shepard to … an imposter, a monster, a perversion perpetrated upon her bones. … It would be to break faith with the dead as well as the living. What did he care who it seemed to be? He wanted to know who it was. It was Shepard herself that mattered. And if this wasn’t Shepard …
And when he actually has a chance to observe her first-hand, when he actually gets that evidence he has waited for, how long does it take him to come to the correct conclusion? Not long at all. And then he owns up as soon as he can.
So, did the marine handle Horizon perfectly? Not at all. A man of perfect intellect could have come to a complete understanding of the possibilities at once, rather than tripping over them as he tried to make sense of what was going on. A man of perfect patience might not have become overwrought at his old commander (or friend/or lover), might have been able to totally conceal his own distress and exhort her with utter serenity. A perfect man would have swallowed his own fear more than Kaiden was able to.
But Kaiden did good. He was a mere mortal man, and his own confusion, anger, and fear came through. He welcomed her back, tried to prevent her from making a dreadful mistake, and when he failed and realized how devilishly complicated the situation was, he retreated to try to make sense of it (oh, and he really did have to handle his responsibilities as commander of the resident defence force) leaving her with good wishes and the best advice he had.

And, back to the Illusive Man and Shepard. Let’s jump forward a bit. The marine didn’t trust Cerberus huh? Thought they were bad news all over, sure to betray, certain to do great evil? Do we just want to think of how closely Cerberus actually cooperated with the Collectors at times? Do we want to think of the trap in the Collector ship? Do we want to talk of Mars and its slaughter and theft? Of Eden Prime and its invasion? Of Omega and its Naziesque regime? Do we want to go back to the planet of Horizon again a year later and visit the damned death factory? Do we want to remember who it was who gave our plans to the reapers and stole the catalyst?!

Does more need said on that score?
And Shepard. Because we all know that Shepard is Shepard, we all assume that everyone should trust her (or him). But really, should they? Throughout M.E.2 Shepard can cooperate with Cerberus to an extent not justified by her mission. Does she upload the info to the Alliance? Or to Cerberus?  At the end of M.E.2, that abominable Collector Base, all that devilry and power … if Shepard gives it to Cerberus she has committed the very evil and treachery that the marine feared. She will, in fact, have proved his angry, horrified warnings correct. And at the end of M.E.3? She can, if she so chooses, bring about the Illusive Man’s vision.
Shepard may always be the real Shepard. But that was not the only question. Let us not only say that more than one theory can be postulated upon Shepard reappearing with Cerberus. Let us remember that more than one theory can be true.
Mass Effect Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

What is Mary Watson up To?

(An attempted analysis of ‘Mary Situation’ left us in ‘His Last Vow’ the 9th episode in the BBC ‘Sherlock series’.  I don’t recommend that you proceed unless you have seen seasons 1 – 3.)
The question as to what is really going on with Mary Elizabeth Watson (aka Morstan, aka A.G.R.A.), whether the revelation of “His Last Vow” has in fact left us with a true understanding of the situation, or whether there are still plots and villainies on her part yet to be revealed, has been much talked about. We could of course go over all three episodes which include her, analyse dialogue and facial expression, investigate her (and Sherlock’s, and Mycroft’s, and John’s) every move, look for apparent inconsistencies and double-meanings, and postulate all kinds of theories. And that might make sense to do. But I’m going to try something simpler at the moment.  Setting aside all these observations and postulations, I will see if I can reduce the problem to the simplest terms that I can see.  What options are possible?  I see four options we can look at. One: Mary is in fact as she has been revealed to be, there is no plot, no underhanded motives, she’s just an unscrupulous woman with a dark past who happens to have fallen madly in love with John Watson. Two: Mary is still lying, and has some kind of plot going on, but Sherlock Holmes and John Watson do not realize it. Three: Mary has such a plot, and Sherlock knows, but he has not told John. Four: Mary has a plot, and Sherlock and John both secretly know about it. And technically, to fully cover the matter, I have to list a fifth option (however ridiculous): There is a plot, and John knows about but Sherlock doesn’t. As far as I can see, any possible scenario would HAVE to fit under one of these five categories.
One – Mary is as she now appears. 
Lots of people don’t buy this. And they do have a point. Intentionally shooting Sherlock Holmes is a very understandable reason to look at everything a person says or does with suspicion. I highly suspect her of not being what most of us would be inclined to call a very ‘good person’. But that does not in the slightest make her story implausible, or provide anything resembling proof of there being ulterior motives behind her actions. While I strongly disapprove of her behavior, I can see no actual proof at this point that this is not the case.  It seems in any case, to be quite possible.
Two – Mary has a plot, but Sherlock doesn’t realize it
I suppose that is not beyond the power of the human imagination to invent a scenario where this would be possible. However, it is so immensely improbable that I should call it a practical impossibility, and I should have a very hard time ‘buying’ it if it were in fact to happen. Sherlock was betrayed and shot by someone he counted a friend, and so naturally, he applied himself to an investigation of them. That under such circumstances, he – Sherlock Holmes – could overlook a plot in action, is not believable. (And as a side note, if there is a plot, it cannot possibly center around Sherlock Holmes. She passed up what we can only imagine were countless chances to kill or otherwise injure Sherlock – so it couldn’t be a plot to kill him or make him miserable. Then, during a chance meeting which it is impossible that she could have planned, she made a spur of the moment decision to shoot him – so it could not be a plot which consisted of long term spying on him. If there is a plot, it looks as though Sherlock himself is totally irrelevant to it.)
Three – Mary has a plot and Sherlock knows but John doesn’t. 
We all know that Sherlock is perfectly willing to keep John in the dark on all sorts of matters. He does it all the time, and sometimes about very serious things. But I cannot see that happening in this particular case. Sherlock went through no small amount of effort and pain to make sure John knew about the shooting, to see that he heard it from Mary’s own lips, to show him precisely what it was that he had married. That he would have put both John and himself through such pain, and then not bothered to tell him the whole story – tell him the most important part – is preposterous. But not only did he not tell John there was a plot, he actively encouraged John to reconcile with her, just this time with open eyes and a full awareness of just who and what he had chosen to love. It is true that there have been times that Sherlock has tricked John into believing a falsehood so that John can more effectively convince the villain of it. But quite simply, I don’t think that Sherlock would do that to John here. He may have missed the fact that he was John’s best friend, but he understands perfectly well that Mary is John’s beloved. And in any case, he would not leave John in the hands of a woman who he thought couldn’t be trusted with him. Yet leave them together, he did. He was leaving at the end of the episode, and rather than warning John to get away from her before her plot became ripe, he bequeathed the care of John to her, and left them standing hand in hand. I cannot see Sherlock distrusting her intentions, and yet letting this happen.
Four – Mary has a plot, and Sherlock and John both know it. 
Plainly, I don’t think John could, I don’t think John would, do that to his wife. I could see him leaving her forever over the matter. I could see him letting that event turn his love to hatred. I cannot see him pretending to forgive her. He could not do that, and remain the man who we know. It would be an out-of-character act on a monumentally grand scale. Furthermore, even if he were to attempt it, he does not have the skill set to allow him to do so. He simply couldn’t keep up the pretense, he’s a terrible liar. (And for that matter, we’ve seen Sherlock use people shamelessly, but never extend a hand of friendship to someone when he is actually seeking to destroy them.) Also, this would seem to be directly contradicted by the content of His Last Vow. We repeatedly see Sherlock and John talking about Mary with no witnesses present, and we there is absolutely no sign of this. / When the only other conscious person in the building is Bill Wiggins – John: “Did you just drug my pregnant wife?!” _ Sherlock: “Don’t worry. Wiggins is an excellent chemist.” / When the two of them are standing alone in a field – Sherlock: “Want your wife to be safe?” _ John: “Yeah, of course, I do!” / When they are standing on Magnussen’s porch, surrounded by police, but in the presence of loud machinery, Sherlock’s: “Give my love to Mary. Tell her she’s safe now.” / And when they were saying goodbye, plots and plans were never mentioned, Sherlock just jested and asked John to name his and Mary’s daughter after him. Magnussen’s infliction of petty cruelties on John (and hence on Sherlock) was only made possible by the fact Sherlock and John were trying to protect her. If they were counter-plotting against her, this would just not happen.
Five – Mary has a plot, and John realizes it, but Sherlock doesn’t. I think we can all agree that this doesn’t even need discussed.
Conclusion. Option one is open to suspicion.  But options two, three, four, (and five) seem to be practical impossibilties.  I do make the disclaimer that the BBC can technically do whatever they like with their series, in whatever defiance of logic, consistency, and character that they like. … But so far, they’ve proved themselves far too competent to do so.
When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth.
And if I may go meta for a minute, the name of the episode is His Last Vow. Sherlock’s vow was to be there ‘for all three of them … whatever happens’. What is that episode, but precisely that? … The very name of the story seems to preclude all the plotting and counter-plotting I’ve seen suggested.
Therefore, primarily by the process of elimination, I conclude that Mary Watson does not have a evil plot going on.
What do you think is going on with Mary?  Tell us below in the comments!
Sherlock criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent

Reflection on the Concept of a Free State

All forms of government can be divided roughly into slave states and free states. The slave state is a state where the people are there to serve the government. A free state is a state where the government is there to serve the people. Of course, very rarely (if ever) does a pure example of either exist.
The function of a free state rests somewhere between two extremes which I shall refer to as the libertarian and the socialist. The terms are imperfect and heavily weighted, but they shall have to do for now. The extreme which I refer to as ‘libertarian’ is where the government serves the people by leaving them alone. And the extreme I refer to as ‘socialist’ is where the government serves the people by doing things for them. The bill of rights and the absence of unnecessary government functions are examples of the first. Criminal law and public roads are examples of the second. Every free state must rest somewhere between these two ideas.
If the government swings too far to the libertarian extreme, it becomes totally absent and ceases to be a government at all. Then, in the absence of a free state, predatory forces have full leave to create their own ‘slave states’ (be these military, criminal, or economic). There is no protection against them, for there is no longer any state.
If the government swings too far to the socialist extreme, everything comes under the purview of the government, and once again, the people cease to be free. This government may ostensibly still be doing all these things ‘for the people’, but in reality the people become mere cogs to serve the functions of a ravenous bureaucracy.
Both the idea of leaving the people alone, and the idea of serving them, carried to their extremes, result in the loss of the free state. Without the ‘socialist’ element, it is not a state. Without the ‘libertarian’ it is not free.
A free state lies in maintaining that balance.
Political Commentary by Charlotte Ann Kent