Living the Good Life, Episode 24 (March 10, 2017 ): Gravity and Tyranny!

Yet another nice week! Feels good man 8)


WATCHAN:

Gravity Rush: Overture. This was a very small OVA (2 parts totaling about 20 minutes) released before Gravity Rush 2. I said last week I wasn’t sure how Kat (the protagonist of Gravity Rush and Gravity Rush 2) ended up in the new area she’s in at the beginning of 2, but this little OVA answered that question! It’s not much, but there’s a little bit of cool action and it introduces a couple cool new characters I haven’t seen yet in GR2, but look like they’ll be important. Guess I can definitely get started on 2 without any hesitation, then! Which I have XD Anyways, if you’ve got 20 minutes to burn I highly recommend checking it out, you can watch it on Youtube for free, so it costs nothing but a little time.

PLAYAN:

The aforementioned Gravity Rush 2. Overall, I really like it…it’s pretty much the definition of a “comfy” game. Kat, the protagonist, is incredibly likable (just as she was in the first game), and the plot is nothing too grim. Sure, you have to save the city and all that, but most of the sidequests are lighthearted fun stuff like finding pets (with your gravity powers) or delivering packages full of cake (while trying to avoid hungry people who want to eat it!) and there’s not much violence or death or anything like that.

There’s also so much stuff to do! It really feels a lot larger than the previous game. Aside from the side missions, you can get online challenges from other people, take pictures with an in-game camera and rate them, go mining, and do a ton of other stuff. There are a lot of new costumes too! Even at the brand-new price of 60 bucks, it certainly does feel like I’m getting my money’s worth of content with this game.

Additionally, the music and graphics are absolutely beautiful. The game’s composer, Kohei Tanaka, has hit it out of the park again with an awesome jazz-inspired soundtrack that’s a joy to listen to. And the cities (2 of em, I just got to the second one) you live in are a treat to look at and great fun navigating through, incorporating elements of 1920s era American skyscrapers, Asian megacomplexes, etc. etc. etc. There are also some really cool special areas

Still, there are some pretty severe problems with the game on occasion. The camera is annoying as all hell, sometimes it just completely spazzes out and it’s a hassle to gain control of. There’s also no lock on function, your attacks are automatically directed towards the enemy closest to your screen, which makes it incredibly annoying to deal with multiple foes. Fortunately, these aren’t serious enough to nix the game as a whole 😀 I recommend it, or at least wait long enough for the price to go down if the camera issues sound very bad to you.

TIMAN:

Managed to get a hold of Gorge! No wonder it was tough…he was super busy the last few weeks! I’ll try to get in touch again next week to see if he had any luck with Dragonar.

READAN:

Bought Timothy D. Snyder’s “On Tyranny” from Barnes and Nobles earlier this week. Here’s the citation:

Snyder, Timothy D. On Tyranny. New York: Penguin Random House (Tim Duggan Books), 2017.

Donald Trump’s election came as a very unpleasant surprise to very many Americans (especially considering he lost the popular vote). I’m one of them–as you can tell by my Twitter and Reddit posts–but there are plenty of people smarter and more educated than me who don’t like him either, and indeed, consider him a very severe threat to our democracy. Timothy D. Snyder is one such person, and if he’s worried, we would do very well to take his warnings to heart: He’s a historian teaching at Yale University who’s one of the top experts on Nazi and Communist tyranny. He sees some disturbing parallels between Trump’s administration and the sort of oppression he studied in 20th century Europe, and has written up a small tract to explain them to the rest of us laymen.

This tract was actually borne out of a Facebook post Dr. Snyder made after Trump had been elected, where he provided twenty “lessons from the twentieth century” pertaining to what we should watch out for from authoritarian governments, along with suggestions of what we could do to resist them. Things to be wary of include matters like lesson 6, “Be wary of paramilitaries” and lesson  18, “Be calm when the unthinkable arrives” (Snyder refers to things like the Reichstag fire, where tyrants use “terrorism” as an excuse to take away everyone’s liberty). Things to do are lesson 10, “Believe in Truth,” and lesson 16, “Learn from Peers in Other Parts of the World.” These twenty lessons were so incredibly popular on Facebook and took off so wildly that Snyder expanded on each of them and turned them into a small book–On Tyranny.

“Small” is a good word for it. On Tyranny is only about 128 It seems that Snyder’s intent (when you also consider the fairly low price of the book; only 8 bucks from Barnes and Nobles, where I got it)-is for this book to be accessible to everyone, to be carried around and shared widely between the masses wherever we may go. Is it something worth sharing?

Certainly. Snyder provides a lot of useful, civic-minded advice just about anyone can follow (wipe off swastikas and other such garbage when you see them, vote, protest, and support civic organizations) along with astute warnings about how other people were fooled and subsequently crushed by authoritarians. One telling example is from lesson 2, “Defend Institutions,” about how democratic pillars of a free society can crumble sooner than anyone expects. He quotes a Jewish newspaper saying the Nazis would never be able to rise to power “because a number of crucial factors hold power in check” (page 23). Of course, as we all know, nothing held the Nazis back when they came to power. A lot of folks think our government’s safeguards will prevent Trump from doing anything too crazy, but Snyder’s historical example forcefully reminds us that we can’t just assume everything will work out.Thankfully, Snyder lets the historical examples themselves do most of the talking, and generally just alludes to Trump’s words and actions, allowing us to make the connections ourselves. This prevents him from coming off as hysterical or preachy, which is certainly well appreciated.

While On Tyranny is not an extensive scholarly work like Bloodlands, it has more than enough historical tidbits for laymen to begin considering how the present moment echoes the past. More than enough, therefore, to encourage us to get off our behinds and work to preserve our freedoms, as well as maybe do some more reading (such as of Dr. Snyder’s other books, or perhaps Ian Kershaw’s work on the rise of Hitler). And in that respect, it’s a smashing success.

There are a few things I might change, though. While Snyder’s suggestions for positive action are good, I wish he had chose more of them. For instance, in the aforementioned second lesson, “Defend Institutions,” Snyder exhorts us to “choose an institution you care about–a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union–and take its side” (page 22). But what does “taking its side” entail? Snyder provides an example of what happened when we don’t–the Jewish newspaper which assumed German institutions would endure–but not any concrete examples of what supporting institutions would look like. It’s easy enough to think of some ways, like subscribing to a newspaper or joining a union, but how would one support a court or a law? My first thoughts would be writing letters to Congressmen supporting good laws (and condemning bad ones), and of course voting for representatives who support and oppose the right things, but I wonder if Dr. Snyder had something different in mind.

On that note, Dr. Snyder is somewhat leery of the Internet. A couple of his lessons encourage us to spend more time away from it: Lesson 11, “Investigate,” warns that much of what we read on the Internet can often be unreliable and to warns us of the “conspiracy you can find online: [the] one to keep you online, looking for conspiracies” (pages 72-74). Lesson 14, “establish a private life,” encourages us to use the internet less and have more exchanges in person (page 87).

These lessons are, again, certainly well taken: There’s a lot of nonsense floating around online, and many people (working for the government and not) can find more about a person than most folks would be comfortable with by haunting their social media. From what I’ve read, though, Dr. Snyder is fairly sceptical generally of our online world–he once wrote an article calling for cell-phone free train cars, for instance, claiming that it would lead to a more healthy public culture (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2008/0620/p09s02-coop.html). Again, despite the truth in his warnings about excessive Internet usage, I wonder if his general Internet skepticism has bled slightly into his analysis here. IMO his distinction between print and online media is *slightly* simplistic; there are many online sources far more reliable than many print ones. Which would be a better source for news: A copy of an article you read online at the Washington post or Reuters website, or a print article you find in the physical pages of, say, the National Enquirer? Also, the Internet can also be a force for liberation–scientists using the Internet to back up data Trump would have deleted, or organizers scheduling meetings and demonstrations on Facebook. Dr. Snyder gets this, he explicitly said (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/interrogation/2017/03/timothy_snyder_on_what_the_20th_century_tells_us_about_trump_s_endgame.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_top) that he wasn’t calling for a “blanket fatwa on the Internet” and it’s definitely a good thing if people were inspired to get themselves out there by what they’re seeing online. But that nuance doesn’t come out quite as strongly in the book itself.

Lastly, the final lesson, #20: “Be as courageous as you can: If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, all of us will die in unfreedom” is well taken, but there’s no exposition to go along with it–the book just goes into the epilogue, “history and liberty.” While I know Dr. Snyder wanted to keep the page count down, it would’ve been nice to have a little more about this important point; perhaps some inspiring examples of heroes who died for freedom under the regimes Snyder condemns. For instance, maybe brief sketches of Marc Bloch, a great French historian who gave his life for the French Resistance, or the Catholic saint Maximillian Kolbe, who was martyred by offering up his life to save fellow concentration camp prisoners from the Nazis. But, oh well…even without such examples, Snyder gets the message across well enough.

Granted, such examples might have been a bit depressing…even if the good guys in general eventually crushed the Nazis, those particular good guys died. And, despite its inspirational intent, reading a book like On Tyranny is enough to make any perceptive observer anxious. If the comparisons between what we’re seeing today and what we saw in Hitler’s time are so apt, is democracy doomed? Will we see the rise of another dictator, one who could be overthrown only through great bloodshed, if at all?

Maybe not. Looking at Snyder’s lessons and his examples, I think there is cause for hope, though certainly not complacency. There are a few reasons for optimism, IMO, or at least not falling into despair just yet.

First, the very existence of a book like this is cause for hope. One can’t argue that nobody foresaw Hitler’s rise–from the days of the Greeks, tyrants have often managed to usurp power through the institutions they end up destroying. Many perceptive minds of the 1920s and 30s realized that. But, in my view, I think people might finally, *finally* be starting to heed the lessons of the past. As of this writing. Dr. Snyder’s book is already a bestseller. That’s proof, IMO, that a very large swathe of the population is prepared for the worst, and anticipating what we have to do to resist Trump. His election might have been an unpleasant surprise, but his victory was very far from absolute–we might be in a better position to resist than Germans were back then.

Second, even before Snyder’s book was published (on the 28th of February), it seemed to me that Americans were heeding the lessons he described. Defend institutions? The ACLU’s received more money than it ever has before. Don’t obey in advance? The courts have halted one of his Muslim bans, though we’ll have to hope they gut his second. Practice corporeal politics? We’ve already seen some of the largest marches in America’s history, all against Trump.

Finally, it seems to me that the friction between our intelligence agencies and the Cheeto-in-Chief, while embarrassing, bodes well for our freedoms. After all, secret police were vital to the operation of the Communist and Nazi tyrannies Dr. Snyder describes–the Gestapo, the NKVD, the Stasi, and so on. It’s far less likely our own intelligence agencies would become terrible successors to those sinister cabals when Trump has done his level best to alienate them. Heck, it seems his honeymoon with the FBI has ended–despite helping him get elected, James Comey has apparently failed to parrot Trump’s claims about Obama’s “wiretapping.” We should certainly be on guard and keep a close eye on our spooks, but at this early stage there’s good reason to hope Trump’s attempts at totalitarianism won’t meet with much success.

As far as I know, On Tyranny is the first of its kind; the first book dedicated to examining Trump from a historical perspective and encouraging the rest of us to resist his brand of creeping authoritarianism–as well as any other sort we may encounter. I doubt it will be the last. But I certainly hope Snyder’s successors evince the same insight and sensitivity he does. For that reason, I heartily recommend everyone to buy this book ;3

And with that, I turn to…

WRITAN:

Not much either, aside from the above book review. Just relaxin, relaxin…

EATAN:

.

Like last week, not much for this one aside from relaxin and readan a good book 😀 Hmm…maybe that’ll change next week, though. I gotta think of what I’m gonna do after I finish my dissertation, and ask my profs for help on that front, since they (obviously) have experience in the academic job market. But maybe they know stuff about the non-academic job market too…I’ll ask. I hear a lot of Ph.Ds are getting jobs outside of the university these days!

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