The Long View: The End of the Age

This short review contains much of the material, in embryo, that I used to craft some popular lectures I have given on millenninalism. The basic distinction between kinds of millennial belief, its cross-cultural appeal, and the combination of wide popularity with elite dismissal. I can't imagine ever wanting to read this novel, but I learned a great deal from John's review of it. That was a big reason I kept going back to his site.

The End of the Age: A Novel by Pat Robertson Word Publishing, 1995 $21.99, 374 pp. ISBN: 0-8499-1290-3

Apocalypse Politics

According to Paul Boyer in his study of prophecy belief in America, "When Time Shall Be No More," the apocalyptic novel has been a feature of American popular culture since the 1930s. At any rate, it has been a feature of that portion of popular culture inhabited by certain types of Christians, particularly premillennialists. ("Premillennialism" is the variety of belief about the end of the world which looks forward to a literal Second Coming of Christ, followed by the reign of the Saints for a thousand years on earth, a period called the "millennium.") Not so long ago, popular eschatology (the study of "the Last Things") was off the radar screen of secular America entirely. Then, starting in the 1980s, the notion began to seep into elite consciousness that maybe the traditional secular scenarios for the future did not exhaust the views of history to be found in American culture. It wasn't so much the great commercial success of Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" that drew enlightened attention to the phenomenon. Despite their supposed fascination with the inner meaning of "popular culture," American elites ("agnostic Swedes ruling a nation of pious Hindus," in one famous formula), have an astounding capacity for overlooking popular enthusiasms until they blow up in their faces. It was not until President Reagan began talking along much the same lines that some people began to pay attention. In recent years, of course, militant millenarianism has indeed blown up in several spectacular and bloody incidents. The subject is no longer obscure. For a variety of reasons, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Traditional eschatology has sometimes provided the theme for works that found a wide audience in the post-WWII era. The film Rosemary's Baby in the 1960s is an example. Still, it is rare for an apocalyptic novel, one whose incidents include the reign of Antichrist, the Tribulation and the Descent of the New Jerusalem, to be pitched to a general readership. Certainly it is something of a novelty to see such a book written by a man who, as recently as seven years ago, was a reasonably plausible candidate for president of the United States. People interested in divining Pat Robertson's political agenda will have no trouble finding relevant material in this story. Not altogether incidentally, the book is even more interesting for the ways in which it alters the classical themes of the genre precisely to appeal to a wider Christian readership, and specifically to Roman Catholics.

The endtime scenario of popular American apocalyptic reached its mature phase just after the Civil War. It has been remarkably stable ever since. It involves a period of growing crisis, culminating in some universal threat or disaster. The chaos of the times affords a charismatic person the opportunity to seize control of the world by promising to restore order. This tyrant, who turns out to be no one other than the Antichrist himself, is often the current pope, or is supported by the pope. Before his period of misrule can begin, however, the true Church (various defined) is wonderfully withdrawn from the world in an event called the Rapture. Some people remaining on earth can still hope to be saved, but they must suffer persecution by the Antichrist, who will gradually turn his government into a religious cult, with himself as an object of worship. The period of his reign is normally coincident with the Tribulation, which in most narratives lasts seven years. By the end it, the Antichrist seems poised to snuff out the remnant of the Tribulation Saints. However, then the Second Coming occurs, the Antichrist is destroyed, and the Millennium begins.

...

The Long View: Imperium

John's interests in cycles of history and millennial movements sometimes led him down strange alleys. One of those was his study of modern international fascism. It is pretty common to slur someone as a fascist, far less common to actually meet one. They still exist, and probably loom larger in the press than their actual numbers, and have, if anything, gotten weirder as the twentieth century waned and turned into the twenty-first.

Imperium comes up here because Yockey's main source was Spengler. It is not at all clear that Yockey understood Spengler, but nonetheless he appropriated Spengler's vocabulary. John was my main source of knowledge about modern international fascism, and also the reason I see just about any political discourse about how "fascist" something or other is as just so much piffle. There are real fascists. They sound like something out of a convoluted conspiracy theory novel, except that they keep insisting on self-publishing books about what they are up to.

Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics
by Ulick Varange (Francis Parker Yockey)
The Noontide Press, 1962 (First Published 1948)
626 Pages, US$ 7.75
ISBN 0-911038-10-8

 

"Imperium" may be the closest thing that the real world offers to H.P. Lovecraft's fictional "Necronomicon." Though little more than a rumor in the world at large, it is a key text in the underground universe of international fascist ideology, and it seems to have had a significant effect on the development of Traditional Satanism. At the risk of making "Imperium" sound more interesting than it actually is, we may note that the book claims an almost magical essence for itself. By its own account, "Imperium" is "part of a life of action" and "only in form a book at all," so that reading it is more than a merely mental event.

"Imperium" was written in the service of an ambitious cause. The author, Francis Parker Yockey, holds that it is the destiny of the West to found a universal empire, the core of which will be a Nazi Europe. His book promotes European unity and the expulsion of the United States from the continent's affairs, as well as a fascist revolution in the United States itself. "Imperium" is a reprise of history and political theory, designed to show why the outcomes of the world wars of the first half of the 20th century were only temporary setbacks toward the ultimate goal.

If America were a church, Yockey would have been an apostate. Born in Chicago in 1917, he was involved with various right-wing political groups as a young man. He took both a BA and a law degree at Notre Dame University and was commissioned an officer during the Second World War, though he soon received a medical discharge. As a civilian attorney, he served on the staff that helped to prepare war-crimes trials in Germany, but was dismissed for siding with the defendants. (This may have included spying for them.) Yockey retired to Brittas Bay in Ireland to write "Imperium," finishing it in 1948. (January 30 of that year, to be precise: the 15th anniversary of Hitler's accession to the chancellorship of Germany.)

...

The Long View: Spengler's Future

John wrote this book in 1992, based on the output of a program he wrote in BASIC to simulate repeated cycles of history. It is based on the work of both Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. John had a good sense of humor about the enterprise; he always took himself lightly. John knew that any attempt to pigeonhole history would be an oversimplification at best. Nonetheless, while history doesn't exactly repeat, it does seem to rhyme.

Spengler's Future

Table of Contents

Foreword

This is a report on the output of a computer program. The program was written to predict the future of the world, from a Western perspective, into the twenty-seventh century A.D. The program does not purport to predict specific events that will occur in time to come. Rather, it seeks to suggest events from many times and places in the past which could be analogous to what will be happening at designated points in the future. This is accomplished by using a simple cyclical model of the development of civilizations. The title of the report alludes to the fact that the model in question is an adaptation of the theory of history created by the German philosopher, Oswald Spengler, particularly as expressed in his great work, The Decline of the West.

Readers should note that Spengler never tried to "predict" the future in anything like the detail attempted here. The "future" outlined in this study can be said to really be Spengler's, in fact, only to the extent that some of it was implicit in his ideas. He can hardly be held responsible for most of what you will read here, since his philosophy was "adapted" for the program by being reduced to four lines of algorithms.

Although the program contains hundreds of data lines from various points in the histories of four civilizations, the output is no more self-explanatory than the hexagrams of the I Ching or a laying of tarot cards. To note that a battle occurred on such and such a date in a given civilization tells you almost nothing; you must know what part it played in the history of the culture in question for it to make any sense. Therefore, most of the text, like a good fortuneteller's patter, consists of the author's own interpretation of what the Delphic echoes from the past produced by the computer might someday represent. The method throughout, with the one exception described immediately below, is to look for harmonies and dissonances among the events from the past described in the output lines. The output lines themselves are given for each segment of the future to which they refer. The length of each segment was suggested to the author by apparent "themes" in consecutive groups of lines. (The temptation to edit them to make them fit better into their segments has been largely resisted.) Readers may therefore construct their own futures by seeing what these lines suggest to them.

An amusing feature of the output is that it attempts to "predict" the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (along with a cursory look at the last half of the eighteenth). The accompanying commentary attempts, with perhaps limited success, to treat these output lines in almost the same fashion as the lines dealing with the distant future are treated. However, it was not quite possible to avoid alluding to events in actual Western history which occurred during these centuries. Since the pattern has been established of using Western events as points of comparison, the commentary for future segments continues the procedure by mentioning imaginary future events of the author's devising. These are deliberately conservative suggestions, inserted for stylistic reasons. They should not be taken seriously.

As a matter of fact, these invented events do not closely resemble the future which the author himself anticipates. That future has far more in common with the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin (or at least Teilhard in his more Augustinian moments) than with those of Oswald Spengler. This book, indeed, can be taken as an attempt to exorcise a private ni.htmlare. At least in the author's mind, this is what will happen if Teilhard and similar optimists turn out to be wrong. Despite its fantastic elements, you will be looking at a "realist" version of the future, the one we will get if the future is like the past.

In the Introduction which follows, Spengler's system is discussed in more detail than the program uses. We also consider the more general question of whether a cyclical view of history can be seriously defended. Readers who are not much interested in this kind of question may confine themselves to reading just the highlighted passages in the Introduction, which simply reproduce the somewhat whimsical Instruction section of the program. Following the Introduction are the Antechronicles themselves (that is, chronicles written before the events they describe). As you will see, these are no more than fiction cobbled together from some historical analogies. They can be "right" only to the extent of being apt metaphors.

Finally, it should be understood that the program in question is a very crude piece of work (written in BASIC!) which really only saved the author a bit of simple arithmetic. It has no nifty graphics and will not be in the stores any time soon.

--John J. Reilly
      August 1992

The Long View: The Fourth Turning

There was something magical and terrible about the end of the nineteenth century. The term coined to describe it, fin de siècle, itself accelerated the process already underway. Apocalyptic expectations can become feedback loops in certain situations. You might call it self-fulfilling prophecy, but in English this term carries a connation of self-deception. What I am describing is far more real. Sometimes, when you expect the world to end, it obliges you.

In John's book, The Perennial Apocalypse, he describes several civilizations that expected the end so fervently that they imploded when a reasonably close facsimile came along. The destruction of the Aztec Empire is a good example of this. What, you really thought 300 Spaniards conquered a highly militarized nation of millions of people?

The Fourth Turning is the book that predicted an American crisis sometime in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Hopefully the authors got better speaking fees afterward. They really got a double-whammy with 9-11 and the Housing Bubble together. John predicted it would start with an international issue, and end with a domestic one. Remember, this was written in 1997. However, it is also too soon to expect resolution. A turning lasts 20-25 years. We are only 13 years in, and 9-11 came a little early. Furthermore, we should expect something of a golden age of peace and prosperity to come after the successful revolution of the Crisis. Clearly, no one feels like that now.

John wanted to give this book another review in 2020. He is no longer with us, but I think it will make for an interesting retrospective in another 5-10 years.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy
by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Broadway Books, 1997
$27.50, 382 pages
ISBN 0-553-06682-X
URL: http://www.fourthturning.com

The Next Scheduled Performance of the Book of Revelation is in 2020.

The sense of impending wonder and catastrophe that began to percolate through western civilization toward the end of the nineteenth century did not come to an end when the century year arrived. Rather, in the decade and a half that followed the turn of the century, these intuitions evolved from fantasies in the minds of philosophers and millenarians to become concrete threats visible in broad daylight. When the First World War did break out, almost everyone was surprised by the actual sequence of events. Nevertheless, many people, from Hermann Hesse to H.G. Wells to the Jehovah's Witnesses, immediately knew that this was what they had been waiting for. If the evolution of apocalyptic expectation after the turn of the millennium follows the same pattern, this book could go down as one of the influences that made the sense of impending apocalypse reasonable.

The major reason it could do this is that the authors' theory of history really is reasonable, at least as theories of history go. "The Fourth Turning" expands on the cyclical interpretation of American history which the authors proposed in their 1991 book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." (Before the publication of that book, William Strauss was best known as a cofounder and director The Capitol Steps cabaret group. Neil Howe is an economist and senior advisor to the Concord Coalition. Now, of course, they are both best known as the authors of "Generations.") It has never been a secret that American history does show some striking periodicities. Most notable is the fact that the major "crises" of American history are all the same distance apart. That is, the Depression/World War II era occurred about as long after the Civil War as the Civil War did after the War of Independence, which in turn occurred about as long after the era of colonial disorders incident to King Philip's War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Similarly, there is a somewhat looser regularity to the peculiar episodes of spiritual and cultural ferment that characterize America history. The best known on these was "The Great Awakening" of the 1720s and 1730s. A similar or at least analogous era occurred just about a century later, in the "Second Great Awakening" or "Transcendentalist" period. This episode saw not just outbreaks of millenarian fervor, but the beginnings of such hardy perennials as the abolition and women's suffrage movements. Somewhat anomalously, another such period occurred in the final years of the nineteenth century, leaving as its permanent monuments the Fundamentalism of the Bible Belt and the Bohemianism of Greenwich Village. The last such episode was the period colloquially known as "The '60s," most of which, of course, actually happened in the 1970s.

...

The Long View: Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

John was very interested in the form the future might take. He wrote a book that was his attempt to limn the future by means of a program he wrote in BASIC and the ideas of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Like myself, John felt that the idea of cycles in history does not preclude free will or moral agency. We might hope, tentatively and with great humility, to influence things for the better. Following William Ernest Hocking, John posited the idea of "unlosables", technologies and ideas and ethical principles, which become part of the ever-increasing common heritage of the race. This entry is intended to illustrate some of those ideas in political philosophy.

As a lawyer, John was well-positioned to draft a constitution. He knew that the failure of most modern constitutions was due to their complexity. The most successful modern constitutions, the American, and the Swiss [which is based on the American] are relatively brief. This is his attempt at a constitution for the Ecumenical Empire, his term for the universal state into which the world is likely to collapse sometime in this century.


This document was originally posted to an Alternative History newsgroup. It may not be a proper "what-if," but it is likely to interest alternative history buffs.

Every so often, I come across a model "world constitution" by groups or individuals who are interested in the question. These proposals are all non-starters. They are too legalistic, too complicated, and most of all too long. The draft constitution here is supposed to be more realistic. I imagine it coming into effect late in the next century, when the traditional international system has collapsed because of war and progressive economic integration. Like the Roman Empire, it is essentially a police measure. Feel free to propose amendments.

JR -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Constitution of the Ecumenical Empire

Preamble
This Constitution describes the structure of the Ecumenical Empire. 
The Ecumenical Empire is the final stage of human political evolution.
This Constitution is unchangeable.
The Empire's operations and functions must be further defined by legislation.

The Empire
The Ecumenical Empire possesses every power which a human government may possess.
The jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Empire is universal in space.
The Ecumenical Empire may permit Subsidiary States to exist.

The Emperor

The Emperor may hear all final appeals in judicial matters from whatever source.
The Emperor is the Commander in Chief of the Ecumenical Army.
The Emperor is the Director of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
The Emperor serves for life, subject to deposition or abdication.
The Emperor may veto acts of the Senate.
The Emperor may nominate his successor from among the Senators, subject to the approval of the Senate.
The Emperor is an Imperial Citizen for life.

The Senate
The Senate may have up to one thousand Senators.
The Senate may enact laws of universal or local application.
The Senate may tax Imperial Citizens directly.
The Senate may tax trade between Subsidiary States.
The Senate may issue and revoke charters for the existence of Subsidiary States.
The Senate elects the Emperor.
The Senate may depose the Emperor by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
The Senate may expel a Senator by a vote of three-quarters of the Senators.
Every Subsidiary State provides one Senator, selected by any means and for whatever term the Subsidiary State chooses.
All Senators not provided by a Subsidiary State are appointed by the Emperor for life, subject to expulsion or retirement.
Senators are Imperial Citizens at least for their term in office.

The Ecumenical Army
The Ecumenical Army includes all the armed forces of the Ecumenical Empire.
Only the Ecumenical Army may possess weapons of mass destruction.
Weapons of mass destruction may not be used against civilian populations without thirty days' warning.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Army directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Army enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Army serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

The Ecumenical Civil Service
The Ecumenical Civil Service collects the taxes of the Ecumenical Empire and administers imperial law.
The courts of the Ecumenical Empire are a branch of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Regions not under the jurisdiction of a Subsidiary State are ruled directly by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Subsidiary States have no authority to tax members of the Ecumenical Civil Service directly.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service enjoy extraterritoriality from Subsidiary States.
All members of the Ecumenical Civil Service serving for at least ten years are Imperial Citizens for life.

Subsidiary States
No Subsidiary State may exist without the charter of the Senate.
Charters for Subsidiary States are issued for perpetuity and are subject to revocation.
Subsidiary States may choose their own form of government.
Subsidiary States may exercise primary jurisdiction over their citizens and residents.
Subsidiary States may not maintain armed forces beyond those necessary for internal police.
Laws of Subsidiary States that are incompatible with imperial law are voidable by the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Particular acts by Subsidiary States may be prohibited by the Emperor.
The governments of Subsidiary States are subject to suspension by the Emperor.

Imperial Subjects
All human beings are Imperial Subjects.
Imperial Subjects may not be enslaved. Imperial Subjects may not be coerced by law to perform acts of worship.
Imperial Subjects may be imprisoned or executed only after a trial.
Acquittals in criminal trials are not appealable.
Imperial Subjects not citizens of a Subsidiary State are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.

Imperial Citizens
Any Imperial Subject may be created by the Emperor to be an Imperial Citizen for life or for a term of years.
The spouse and children of all Imperial Citizens for life are also Imperial Citizens for life.
Imperial Citizens have the option to be citizens of Subsidiary States.
Imperial Citizens have the option to make themselves liable to the taxes and judicial process of a Subsidiary State.
Imperial Citizens are subject to the immediate jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Civil Service.
Imperial Citizens are subject to direct taxes of the Ecumenical Empire.
Imperial Citizens may not be deprived of goods, money or land without a trial.
Imperial Citizens may say or publish anything that does not appear likely to cause immediate public disorder.

Prior Law
Any provision of international or domestic law contrary to this Constitution is nullified.
Fully sovereign states existing at the time of the proclamation of this Constitution may apply within one year for a charter from the Senate to become Subsidiary States.
Fully sovereign states that fail to apply within that time are abolished.

Proclamation
We the leaders of the Cabinet of the Final Alliance proclaim this Constitution on our own authority. We designate our chairman to be the first Emperor. The Emperor designates us to be the first Senators. [Signatures] [Date (circa 2080)]

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View

On May 30, 2012, my friend John J. Reilly passed from this vale of tears after a sudden illness. John and I never met in person, but we exchanged emails and forum posts for nearly ten years, so I feel that I knew him in a way. John was one of the 3 contemporary writers who have influenced me the most, along with Steve Sailer and Jerry Pournelle. Much of what you see here is due to John.

John was one of the most reasonable people I have ever known. He had a remarkable tendency to see things in the best possible light, but in a way that was firmly grounded in truth. I suspect this was due to an unshakable belief in providence. He managed to collect an usual grouping of regular forum posters at his site. I have never met such a disparate group in my life, and perhaps never will again. After John suddenly stopped posting on his site in April 2012, the group continued apace for a bit, but gradually we came the realization that it was John, and his remarkable character, that had brought us together. Without him, the forum regulars didn't have any reason to go on, and we slowly drifted away.

The last thing that I posted on John's forum was that I had run a backup of everything on John's website using wget [a shout-out to my friend Sacha for helping me get that running right]. I knew it was only a matter of time before whatever hosting service John used would close his account, and everything he had written would waft into the ether.

Of course, this isn't completely true. The Internet Wayback Machine keeps everything in a fancy database so that you can access any version of John's site at any date, but that isn't a well-known service. There are other, similar internet archiving sites, but I decided to simply host a mirror here, as a tribute to John.

I have kept everything John wrote as it was. I have removed his site trackers and Amazon widgets, since he is no longer here to use them. I have updated any characters that don't display well in modern browsers. My intent is to publish John's blog, The Long View, on a schedule delayed approximately 12 years.  His book reviews and essays will appear on the same schedule. I have uploaded all his writings published prior to January 21, 2002 already. I have enjoyed browsing through his writings again, and I hope others have the same experience. Those who are impatient can simply download the whole .zip file.

Archive of John Reilly's The Long View

I have added a link to the top bar of my site, and I intend to post here, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ when I upload each installment of John's work.

Here is a copy of John's copyright notice, from his webpage.

John J. Reilly retains all rights in the material set out on the pages defined by the URL sequences:

http://www.johnreilly.info/etc.
http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/etc.
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The individual articles on these pages appear with their publishing histories and copyright notices. The copyright notices refer to the time of their appearance on these pages.

Readers are invited to download this material for their own use.

Persons wishing to repost it on the Internet may do so if they include my copyright notice.

Persons wishing to republish it in any other medium must seek my permission.

After Armageddon Book Review

After Armageddon: There Will Be War Volume IX
Created by Jerry Pournelle, Edited by John F. Carr
404 pages; $3.99

I really enjoy this series. It has been out of print for a long time, but you can readily find copies in used book stores or on the internet. Four of nine volumes in the series sit on my shelves, and I am always happy when I come across another one. I always manage to find a couple of really good stories in each volume that lead to further enjoyable reading, oftentimes in the novel version of the same story. Volume I featured a short story by Orson Scott Card called Ender's Game. Volume I also introduced me to David Drake's Ranks of Bronze. Volume IV has a chapter from Gordon Dickson's Way of the Pilgrim. In Volume IX, my favorites are The Voice of the Cockroach, by Leslie Fish, and The Contract, by Don Hawthorne.

I already knew Leslie Fish from her folk guitar performances of Rudyard Kipling, but this was the first of any of her fiction I have come across. In The Voice of the Cockroach, a man receives the rare gift of seeing himself as he truly is. The pain and clarity of that moral revelation was so powerful I had to put the book down for a moment, lest I be caught up in his grief and sorrow. The Contract is a historically informed tale of a Russian officer picking up the pieces after the world comes to an end. In a very, very, Russian manner.

There are also short essays in each volume discussing war and politics. It is interesting to look back on them 25 years later and see how their analysis and predictions held up. Alan Brown's essay on Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of Great Powers was still topical. Kennedy correctly predicted the Soviets were falling behind in the Cold War, but Kennedy also spent a lot of time in 1989 pondering how the Japanese could use their wealth to influence world affairs. It turns out mostly by making Hello Kitty branded everything. Kennedy didn't miss the potential of China, he just didn't know whether they could successfully reconcile capitalism with Marxism. Well, now we know.

Go pick one of these volumes up. You should find something you like.

My other book reviews

Bioshock Infinite videogame review

Its for the children

When I told the Magistra I had played Bioshock Infinite, and I was shocked by its graphic violence, she was surprised. "I didn't think you would play another Bioshock game." After the review I gave Bioshock, I suppose I'm not surprised my wife would say that. I called the game disturbing, and I felt afterward that it might have scarred my soul a little bit. When I was younger, I didn't think much of the the argument of Lt. Col. David Grossman (ret.) that we have learned how to overcome our innate resistance to killing another person, but now I am starting to see his point. Especially now that I am a father myself, graphic violence in games, and the FPS genre, seem to hold less and less appeal for me. After the very first fight in Bioshock Infinite, I felt disturbed. I think it was the sense that I had violated the peace of Columbia that made me feel this so acutely. Until the first fight, every scene in Columbia was visually and musically idyllic and peaceful, even if there were a few subtle hints that all was not well.

It was the Beast of America trailer that convinced me I might want to play Bioshock Infinite. It is a pretty damn good trailer, and it hinted at a lot of the better elements of the game. Well done, whoever designed that trailer. Of course, I waited to pick the game up until the Steam summer sale, since I won't pay full price for a game anymore, but I was really interested.

After playing the game, I decided to write a review because I didn't see a lot of reviews that address what this game is about: The End of the World. Bioshock Infinite, like Bioshock before it, is about the apocalypse. Literally, it means ‘disclosure’ or ‘revelation,’ particularly of the circumstances
attending the end of the world. In the narrowest sense, it is simply an ancient literary genre. It also refers to a dramatic event, which marks off a different type of time.Apocalypse

Everyone wants to talk about the ending, but I'm not that interested in the ending. I liked the ending. I was underwhelmed by the game until the ending, which catapulted the game in my estimation from just another FPS game to a classic. I am just tired of amateur philosophy hour and amateur physics hour. You all don't know what you are talking about.

I am much more interested in how we are all fascinated by the apocalypse, and kind of embarrassed by it at the same time. Richard Landes, a scholar of the apocalyptic, has a theory that I am sympathetic to. Millennial movements are major players in history, and millennialism is inherently interesting to all people. However, millennial predictions are usually [although not always] falsified in the lifetime of the believers, which leads to a persistent bias in the telling of history that minimizes the influence of the repeatedly discredited prophets of doom. Especially when some of the writers of history used to be believers.

Millennialism is not just a Christian thing, or a Western thing either. It is a universal human phenomenon, found in all cultures and religions. The Mahdist uprising in the Sudan, the Ghost Dance, and the Taiping Rebellion are all nineteenth century examples of millennial movements that are neither Western nor Christian, although the Taiping Rebellion did have some weird syncretistic elements. The millennium is a future paradisiacal state or stage of history, where constraints of human experience such as war, death, and poverty will no longer exist. It is the attempt to achieve this state that makes a movement millennial. Just so, both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are millennial through and through.

Columbia in its gloryBioshock had an obvious hint in the name of Andrew Ryan's underwater city, Rapture. Even though Ryan himself was thoroughly areligious, his attempt to build a perfect city apart from the rest of mankind and bring about paradise is clear enough. Columbia follows this same blueprint, although we get to see Columbia at a different stage in its history. Booker DeWitt joins Columbia during its halcyon days. We get to see Columbia in all its glory. Whereas when Jack descends into Rapture, the introductory apocalypse has already occurred, which has reduced the wicked city to ruins. Jack serves as the agent to bring about Rapture's terminal apocalypse. As an aside, this is why I never played Bioshock 2. Ken Levine wasn't involved, so it was clearly not going to be as good, but also the story was done. A terminal apocalypse is the end. Period. There was clearly nothing more to be said about Rapture, although there was equally clearly more money to be made.

Booker DeWitt is the introductory apocalypse for Columbia, and fittingly, he is also the terminal apocalypse for Columbia, although not precisely in the way one might think. The way in which this plays out is why I enjoyed the ending so much, and also why I will forgo my usual practice of discussing the ending of whatever I am reviewing. It is just too much fun, and it also fits the template I am discussing here so well, yet simultaneously so imaginatively, that I have to leave it it be.

Thematic continuity between Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite is not limited to the millennium, we also return to the struggle of the poor against the rich. Some have drawn links between the Occupy Wall Street protests and Bioshock Infinite, but I think this is mostly coincidence. The same theme was present in Bioshock, and the dehumanization and brutality of labor relations is an accurate reflection of America, and the world, in 1912. While Bioshock was set in 1960, it always seemed to me to belong in the 1930s, both because of the style of Rapture, and the way in which the working man in Rapture had no hope.

America by the 1950s and 1960s had figured out a pretty good solution for the working man. That was a time of unprecedented social mobility and economic growth. The economic pie was more evenly distributed then than any time before or since, and that was the fruit of the lessons learned by the ruling class in fin de siècle America.

Booker's Medal of HonorColumbia represents America, and it exaggerates both its virtues and its sins. There really was something magical about Western Civilization just before the Great War. That sense is captured perfectly in Bioshock Infinite. There were also many things deeply wrong, and you can see all them on display in this game as you progress. Columbia celebrates the Massacre at Wounded Knee as a pivotal event in its history [because it is], but America at the time of the Massacre was far more ambivalent. 20 Medals of Honor were awarded to men involved in the Massacre, but at the same time General Nelson A. Miles described it as, "Wholesale massacre, and I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than at Wounded Knee." One of the recipients of the Medal of Honor, Lt. Harry L. Hawthorne, was posted to MIT as a professor of military science while he was recovering from his wounds, and was mocked so severely by the students that he gave up his posting at the school. We Americans did a lot wrong, but Columbia represents an America that never was.

Unequal bargainingThe plight of the underclass in Columbia that is particularly stark. In the shantytown surrounding the factories that supply Columbia, you see workers bidding hours of pay to perform the same work, in one of the ugliest illustrations of unequal bargaining I have seen. Labor relations in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century were bad. This was the era when Communism was on the rise, papal encyclicals were searching for a viable middle between socialism and laissez faire capitalism, and strikes were something the public feared. The biggest conflict between labor and management in America was the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1920. It was the culmination of a struggle over coal mining in West Virginia, and nearly 10,000 men took up arms to fight their corporate oppressors.

Yet, America didn't burn in the fires of revolution. Most of those 10,000 miners just went home. Starting in the 1920s, America started on a remarkable equalization of income that finally bore fruit in the 1950s. Racial inequality was not included in the settlement, but it seems that class war in America was averted by a conscious choice by the haves to give more to the have nots. It was a stable solution for a while, but it seems to be breaking down again as income inequality rises in America.

Not liberationYet for all its sins, I wept for Columbia. I did not rejoice in its destruction, and I don't think we are meant to. All great cities are built on great injustice, including ours. That is what St. Augustine meant by the City of God and the City of Man. We owe allegiance to the imperfect polities in which we find ourselves, but in and of themselves they cannot truly deserve it. And the alternatives are usually much, much worse. The revolution Booker and Elizabeth unleash upon Columbia is not a liberation, but an orgy of vengeance and destruction. 

Columbia deserved to be destroyed, but in the same way, all of our homes, great and small, bear the weight of similar sins. Perhaps this is the reason why we find the apocalypse so mesmerizing: we know we deserve it.

 


*In all of the foregoing discussion of millennialism and the apocalypse, I am greatly indebted to my late friend, John J. Reilly. Especially his book, The Perennial Apocaplyse, which provides most of the analytical elements in this post. You are missed John, requiescat in pace.

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Fallout 2 Review

Fallout 2 follows closely upon its predecessor. Published only a year later (1998) than Fallout, Interplay had taken the development team from Fallout and created Black Isle studios. The engine is the same, the gameplay is the same, but what is different is more. There are more quests to do. More places to go. More companions to recruit. More factions to ally with. More choices to be made.

Fallout 2 is more open, but less focused. The variety and freedom in the game means that less time was spent on the main story line, because in a way there isn't one. The starting point and ending point are the same, but there are a great many paths you can take. This means that each path gets comparatively less attention. Also, you have to end up at the same place no matter what choices you make, so there are some constraints on the alternatives to make this happen.

Fallout presented you with a stark moral choice, and that only near the end of the game. Fallout 2 gives you those options much sooner. One complaint about Fallout was that the quests essentially forced you to be mostly good. This was seen as a flaw by some, so Fallout 2 has a number of quests that allow you to sink into the depths of depravity, if you so wish.

The game shipped with a number of bugs, and many, but not all of them were fixed by subsequent patches. There are fan patches available to fix the remaining bugs. I don't know if this works if you download the game from Steam, but I imagine that it would if you bought it from Good Old Games.

Fallout 2 is a great game to play to help you get your Fallout fix. After playing Fallout I definitely wanted more, and this is more. The sequel is not the equal of the original, but it is still worth a play or two. Fallout 2 does get bonus points for using "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" as its opening song, because that was my wife and I's first dance.

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Fallout Review

No, not that one. This one. The one that started it all.

Fallout was released in 1997 by Interplay. A turn-based RPG with an isometric top-down view,  and sprite graphics, Fallout has aged pretty well. I didn't play this game until 12 years after it came out, but it was still a tightly gripping story that I wanted to play again immediately after I finished it. Consistently rated one of the top PC games of all time, Fallout is well deserving. The game is cheap now, I bought it for $5 from Good Old Games. I have seen retail packs of Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics at Target for $15, and the game is also available on Steam for $10. This game is well-worth picking up.

Fallout has a retro-futuristic style that lends to its appeal. [ The fears and triumphs of the 1950s are frozen forever in the world of Fallout. Fallout clearly owes a lot to Mel Gibson too. The post-apocalyptic world you find upon exiting your Vault is modeled on Mad Max, especially Beyond Thunderdome.

The game has a style of verbal expression that strikes me as an exemplar of the RPGs and adventure games of the 90s. Very punny and full of pop-culture referenes, obscure and not. Some of the best jokes in the game are displayed as status messages after you travel from one place to another.

The gameplay is excellent. The game offers a great many options for playstyle, with a really well-done character creation system that offers endless tweaks and specializations. There is enough flexibility in the quests that you can either talk your way out of everything or just blow everything up. You have the freedom to do a great deal. You can help or harm anyone as you see fit.

There are lots of things to be discovered and explored. The game is big enough that you cannot see everything in one play through [especially before the patches that removed the in-game time limit]. The game can also be brutally hard. It is possible to get in over your head, or progress down a path only to find you cannot complete it. Lots and lots of save files are a necessity.

The story is well-plotted and involving. You are thrust into it with only a 90s era cutscene to set the stage, but I was immediately hooked. I really cared about the people and events, and I wanted to see it all end well. There are some options for the ending, but the greater part comes down to a choice to either play the role of the hero or to betray your people. This, along with the now removed time-limit unified the story and gave it pressing urgency.

This game has the whole package. Engaging story, deep gameplay, and a quirky sense of humor. You should buy it.

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A Capsule History of English SciFi and Fantasy

From John C Wright comes a capsule history of science fiction and fantasy in English.

A reader asks a fascinating question. He speaks of a recent history of science fiction he’d read, and says the editors “laid the blame of ghetto-izing science fiction at John W. Campbell’s feet. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the matter.”

If the editors made the claim that science fiction was popular and mainstream before Campbell, and ghettoized after, I scorn this opinion as not merely ahistorical, but absurd.

The first fathers of science fiction, Wells, Verne, and the now-forgotten Olaf Stabledon, wrote for a general audience and were admired and respected as much (or as little) as any other writers. However, the next generation of science fiction writers, including figures like Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, and Robert E. Howard, wrote boy’s adventure fiction. Beloved as these stories are to fans like myself, they were comicbookish, aimed at children, and dealt with their themes in a childish way.

These stories are, in my fanboy opinion, simply great, but simply not great art.

...

Fantasy does not have a figure comparable to John W. Campbell, Junior, or, at least, not on the editorial side. Perhaps we could name Lin Carter during his Ballantine Adult Fantasy series: however, even Mr. Carter would admit that he was merely skateboarding the wake of that eighteen-wheeler of the fantasy field, Tolkien’s trilogy.

Tolkien singlehandedly brought fantasy back from its exile in the Victorian days to the nursery. Gary Gygax brought Tolkien’s version of the mythic world, peopled with Robert E. Howardian characters, into the tabletops of fandom worldwide. The Elves in Gygax are full-sized Tolkienian elves, not diminutive Shakespearean elves. it is safe to say that even folk who have not read Tolkien, if they have read modern fantasy, have read Tolkien. Perhaps there are readers who only read China Mieville, Phillip Pullman, and Michael Moorcock or the like, and studiously avoid anything smelling of elvish leaves from Lothlorian: but I will boldly say that even such rebellions against Tolkien, or explorations into the seas farthest from the waters of Narnia or Middle Earth, are influenced by what they react against.

Fantasy was not merely scorned by the Literary Establishment, it was hated. For this I have no explanation, only a hunch.

There is a worthwhile comment by Michael Flynn as well:

I would suggest that Orwell and Huxley were not SF writers, but were mainstream writers who happened to write a couple of books that appealed to Skiffidom. Just as it takes more than a lot of people living real close together to make a “city,” it takes more than the use of certain themes and tropes to make “SF.”

What marks “genre SF” is that the SF tropes are central to the story itself. In the earliest SF, the stories were largely “about” some scientific [actually, engineering] marvel] and we skiffians read story after story simply for the marvelous gadgets and settings.

The Cloud and the Storm

I just read an article Sunday morning over breakfast that was considering the move to cloud computing. The particular subject of this article was the rumor that Apple may offer streaming music in the near future. I can see the obvious benefits of the cloud. What worries me are the not so likely downsides.

In all honesty, the chance of a serious problem with the cloud is small. But like Taleb's Black Swan, the difficulty is that when something goes wrong with the cloud, it affects not just one person, but everyone. Random computer failures are just that, random. They don't all come at once. A problem that would affect the cloud would be so big that it would shut down everything all at once. And if you think that the experts think of everything, remember that no one thought that selling mortgages to people who couldn't pay them back would cause a global recession either.

Lest this seem farfetched, an event that could do that has occurred before, the solar storm of 1859. Now, the people who set up data centers probably worry about this often. I certainly hope they do. What I worry about is not that the massive datacenters run by Google and Microsoft and companies I've never even heard of will fail from the coming storm, but rather that the unexpected consequences of millions of simultaneous independent computer failures could be the end of the system.

I am clearly not the only one thinking this, because we find a product designed for just this problem, the Electronic Bunker.

 For those thinking of getting all Fallout, the Electronic Bunker is not cheap: $3500 is the base price without hard drives or helium shield gas. But, this seems like a valuable item for the survivalist.

A Canticle for Walter Miller

Ignatius Insight published a good piece on Walter Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz for it's 50th anniversary.

The question Miller asks the reader and himself: can man escape Original Sin? Or, will man, doomed, carry it wherever he goes, whether it be into the American West or into the new frontier of space? And, if so, can man do anything by his own will to attenuate the great evils of which he is not only so capable, but seemingly so desirous?

Canticle is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. I don't remember whether I read it before or after becoming a Catholic, but I do remember that I was struck by the book's peculiar combination of pessimism and hope. Canticle is one of the few Catholic millennial novels, and Miller's post-apocalyptic future is all the grimmer for his unflinching look at our capacity for self-destruction.

However, that capacity is somehow mitigated in mysterious ways by Providence, even at the End of the World. Miller's novel is rich enough to reward repeated readings, so I shall have to return to it soon.

h/t Peter Sean Bradley

Religion and Science Fiction

First Things has an article on their website [and in the April issue] regarding religious themes in science fiction, that mention a number of my favorite authors and books. These include Jerry Pournelle's and Larry Niven's Inferno and Escape from Hell, James Blish's A Case of Conscience [although not Black Easter!], Michael Flynn's Eifelheim, and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz.

Shocking to me is the absence of Tim Powers, but he is often neglected in such lists despite having personally known Philip Dick, who is mentioned here.

I like the bit about the Singularity, especially the bit about how it is hard to tell the difference between an exponential growth curve and sigmoidal one when you are in the middle of it. The Singularity really is the Rapture for nerds, and good luck with that one boys.

I think I may have to check out some of the books mentioned in this article.

h/t Michael Flynn

The Transition to a Traditional Society

Since I have an interest in the metahistorical theories of Spengler and Toynbee, I have an expectation that modernity is close to its natural end. Not forever, just for now, because modernity is not unique, but is something that reoccurs in human history. My friend John Reilly has noted that the transition to a traditional society that occurs at the end of modernity is the triumph of the economic left and the social right.

What he means by that is the social safety net becomes more important than economic efficiency, and traditional morality becomes unquestionable again. If you want to see why this is the case from an economic point of view, you should read this post by John Michael Greer. Greer provides historical arguments bolstered by economics, or the other way round. I especially like them because Greer points to the value of public order for the proper functioning of society, and that this public good is only provided by the government.

Greer analyzes the value of the medieval guild system as a bulwark against starvation, but also as the economic engine that provided the innovations that modernity depended upon. Ensuring that the common good was served by a sufficient quantity of skilled labor was the gift of the guild system. The guild system is inefficient from a modern perspective, but it also guarantees quality and provides sufficient leisure for the most skilled technicians to be able to concentrate on new ideas.

Greer is coming at this from the point of view of a committed proponent of Peak Oil. I remain less than convinced by the Peak Oil hypothesis, which seems to be a case of mistaking the map for the territory, but I find it interesting that Greer is describing a state of affairs that has been predicted by other men long ago. The final state of society after modernity has ended seems to have an inevitability that transcends the mechanism posited to cause it.

h/t Jerry Pournelle's Mail

VNV Nation

Myself and the Magistra are at the VNV Nation concert tonight. VNV is one of my favorite groups ever.

Can't seem to find a good video to post right now, so if you are curious check out their homepage or myspace for songs.

VNV Nation draws on the poetic and mythical heritage of Western Civilization to express the hope and yearning that comes naturally to men, but has lost its home in this modern age.

Every so often I get a search engine hit from someone searching for "dies irae veniendum est". This is from the last album VNV released. It means, judgement day is not coming soon enough. I bet they wonder how they hell they got here. It is in the copyright notice at the bottom.

What Would Darwin Do

Scott Adams drew a couple of hilarious cartoons over the weekend about just exactly what constitutes an alpha male for reproductive purposes. I probably find this funnier precisely because I'm a nerd.

It turns out surprisingly often that you can find the proper answer to controverted questions by asking not WWJD?, but rather What Would Darwin Do? We are all familiar with personal Darwin Awards, but the concept applies equally well to larger social units. When was the last time you met a Shaker? On a civilizational level, policies that keep the birthrate below replacement level for extended periods of time are the equivalent of a Darwin Award.

Holger the Dane

I added Holger Danske to the the sidebar to the left. I like the story of Holger Danske. He was supposedly the son of the first king of Denmark, given as hostage to Charles Martel. Holger helped stem the tide at the Battle of Poiters in 732. He was featured in the Song of Roland, and later went on to headline his own epic poems. At the end of this life, he secluded himself deep underneath Kronborg castle at Helsingør (or “Elsinore”, per Shakespeare or Strange Brew).

He occupies the same archetypal space as King Arthur or the Emperor of Last Days (Frederick II was protrayed this way). He is a mythical figure who will return in the hour of greatest peril to save the kingdom when all hope is lost. Read about Holger here or here. One of my favorite books about the return of a mythical warrior is The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers. It features King Arthur and beer, along with the Siege of Vienna in 1529.